Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Ins and Outs of Flying

So I’ve already told you just how much I love flying in one of my first entries (In the Eyes of a Child) but don’t believe for a minute that this love is still going strong because my flights have all gone smoothly—I’ve definitely had my own fair share of traveling problems including a full international flight delayed overnight due to a pilot being pulled from my flight for an earlier one to the same destination that was short a pilot (as the rumor mill circulated).  There is something freeing and beautiful about flying.  You hand over the reins of control to the captain and his co-pilot relying on their hands and wisdom stemmed from experience to get you safely to your destination.  Window seats are by far my favorite place on a plane and whenever I get the option I sit there…I’ve even been known to switch with my neighbor.  Usually I mention the fact that it would be more convenient for them to stretch into the aisle or one less person to climb over to get out of the seats or the fact that I do not require leg room (my short legs have been known to fit just about anywhere without being squished).  I have to be able to look out the window when flying.  I enjoy the thrill of watching the ground slowly shrink and fade as you lift into the sky and the rush as it appears to come up and meet you upon descent.  And how marvelous is it to watch topographical features so large when face-to-face appearing as though they could fit in your hand?  What a marvelous work God has created and privilege He has given us to live and experience every day.  To me flying provides a glimpse into what He must see when viewing the world He made, ribbons of water winding through the terrain with precise curves so the flow of water never ceases its flow or the majestic mountains on the horizon with their jagged peaks distinctly set against the sky above. 

Maybe you’re like me and enjoy the sight of flying through clouds.  It’s amazing to think that the clouds we view from the ground don’t appear all that different when inside them either.  When I was younger I thought the plane would have to have wipers on the windows so the passengers could see when flying through clouds (we hadn’t gotten to this topic in science class yet, lol).  But when you think about it, there are things of this world that do appear different upon closer examination yet clouds remain the same-fascinating.  I sure hope I’m not boring you at this point and I hope you’ll continue reading because I do have experiences to share with you.  I think you get the picture of the joy I find in flying.  J

There really are some basic concepts in flying and if you’ve done it recently you’ve probably picked up on a lot of it, but if the last time you’ve flown was before the 9/11 terrorist attacks or if you’ve never flown there are some helpful tips to point out.  Travel as light as you can manage, but be reasonable and plan ahead.  If you’re planning a backpacking trip than make it an actual backpacking trip.  Think about who you are-are you someone who loves to collect little trinkets or souvenirs from each place you visit?  Or do you plan on getting birthday or Christmas gifts for family and friends while you travel?  These will make a difference in how you pack.  Sometimes you might have an option of shipping a box home but if your budget is tight carefully weigh the options of the spatial limits.  I’ve found that I usually pack a collapsible soft cover bag such as a sling bag or tote (similar to the reusable shopping bags that are widely popular-in fact they make great bags to bring with).  It’s also important to recognize your needs while on the trip and plan accordingly.  Do you really need that big tube of toothpaste or bottles of shampoo and conditioner?  Maybe you can get by with the travel size or a combo shampoo and conditioner or you have the option of purchasing what you need once you arrive or using what available at your hotel.  If you are only planning on having a carry-on be aware of the federal TSA guidelines as well as the specific guidelines your specific airline or flight may have.  There are actually weight restrictions for a carry-on as well as size restrictions depending on your airline and destination.  You can find these on your airline’s website.  It’s also essential to be aware of what you might have access to-if you have frequent flyer program you may have an option of using miles toward baggage fees or a higher weight limit for the same price.  There are numerous possibilities if you take the time to do a little research. 

Being aware of airlines and airports can also be beneficial when traveling.  This is where my not-so-pleasant experiences have benefited me.  I now know that the Denver International Airport and Charles de Gaulle-Paris Airport are not where you want to pass through on a short layover.  The multiple times I have been in these airports I’ve found myself struggling to reach my gate on time resulting in missed flights or impatient fellow passengers upon arrival.  I’ve found myself sprinting from one end to the other of a terminal at Denver’s airport never so thankful for the moving walkways in my life desperate to reach the final flight out to Sioux Falls for the night.  Most flight attendants will have listings available for connecting flights and if you make a request you can usually get assistance. In this specific case a fellow passenger and I were given priority when departing the plane in our attempt to reach the same connecting flight.  Other times I have had them contact the gate of my connecting flight alerting them that I was still coming and to hold the plane if possible.  In Paris, my one missed flight resulted in a little extra for the next flight they booked me on-being moved up to business class and allowed access to their lounge until it was time to board the flight.  Make sure you don’t become too angry and aggressive with the gate attendant or customer service worker-it’s not their fault your delay occurred or your flight was missed.  Make them aware of your situation and give them the facts don’t exaggerate your claims because more often than not you will not benefit and it will likely count against you in how your specific situation is handled.  Working in customer service myself, I know how difficult it can be to be the person on the other side of the counter or phone conversation.  Please be courteous to those assisting you and if you cannot manage that for whatever reason at least be indifferent in how you treat them rather than all-out rage or frustration.

If you’re looking for airports easy to get around in on a short layover the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport is one of the nicer and more organized ones out there.  Also, the Amsterdam Airport Schiphol in The Netherlands, and the Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix are two other well organized and easily maneuverable airports.  I know not everyone’s views will be the same when it comes to airports or even air travel in general but if you know how to avoid certain situations or how to handle difficult occurrences that may come up your experiences should be relatively smooth.  I have my own personal preferences of airports to travel through and in some instances I have no way of avoiding those I dislike because of the limited connections available to me from a small-town regional airport. 
*Side Note*   If you are a student, faculty member, or under the age of 25 when traveling or purchasing airfare, be aware of the resources you have available to you.   One of my favorite sites for researching airfare is www.studentuniverse.com.  They offer some great prices for both domestic and international travel.  Make sure you look around and see what is available before you make a purchase-it’s not one you can easily change once you commit.

Friday, October 7, 2011

30 Hours in Venice

I realize it’s been awhile but life has been keeping me busy these past couple of weeks. 

I want to tell you about one of my favorite international destinations recently visited.  It’s a place that falls on most people’s list of top dream destinations and that is the beautiful water/canal city of Venice, Italy.  I had a weekend to do as I please (Friday afternoon through Sunday night) so I was torn between a couple different options: Croatia, Kosovo, or Venice.  In the end Venice won out because of time constraints with the travel options available to me.  I likely could have made either of the other two work out but my time there would have been even more limited than what I ended up with in Venice.  My location was near Graz, Austria, and with train travel so prevalent in the area this was going to by my primary source or travel for the weekend.  Flying was too expensive and really didn’t gain me a lot of time with the flight times available.  I made a reservation at a hostel in the city online before leaving so I’d know I’d have a place to stay Saturday night and then took off with a backpack and my “purse” (more or less it’s a messenger bag).  I traveled to Graz by train and then went to the information office there at the station to get tickets for the remainder of my travel.  I had a pass that allows me to travel by train in Austria without purchasing a ticket so I mainly just needed to know availability and times for the trains into Venice.  I was able to have guaranteed seating to Klagenfurt but from there I had no guarantees and was told the night train (that traveled from Vienna to Venice) was sold out.  Figuring there would be more options available I went for it knowing I could always spend the night in the station there if it came down to it.  Upon reaching Klagenfurt I noticed the next approaching train was scheduled through to Rome with a stop in mainland Venice so I ran around to the other side of the tracks and asked the train official waiting at the doors if there was room available to Venice…getting conformation I hopped on and bought my passage from him before winding my way through the cars to find an open seat.
Canal through Venice
Thankfully, I managed to be a light sleeper for once in my life and woke up just before we approached the Venice station at about 4:00am.  I have to admit that the next hour and a half was a bit on the creepy side of things.  One, I don’t know Italian.  Having some generic language background and familiarity with German and French I could guess at some of the things being said around me, but I would probably not suggest arrival as a solo female traveler at 4:00 in the morning when you have to wait until about 5:30 for the first train out to the station on the island/s.   I will say that I was incredibly excited to arrive in Venice and stand on the bridge out in front of the station and watch the sunrise over the city.  I think the only thing that might beat that was if I had gotten there early enough to walk around to the east side of the island and watch it come up over the ocean-but either way it was absolutely gorgeous and something I will never forget.  J
Sunrise over Venice
I walked around the city for a few hours finding some bread for breakfast and learning my way around the main streets/bridges for easier navigation later.  I then found my way to the hostel so I could check in and dumped off one of my bags taking only necessities with me as it was a hot, sunny day in Italy.  Acquiring a map at the desk and some helpful hints on where I should go and what to see I set off for my day in Venice.  I enjoyed walking the streets with windows full of leather, glass, and beautiful masks.  One could never tire from the sight-it’s fascinating!  I walked the famous Ponte di Rialto (Rialto Bridge) over the Grand Canal, watched gondoliers floating along the way, and marveled at the Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square).  There is a reason that Venice is a desired destination for most people and I now know that for a fact.  Rather than having a meal for dinner, I snacked my way through the morning and afternoon on fresh bread, gelato, and different Italian treats and then headed on a water taxi across to Murano where I watched a glass blowing demonstration and wandered around completely enthralled with all of the handmade glass products available.  It really is marvelous what one can do with the stuff.  J

Glass Display on Murano
The afternoon held a bit more adventure for me as I was caught unaware in a brief downpour (as were most of the people there).  I sought shelter in a little boutique and ended up finding a couple really nice shirts I bought.  Emerging out into the streets again I decided to make a quick stop back at the hostel to drop off my accumulating purchases, grab my umbrella, and seek some suggestions for a good supper restaurant.  *Take note that wearing flip flops on wet stone streets is NOT a suggested travel tip.* I walked back to my “sunrise” bridge to watch night fall on the city before setting out for the suggested restaurant that was a little off of the beaten path (walking alone on the “streets” of Venice at night may be a bit uncomfortable for some as it is more or less walking single file alleys with very little lighting).  I found the restaurant to be a nice little cozy place where most of the patrons were true Venetians and I and one other couple (also Americans) were the only tourists.  *Thank you hostel worker for your outstanding recommendation!*  I had an amazing real Italian pizza that left me stuffed beyond belief with a lot left over (and sadly nowhere to keep it, though I have to say I don’t know if asking for a box would be frowned upon there or not).  Needless to say I spent my one and only night in Venice sleeping very well.  I had experienced a wonderful day in the city and met some wonderful people along the way.

Nightfall over Venice
I got up the next morning with every intention of taking the train back the entire way only to find that the train schedules did not overlap enough for me to make my connections and get back to my little Austrian city in time.  I was left scrambling for a way home.  *This falls under one of those times where my spontaneity can cause problems.* I ended up buying a ticket for a bus to Klagenfurt later in the day but traveling by train to Udine, Italy, and then managed to catch the earlier bus to Klagenfurt.  This allowed me to barely-just barely-catch the right train connections to get me back to Graz and make the final train out of the city to my little town in the countryside.  I walked quietly into the house shortly before one on Sunday night/Monday morning brimming with excitement from the experiences I had had and also exhausted knowing I would be up bright and early the next morning to start working again.   

Piazza San Marco

Anyone who wants to plan a trip to Venice I would love to give you some specifics, it just gets to be a lot to type them all out on here.  Maybe another time…

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Networking In a Traveler's World

Networking…that’s probably the last thing some of you want to hear and I can truly understand that.  In the business world we now live in networking is largely the only way to gain that dream job.  You have to know someone to get inside and it can be a difficult way to get what you want when you begin with not knowing anyone…or so it seems.  But in the world of travel, networking is more focused on fun rather than business.  In all honesty, it may not even be the best term used for what I’m talking about-being able to go somewhere new and exciting because you know someone there.  And actually there are two different realms of this idea.  The first one is going to visit someone you know well, a good friend or a family member, and then taking the time to enjoy and explore a place you’ve never been before.  The second would be just the opposite and really the more cold and unfriendly of the two and that’s going somewhere to explore a new place and seeing someone briefly because you’re already there…this is better applied with acquaintances or friends of friends with whom you are more unfamiliar. 
Driving down the interstate heading for the Historic Apache Trail
People are unknowingly doing these or variations of them all of the time.  Maybe you go somewhere for a business trip but find time to grab lunch with a friend or family member who lives there as well.  Or you’ve got a free morning so you go to a museum you’ve always wanted to visit.  I’ve managed to travel in many variations of these as well.  One of the more recent was my trip to Mesa, Arizona, for the wedding of two good college friends.  I’d never been to Arizona before (and like a lot of people I have dreamed of traveling to all 50 states since I was much younger) and found this invitation to be the perfect opportunity to explore the area surrounding the Phoenix Metro.  I also have some family and friends down in the area and was hoping I could meet up with them or stay with some of them while I was there.  With the wedding on Saturday and a brunch on Sunday, I headed out from the Sioux Falls Regional Airport early Thursday morning and arrived at the Phoenix Sky Harbor Int’l Airport mid-morning with the time difference.  That gave me almost the entire day to do some exploring.  For this reason I was renting a car and not sharing rides with others coming to the wedding or getting rides from friends and family who lived there.  I wanted a bit more independence to go and do as I chose.
Part of the Trail-Tortilla Flats, definite tourist stop
Before purchasing my tickets and hotel and everything of the sort, I did a little bit of research for what I wanted to do and see.  Knowing I wanted to fit as much in as a could but leaving time for being my spontaneous self, I decided on a scenic drive from the Metro area up to the Theodore Roosevelt Dam on the Historic Apache Trail/State Route 88.  From there I headed southeast toward Globe and then took a scenic, but much more direct route, back to the Metro area on Highway 60.  It was an awesome experience and made me feel slightly more at home as the trail is primarily dirt roads except for the beginning and then once you reach the Dam.  There are many lookouts located along the trail providing ample opportunities for pictures of the desert scene.  I would highly recommend this drive (except maybe for those prone to motion sickness) and I would suggest being cautious of what time of year you go as many sections are susceptible to flash flooding.  I made it up to Globe for supper (dinner for you city folk) and drove around the small town before heading back toward Mesa.  The time change threw me off a bit so instead of doing something else I found my hotel and checked in for the night, content to watch baseball and bull riding on the TV mixed in with some light reading. 
Peeking at the Theodore Roosevelt Dam
I woke up the next morning to a beautiful, but incredibly bright sunrise thus getting me up a little earlier than planned.  Knowing I would be picking up a friend from the airport early afternoon I decided to stick closer to the metro area to explore.  I found myself coming across a small park and botanical garden (Park of the Canals) where I walked around for about an hour and then continued on my way.  Recognizing the time and not wanted to spend much money, I stopped at a store and bought some snacks I could make a meal out of and then returned to the park and garden where I sat under a shelter and read for the next couple of hours before beginning the drive up to the airport to pick up my friend.  We had a great time that afternoon hanging out at the nice outdoor pool at the hotel before heading off to Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill.  AMAZING food!  If you’ve never eaten there I would highly suggest it.  It was the first time for both of us and we thoroughly enjoyed it…plus the live country music was a big plus for me.  J 
With some time to explore Saturday morning before readying for the wedding, we took off for the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix where we walked every trail that was open.  The scenery was spectacular, especially for someone who is accustomed to prairie, pasture, and fields all on a flat or gently rolling plain.  My fair skin took a bit of a hit from the high Southern sun, but overall I faired pretty well on the sunburn scale of things.  *Something to keep in mind when you travel is to make sure you’re aware of things like this- especially if you’re from the north, going south can make a big difference in the strength of the sun.*  The Desert Botanical Garden was a really nice place (they do have student discounts so take your student ID if you’ve got it) as it portrayed some of the area culture as well through structures, gardens, and ways of living for the natives and early settlers scattered amongst the vegetation.  I would really recommend this if you’ve got a couple of hours to spend but need to stay close the metro as you can get a taste of the desert without leaving the city limits.  On our way back to the hotel we stopped and treated ourselves to true Mexican food at Matta’s…some good stuff there!
Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix
The wedding was located at the gorgeous Lavender & Old Lace in Mesa.  And Sunday I was able to see a bit more of the area while driving to the brunch in Queen Creek and then up to Scottsdale to spend the afternoon and night with some family before heading back to South Dakota on Monday morning.  All in all, committing to attending the wedding and allowing myself two extra days off of work allowed me to explore the area surrounding the Phoenix Metro and still be able to relax with friends and family.
Outside area at Lavender & Old Lace, Mesa
Don’t be afraid to turn a trip with a purpose into something more-being able to explore and have some fun in a place you’ve not yet had the chance.  Let people know what you’re thinking of doing…most people can offer suggestions or help you brainstorm some ideas if you’re not completely certain.  And don’t be scared to ask friends or family if you can stay with them when you go.  Most people would love the chance to have you stay with them even if you’re going to be doing other things.  And it never hurts the pocketbook any either.  So enjoy yourself and take advantage of any trips you make…stop at places when you’re driving if you’ve got an extra few minutes or spend an extra day in a city you love after your business meetings are completed or the reunion or wedding you were there to attend is over-I can guarantee you won’t regret it.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Mapping It Out

How many of us can get by in a new place without something to tell us where to go?  Maps may be something not everyone enjoys, but they are a great tool when going on vacation and playing tourist.  If you’re not comfortable with maps either because you don’t have experience reading them, or aren’t good with directions, etc., then now is a good chance to start learning. 
Map provided at the information center in the Graz, Austria, Hauptbahhof was fabulous. (left 1/2 of map)

In this era with the vast development of technology many of us, myself included, have become largely dependent on technology to get us by in travel.  But when it comes to finding your way around a city quickly and finding those fun tourist spots that may be familiar only to the locals, maps are your best friend.  GPS and Navigation Systems are great when you’re sticking to main routes and popular sites.  But as I mentioned in my earlier post (“Raring to Go") becoming a part of the local culture is an ideal way to get the most out of your trips and this includes making stops that will likely be unfamiliar to your system.  Most locations will have either a tourist information office or location to gain maps, brochures, and other helpful tips on finding your way around the area.  If not, city chamber offices, city halls, or even state tourism office websites can provide you with the necessary information.  In this case, it may not be a bad idea to check out your destination online and see what information may be available upon arrival.  Heavily trafficked spots such as airports, car rental agencies, and hotels may also be able to provide you with what you need. 
Right 1/2 of Graz map.  Note each half has a map key for different things.

I want to point out that there are different kinds of maps available.  Interstate rest stops in the United States often have state or regional maps available that can help with travel on major routes but may not have many tourist destinations marked other than state or national parks.  Maps received at a car rental agency are going to point out all of their locations as well as airports and a few area/regional attractions but may not provide you with the specifics for which you’re searching.  Ideally the state or local tourist offices are going to be the treasure trove of information from restaurants, clubs, shopping areas, historical spots, and parks and recreation areas.  Don’t feel self-conscience of taking maps and brochures for anything and everything available.  Once you’ve made a stop at these places you don’t want to have to go back again so find out as much as you can your first time.    Now that we’ve got that out of the way I can share the fun of reading maps!

This is the back of the Graz map.  Separate mapping of bus, tram, and train routes.

I really do love maps…they are full of information, if you know how to read them.  Typically, maps will have a map key or information box that will display symbols used to designate locations and list what they stand for.  In other instances, a map may just display an image or icon with the locations name where it is located on the actual map.  Oftentimes, this means the images will closely resemble what the location is such as a church representing a cathedral or other religious building, and usually these are very stereotyped images which can be a bit helpful when little else is said about a destination other than its name.  Tourist office maps are great as they will oftentimes display the traditional “i” where the information office is located to help give you a sense of direction.   If there are specific tourist routes or transportation services provided in the area those may also be denoted in the map key such as a “T” for taxi services, “S” or “U” for subway/underground terminals, “B” or bus icon for bus stops, “P” for parking areas, or colored lines marking bus or tram routes to specific locations such as ferries, airports, train stations, or museums. 
Map of Caen, France, from Tourism Office. You may notice no map key-this is because the map is a center fold in a booklet with information on each numbered location.

Ideally, don’t feel overwhelmed when looking at maps.  They may present a whole host of information it’s just a matter of sorting through it to get what you need.  Some people a bit uncomfortable with them find using them only as a reference works best as many destinations have signs posting where you need to go and will use this for their main directional guidance.  Others are able to focus solely on what they need and follow the map.  Just don’t let yourself get distracted and it will be just fine.  Maybe you’re a map lover like myself and spend a little extra time comparing maps, picking up every one provided.  If you know where to get your information from and how it’s presented you’ll be able to get anywhere whether you have a horrible sense of direction or not.

I realize this blog has been a bit different from my previous ones but I’m hoping you can find a bit of helpful information in it.  Always feel free to let me know what you think!  J

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Sticking to the Plan…With a Side of Spontaneity

I’ll admit right away that while I may make plans I am not known for following them out as intended.  While in some circumstances this may be a problem, doing this in travel allows you to get the most out of everything since you are able to add things you discover once you’ve arrived.  Europe is one of the best places for this, too, with its extensive transportation system with planes, boats, trains, busses, and taxis.  If it’s something you want to do/somewhere you want to go you can pretty much make it happen.  
driving across Austria
Last summer, July/August 2010, I had just over three weeks to travel Europe as I chose.  Who could hope for something better?  With the benefit of traveling on my own I considered where I wanted to go and how long I wanted to stay there.  After a bit of finagling I had a plan in place that included traveling from southeastern Austria to Munich, Dublin, Galway, London, Southampton, Glasgow (and a tour of Scotland), Portsmouth, St. Malo, Caen (and the D-Day Beaches), Paris, Versailles, back to Munich, Salzburg, and the return trip to southeastern Austria in about 22/23 days.  It was a lot of ground to cover and a lot of places/sights fit into the timing including visiting two different friends from college-one studying in Galway, Ireland, and the other living with her husband in Southampton, England.  It really helped having everything written down (I took my schedule with me in my backpack to have handy at a moment’s notice.  This way I was able to prioritize my time as I went.  My time with my friends, visiting Scotland where my maternal grandfather’s family came from, and Caen-known for its role in World War II history- were musts on my trip.  Knowing my struggle with sticking to a schedule, I refrained from making all of my transportation and overnight accommodations before I began the trip.  Instead, I made them as I went along once I knew things were a little more concrete-this was largely possible because of my little netbook I carried with me as well as internet cafes along the way.
along the river in Dublin, Ireland
My plans didn’t last long.  I did spend my scheduled time with my friend in Ireland and had a fabulous time seeing the area and sitting in on her class she was taking while I was with her; it really made me miss school and consider going back for my master’s degree.  From Dublin I flew to London and traveled by train to Southampton but instead of staying only a couple of days my time with friends there extended itself to nearly a week.  I thoroughly enjoyed my time with them including this amazing fish pie dish my friend made…it was SUPERB!!!  I realized, however, that I needed to get moving along to make everything I wanted to do happen so I made arrangements while with them for the next two legs of my journey.  Train travel to Glasgow, Scotland, and a 2 day tour of the countryside and Highlands with Rabbie's Trail Burners.  A train ride down to Portsmouth, England, and an overnight ferry ride to St. Malo, France, followed by a night in Rennes, France, before traveling on to Caen.  Here, my itinerary took another detour.  I absolutely fell in love with Caen.  It’s a wonderful town full of lots of history, charm, and friendly people.  While initially planning on being there only a couple of days, I ended up staying 4 nights there before being forced to leave in order to make it back to Austria in time to be to work the upcoming Monday morning.  I was able to extend my stay at the Hotel Courtonne after a brief and stilted conversation with the French owner.  (*Note that is may not always be possible in the summer in a popular tourist destination, but it is a little more feasible when traveling alone*)  My trip back to southeastern Austria was a bit rushed and frantic and probably a good example of being a bit too spontaneous as I managed to travel from Caen, France, to Feldbach, Austria, but train (and bus where the train routes were under construction) in about 36 hours.  Quite a feat I realized after looking back over the train schedules and the route I had to take when trains were full. 
Dunkeld Cathedral-Scotland
They say that hindsight is 20/20 and while there may have been a better way of going about my 3 weeks of travel I really would not have changed a thing about it.  I had a fabulous time visiting friends and seeing history brought to life.  I managed to meet people from all over including some wonderful Canadians who became my photographers while on the 2 day tour in Scotland, a fun mother and son from California traveling in France before heading to Italy to visit family, and a great older couple from Oklahoma returning to visit the D-Day beaches where family friends had pushed their way on shore that June morning struggling and fighting for the freedoms of so many-people they never got to meet.

at the American Cemetery near Colleville, France
All of this to say that while planning is a necessary part of travel, leaving a little room for spontaneity is highly recommended.  I was able to go back to places in Caen and really absorb the importance of what happened and the beauty of a wonderful town with its wonderful marketplace in the square so I was able to enjoy some amazing fresh fruit and baguettes.  I met people I otherwise would not have crossed paths with by extending my stays and allowed myself to really absorb the surrounding culture and take time to enjoy the area.  You can learn so much from the citizens and really see what life is like wherever you choose to go.  Just make sure you allow some flexibility in your travel plans next time you embark on a journey.
city view of Caen, France, after a thundershower

Saturday, August 20, 2011

More Than a Thousand Words

“A picture is worth a thousand words.”  How often have you heard this phrase being used?  Most everyone has heard it at one time or another as it’s a very commonly used phrase spoken to try and convey how important a picture is and how much information it can share with the observer about what happened.  I didn’t start out loving photography and in fact, when I was younger it would probably resemble hatred more than anything else.  I had a knack for refusing to be in pictures making quite the scene if it was going to be forced on me.  As I matured I began to recognize photography in its basic form of capturing a moment in time to help remember something by.  Pictures were great at summer camps so as not to forget the face of a new friend.  I can tell quite a few stories about my summers at Lake Beauty Bible Camp near Long Prairie, Minnesota, from the pictures I have.
Visiting cousins in Sweden
I think one of my more recent experiences with photograpy will really help me convey my point of the importance of photography.  Last year, September of 2010, I had the opportunity to spend some time with family in Sweden.  My paternal grandfather, or Far Far as he would be called in Swedish, came from Sweden-or rather his parents and older sister did while he and his younger brother were born in America.  I’ve dreamed of going to visit cousins still over there and learn more about this side of my family.  *If you ever have the opportunity to study your family’s genealogy, I HIGHLY recommend it.*  Anyway, I spent a couple days exploring the beautiful capital of Stockholm before traveling outside the city to the small villages of Bleckenstad and Ving√•ker.  It was during my time with these people, only a couple of whom I’d met many years before when they came to the visit my Grandpa, that I’ve taken my best pictures ever—pictures at the farm where my Great-Grandmother was born or the church and gravesite where my Great-Great Grandparents are buried, or pictures of us in the forest picking lingon (lingonberries) or just spending time together talking.  These are the pictures you want to take, the ones that have a solid connection to the future and the past, the place where history and the future converge and intermingle.  It’s not necessarily what is in the picture that’s so powerful but the message that the picture has to share with the world.  To some people maybe it’s a picture of a lake cabin with family, or a horse or other pet that was like a family member.   The possibilities are endless and unique to each individual story.
Gravesite of Great-Great Grandparents
These stories are going to tell you about the people and the culture you’re spending time in.  My pictures of Sweden show me the relaxed and modern lifestyle of the Swedish people.  How they can become one with nature and respect the world around them.  I greatly respect the Swedes for their treatment of the environment as well as their openness to helping others (including tourists who are looking a little lost J).  Pictures can help you to observe the world around us-capturing lifestyles and aspects of culture we maybe don’t see or truly recognize while in the moment.  Being able to look at my pictures in the city and see streets with no trash on them is a marvel and the people of Sweden need to be thanked for maintaining a city that is going to continue to draw people back.
Stockholm, Sweden
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Sweden, in its beautiful green and rolling countryside and the historic and yet modern cities of Stockholm and Link√∂ping and I’m looking forward to the day I am able to go back.  I enjoy browsing through my pictures and remembering my days traveling there and reminiscing about memories of old and newly formed memories.  Pictures not only capture a moment in time, but even more so, they tell a story.  Through those pictures you can share your stories for generations to come.   Pictures such as these truly are worth a thousand words and maybe to you, they’ll be worth more than a thousand words.  So enjoy taking pictures whenever you get the chance, just make sure you don’t spend all of your time looking through the lens of a camera.  J
Farm site at Sandkulla, Sweden

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Remembering For A Lifetime

If I asked for a show of hands from those who keep a journal it would probably be pretty sparse.  Some who blog may be able to consider that because of the personal and factual basis for their blog.  How many fewer hands would go up if I specified the journaling to be about a trip or vacation?  I previously mentioned the idea of journaling in conjunction with the ability to effectively be impressed by the cultures and different lifestyles of the world without falling into the ways of the world.

Throughout my lifetime I have found journaling to be a way to explore all of the thoughts running through my mind—to sort them out and try to make sense of them, as well as to serve as a method of remembrance.   This is the case with journaling on a vacation as well.  When we go on vacation our minds let go as we relax and let the busyness of life slip from our thoughts but how often do you wish you could remember the places you visited and all of the funny stories or people you met?  Journaling is a piece of remembering those things, photographs being the other major source which I’ll talk about another time.

Line Dancing in Hanoi, Vietnam
My journals from my trips help me to place locations/buildings from photographs—an added bonus to writing it down—you’ll know what all of your pictures are of.  I’ve also been able to see how the events of my vacations have changed me.  I came back from my summer teaching English in Vietnam a much changed person, just ask my best friends from college.  It was a tough time for me to work through those changes.  Having my journals, I am able to look back at my time there, weaving construction paper baskets for an Easter egg hunt or working with my students on the skit they chose to do and teaching them the Electric Slide to Billy Ray Cyrus’ Achy Breaky Heart.  J One of the entries that I rarely need to look at to remember was the last one about saying a sad good-bye to my students who came to the airport to see us off.  It was heartbreaking for all of us as we hugged and cried-recognizing the importance of that last moment together realizing we didn’t know when or if we would see each other again.  Those sad memories can be brightened by turning back a few pages to the last day I spent with my students-a Saturday where they took me to some of their favorite places around the city of Hanoi shopping, eating, and sharing in one another’s company as we explored together.  I got to experience the city and its amazing people through the eyes of teenagers willing to befriend a blonde-haired Midwestern girl only a couple of years older than themselves.
Exploring with Students in Hanoi, Vietnam
You might be able to tell how difficult it is to refrain from becoming engrossed in the past from what I’ve written already.  Journaling allows you to go back and explore the events of your trip retrospectively.  Hindsight can open our eyes a little more clearly to the events of our trip and how/why they happened the way they did.  Don’t be afraid to go back to those memories whether good or bad, happy or sad.  We can better recognize the events that influenced ourselves and how they effected change in our lives when we see the events written out as they happened.  If you want to make the most of a vacation or trip, give it the respect it deserves and keep a journal even if it only highlights the main events of your days. You’ll be amazed what you discover about yourself and how you view the world by what you record about your time.  Remember though, that journaling doesn’t have to all be serious but can allow you to relive the funny jokes you heard from the family camping next to your or the silly/embarrassing things that happened like trying to practice your speaking skills in a foreign language only to discover you switched your words and ended up saying something about the other person’s mother.  You live and learn-why not do it through keeping a journal?  I highly recommend it.  Just try it once and you’ll never stop…even if you want to.  J

Friday, August 5, 2011

Raring to Go

If you’re any bit as restless as me, you likely have travel on your mind all of the time.  As I’ve passed some of the young age “landmarks”-turning eighteen, moving away to college, becoming a college graduate, and entering the job market-I’ve struggled with this at an increasing rate.  Taking one trip only seems to fuel the need for another.  The search for the next location and a reason I can pass off as logical for making the trip begins almost immediately.
Neuschwanstein Castle-Germany
My desire for international travel began at a young age when at thirteen I took a three week tour of Europe with a group from our small community in connection  with EF Educational Tours.  I spent months convincing my parents it was worth using my entire savings account to go.  To this day I stand by that decision.  It was on this trip that my independence began to take shape.  I went on the trip knowing four people-the leader who was a teacher at the middle school and his son who was a classmate of mine, one of the boys who was a friend of my brother’s, and one of the girls who was also a classmate of mine.  I didn’t know any of them very well nor the others to any extent and thus spent most of my time on my own whenever it was possible.  I enjoyed my fries and sweet mayonnaise discovery in the streets of The Netherlands and Belgium, exploring the magnificent lace shops in Brugge, all the chocolate one can fathom in Salzburg, and the myriad book shops of London.  The power and majesty of Ludwig II’s Neuschwanstein and his grandfather Maximilian’s Hohenschwangau in Germany are in their own category.  I can still remember the contrast of the yellow stone walls of Hohenschwangau against the brilliant blue clear skies.  Those three weeks allowed me to experience the countries of The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Lichtenstein, Austria, Switzerland, and England.  In the ten years since that trip in the spring/early summer of 2000, I’ve had the chance to revisit most of those countries-experiencing some of the same cities and adding to the list with some new ones, too.
Hohenschwangau Castle-Germany
It’s hard to look back at that trip without a little bit of nostalgia because of the changes I experienced at that time.  When you take a trip that evokes emotion or some decision-making I think it is worth reflecting on—just don’t let yourself dwell on them and become your bar for all trips to equal or surpass.  No two trips can ever be compared nor should they.  Trips are made at different times in life and under different circumstances, so even if you go to the same places with the same people you are apt to notice different things.  Enjoy all of it and allow yourself to be led and influenced by what you experience-in moderation.  I’m definitely NOT saying we need to become the world around us-there is too much negativity and evil in the world to do that, but if we don’t allow ourselves to be impressed by the world we have just tipped the scale too far in the opposite direction.  Not sure how to effectively and efficiently allow this to take place?  I’ll leave you with a couple suggestions for the day:  Journal and Photograph.  They each deserve their own entry-at least!  J

Saturday, July 30, 2011

In the Eyes of a Child

I can remember many trips I went on when I was little and each one has a unique feature that makes it stand out in my memory.  I took both my first and second airplane rides in the same year, when I was in kindergarten.  The flight to New Jersey for my aunt’s wedding will be forever ingrained in my mind for its truly amazing display of turbulence.  While being served our sandwiches and pops as we were passing through a thunderstorm, the turbulence began with a vengeance.  Sandwiches were launched into the aisles looking much like the Mississippi river looks now with the inundation of flying fish.  My dad happened to lose his Coke on his lap looking quite disgusted with the situation as he remained seat belted in the soggy, sticky mess.  I fell in love with flying after that, even saving the decorative plastic trays our sandwiches were served on as a memento.  J  Yes, I believe this enjoyment of turbulence to be abnormal and I’m ok with that. 
My cousin and I outside ofthe Shoshone Indian Ice Caves
The other flight took us West where we enjoyed time with family in Idaho taking in the Shoshone Indian Ice Caves and traipsing to the top of a mountain of lava and ash-amazing when you contemplate what you’re walking on and the circumstances surrounding its current placement.  Craters of the Moon National Monument is quite the sight to behold even to a six-year-old.  A short drive took us south to Promontory, Utah, where we "experienced" the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869.  Thankfully I had parents who took my simple curiosity for the past and helped me to seek some understanding for where things stand today in the world.  I can thank them for my love of history, politics, and travel.  J
My brother, mom, and myself Promontory, Utah
Other trips we took as a family didn’t take us as far from home.  Instead, my parents took my brother and I through the picturesque Badlands of southwestern South Dakota and Mount Rushmore near Keystone, South Dakota, in the Black Hills.  The marvel of both locations is fascinating to both adults and children alike.  Who can resist peering across the ragged and yet peaceful natural Badlands and the size and architectural craftsmanship of Gutzon Borglum’s four magnificent stone faces?  But kids enjoy more than just the suggested educational and sightseeing trips so my parents had my brother and I imagining we were part of the Three Little Pigs at Storybook Island in Rapid City, South Dakota, and walking through Oz at Storybook Land in Aberdeen, South Dakota.  The creation of these two parks were a fabulous idea as kids can literally walk into the stories they have before only been able to see in their minds and on the pages of a book.  Now they can recreate those tales as their favorite character.
What do you remember from your trips as a kid?  Was it your first time going tubing at the lake?  Did you fall out of a boat while fishing?  Maybe it was meeting your cousins on their turf for the first time.  Think about what made those trips special, how can you do the same thing for your family now?  Didn’t get to make trips like that when you were younger?  That’s all right.  It’s hard not to have memories that everyone else seems to have, don’t get me wrong, but what can you learn from your own experience?  We all can learn from our pasts and use that knowledge to better the future.  Not able to take a vacation with your family due to lack of time, finances, or something else?  It’s ok.  You don’t have to go somewhere out of town to enjoy time with your family and make special memories with them.  Pack a picnic lunch and head to the neighborhood park, have a water fight, play some games, or take silly pictures.  I can guarantee it’s something your children won’t forget.
Water fightwith some cousins
As children we’re more susceptible to the ideas of our peers and the culture that surrounds us.  Making yourself an active part of your child’s life, even through something as simple as a day trip or picnic, will have a strong and lasting impact on them as they grow up.

*Check out my links page to find more information regarding the locations mentioned.

*I realize that these examples are more for the warm seasons.  With winter being my favorite season, you can rest assured that I’ll fill you in some suggestions for that later.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Making the Most

How often do you get that urge to go somewhere—to just get away?  I’ll be the first to admit that once I experienced traveling on my own I’ve had a hard time staying put.  Those who know me well will agree that I have a penchant for staying busy and that includes my travels.  I’ve been blessed by both job and volunteer opportunities that have allowed me to travel across the world as well as just having the desire to see something specific.

There are numerous points rolling around in my head with what I’ve already said so I’ll start with this, take every chance you get to travel.  And I truly mean that.  Visit friends or family you may not get to see frequently, go with your family to spend quality time together, go alone to relax and clear the clutter from your mind, or if you’re willing, volunteer or take a job with a business or organization outside of your area.  Through these opportunities in my own life I’ve had the opportunity to live in Vietnam, New Hampshire, Minnesota, and Austria as well as make short trips to Washington State, California, and Texas.  From those locations I took advantage of my time and traveled to numerous other locations.  Still a little hesitant about where to look?  What about that family vacation to an amusement park?  I had the chance to go to two during my growing up years including Valleyfair in Shakopee, Minnesota (Twin Cities Metro) and Arnold’s Park along Lake Okoboji in Northwestern Iowa.  Not a fan of that many kids? Or maybe like me, it’s the roller coasters.  That’s all right, I completely understand.  Why not stay in a hotel nearby or at the closest larger city (if you’re from a small town) and spend time at the pool, going to local parks, and catching a local sporting event.  I’ve found the atmosphere at the amateur and college level can be more fun and inviting than the professional, not to mention the smaller crowds and cheaper prices.
 
For that trip by yourself-maybe you’d enjoy relaxing at a spa, or wandering the halls of art or history museums, or the quiet of a cabin in the woods with a good book to keep you company.  State tourism websites or historical societies are a great source of information when planning where to go and locals are great at helping you find spots once you're there.   There are a lot of fun historical places that can get missed and these are great ways to find them.  Be sure to do something that will be fun and help you relax.  Not everyone is comfortable traveling alone.  If that’s the case for you don’t fret, you’re not alone.  Instead, take a good friend or your significant other along.  Maybe you can wear the soles off of your shoes at a mall or pass time camping in the foothills of the Rockies with the hopes of catching that trophy fish.

Don’t worry, I didn’t forget about you adventurous ones.  There are so many options out there for you.  Initially, I thought this would be the most difficult travel bug to satisfy for myself because of the need for something exotic, challenging, and longer in duration.  Instead I found myself embracing opportunities of varying kinds and styles.  *I’ll take the risk of losing some of you by stating that my beliefs and stance as a Christian have largely influenced what I’ve chosen to do and it is a part of my everyday life and thus will be a part of my writing though not the focus of it.* I want to help people whether its spiritually, emotionally, or physically—through the tangible and the intangible.  You can teach the English language or business classes overseas, there are many organizations located across the globe searching for both young and old willing to make such a commitment.  I had the privilege of teaching English to high school students in Vietnam.  You can volunteer with a relief organization; I respond to needs through my local chapter of the American Red Cross and when I’m able, go when called for national disasters.  Maybe you love children—consider being a nanny or an au pair.  I got to care for three children in Austria.  It can be a great mix of challenging and growing experiences and fun and excitement.   There are other obvious organizations such as the Peace Corp, Job Corp, AmeriCorp, or numerous missions organizations who would gladly love to have people join alongside them or help you find work somewhere.  And I’ve even known a few acquaintances that chose the option of the military-note that this decision takes special consideration for those of strong character, determination, and drive.

Whatever it is that your travel bug is craving, and maybe it’s just travel in general, there is always an option for you.  Next time I’ll break these down a little further and share some stories from my experiences that have led me to believe as I do about traveling and how important it is.

**To those serving in the National Guard, Air Force, Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard; to those at our boarders and in our hometowns, thank you for your decision and commitment to serve-whatever your reason may be.  We are blessed to have you.