At odds with Europe

Our last few months in Europe was an interesting kind of experience.

And it lead me to the conclusion that Europe is not my favorite travel spot and in fact, the Western world does not always offer the things I love about travel.

Yes there are castles and museums and buildings older than my own country and there are mountains that break the clouds.  But there is something missing and leaving it feeling unlike the startling adventures I crave and stumbled upon so easily and frequently in Asia or South America.

Why?  Because in developed and affluent countries like Germany and Austria, people are comfortable with their private lives.  They go to their private homes and grocery shop at clinically clean grocery stores.  They offer friendly smiles, but they do not truly need one another and struggle with one another the way we’ve seen in developing countries.  It’s honestly not so different from the U.S. in that way.  

And you know what?  I don’t like it.

As strange as it may sound, I have fallen in love with the developing world.  When we arrived in South Africa for our brief visit, I breathed in the gritty smell at the subway station and a rush of excitement went through me.  It finally felt like travel again in a way that Europe hadn’t. And sure enough even if our brief visit we still found ourselves sitting down to a long conversation with strangers in the national park discussing the intricacies of South Africa.

I don’t mean to knock on Europe so much though because we really did have some very interesting and meaningful experiences.  For instance we had a wonderful time introducing Drew’s mom to Europe and it was so wonderful to live vicariously through her excitement for her family’s genealogy.  I’ll never forget navigating the busy districts of London with Mary Ann, hunting down the church where her great great great relatives were married and baptized.  We followed 11 police vans into the “ghetto” and strolled right by a sidewalk brawl to visit the beautiful and endearing church at Stepney.  

But still….I’m ready to say goodbye to Europe because the developing world teaches me things I love to be reminded of.

I see people leaning on one another in a life structured more for the interaction of people than the protection and possession of things.  

On the one hand, the developing world brings you face to face with the brokenness that is poverty.  

On the other hand, the developed world brings you face to face with the brokenness that is ….privacy and affluence….comfort to some unnatural extreme.

Both are broken, but for some reason the developing world has won me over not because I can ignore the brokenness of the developing world but because I’ve have gotten too good at ignoring the unnatural comfort of the Western world…and I want to be stretched.  I want to grow.  I want to wrestle with the things worth wrestling.

We have one more brief trip scheduled for Europe, and then at last it’s back to Asia, a world that challenges me in my most favorite ways.

Friends and Vagabonds

Is it easier to leave, or be left?

This morning I woke up with a feeling that is familiar, but not fond.  It’s the same feeling I had back in college when I was doing a cross cultural trip in Northern Ireland and I woke up for my internship knowing that an hour earlier my parents and sister had left for the airport.  It’s the same feeling I had a year ago when my parents wrapped up their visit and headed back to Ohio while I started my work day.

It’s diving back into the routine after loved ones have offered a welcome riff.  

I had that feeling this morning because our time in Mexico with our Charlottesville friends drew to an end.  When I woke up at 8:30 am this morning, my friends were already on a plane home.  The sky was already twitter-blue and I heard vacationers laughing in the pool beneath my hotel window.  The waves hissed against the sandy beach and the sound of a jet ski filtered through my window.  But still that subtle annoyance was there- the knowledge that I must return to business as usual.  

That’s not part of a traveller’s life, that’s just part of anyone’s life.  Or at least anyone who has friends and family scattered elsewhere.  

And it wears off as the day goes on and the routine pushes itself back into importance.  

Web design instead of whale-watching; content editing instead of snorkeling; a rushed bight at the airport instead of breakfast with friends.

Everyone has a dichotomy, not just the traveller.  Many of our friends are in somewhat transitional stages right now so the conversational whirl-pooled around these topics.  One friend wants to be both a farmer and a vagabond.  The other wants both security and something to be passionate about.  

Unless you love just one thing in life, you too will have a dichotomy and to love one thing, would be very sad.  To love travel so much that I wouldn’t have that unsettling feeling I described of my waking thoughts  when my friends left, would be more sad than this reality.  It’s a “better to love and lose” kind of thing.  

It’s better to enjoy so many things, that you are sometimes without ALL the things you enjoy.

My husband is an animal whisperer

This week we made a quick trip to South Africa.

I know that sounds bizarre, but it’s true and very demonstrative of our life these days.  We left Houston for South Africa last Friday and will leave Africa this Friday (today).  A week-long teaser of Africa.

Despite how miserable an 11 hour flight, followed by a 12 hour layover followed by a 10 hour flight is…this trip to South Africa has been absolutely incredible.  Also, since we work as we travel, we can’t treat our trips as vacations.  Thus, 5 days in South Africa means 1 day of recreation, but that one day was as epic as 5 elsewhere.  It was incredible.  We rented a jeep for the day and went on a rouge safari in the small but enjoyable Pilanesberg National Park.

In fact, I think Drew may have some kind of super power for attracting animals.  …

Now, due to realizing that google does not like for the same content to appear twice on two different websites…(even if they’re both mine) I’ll need to link to my other website.  To finish the story and skip all the “tips of travel” bits, scroll down to the “Now I’m going to let my story-teller side out” portion of the post on this link: DIY Safari Johannesberg South Africa.

Thanks for cooperating with my goofy process of learning what does and doesn’t work for SEO on the internet.  In the future I will make sure I create entirely unique content for both sites.  Just this once however, please follow the above link to check out the full story on my other site.  

Thanks!

-Carrie

 

Wedding day

I woke up early this morning and watched the wind in white translucent curtains as the colors started to reappear in our hotel room with the rising daylight.

Last Thursday Drew and MaryAnn and I flew back to the US after a three-week tour of Europe. Yesterday my grandpa had heart surgery.  Yesterday I submitted my passport renewal paperwork and today I pick up my new passport. Today my sister in law gets married.  A week from yesterday is Thanksgiving day, and a week from today Drew and I fly to South Africa on our way to Mexico.

And tomorrow is simply Saturday.

Just an ordinary day in Drew and my life.

We will likely work on our various blogs and I will work on some video and graphic design projects.  We’ll do a little socializing and a little work, all from a hotel room.

This is this year’s ordinary.  Different from last year’s and perhaps different from next year’s.

Work

Work!  Who knew this untraditional lifestyle would come with a legitimate load of work!  (She says as she procrastinates…)

 

I have not been blogging weekly as I intended to because it turns out that travel is still real life, especially travel that’s designed to be sustainable.  It comes with a job to do so that money can be earned so that sustenance can be had etc etc.  

 

Sure I wake up when I want to wake up, but I don’t work 9-5 i work 11:00 to 11:00 or 11:00 to midnight or 11:00 to two a.m. or what have you.  

 

I love it though.  Instead of a lunch break in a break room, we go on a walk in downtown Kiev.  Instead of an off day, we follow the breeze and take our adventures when they come our way without notifying a single sole.

 

We’ve been staying stationary in Kiev for the last week and a half with one more week yet to go and as much as we’ve gotten done it feels like there’s still so much to do.  Building your own income is tough!  Drew’s been working monstrously hard and it is paying off!  His website is growing and he has more and more grateful and curious readers every day.

 

And every few days if I need a break, sure enough the skype-phone rings and I get to chat with my little nephews.  Kian peeked around the corner of the computer to try to figure out where I was so he could give me a hug.  Mom explained to him that I was “far far away”.  So he hugged the computer screen. 🙂

 

An when the fancy hits and aligns with the few things we have scheduled, we will spend a good chunk of time with those kidos.

 

Maybe this sustainable travel thing really is possible.

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(This pic is from back in May.  Kian is so much bigger now!)

 

The others of Vienna

When we arrived in Vienna and set to the streets to explore, a blind man stood outside of the opera house and sang “Ave Maria” to the soft accompaniment of a tape recorder he carried in a black leather bag.   The evening fell around us as we stood and listened to his music.  As he sang he emptied the change from his cup into his pocket and calculated the sum with his fingers, his voice sure and steady all the while.  We let his music paint the mood of the evening until the sum in the man’s pocket was sufficient and he left us applauding with a cluster of by-standers.  Drew walked along side him long enough to place his hand on the man’s shoulder and thank him for his music then along he went with his cane in front of him tapping in a rhythm of two taps per step.

The sun had set around us by the time our serendipitous concert had ended and a near-full moon cast a white shadow of light on the spires of a gothic cathedral.  I decided that Vienna shows its beauty most fully in the night.  We were delighted to lose ourselves in a labyrinth of cobbled streets walled with impressive and ornate buildings, ever moving towards the towers of the Town Hall that rose above the rooftops of them all.  Honey colored light glowed from the tops of each splendid building illuminating onion domes oxidized green and lace-like patterns of iron gates and window frames.

An entirely other population shares the city, sealed into position in their most dramatic postures of fear or passion, forever raising a fist toward the sea monsters fastened on their legs or forever balancing on a horse raised on its back legs.  Forever peering over the doorway with empty eyes.  At night it feels as if the city is just as much theirs; their private adventures seem almost animated by the shadows that flicker across their stony muscles.

At last we duck inside the Stephansdom Cathedral to watch the orchestra practice for an upcoming concert.  Here statues of gold cover the walls.  They are all designed to seem curious and attentive with their heads turned toward the front of the church.  Their attention is now on the conductor and his small collection of musicians.  Such a noble audience of gold and ivory, we hide in the shadow of a humble pew to listen to what Vienna has to offer this night.

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Changing Plans and Overlooking a Misty Hill

Changing Plans

Hamburg was beautiful.  The outskirts of Hamburg where we had booked a week’s worth of mistake-fares at the Leonardo Hotel Hamburg City North was not as beautiful.  Picture an industrial park of sorts with a gas station and a conglomerate of hotels and conference buildings nesting amidst a few trees.  Picture no internet and thus…no work…no income…

So, we changed our plans.  We used what little wifi time we had left from our last complimentary 24 hours provided by the Park Hyatt Hamburg to hop online and book the cheapest, most interesting yet feasible flight we could find.  Hamburg to Salzburg, Austria.

It took some finesse but we established 6 nights of affordable accommodation in Salzburg and set our sights on Berchtesgaden for four nights after that.

Well, by the time Berchtesgaden came around, they were forecasting nothing but rain. 100% chance of rain every day of our supposed Alpine hiking days.

So after a night we changed our plans, stationing ourselves on the side of the road with our thumbs out, setting our sights for Eschenlohe a few hours away where a friend of a friend was willing to host us.

We caught a ride almost right away with two Swedish film-artists road-tripping to Italy.  They were heading toward Innsbruck, Austria about an hour shy of our destination but we had hours to get where we were going.

A wrong-turn perhaps caused by a constant flow of good conversation and a friendly exchange of chocolates landed us in Innsbruck later than expected.  We all agreed that Indian food would be a good way to end our little road-trip so we found an Indian restaurant across the river in InnsBruck.  There was a solitary man inside the dimly lit building.  I couldn’t tell if  he was excited to see a group enter his empty restaurant or overwhelmed, because one or two groups followed in after us and the man switched the lights on and went to a corner to make a phone call: a call for back-up.

This one man show was delicious but set us back another few hours.

So we changed our plans.

We found a hotel by the train station and put off Eschenlohe for the next morning.

I love changeability.  Or do I love change?  I doubt that because I am an extremely nostalgic and sentimental person.  But at least when I travel, I love that moment where Drew and I look at one another and say “Or…”  We could stay here or….we could go somewhere new.  Or…we could hitch-hike.  Or…we could get on a plane.  I love it.  Even if we’ve just gotten somewhere, as long as I’ve gotten a little vision for that place, I’m ready to have the next adventure.

Overlooking A Misty Hill

Now we are in a cozy little hunting cabin in Eschenlohe with friends of friends who are as friendly as you could ever hope.  We watch the mist rise against a dark green background of foliage each morning, drifting upwards towards a flat gray sky.  We listen to the rain’s steady flow as it falls from the spouting and empties in a puddle next to our guest bedroom window.  Even in the rain this house is enchanting in its quiet distance from the rest of the world.  The house next door is a large, castle-styled estate where a grounds keeper occasionally shows his weather-worn face.  Aside from his occasional use of a tractor and the whinny of horses on the hills, it is a quiet place to think.  A place to think about all the little changes of plan and mind-set that let to this specific vantage point.

Overlooking a misty hill.  Seeing the beauty in something not quite clear.  Once upon a time I loved the solid-lined certainty of a place and perspective I knew and understood.  Now I embrace the mystery of black and white and lucid shades of gray.

I only like plans if they are changeable.

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A short poem in Salzburg

We are again way-faring strangers not yet sure of where we might by nightfall belong. 

Others before us strapped tambourines to their hips and bells to their shoes so that music rattled instead of bones and a songs were born from their constant roving.

Others before us walked to the sound of church bells- a promise of warmth and an open door.

The world is always changing but the rovers will always rove.  

Fireworks Everywhere!

My last post told the story of our motorcycle trip with Csaba but doesn’t describe the second part of that long, adventurous day.

We had serendipitously happened upon Budapest for a holiday week: St. Stephen’s Day or essentially, Independence Day.  This holiday is celebrated with an enormous fireworks display over the Danube in Budapest.  Knowing all too well the grandeur of this event, yet knowing it the way a local knows its own familiar treasures, Csaba wanted us to get back in time for the show but had no plans to go himself. At the restaurant where he treated us to stew after our bike ride, he chatted in Hungarian with his friend, the owner of the establishment.  After a few minutes of conversation he turned to us and explained that his friend would be making the hour or so drive to Budapest in forty-five minutes, and had space in his car if we wanted to catch a ride with him.

Csaba’s friend didn’t know English we carried on conversation with one another while our driver and his sons conversed amongst themselves.  At one point our driver made a cell phone call, then handed the phone to Drew.  It took just a second to realize what was happening.  Csaba was on the phone, serving as translator.  “Would you like to be dropped off before the bridge or after the bridge?  Before the bridge might be easier for you as your driver is going to a dock down the river.”  Drew said that this was fine and handed the phone back to our driver so Csaba could translate our response.

We were dropped off at a bus stop far further from town than we thought.  Something had gotten lost in translation, but that is just part of life abroad.  As are buses.  There is always a bus.  We hopped on the next bus that arrived, assuming it would take us at least into town and sure enough it took us right to the Castle District on the Buda side of the river where festivities were already beginning.

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We spent the next two hours just walking along the side of the river, watching a street that had been transformed into a fair with people bending over big copper pots of stew or filling paper bags with brightly colored fruit and date desserts appearing more like whimsical plastic toys than edible treats.  There were people everywhere, lining up along the river to secure a spot for the approaching fireworks show.  We were headed to the Buda hill that rises above the city in a mass of rock and tree.

The rock at the base of the hill fascinated me as it bared the scars of old towers- that outline of organized patterns of stone where buildings once protruded.  There were big doors in the base of the hill’s rock in an old style whose age I couldn’t guess, but favored the assumption of centuries-old origin.  Where the doors led I could only wonder.

The hike to the top was steep, but the view was incredible.  We found a spot to sit on a steep bank and watched shards of light crackle over a miniature scene of Budapest and the River Danube.  The parliament building flickered in hues of orange like a face by the fire.  The fireworks show went on more than twenty minutes and I found my mind drifting and losing awareness of the grand display right before my eyes.  I had to remind myself to take note of the fits of glitter in the sky.  While the city celebrated in safety below, the sky was alight with fire and smoke.

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We arrived in Hamburg midday yesterday.  We carpooled to town from Berlin with a local Hamburg man who gave us a little tour of town before dropping us off at our hotel.  The Alster lakeside was littered with tents of food venders and a big stage was being set up for a DJ.  Karsten explained that there was some kind of Alster Lake Festival going on all around the lakeside.

Around 10 pm last night we heard the dull boom of fireworks muffled by our sealed windows.  We perched on the window sill and watched the fire works stretch above the buildings out our window.

I remember telling Drew when we were in Thailand that, in Asia, fireworks must be as common as Hallmark cards.  Having a birthday?  Let’s have some fireworks!  Having a going away party?  Let’s have some fireworks!

Perhaps we just have a strange subconscious attraction to towns about to put on fireworks shows.

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Budapest By Photogarph

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