Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Creating My Story

It is a wondrous thing to hop off the familiar road and take this mysterious journey to realize my passion.  Sometimes it takes a little spark of coincidence and nudge of encouragement to remind myself why I am being so relentless in following my dreams.  After all, it isn't even a materialized, rational dream that I am following.  Learn Spanish and teach people English?  Why?  Honestly I never never really cared much about either.  (Even this blog is riddled with evidence that my grammar and spelling is below par, so why on earth am I going to teach it?)  The fact is, it's not about the new job or location from which I rest my head at night.  I sit up in my tiny bed in my closet sized room in my apartment in Madrid, reflecting on how I got here and wondering what the future will hold.  At times, I drown in my own anxiety that this bubble will burst and I will be not one step beyond where I was before. Before I left, so many would ask my why doubt my objectives.  Now I am here and those voices sometimes trickle in, allowing my restless mind to play tricks on me.  But then in an instant, I get that rush of peace and clarity and I remember why I am doing this.  It seems that when I need it the most, a crazy unexplained coincidence will occur that provides me with that wonderful feeling of simply knowing this is all perfect and right.  Those chance moments are happening more and more for me and even though I can't figure any of it out, I just know.

I am doing this semi-crazy thing because I want to control my own destiny and follow my own way.  I want to create my story and go where the wind takes me.  As I truck along, faced with unforeseen challenges and asking new questions, I realize that life truly can be whatever I want it to be.  My own mind will inevitably be my only barrier.  If I can just keep pushing forward and following my heart then I know my story will be one with no regrets and filled with happiness that is hard to even comprehend right now.  I don't know what the future will hold for me.  My career is a mystery, but I am planting many seeds as I cut out my trail through these mysterious woods that are my future.  My heart is full of love and my mind is wide open, ready to follow any twist and turn that feels right.  The near future holds so much possibility and wonder... It may seem scary at time, but the results so far have been brilliant and I'm really enjoy making up the chapters as I go.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Learning From the Spanish

I've been in Spain for two weeks and if I ever had any doubt about my ability to adapt here and make friends, it is gone.  Every day I am more impressed with how warm and friendly everyone is, even if they don't speak English.  I'm committed to make Spanish friends while I'm here, beyond reasons of wanting to blend in here better and feel more comfortable.  The people have also taught me how to overcome certain frustrating tendencies that come from my culture and my previous situation.  They probably don't even realize how laid back they are.  There is something extremely refreshing about not needing to rush and taking your time.  My tendency is to be, admittedly, a bit up tight, in a rush, anxious.  But the environment here has taught me to just let go, relax, and stop worrying.  The world won't end if I am five minutes late or I get lost or I say the wrong thing.. whatever.  I find myself strolling now, as apposed to walking with a purpose and I don't seem to multitask quite as much anymore.  I am doing everything slower and it's made a world of difference for my stress levels.  I feel liberated from my anxious mind and at last it can be still.  Everyday I am more surprised by this place, this situation, the people, the lifestyle... It makes me that much more motivated to plug away at the language and make learning Spanish my top priority.  Ah, Spain... Thank you

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Need for Excitement

The need for adventure is creeping up inside again... Looking for jobs to teach online, I stumbled upon a website devoted to travel and adventures on the road from a backpacker's perspective (ironically enough, it is a site created by a friend and colleague of someone I am very close to!)  I can't deny my overwhelming draw to an adventure, the more out there these days, the better.  I've only been here for two weeks and I'm already ready to explore a new, very different location!  It's definitely my last experience in Europe that is driving the urge.  After moving around to 20-something different cities for three months makes two weeks seem like ages to stay in one place!  Now, the idea of getting settled into a job anywhere seems so dull even if it is teaching in Spain!  Will I ever be able to sit still?  The next adventure is already brewing in my mind before I've even had time to properly unpack!

On the flip side, I am quite motivated to see what the current adventure has in store.  It is so easy to live a pretty predictable, safe life in a city like Madrid, but it is also possible to stir it up a bit.  Today, like many other days since I've arrived, I decided to take advantage of free time and perfect weather to wonder the streets and get lost.  I found myself in a small neighborhood tapas bar, sipping my vino tinto, and writing up a storm.  While I've been getting adjusted, I've had a more challenging time get the words out right, but today the pen just seemed to move itself as the atmosphere inspired my literary senses.  As I finished up, I headed to the bar to, not so eloquently, ask for my bill.  The other young people sitting near me, heard the awkward fumbling of my terrible Spanish and some how it struck a cord.  They all spoke English (at last!) and were eager to make introductions.  Two beers later I had new Madridian friends eager to show me the town, teach me Spanish, and trade conversation to improve their own English.  As easy as that to have an adventure and only blocks away from my flat?  I can get used to this.  I've learned a valuable lesson and that is take risks, lots of risks, for the sake of inviting in all kinds of great new people and experiences.  It would be so easy to live here and play it safe, hanging out with people in my logical circles and avoiding places where I won't be understood.  But I think I'll do just the opposite because, what the hell, I only live once, and I really only live once in Madrid!

The Search for Balance

There are many hidden challenges to making a dramatic move.  One thing I didn't consider was the adjustment period of taking a step like this one.  My world has been completely changed as of two weeks ago.  It seems like ages ago that I was back at home in North Carolina where every single thing was predictable and familiar.  Now that the feeling of being totally aw struck is beginning to fade, I am facing the reality that this is home and I must carry on normal life here.  Taking things one step at a time was helping, but yesterday, when all of my email and facebook were taken over and ultimately shut down by an intruder, I had a rude awakening of how far away from that cozy life I truly am now.  It hit me like a ton of bricks when I realized that I have no way to communicate with almost everyone from home and they cannot reach me either.  I also realized I have unknowingly created a crutch out of this computer.  It ties me to home to cope with living in a big city in a new country with a different language, people, lifestyle, values, routine.. you name it. 

So how do I find a balance?  It is so important to maintain it in order to feel confident about what I am doing here.  One striking challenge is socially, how do avoid clumping with other expats, specifically Americans, in order to absorb the culture and lifestyle of Spain, while still having a social outlet with people that speak my language and come from a more familiar environment.  The truth is, no matter how much I try, blending in with the Spanish people is virtually impossible.  I have only been speaking Spanish for a few months, but besides that, I don't want to be playing a part.  So I have to accept that fitting in is not an option, nor should it be something I want, even if it would help make the transition a bit easier.  So what am I?  An English teacher, an American living in Spain, a 25 year old girl, an expat... I don't want to be put in a box but in order to make this home I almost feel like I need to pick one.  Being free is liberating, but starting over is quite tricky.

All of these things will likely work themselves out with time.  Its tough to accept that on this quest for understanding and adventure, there will be times when I need to adjust and get comfortable before moving on to the next step.  The discomfort of the situation, the uncertainty of the future, and the possibilities that are around each corner are what make this exhilarating and unnerving at the same time. In this moment I feel hazy and confused, trying to latch on to what is known and clear.  But since I've been here, every day there is a feeling of being high that I cannot get at home; a feeling of freedom and appreciation for the course life is taking.  I just need to find a way to balance having a normal day to day life and it being part of a mysterious, exhilarating adventure.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Reflecting on a Past Life

I just had a rousing discussion with my roommate right in the nick of time.  After an exhausting day of navigating through Madrid, forcing myself to do everything in Spanish and finding my way around this large city, my mind was on nothing but how challenging life seems.  I continued telling myself all day, as I again looked foolish using my weak spanish skills to perform simple tasks, "you are here for a reason.  It will get easier and you are growing from this!".  I was telling myself this, but that reason for being here was fading in my mind.  Deep down I was longing for some familiarity and comfort; that is until I came back to my apartment and got wrapped up in yet another fascinating conversation with each of my roommates to remind me why I am taking a stab at living abroad.  I preface by saying that I am not anti-American and I do acknowledge that there are problems with society all around the world.  But my life has been molded by the culture of the United States, and my first stab at a career was the apitomy of what many people would describe as part of the problem America's capitalistic culture. 

Corporate America.  IBM software sales was my experience with it.  It seems hard to believe that less than a year ago I was still plugging away at my deals, trying to sell my products to my various customers.  My whole life was dictated by my company once I committed to the role.  My day involved sitting at a desk in my home or in a hotel somewhere in MS or AL, trying helplessly to find purpose in the many tasks I was performing.  I had barely any human contact, with the exception of occational team meetings in the office or the akward customer calls I drove hours to hold a meeting.  I sat at a desk, at a computer, all alone, all day.  Part of my discussion today with my roommate was about this issue and he showed me a clip online of a system IBM is looking to impliment that would further thrust it's employees into a virtual working environment.  This is yet another example of an efficient way to do business now, saving money at the sacrifice of humans physically being in the same location.  Our world is shifting towards this rapidly as technology becomes an essential tool to save large corporations a great deal of money.  But what about the people?  What about the individuals who are already being morphed into isolated robots?  They are becoming more chained to their companies, having no division between work and home, with more tools to understand and the same expectations for results.  People outside the US see Americans on a macrolevel as these programed robots who work, shop, eat, and work some more.  Sure this phenominon is spreading, but as I live here in the third largest city in Europe, known for being the business hub of Europe, there is still so much culture, appreciation for life, human interaction.  If for a moment I was begining to foget why I am here, why I am taking such a risk and trying something so profoundly different than what I was trained to do, I now remember, quite clearly that I am doing this to live my life independent from that kind of control and "virtual reality". 

These converations are reminicent to the ones I had months ago while traveling around.  We would sit in hostels, over beers, and I would both defend my country and commiserate about it.  We all want to be proud of our roots and Americans get a whole lot of heat for how we do things and how we are effecting the world as a result.  It isn't the individuals who have done all this.  We are merely adapted to living our lives a certain way.  That way was not for me, but I cannot criticize those who enjoy the life style and the fruits of thier labor.  I love my friends and my family and many elements of our culture that I grew up with that bring me a warm, nostalgic feeling.  But I am not there for a reason.  I feel so divided.  My mind often reverts back to feeling guilty for not being "productive" or using my training in the "proper way".  But then I think of this new appreciation I have for the simplicity of living umungst a rich culture such as this one, taking care in preparing a meal and looking up at the people and the architecture as I stroll through the streets.  I'm focused on living, not producing.  One day I will have to commit to a vocation in order to afford a life for myself and a future family, but I will not do it in the capacity I did before.  A corporation will not eat up the beauty of my life ever again for the sake satisfying consumeristic desires.  That was a past life, and I now usher in the new, as akward and uncomfortable it may seem right now.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Making the Adjustment

After the exciting premier weekend in Madrid, I was rapidly brought down to earth by an unsettling Monday.  Nothing in particular went wrong, but a combination of late nights, jetlag, boozing, and the darkness of our apartment had me feeling completely thrown off.  Thankfully today I am back to having the skip in my step and feel like me again.

The process of adjusting to a new culture, language, lifestyle, and atmosphere can be quite exciting, but at times daunting, as well.  The hussel and bussel of the busy city had me craving fresh air and quiet time.  Combine that with our dungen of an apartment that gets not one ray of sun, it is easy to remain in a state of lethargia all day.  I attempted to get out and run errands dispite the daze I was in, but dealing with a new language takes patience and effort which I had absolutely no energy for.  Zapped, I gave in, came home, and slept the rest of my day away.  I must have needed the catch-up rest because that long nap didn't detract from my wake less sleep  I achieved last night.  Now I am energized and ready to face the city.  I am eager to try my hand at Spanish today, opening a bank account, getting a phone, and meeting a new Spanish friend.  Suddenly things are great again, a vast contrast to my day of dread yesterday that had my mind spinning about whether I chose the right place to start a new life. 

Even though there are several parts of this process that are quite unnatural and new, I already am seeing that this is home and feel pretty well adjusted.  My roommates are warm and open, so coming home is a delight.  We live in an excellent neighborhood near everything including a park and pretty much everything we need.  Not driving to run errands and instead using my legs is actually kind of fun. Maybe I'll be singing a different tune once the weather starts to turn, but by then I assume the full adjustment will be made.  While I already miss my family and friends, I am content and just need to keep my eyes forward and my mind open. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

What's the Catch?

The feeling of making a huge, life changine decision, the biggest thus far, and it being the best experience imaginable, is incredible.  What's the catch? I love Spain. I love the people, my roommates from around the world, my spanish friends, the store clerks and taxi drivers and our doorman... I love the atmosphere and the free spirit and the night life and day life. I love the city of Madrid because it just feels right. I moved here on a total whim. I can say all of this after only two days of being here that going with my instincts served me well. My advice to any person who is seeking an answer or a path or trying to make a decision is advice that has been given for ages: follow your heart. Follow that hunch you feel deep inside of you, even if it doesn't completely conform to preconceived ideas because ultimately, that is where your happiness lies. I believe it because I am living proof.  Now I am following the natural course that is in my heart, that I can feel;  not because of what I have learned or pressure from the outside.  Life is so beautiful when you follow that gut feeling. That is what love is, what happiness is, what so many people refer to when they feel light and joyful. I know I am an emotional, sensitive person and that I take things in a different way than many. But this feeling is very pure and even those people who are a bit more pragmatic and less idealistic can capture a feeling simular. Everyone deserves it. Every person deserves laughter and peace and love and happiness. It is fascinating how simple it is once you find it but how hard it seems to capture.


I knew I needed to be here, in Europe, for a reason I could not explain to people at home asking. It is an indescribable sensation that has very little to do with concrete reasoning. There are some specific aspects of life here that make it incredible, like learning a new language and living the European way, but in total its something much more powerful that can only be felt. I say all of this for anyone to read, fully aware of how honest and candid it is. I hope people who are free from judgement and seek that same inner happiness read this and find/ have found their own version of this awesome sensation. It is quite new to me so I am still taken back by it, much like the feeling of living in this new, amazing city. I'm awe struck right now. I feel so different that I can barely remember how I felt three days ago before I arrived. This is real and this is great. Really, what's the catch? 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

I'm on my way

My departure could not have been more perfect as I was able to say my final goodbye to dad at the airport terminal.  Some how he too was booked for a morning flight out of Raleigh this morning so we got to share one more special moment before I head out.  Once we took off in the tiny jet, cutting through thick clouds into a clearing, high about the ground, I got an amazing feeling of euphoria and freedom as the reality of this endeavor hit me all at once.  Upon arrival in New York, as the flight attendant listed off connections, my ears perked up and when Madrid was announced an amazing surge of joy and excitement rushed over me. I feel as I did when I was hopping from train to train in Europe last spring.  Life was exciting yet simple and completely my own.  Any doubts I had about taking a risk and being so far from home has vanished.  It all feels so right that there is no room in my mind to question.  Sitting here in the airport lounge at JFK with an eight hour lay over, it is impossible to remain in that state of joy.  Of course I'm antsy and board and mindlessly sitting here watching day time television and playing sudoku, but once I board that plane and at last reach Spain, this lag time will seem like a distant memory.  Here we go!  Life is about to get real interesting...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Farewell For Now

As I spend my final day for an indefinite amount of time here at my home in the states, I reflect on the past month or so, filled with goodbyes, and new memories with old friends, while looking forward to a mysterious future.  One thing is certain: I am leaving here on an extremely high note, filled with nostalgic stories, hilarious moments, laughs and hugs, best wishes and goodbyes.

I've learned a lot from the back to back events that jam packed my last few weeks before I depart.  Every day I say farewell to another friend or enjoy one more celebration with groups of friends in various places.  With geographic distance an accepted part of most relationships I hold now, it's easy to forgot how much love remains no matter how many miles are between us or how much time passes.  Even when that is not the case, when distance is not an issue and we see each other every day, it's easy to take loved ones for granted and forget the underlying bond that's always there.  But when separated and brought back together, or saying farewell for a long stretch of time, the connection with these important people are tested and reinforced.  While it's exhilarating to begin a new life abroad, being reminded that my friends are with me every step of the way gives me a warm, comforting feeling and the confidence to keep trekking forward down an uncertain road.

I love that every Fall there will be a Homecoming game in Boone and we will all reunite.  I love that Valentines Day now marks an epic girls' weekend and we will always be recreating this tradition.  I love that we come together for the Fourth of July in Charleston year after year.  Thanksgiving and the Super Bowl are not going away just because I may miss it for a year or two. We will make new memories with big trips, weddings, and any other excuse to come back together from wherever in the world we are planting roots.  I may be missing some of these reoccurring good times for now, but in it's place will be memories with new people in my life from around the world that is taking me to places I would have never foreseen.  Amazing travel companions from Spain have convinced me this is the next place to explore and live, and I will surely be revisiting places like Israel, the UK, and the Netherlands this year for the soul purpose of seeing people I met that I must see again. 

What I've learned from all the goodbyes I've said in the past month and the hellos I anticipate in the near future, is that the people truly do make the memories special.  Being a bit of a loner that cherishes solo moments, this is a concept I don't appreciate enough, but I feel truly blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life.  The relationships don't fade with time, they grow stronger and become much more precious as we continue down our various paths and add new people to the repertoire. Thank you guys for your amazing support and love!  See you again soon!

Monday, October 4, 2010

Living Outside of the Box

There is a well known analogy that I've really embraced lately as I try to explain to my friends what the underlying reason is for taking such a bold step and changing my life all around.  The "Box" analogy basically comes down to acknowledging that for my entire life, just like everyone else, I absorbed messages, ideas, and standards that created strict guidelines for how I am "supposed" to live my life and who I am "supposed" to be.  I got these perimeters from my parents, peers, pop culture, and other influences that shaped my own perception and created my reality.  (In a book I once read it was called "domestication")  Over time they became a part of me and shaped everything in my life- career pursuit, relationships, image, you name it.  I thought I knew exactly what I wanted out of life and who I wanted to be, but never took the time to figure out why I seemed to want that.  The walls of the box started closing in more and more over time, when I was achieving these hard and fast goals, being who I thought I was "supposed" to be, yet not finding much satisfaction from any of it.  Seeing that there were walls was tough enough.  Breaking through the walls is even harder because it meant changing certain elements of who I have worked hard to be in return for an unknown world that lies beyond the walls of my box. 

Well I did it anyway, and what I learned was that there is still plenty of ground under my feet outside of the box to walk on.  The air is cleaner, not polluted by mental and emotional toxins.  I can see things much clearer now and possibilities for how to live life seem endless as opposed to before.  I'm no longer restricted by rules I created for myself and I can chase any dream I desire.  Of course, it's nice to go back to the box once and a while, experience the comfort of it, reminisce about the good elements of the past, take advantage of lessons I learned and skills I developed.  But the box is now open and aired out and I'll never build up walls around myself again.  Breaking the walls brought in too much light and I'm way to happy living outside of the box to ever close off to it again.

It's massively liberating to know that you control your own reality and no matter what the situation, everyone can afford to at least poke some holes in the walls of their box and let in a little sunshine with hopes that one day you will have the courage to step out of those rules and see that there are so many more possibilities and endless happiness that living inside the box could ever provide.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

"Living home will drive you to sanity or drive you insane"

A good friend told me this tonight about my last 4 months at home and I realized how true it has been.  There have been periods where I wondered, how am I going to sit here doing nothing for months before Spain?  I'm living at home, with no job, my friends (with the exception of a few who I am imensely greatful for) dispersed around the country and the world... Well now the time is growing to an end and all this cozy, annoyingly comfortable, easy living will be coming to a close as well.  As I reflect on the time spent back in Raleigh, I have a deeply gratifying feeling for the clarity that has come with this lull.  Sure I could have easily been driven insane by too much time to sit and think and be bored.  But instead I feel very fulfilled and enlightened.  There are so many books I've had the opportunity to read, conversations I have had the time to indulge in, hobbies that I was able to dive into, and time of peace and quiet to relax and enjoy the moment. 

Life is about to get busy and the wheels are going to be spinning once again.  I'm delighted for what lies ahead, but I can't be more appreciative for the gift of time and reflection I've completely taken advantage of over the past several months.  There is a voice inside of me that has always questioned everything and since the distractions in my life have subsided, the voice has at last recieved some attention.  The more answers I feed, the more my questions become louder and now that I know what it is to have my time to focus on what I choose to focus on, I know that that voice will never be silenced again.  The time I've had has done quite the opposite of driving me insane.  It has given me a great gift of living for the now, in the moment, and feeling more connected to myself than ever before.  Ah, home... I will miss it after all

Sunday, September 5, 2010

NC- From Mountains to Beach to Festival and Home

The last ten days have given me a wider perspective of my own state and has been a perfect way to say farewell to my home turf.  From hiking through the picturesque Appalachian mountains in my alma mater town, to basking on the beach at Wrightsville, and jamming out in the woods to great local bands, I got a full dose of how much goodness there is right here in North Carolina.

A wonderful friend I connected with immediately, but breifly in Naples, Italy, decided to spend her last week of unemployed freedom with me and tour my home state.  Only meeting that one time and coming from vastly different backgrounds, it was certainly a risky move to travel all the way from Canada to this unfamiliar area and spend a full ten days with me and my friends.  The risk was well rewarded and our instincts served us well as we indulged in a week of diversity, strengthening our bond along the way.

We began the journey back in my beloved Boone.  Annelie endured Linzer land as I was sucked into nostalgic memories of this town I adore.  For the first time in years I was able to stroll the town and the campus and absorb the goodness of Boone town.  After amazing Thia food, we endulged in Kilwin's fudge and ice cream, sipped wine at Twiggs with the interesting biker crowd, and finally met up with others to danced the night away to old favorites at Flipside with not a care in the world.  The night was a spectacular tribute to happy college memories.  We managed to get a few hours of shut eye and the next morning we enjoyed an awesome breakfast at Melanie's with great friends and hit the trail for our camping adventure at Grandfather Mountain. 

All day was an uphill challenge as we hiked the Grandfather Profile, but the gorgeous view and weather kept us motivated.  After we set up camp at Attic Window we finished out the day and used the pulleys and ladders to reach the summit at almost 6000 ft.  That night we rested well proceded to embark on our decent.  Only a couple of miles in, the dynamic changed dynamically when I stumbled and badly sprained my ankle.  Our stroll down the mountain became a mission as each painful step needed to be carefully placed.  By the end, the pain was an after thought and we zoomed through the final miles.  I learned a lot about the importance of proper first aid awareness and the generosity of good people from the experience.

After 24 hours of recovery at home, we made our way to the opposite side of the state and headed to Wilmington.  Even though it was brief, I cherished the time I got to spend with my brother over a meal and a few beers.  The next day Annelie got to absorb precious beach time that is quite rare on the prairies of central Canada.  We capped the day off with a great meal at Jason's restaurant.  Before bed I finally got around to watching Donnie Darko for the first time in it's entirety and went to bed deep in thought.  We awoke early to catch sunrise on the ocean.  As the day progressed, the once peaceful sea began to churn as Hurricane Earl inched closer.  We got out of town before the highly anticipated storm approached to prepare for the main event of our packed NC tour.

The Getdown Festival was a spectacle of extreme hippy culture and local music.  We made our way to camp and dove into the festivities straight away.  As the sun set, the scene became more extreme.  The prevalent drug culture inevitable in this type of environment was striking as unsettling at first, but as the night wore on, everyone seemed to merge as the good vibes from the music transcended what ever form of inebriation the attendees were adopting.  I soaked myself in the good feeling and at the pinnacle of the night, as I spun poi in unison with the tunes, I was jolted back into reality when I stepped wrong on uneven ground with my injured ankle.  The pain was twice as extreme as the time before and I could do nothing but bury my head Audry's shoulder and hold back from screaming in pain.  This time there was no walking to follow.  A late night golf cart dumped me back at camp and I was officially immobilized.

Through the night the festival carried on in full swing.  The music jammed on into the early morning hours and people let the good times roll on well into morning.  There was no clear division between night and day.  Daylight was the only indication that we had made the transition.  I sat somewhat restlessly at camp as the morning carried on, being entertained by this extreme counter culture society I found myself immersed in.  At last I found transportation to take me to the stage where I basked in the sun for hours, enjoying the music, the perfect weather, and the loving vibes.  Late in the afternoon, with the help of many, I was moved to the official spooning location and took part in the world record breaker for longest spooning session.  It was truly a love fest as 600 people lay in a spiral formation in this grassy field to simply be together and hug.  It bonded us all and transformed the scene from here out.  Unfortunately, I could not stay to take in the goodness on account of my likely broken ankle.  Annelie and I bid our friends adieu and made our way back to the reality of the city where were indulged in milkshakes and hush puppies. 

Today I soak it all in.  I got to experience such variation of my own state and share it with someone that is completely unfamiliar with all of it.  It has been quite a perfect way to say farewell to my great state before setting off on the next leg of life in a very different location with very different people.  Spain will be my new home and I'm eager to begin this journey.  With that said, I am leaving NC feeling proud of the unique culture here I rarely took the time to appreciate.  What a week and what a way to say goodbye for now...

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Need vs. Want

There's an interesting debate I got into this morning over coffee with dad.  It seems as though we are getting into many debates these days as I dig deeper into certain issues.  This morning we were discussing consumption and how we need to find a way, especially in this country, to reduce our footprint significantly or we are in big trouble.  I recently watched a TED Talk http://www.ted.com/talks/jason_clay_how_big_brands_can_save_biodiversity.html on the subject, and it made reference to resource consumption and how terribly over capacity we are.  Many of us blame over population, but according to this video, a cat in Europe has a bigger footprint than the average person in Africa.  Further more, the average American consumes over 40 times as much as the average African.  Amazing!  So it made me take a hard look at my own situation and consumption.  I have a ton of stuff, just random stuff that is now crammed into my parents house because once upon a time I believed that I needed another pair of jeans, or a better hair straightener, or a big flat-screen television, or what ever.  Now it just sits here and symbolizes how truly clueless I was. 

But was I being clueless or just following suit with the status quo?  As young adults fresh out of college we are all trying to figure out how to do it all.  They are selling it to me, so it must serve a purpose of some sort that I will discover as I am now taking care of my own household or doing this new job and living in this new environment.  The truth I discovered is that we really only need the basics and what we add on to that need is simply want.  There is nothing wrong with wanting things.  We are bombarded with messages telling us we just have to have the latest and greatest everything.  So where do we draw the line between need and want and when is enough enough?  For large enterprises the answer appears to be never.  There is always more revenue to make and competition out there that will jump all over the market if a company lets up, even just for a moment.  And we are beginning to behave like our companies.  We want more and more and more. 

I decided to make an effort in my own life to change this and it is much more challenging than I thought.  To make a positive change in our world for the sake of our planet, we have to reduce each person's footprint.  The best place to start is take a look at our patterns and habits.  As I started to pay more attention, I see glaring wasteful things that I do, despite my strong opinions.  For example, I certainly did not need another pair of shoes and a dress the other day, but I felt compelled to purchase them anyway.     Why did I feel so driven to buy stuff that I know I don't need?  Because, just like any other habit, it is hard to stop certain behaviors all at once, especially when the result of the purchase does not appear to have any striking negative effects.  But we need a new consciousness about it.  We need to be aware that every purchase does have some impact.  If we at least are aware of what we are doing, more sensitive to our purchases, maybe instead of buying three pairs of shoes, we will buy one and carry it out of the store in our own reusable bag instead theirs.  This is obviously just one small example, but it applies to many other facets in our lives than just apparel.  I would like to start learning more ways to cut down on my consumption and reducing all these wants.  For me, it seems to be a good first step.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Filling the Time

Three months have passed since my epic Europe adventure came to a close. Since then I have gone through a myriad of emotions and mind sets to deal with my very different situation. Once upon a time I was completely independent and self sufficient, living in a separate state from my family, making my own money, no one to answer to in the least bit. While many aspects of my Atlanta life were unsettling to me, having freedom and solitude were privileges that I certainly took for granted. Now I find myself in limbo, unemployed, living at home with the parents, back in the suburbs of North Carolina. I make sporadic trips and have a great friend network here to keep my social life alive, but there are still many hours in the day that I must fill while also resisting the influence of my parents' lifestyle and the unavoidable complacency that comes with a lack of responsibility and stimuli.

Reading, watching various documentaries, and working on different writing projects has become my full time job to combat these influences and maintain sanity. As a result of my new exposure, I have learned much more about society, the planet, politics, history, religion, people, my country... you name it. There is so much we blindly accept as truth and I am quickly learning that my fears of living in such a controlled bubble are perfectly valid. Last night I watched "The Corporation" www.hulu.com/search?query=The+Corporation and it articulated perfectly all that I have been utterly convinced of for some time. The influence that these power house companies have on our culture, our individual experiences, our values and tendencies and life styles, are all manufactured by some company out there. It is impossible to avoid the impact and it angers me that they have had a hand in shaping my own psychy whether I like it or not.

This film is only one of many compilations of information that confirm what my instincts have always told me. As I educate myself, I feel compelled to share my findings and show people what they may have never noticed about the world we live in. Many elements of our society are problematic and in order to live happily in our individual lives, we become jaded and shut out all the terrible things that happen around the world, even in our own backyards, every day. As I learn and find myself in this period of limbo, I am feeling more compelled to follow a career that shows people what is really going on and what they can do. At the end of the books I read, the documentaries I watch, the lectures I listen to, there is a hopeful message of change. The change lies simply in the demand of the people. People are generally good but power and greed of a small few have blind sided us from what is best for us. We need to start making small changes and by doing so, we will be able to live in a world that is better for us and generations to come. I devote this blog to my quest in finding a vehicle to educate and share.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

And so it ends....

Just like that, it's over. In a snap, the most incredible experience of my life is done. Today I have been living vicariously through my own past adventure as I get every last photo from every country organized and online. It's my way of staying busy, giving my trip tangible validation. So now, I sit here at home, still buzzing from the time I spent away, and can only think of how to make this type of living never end. It is hard to get used to just sitting here in Raleigh and settling into some structured, settled lifestyle again. I need to keep moving, exploring, meeting people like I met while on the road. But how? The trip for me was not merely a vacation to see pretty sites and party. It was a deeper experience for me that turned out being even more incredible than I could have ever anticipated. Finding the words to describe the feelings I have right now are nearly impossible. As I made the long flight back yesterday from London to Raleigh, it was impossible to stop the lumps in my throat and the tears in my eyes from overwhelming me. I had to say farewell to much more than a list of various locations.

When I look back at all my photos, this blog, my little scraps of paper shoved in my bag with names and addresses, my now empty backpack I was living out of, priceless memories rush through my mind. I miss the tiny beds and crappy community showers in all those hostels I called home; I miss the rickety train rides from country to country; I miss the cheap sandwiches and free hostel breakfasts of toast and corn flakes; I miss the delirious conversations that manifested from lack of sleep and too much boozing; I miss the banter in foreign languages all around me and the crazy drivers and being completely lost in new cities and the smoke filled bars. I miss it all. More than anything I will miss those individuals that touched my soul, those people I could be completely honest with and they loved me even more for doing it. They have changed me forever. I feel as though a void that I have always tried to fill is gone. I feel more than satisfied. This experience has uplifted me and brought me indescribable joy. Beyond the current sadness for it's closure, I feel sheer gratitude for being able to embark on such a special journey. I am so blessed. All I can say now is thank you, thank you, thank you...

Friday, May 21, 2010

Happyland ;)

I love it here. I´m comfortable, content, fulfilled. Every moment is special. How do I feel so at home in a place so dramatically different from my true home? There is no use analyzing the perfection of it all. The days are winding down but I am choosing not to acknowledge that. Two more days here in Brussels. Five more days in Europe. I will be back, no question. I am not ready to close this chapter yet. This entry is short and sweet because I have an afternoon to go spend in my lovely temporary fantasy world. Surely I will have an endless stream of reflections on all of this when I return, but for now, I will simply relish what´s right in front of me.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Closing In on the End

As the end of this trip draws closer, it some how manages to get even better each passing day. The dwindling moments are filled with joy as I spend them in this student home in Brussels. I´ve seen fourteen countries, twenty five cities, several major monuments and events around Europe. Now it is time to step back and truely enjoy some of the relationships I have established here. Somehow I find myself with this new family, fitting in perfectly with the second floor of this international temporary home. I have a home for a week, a special someone putting me up as we share as many hours as we can before ultimately parting.

How will I ever manage leaving all of this and returning home? As I spoke on Skype with mom and dad last night, they prepared dinner in the familiar kitchen I will soon return to. I miss them so much and I miss home, but seeing the routine in action reminds me that this life I have been living the past 70 days, this life I live this week, will not last. All of these wonderful experiences and people will soon come to a close and I must brace myself for an emotional shock as I enter back into reality. My reality is changed now. It has to be. This is more than a vacation. I found peices of myself I never knew were there, new best friends from all around the world, a special connection that will only be real for this one week.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

From Naples to Nice

I've experienced quite the contrast going from one extreme to another. Naples is real, in your face, dirty, and completely nonpretentious. Nice is upscale, sophisticated, and spotless. In Naples, you are always on your toes, always watching your own things to make sure nothing gets snatched. Here you are more or less invisible, watching all the exorbinantly rich people flaunt their fancy things. I love the beauty of Nice and the honesty of Naples.

My final day in Naples, I had the privilage of meeting an amazing fellow female solo traveler who is on her own soul searching mission. We got lost in the busy, caotic streets, loving every minute of it. Another fascinating conversation was sparked, leaving me with an enriched perspective on life and a few pointers to live by. It was a perfect follow up to the late night discussion I delved into with a few other hostel dwellers the previous evening, covering everything from philosphy, religion, politics, to spirituality and the meaning of life. Deep, interesting, heated at times, most of all enlightening. The group at this hostel impressed me in their maturity and awareness. We didn't need a ton of booze and empty conversation to fill the time. We skipped right to the good stuff and I therefor bonded with them imediately. I miss Naples for it's in-your-face approach and blatent honesty, not to mention the incredible pizza. The chewy dough, sweet sauce, and creamy mozzarella were out of this world... I didn't even mention Capri and Pompi, which blew my mind too. Ah, Naples...

Today has suprised me in Nice. I made the first train out to Cannes this morning for the film festival with a fellow hostel dweller from Chicago. We watched the various industry folks strut through the busy scene, preparing for the high profile guests to arrive. Hollywoood was everywhere and I couldn't get over the lavish people all around us. The yachts lining the harbor were impressive, but nothing compared to our next destination for the afternoon. Monaco was dripping with cash, from the multimillion dollar boats to the most extravagant vehicles. Today was day one, the time trials, of the Grand Prix, and some how we managed to enjoy hours of the racing experience, up close and personal. My ears are still ringing and I still have an buzz from the edreniline of being so close to the action. Cannes film festival and breakfast, Monaco Grand Prix and lunch, old town of Nice for dinner. Not a bad way to spend a beautiful sunny day in south France!

This trip has been rolling on now for over 60 days and it still does not seek to amaze me. Tomorrow I head for Brussels to see my great new friends who I parted with back in Viennna and will cap off the trip in London. Sad to see the days winding down to a finish, but I am completely content with every ounce of this trip and can't wait to start planning the next amazing adventure when I face the US again.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Barcelona, Madrid, Rome, Florence, and Naples: Catching up the Blog

Balance has been restored at last to this wild ride. From partying until 6 AM in Spain, to rubbing elbows in Rome with star athletes, to bonding over wine in Florence, and cruising through the busy streets of Naples on the back of a motorcycle, this has been quite an eventful stretch of days that I have neglected reporting. I will do my best to sum it up in a few short words:

BARCELONA and MADRID:
There are real pros and cons to traveling solo and to traveling with another. For Spain, I was fortunate enough to have a friend from home come enjoy with me. The comfort of having a companion to share every great moment was more then welcomed, but the compromise of our significantly differing motives created a few minor stumbles. This is to be expected and I am thrilled that in the end, all order was restored and Spain was deemed a success.
The night life in Barcelona is the stand out attraction of this insane beach city. Going home earlier than five is considered a laid back night. I had trouble maintaining the pace, but we still managed to see the city by foot and bicycle each sunny day. The no sleep, all party brought illness on my travel companion, but she somehow fought through the deathly cough and exhaustion in order to make the best of her time abroad.
We made great friends at our small sleepless hostel in Barcelona. I will never forget our many halarious moments, classic experiences, and fascinating conversations with our ever morphing, international group. Barcelona comes with its unique set of challenges like street hasslers and gawking men, but in the end, I have a warm, fuzzy feeling for the party city.
Madrid was a refreshing break from the nonstop fiesta. We spent very little time there, but enough to see the entire city, enjoy some artwork, and experience some real Spanish tradition. I bid Becca adieu after less than two days here and made my way to the next wild ride of Rome.

ROME:
At last, I got to see mom and dad. After fifty five days of separation with all that is home, seeing the old parents could not have been more appropriately timed. We shared enormous, emotional hugs in the train station and proceeded to have three amazing days together to experience this remarkable Italian city. When the taxi pulled up to our hotel to park my bags and settle in, I got my first of many doses of shock. The Hilton Cavalieri is the world's nicest Hilton hotel and one of Rome's popular hot spots for visiting celebrities. Policy surrounded the premises and I discovered why in no time. The entire Inter Milan football team was staying with us for a week to play their version of the Super Bowl later in the week. Not only that, but the Williams sisters and other notable tennis players graced the lobby casually as they awaited an important local match. Unbelievable. This place truly was extravagant and an overwhelming change from the tiny hostel beds and community showers I have become accustom to.
The city itself blew me away even more than our outrageous hotel. Strolling through the busy city streets, we would suddenly stumble over enormous classic landmarks and old city buildings dating back thousands of years. For those of you that have been to Rome, I will spare the details of each site. The structures are so famous that I don't want to clog up the blog with imagery of well known monuments. I can't go without mentioning the Vatican, though. Extravagant, beautiful, marvelous, breathtaking... none of these words come close to doing it justice. Even the hallways of the Museum leading up to the Sistine Chapel were unbelievable. The main event was that times ten. And just when we thought we had seen it all and our necks were begging for mercy from being craned up all afternoon, we then entered St. Paul's Cathedral. Wow. That is all I can say.
By the time our trip was approaching the end, we were all ready to move on to something a little less action packed. Mom and Dad were off to the Amalfi Coast and I headed to Florence. It was more than a treat to see them and the love of family was a cozy reminder of what I will soon return to. Recovering from two weeks of comfort was a challenge, though, as I entered unfamiliar territory with no plan at all.

FLORENCE:
Rain, rain, cold, cold. Boo for bad weather. I barely saw any of this Tuscan city. When I first got in, the greeting I received at the hostel was cold and nobody seemed to have much interest in meeting new people. Quickly my mood sunk and that old familiar feeling of anxiety began to come over me. I decided to get out as soon as possible and find a friendly atmosphere to sip wine, eat good food, and be alone with my thoughts and my journal. I struggled to find an area not completely swarmed with tourists. At last I chose a mediocre place that rushed me through my meal in a pushy attempt to turnover my table; very unlike Europe, but completely appropriate for the day I was having. I felt defeated, and headed back to the unpleasant hostel to get a good night of sleep. Luckily, a nice fellow solo traveler from California was also pondering what to do on this leg of his trip and was staying in my room when I returned. We proceeded to chat it up for hours and spent the remainder of our brief stay here together.
The next day we attempted to tour the city and enjoy strolling through Florence, but the rain and wind kept us down. We gave up all attempts at last and indulged in cheap red wine to escape the wet weather. What could have been a wasted afternoon morphed into one of the most intriguing conversations I have had all of my days here. I cannot describe how inspired we both were after an entire day of uplifting exchange, but now I feel that much closer to figuring out what I am really supposed to be doing with my life. I would say, I am willing to sacrifice seeing one city along my journey if it means enjoying an afternoon of spiritual enlightenment...

NAPLES:
I arrived a mere twelve hours ago and I can already tell this place is going to be amazing. As soon as I got here, the hostel owner, Giovani, told me to drop my bags, throw on a helmet, and hop on to the back of his motorcycle. We darted off to a classic tea room, downed an espresso and a tasty pastry, and proceeded to tour the city for the next three hours of perfectly clear sunny skies. When we got back, he helped me arrange the next four days of my adventure. Before I could absorb all the information, I was out the door with two other hostel dwellers to grab my first original Naples pizza and wine. We brought the pies back to the common area and proceeded to eat, drink, and be merry with a myriad of musical entertainment. Giovani strummed his guitar and played his harmonica while I tried to remember the words and perform the vocals for the classics like John Denver, Pink Floyd, and other good old American tunes. Everyone was completely beat, so we head in early and I got the pleasure of my first peaceful sleep in several weeks. Now I am off to see the city of Pompei, the volcano that destroyed it, and another similarly preserved city. I also plan to see Capri, the Amalfi Coastline, and Naples itself all in the next four days, so hopefully I won't burn out and won't see anymore rain clouds for a while...

Long post, but the moment was finally right to share. With 57 days behind me and only 20 to go, I have so much more swirling through my mind, but hopefully my action packed rendition of the journey so far is sufficiently entertaining and paints the picture well.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Cinque Terre is Perfection

I'm feel uplifted from this beautiful place. Upon arrival, I was apprehensive about the nature of this romantic stretch of towns, but it was exactly what I needed to refresh

I hit the trail yesterday and motered through four out of the five cities and back. My legs burned from the vigorous long walk, but I was addicted to the trail and refused to stop as the sun set and catch a train back. The biggest set back was the insane number of visitors clogging up the hike. They walked slowly and jabbered on, detracting from the picturesque view. I put on my I pod to drown them out and sunk into my own pleasent world. I tried to ignore the crammed streets of each tiny villiage with success. The return hike was mostly clear of people and allowed me to really cut loose on the steep climbes.

Upon arrival back to the hostel, I planned to shower, find a nice open air restaurant, and sip wine with my thoughts. The dorm changed this plan as I was greeted by several other American 20-somethings that were eager to find Riomaggiore's only bar. We sipped Italian beers at the empty town bar to pass the evening away. In the morning I set out with one couple to a rocky beach and proceeded to spend hours basking in the sun. I escaped the beach scene for a moment to myself and found a secluded rock look out where I found noone but two men, both older, one fishing and the other sunbathing. The sunbathing man turned out to be an Italian with excellent English and endulged in great conversation with me about nature, life, and the beauty of it all. We chatted over delicious blood oranges that he offered me and I felt the coversation was absolutely perfect for this beautiful day, looking out into the sea from the warm rocks where we lounged.

The day passed quickly and now it is time for me to make my way to the train and catch a ferry for 20 hours to Barcelona. I haven't braced myself for what lies ahead, but I figure I'll take it as it comes. The last 48 hours have been so perfect that I hardly seem phased by a thing. Stress has no place today in my pleasent little world. :)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Feeling Right at Home

It has been a nice few days here in a small town outside of Venice. The gracious family I have been staying with have selflessly taken me in with no hesitation. Soon I will be headed out to my next destination, alone and responsible for myself once again. The break has been a welcome change from the typical flow of this trip, but it is time to get back on the road with my backpack and continue the journey.

I can smell the aroma of home made lunch right now as I wait for my afternoon departure. Rosanna and Massimo, the parents of the household, take care of Saturday afternoon domestic tasks and the two children of the family, Ale and Ari will be home from school shortly. Being absorbed in this stable, quaint life has reminded me of what normal life looks like and that I will likely return to my own version of home soon enough. While it is incredibly comfortable and pleasent, I am not ready to step into that quite yet. I have many new challenges ahead of me and the idea of settling into a routine still seems quite dull and premature.

Every day I wake up aware that I have one less day to enjoy this special trip. I can't help but feel the pressure of what life will entail upon my arrival to the states. Will I go back to work and begin to collect an income again, living in another town with another apartment, going to different bars, mingling with a different circle? Maybe I will immediately plan my next adventure abroad or simply take up some type of part time work to kill time while I decide. I could go back to school, I could move away to take up temporary vocation like teaching english or guiding tour groups... So many choices, the same as before I left, but with a refreshed perspective. I am trying hard not to ponder on the looming choice too much for now, but I still have in the back of my head the awareness that a decision must ultimately be made.

For now I intend to enjoy the last peaceful moments with my new lovely Venitian family in this cozy small town. Tomorrow I will be hiking through Cinque Terre and then taking a very long ferry ride to Barcelona. And so, the trek continues...

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ah, Venice....

Yesterday as I strolled through the magnificant city of Venice, I felt intermingled with the atmosphere. This man made island has been the focal point of many paintings, movies, and idealized images. Taking one long walk through the narrow calles of the town makes it blatently clear of why that is. The melody of an accordion serenading a couple as they float down the adjecent canals in traditional lavish gondalas, the aroma fresh dough wafting through the air from a tiny pizzaria, and the old structures spinkled with bright flowers and ivy lit up dimmly with an occational street lamp, inadvertently absorb you into a state of mind unique to only Venice. Each corner of the winding allies reveals a new surprise. Some are tiny squares with the single cafe on the old cobble stone ground. Others are made famous by an extraordiany church or tower and filled with people enjoying competing orchestra bands at classic high end resturaunts. When I arrived at the anticipated destination, my new Venitian friend and guide, Alessandro, accompanying me, my breath was momentarily taken as I took in the view that stood before me. After climbing several stairs and walking for what seemed like hours, we finally arrived at Venice's most famous bridge, the Ponte di Rialto. As the sunset over the wide canal and the street lights lining the water dimly lit the old structures and single sidewalk, I felt as though I was peering at no more than a movie set. We stood for a moment and no longer was I on the outside, taking photos of the imaginary scene; I was part of this romantice bridge, completely absorbed in what can only be described as the perfect Venice moment. I watched the young lovers all around me trascending to this lovely state and I felt no void of that illusive other, just contentment within myself for this snapshot in time. They merely added to how special this place truely is.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Eyes Open Wide

Each day of this trip I become more connected, more self aware. Even on days with relatively low activity that I spend wandering around the city on my own prove to be extremely valuable. Today I had an unexpected extra day in Veinna and decided to spend it roaming the streets of the city center. While it deemed to be overall unsuccessful in finding my desired sites, I did manage to stumble upon a special little cafe off one of the side streets. It was old and smokey with only the basics, but an inspiring atmosphere, none the less. My pen got moving on my pad and spilled out a plume of enlightened ideas. I had a simular afternoon two days ago as I paused my long day of bike riding for a pensive writing break in a lively garden area.

It's hard to explain the deep feeling of contentment I have over here in Europe, but I feel as if I was born for this environment. At last I feel complete contentment and peace of mind. I could only acheive this at home in my past life during planned moments of coordinated relaxation. Here is a free flow of simply living and it is down right delightful. So how can I continue this way of life after the journey has ended? Should I just accept this as simply a holiday from the stress of conventional life and gracefully return to the hustle and bustle when I get back to the states? The idea makes me cringe. There must be another option and I feel as though I am getting closer to discovering a next step that will alow me to live on in this world I can only attempt to describe.

With all of this amazing introspection already, I find it hard to beleive that I am merely halfway through this European experience. Eleven countries have already been partially experienced, but the three most anticipated still await me. Spain, Italy, and Greece have a reputation for their culture, beauty, and spice for life. I can only image what lies ahead.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Generousity

This trip, particulary Austria, has given me a refreshing perspective on the extent of generousity. I am greatful for how selfless the people are here and they have shaped this portion of my trip ten fold.

When I first arrived to Vienna, I almost ran into my biggest challenge so far. If it were not for a chance meeting with a kind girl working late in the train's convenient store I would have been stranded in Vienna with no place to go. She saved me and took me in with no hesitation. I stayed with her and her roommate and was able to find my friends the next day.

I went from one warm welcoming to another as I joined back up with my Spainish friends from Brussels. They once again absorbed me into their group and I proceded to wonder the streets of Vienna with my new buddies. I was able to have a bed and a roof over my head, plus some great sandwiches over amazing conversation, making for an excellent start to the Austria part of my trip. That night was special for other reasons, too :)

When they departed, yet another kind new friend welcomed me into her home. A nice Austrian girl and her English boyfriend imediately welcomed me to stay with them once in Vienna when I met them in the hostel pub in Munich. I enthusiastically accepted and have been here in their great apartment for the last couple of days. They have fed me, lent me a bycical, taken me around, and given me a place to rest my head at night. I could not be more thankful. Not only have they provided me with basic comforts, we have also enjoyed amazing exchanges, and I again feel as if I have know them for ages. Thanks to them I can also post a few new photos for everyone's viewing enjoyment!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Amazing People

I was certainly not expecting the last 4 days to work out as they have, but a chance meeting on a crammed sleeper cab spawned an unforgettable trip through Prague and Vienna with friends I will never forget.

On Sunday night I grabbed the night train from Krakow to Prague and was randomly assigned to a crowded cabin with five other students studying in Brussels, four from Spain and one from Italy. They went from being complete strangers, stuffed into a rickety train car, to new travel buddies, inviting me to join them in the 8th bed of their hostel dorm room. I took a liking to all of them quickly and was eager to accept the invitation. This was the best decision I could have made. The next four days ended up being one of the most enjoyable experiences of this trip and the people I bonded with are now so uniquely special to me. The cold rain that we trudged through to see the sights and the lousy hostel conditions were merely afterthougths. The final day was the most magical for me and seeing them leave this morning to venture to their next destination reminded me that this is only a snap shot of this lengthy adventure. With that said, I still hope to see them again soon and plan to make my way to Brussels at the finale of my trip.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Auschwitz

I had a lump in my throat all morning and afternoon as I made my way through Auschwitz concentration camp and Birkenau death camp. Although the cold rain soaked through my clothes and shoes, the less than favorable conditions appropriately complimented the chilling tour. Witnessing several rooms dedicated to recovered items hit too close to home. The mountains of human hair, shoes, suitcases, and other various items was an eery reminder of how recent the extermination was and the sheer volume of people torn away from their lives, never to return. Birkenau was the most depressing for me. Soon after our arrival at noon, Poland recognized yesterday's loss of their president, first lady, and 90 other officials with a national moment of mourning. We stood in the rain, surrounded by barbed wire in the open area of the death camp as the blaring siren steadily rang for two minutes from the old watch tower. It made the experience feel that much more real and intense. Then, as we walked through an old barracks, the facts at last set in that my anscestors were merely cattle working to their death, and that the mass extermination of jews just like my own family and friends was even more devastating than I have ever let my mind absorb. Feelings of sadness brought tears to my eyes, but I choked them back for fear that the emotions would be too heavy to handle. A combination of the cold, wet walk along the train tracks in the camp, and being all alone in this aweful place where members of my own family were unjustly murdered, made for a depressing afternoon, to say the least.

Being in such a sad place for several hours was an overload, so myself and three others decided to relax over some warm, satisfying Polish food upon our arrival back to the hostel. The perogies and hearty soup hit the spot, but I couldn't help feel twinges of guilt as we indulged. I certainly appriciated the meal more than usual.

Even though today was quite depressing, I am glad I came here. With the added tragety in Poland yesterday, this was an important experience for my trip. Everyday cannot be a party and good times. I feel greatful to be a part of it all and feel quite humbled by my two day stay in Krakow. Tomorrow is Prague and I hope for spirits to once again be risen as I spend a few days in many other travelers' favorite European destination.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Eastern Europe

Budapest has been a unique experience compared to previous cities visited thus far. The recent influence of Nazi and Soviet occupation is obvious as I walk the streets of the city. The prices are extremely low and the buildings have an eery feeling as many of them expose their concrete foundations. With that said, there is remarkable beauty and a sense of subtle pride umongst the people.

The hostel I am staying at, Carpe Noctem, has shaped the experience ten fold. The atmosphere feels like home. Only accomidating 25 people at a time, the temporary residents are instant roommates that begin to bond on the spot. The group mentality cannot be avoided and undeniably welcoming. Suzie, the owner and resident who greeted me upon arrival, started this hostel after stepping away from corporate life, creating a safe haven for visitors from around the world.

My stay here has been brief but energizing. This afternoon I parted with the group for the first time and treated myself to an unbeatable hour long Thai massage. My thoughts drifted as she worked the oil into my skin, pushing out the aches and pains from carrying my heavy pack, sleeping in crappy beds, and enduring lengthy train rides. It was the perfect conclution to a chilled out day. Even though I will ultimately only be here for two full days, I extracted great vibes, indulged in enthralling conversation, and bonded with several new friends. Tomorrow I venture off to Krakow, Poland with a fellow traveller to experience Auschwitz. I'm glad I'm not doing this alone and with someone with a deep connection to his Jewish roots.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

It's 4 am and I have no where to go...

Well since I am so brilliant, I missed my night train to Budapest and am now sitting in the hostel lobby try desperately to stay awake until the morning train at 7 am. I had an awesome, memorable day, but I didn't properly plan for what I would do when I finally had to figure out accomidations and logistics. We had an incredible 5 hour bike tour today and our group bonded so much that we wouldn't leave each other. A father and son from Minnesota, three trouble makers from Toronto, an awesome couple I am planning to stay with from Vienna, our guide from Sydney, and two other great guys from Canada we picked up at a bar after the tour sucked me in with great conversation and their lively energy. What began as a georgeous day of strolling through the Munich streets by bike transformed into beers flowing generously at the english beer garden, setting the stage for many more to come. When back in the city, we found a hidden bar and really dug our heels into amazing chats. These conversations closely reflect a simular chance meeting last night with a rasta guy in the hostel bar with some amazing insights. I can't elaborate now because it is entirely too heavy for this moment, but I has certainly renewed my spirit and raised new fascinating questions.

Anyway, we had to make our way to the famous Haufbrau house before the night was finished for me. I was scheduled to catch the 11:30pm night train, arriving at 9 am tomorrow. The liter beer turned into 2 liter beers and I was easy to influence on continuing the fun. We left the beer house after closing it down, the group began to disapate, but myself and the guys from Toronto dove into a nearby, hopping night club with our biking gear on and all. My train was long gone so we continued on. The night began to get a little ridiculous and when it was time to figure out where to sleep, it was too late to book another night and really pretty pointless for only a few hours anyway.

So now I sit here, probably close to 5 at this point, sleep deprived, coming off the beer buzz, sort of wishing I would have gone with my better judgement on this one. Oh well, it was great fun and I'll learn from it. I wish I wasn't so sleepy because I would love to dive into the amazing connections I have made with the most unexpected sources. There are still several distracting influences everywhere I go, but those few moments of clarity have brought me to a new level of consciousness.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Munich solo

I didn't realize how freakishly long that last post was, so I'll keep this one short and sweet.

Yesterday was my first day back to being solo and I got some great writing done. My pen just seemed to flow with incredible ease and I felt incredibly inspired. I spent my afternoon after of a morning writing over coffee, at the first concentration camp, Dachau. It was sobering, but important to see. I could not help thinking of my family and my Jewish friends as I learned about the detailed history of this massively upsetting event. Dachau was only one of many establishments like it, which hit pretty hard. The images were almost too much to take at times. The documentary shown toward the end of the tour shocked the room as they silently showed video reels and images of the suffering prisioners.

After a somber day, it was time for a beer and I quickly made friends with several ex-pats in the hostel pub shooting pool. I decided to try my luck with the these pool sharks and to my surprise, I hung in there and earned my spot on the table. It didn't take much for a few of them to talk me into a mock pub crawl. They showed me some of the bars they regular and we ended up meeting up with other locals for a late night of more beer drinking. I missed the morning bike tour today, but luckily the weather kind of sucks, so it's no big loss. I am taking a moment to catch up on some must-dos and tomorrow I'll be sure to get an earlier start.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Adventure So Far

I have so very much to report, but my computer access is quite limited and with a different keyboard, writing has proven to be a bit monotonous. I will do my best to provide an update regaurdless.

Switzerland was absolutely beautiful and I can state with all confidence that I will be back. Three days was not nearly enough time to absorb the pure beauty of the Alps and take in the positive energy of the swiss people. Going from Paris to Interlaken was quite a shock to the system. We went from a large, packed hostel in the middle of one of Europe's largest cities to a sleepy little mountain town, even smaller and more quaint than Boone, NC. Paris is an important city to experience with all of it's marvelous cultural landmarks and unique sophistication. Switzerland was a breath of fresh air, however, not only due to the crisp mountain altitude, but also the vibe of the people transformed from a bit snobby and standoffish to welcoming and laid back. I enjoyed the overall Parisian experience, but was more than ready to depart, especially with less than ideal weather and a few creepier men we encountered the final night of our stay.

Interlaken was very quiet, almost too quiet because of the unusual time of year we selected to visit. None the less, we still were warmly welcomed and managed to bond with several locals. They were typically tandem skydivers, hostel staff, and bartenders from the local community and abroad. Switzerland seems to be a popular destination for young Austraillians. Our second day we boldly lept off the side of a mountain overlooking the story book town we planned to make our final decent. With nothing but a parashute and our tandem jumpers, Lisa and I took our 3 steps off the cliff into the air, thousands of feet above the tree tops. We soared high above land for about 15 minutes that seemed to last forever. It was so overwhelmingly peaceful and spectacular. After landing on solid ground, we shared a round of brews with our paragliding pros then headed to the popular underground pub beneath the Balmers. The drinks flowed and conversation deepened as we bonded with the local workers. Once again I was recharged as we dove into ideas about how to escape the seemingly inevitable fate of the working world as I've know n it to be. As the night tapered off, I felt renewed and excited about what the future holds for me.

The next morning we were greeted with snowflakes as thez clung to the skylight above our bed. The snow continued all morning and made for an absolutely spectacular veiw on our train ride to Luzern. A thin layar of white powder covered the vast green fields and distant mountain tops. Little villages sprung up sporatically and the tiny cottages appeared so quiet and untouched that our passing train seemed to violently disturb the scerenity. On our train car, children laughed and played while other passengers gazed out the window at the scene, snapping photos and enjoying the view. A precious collie joined the ride and became my companion for a sizable portion of the journey. The large version of my own pet at home so closely resembled Gus that I couldn't help but miss my own family back at home.

Luzern was overall short lived, but enjoyable. We met a couple of young college guys from Texas that insisted on joining us for dinner. They were relatively pleasent at first, but as the drinks flowed, they quickly and acurately fulfilled the stereotype of loud, disrespectful Americans. Frustrated and a bit embarrassed, we quickly decided to part ways and found a couple of nice Swiss guys to show us to the next lively scene. I struck up a long conversation with one of them, dispite the booming music in the background. This friendly local shared many common interests and was a real joy to mingle with. We parted abruptly as the night ended, but I do hope to maintain some type of communication.

We made the long trip to Munich yesterday and started off our trip here with a lot of beer and a wild and crazy evening across town at a lively club. It was enjoyable, but left my head pounding in the morning. We still made it to the 3 hour walking tour and enjoyed a beer and lunch at Munich's largest beer hall. Lisa leaves me tonight and I will be once again solo in this crazy party city.

Being with a friend from home made this trip much easier and much more comfortable, changing the projectory of my trip temporarily. While it was more than a pleasure to have her with me, making many elements logistically and socially easier, I will once again have to remember my purpose for making this trip. This trip is part vacation, but also part of a greater journey. I have had my fair share of booze and excitement, but have lacked introspection and personal time for reflection. Lisa successfully dug her way through the travel books as I relaxed and enjoyed the ride. Now I am all alone again and must regain the motivation to reach out to new people and forge my path. Budapest is next, Tuesday I set off on the night train to this mystery town I know very little of. I can only imagine the vast differences but welcome the experience and the challenge.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

SWITZERLAND

I need to keep this short and sweet, but Switzerland is amazing. This key board is completely different and I have very little time, but I just wanted to check in and say that paragliding is so great, the people here in the small town of Interlaken are so chill, and I must come back here before I make my way to the next destination. We met a load of awesome locals, jumped off the side of a mountain, ĂȘnjoyed a snowy morning, and so much more. Only one minute of internet to go, but I will post more from the next Swiss destination of Luzern that we set off to today.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Thin Line

There is a thin line between being bold and being wreckless. Between being open and being naive. Between being cautious and being paranoid. I am testing the balance here in Paris. Last night after loosing my connection to my new American study abroad friends, I ventured off to have a good ole time with some true Parisians. One Frenchman, Vincent, and I carried on learning eachothers' language. I beleive I am truely picking it up! Before I knew it, I was in the center of a large group of drunk French partiers in, coincidentally, a bar with an American/ Canadian theme. They were a lot of fun, but I could tell they couldn't help but tease me a little. I think that if you are in Paris and an American, you just have to accept that there is some hesitation to take us seriously. I completely understand that, especially as I peared around the bar to witness several drunk American students being obnoxious and ridiculous.

As the night wore on, I realized that I needed to find my friend to get myself home. He was nowhere in sight, so I mustered up the courage to face the late Paris streets alone and forge my way home. I was tipped off that there was a metro station a few blocks away, so I picked up the pace and bee lined it for the station. Some how I found it, and found my connection back to north Paris. There were several drunk travelers joining me on the train, eager to make conversation with me. I had the pleasure of meeting one girl as I turned the corner in the station to find her urinating in the stairwell. Always a great way to meet a new aquaintance.

The train ride was a long ordeal and when I at last arrived back at the hostel after a chilly walk home, I realized how I was really pushing it. Running across these situations is bound to happen and late night stragglers see a naive American young girl as a perfect target. As much as I would like to say we are all on equal playing feilds, I know that isn't true. I will be more careful as I party in new places with new people. I will do my best to trust, but also be aware of potential dangers.

So today it is rainy and I have some errands to acheive. I also am unfortunately getting a bit sick. My throat is aching and my back is stiff. I will make my way to the drug store and hope they can help me. Tonight Lisa arrives and the trip will change dramatically upon her arrival, I'm sure.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Goodbye Amsterdam, Hello Paris

After 10 long hours on and off trains with my big heavy backpack, I am finally safe and sound at the next hostel in Paris. My first impression of it is very corporate, clean, organized. As nice as that is, I hope it is warm and friendly. In hind sight, I made some really great friends in the last hostel and it's bareboned, somewhat seedy atmosphere may have contributed to that. I can't believe how much I miss it already! Yesterday was so great and me and one of the aussies ended up on the roof of our hostel, overlooking the redlight and central station. So amazing after a bed time Amsterdam goodie.

So now I am waiting for Jason's friend Met's Guy (Evan) to meet me for my first meal out in Paris. In two days Lisa will be here, so this seems much easier than my Amsterdam experience starting off. I also know the trains and neighborhoods pretty well since I've been here. Once Lisa leaves and I'm alone again, the real challenge will continue.

This trip has so far been such an amazing ride and it is so great that you all are enjoying the posts. I will continue to keep everyone interested up to date on what's happening here. Thank you for the comments and interest and I miss you all so much!!!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Last Day in the Dam

I'm reaching the end of my leisurely stay here in Amsterdam. It has only improved since first arriving completely disoriented last Friday evening. Yesterday I met a new friend from Australia that joined me on a mini adventure outside of the city. We went to a random tiny beach town with not much going on, but it was nice to take a walk on the sand. On the way back, we stopped in Harlem, a historical city about 20 minutes outside of Amsterdam. It was so pretty and more of what I pictured of the Netherlands. We strolled about with no schedule or place to go, then posted up for a couple of beers in a big open air square in the shadow of a beautiful cathedral. Amazing. When we got back we met up with others and had yet another crazy night getting lost around the red light in a space cake daze. Back at the hostel one of the greek girls grabbed the guitar and we collectively enjoyed the beautiful words we did not understand until the wee hours of the morning. So great...

From talking to others I've met, I have some new changes to make the itinarary. I really want to go to Prague and Budapest now and I think it will be feasable to do after Munich and before Vienna. They are apparently very cheap and a lot of fun.

The trip is coming along well and I can't beleive how much I'm learning every single day. In additional to the blog, I've written over 40 pages of introspection, observation, and reactions to things. Lots of great material to take back after this experience. In the laundramat yesterday I also met an extremely interesting Welsh guy now living here and for a good hour we dug into all types of social and politiacal dynamics of the world. It's fun to dive in and explore dreamy ideas of changing the world with people from so many different backgrounds. I'm sure that is not the last eye openning, random convo I'll stumble upon.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Melting Pot

Amsterdam is an interesting destination to meet people because it attracts people from all around the world who want to let loose and do pretty much nothing. Yesterday after I actually did have a busy day seeing the Van Gough Museum and the Anne Frank house, I came back to the hostel and accumulated a diverse group of new friends. What began with a game of pool with a cook from Argentina turned into a group of about 10 people wandering the red light to a little cafe, the Green House. I was with people from Bulgaria, Austria, England, Brazil, Argentina, and Switzerland. It was the first time being completely away from anyone from the US and noone from the country I am actually in. It was a good time, pretty mindless, but enjoyable. What is most interesting to me was how exposing my ''American'' attributes are. The stereotypes are true in many ways and I couldn't help for certain qualities to come out. I also found it humbling that we all met in English to speak, my only language, but only one of several that the others spoke. In the US it's just not a priority. This was the first real opportunity I had to spend an extended period of time speaking with people from many different cultures simaltaneously and I suspect it will certainly not be the last. Very interesting and quite the learning experience.