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