Category Archives: Europe

How to Lose your Clothes in Europe

Okay. So this must sound like someone was going for the whole nudist travel thing (wait…is that a thing?) but I honestly wasn’t. Heck, I slept near a nudist beach in Zandvoort and was in Amsterdam on 4/20; I didn’t strip down or smoke pot. But I was running out of clothes. Very slowly, very methodically, and for all the right (and wrong) reasons.

So how does one go about losing clothes, correctly? Well, as a minimalist traveler, that meaning that I pack only what I’ll need to survive my time without looking like  a crazy, hippie vagabond, I was already a bit dis attached to the frivolities of clothing, but who knew I could become even more so. Basically, as I traveled from one place to the next my needs shifted and changed. While in Switzerland, living with the same good people day after day, my desire for change was awakened by the sameness of my surroundings, and so variety in any form was more of a psychological necessity. At this point I was glad I had brought everything I had. But once I tripped to London and the weight of my pack began to communicate with my shoulders, I desired less and less. The constant change in my scenery and the fear of an overstuffed carry-on on picky airlines brought me to leave behind what I thought were necessary pieces.

So I gifted two long sleeved shirts, in Cambridge, to my lovely friend (no need to bother with birthday presents!) figuring Spain would be a bit warmer anyways. Once in Spain I grew even less attached to any idea of “clean clothes” so long as my pack grew lighter and lighter. After walking eight hours every day on the El Camino,  through mud, rain and dusty roads, a shower and fresh four-day-dirty clothes felt downy soft and clean.  I learned to walk in the same outfits and sleep in my relatively clean ones. Honestly, the only person who knew was me…that I’m aware of. However, I did wash what I had in sinks as often as possible, especially the socks and intimates, and dried them on the heaters inside the pilgrim hostels/albergues. The one time I tried to simply air dry them I failed. So when I left the albergue the next morning, I left two pairs of wet socks as well.

In Santiago, Spain, I completely forgot one bra and a shirt hanging on the balcony (it was an amazing hostel right by the cathedral for only 12 euro a night) so maybe they’re still out there, traveling on another pilgrim. By this point I was starting to feel confident that I’d dropped all the possible baggage I could. As well as what I’d mentioned, I was down one sweater, my snow boots, and pair of leggings after lending my extra pair to a friend  in Switzerland and never getting it back, and I’d exchanged three foreign language books for a Spanish to English pocket dictionary all before leaving L’Abri. I was beginning to feel like a true survivor. But wait, there’s a cliff hanger…1438

My last drop off of my three month stint in Europe happened on the Galacian coast, somewhere between Muxia and Finisterre, the alternate last leg of the El Camino. Attempting to traverse the coastal route directed by my guide book, I wondered about, making wrong turns until I found myself precariously stuck on the edge, literally the edge, of the coastal cliffs. To give you a picture, the path was  overgrown by thorny shrubs and about six-eight inches wide.  Wait…I’ll just give you a picture(s):

Oh you misleading path...
Oh you misleading path…you can see the rest of the “coastal route” to the top right of the image.
This is the widest point. It halved in width just after this photo was taken.
This is the widest point. It halved in width just after this photo was taken.
Do you SEE a path?
Do you SEE a path?

 

 Do you SEE a path, yet?
Do you SEE a path, yet?
And then I turned around.
…And then I turned around.

But man it was beautiful. Somewhere up there, amongst my panic, the thorny bushes, and strange thoughts of cliff jumping, I lost my trusty and warm alpaca sweater. The thorny shrubs had claimed it and I had no nerves left to fight back for it.  I knew cliff hanging and 40L back packs on a 5’1″ girl just didn’t mix well.  The whole ordeal caused me to start stress eating my empanada and Santiago tarte, which was a bad idea since I’d just lost my fat-day sweater. Truly, by now I could count all my articles of clothing (excluding my undies and socks) on eight fingers. Nature sure shows you necessity best.

That was the last article of clothing I lost and the only piece I actually regretted losing. Strange that it was the only loss not of my choosing. So for the last week of my trip I was naked armed. Nudity wouldn’t have worked in Zandvoort anyways, since the beach was freezingly windy.  So I never stripped down, really, although I did, in many ways, strip down.

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Traveler’s Shock and Isolation pt.2

Day 1: Wave 2

Finally you are on the ground riding a train and the seating is really nice. Lot’s of space for your legs, more than you’ve had for the last 12 hours. Thank God the woman at the train platform spoke some decent English otherwise you’d still be wondering about at the station. Only really knowing your final destination and the general necessity for a train and bus to get there, you’d been a bit unhelpful to the woman at the train ticket counter. Anyways, here you are calmly gazing out of the window, not really seeing as you listen to the sounds of voices engaged in incomprehensible conversations, and as the train attendant punches your ticket she smiles gently and introduces to you the fact that this is not 2nd class. For a moment you stare, stumbling over her implication, until you realize in simultaneous movement of your pack and body, that you are in the wrong section.

Second class. More people, more seats, more noise. But you don’t mind because it’s what you are use to. You’re pack sits on the seat next to you because you need your space even though you wish so much for a conversation. But you remain silent, not knowing a lick of French nor wishing to get mixed up in the stereotype of ignorant, under-bred (obnoxious) American foreigner.

A good looking man sits to your left, across the isle, and you glance every once in a while in his direction, but he remains watching the Swiss mountains that pass constantly outside his window. Your own eyes grow tired as you slump against your pack and passionately lust after sleep. You’ve been traveling almost 16 hours now and exhaustion has annulled all functions, including hunger.

By the time you reach your bus stop the town is empty. Only two aging women sit across from you with their grocery bags and gobble to each other in french. It appears to be a very small town, they look at you and you stare back. You don’t really know if this is the right bus stop, but some old man in a flannel  button down and suspenders guided you by the shoulders to this one when you muttered, “Huemoz?” in a terrible accent.

The sun is setting as the bus ascends the mountain, quaint villages  disappearing beneath you. Feeling the incline and watching the distance pass by, you laugh at your naive notions that you’d have had enough fortitude to hike up this mountain after  a full day of travel. Realizing that you can overestimate your adventurousness causes a momentary disquiet. You get off the bus at the wrong stop, a woman speaks to you in french because you look about dazed. Both of you interchange awkwardly, speaking to the other as if they have a clue as to what you are saying. But the same things keep getting repeated. back at each other and you are unsure if maybe you should just run away. Then you catch, through her very thick accent, the word L’Abri, realizing that you simply have been mispronouncing it with that all too articulate English of yours. You take note, must learn to speak with a congested throat sound. Pushed back onto the idling bus you take your seat and ride it with embarrassment to the next stop where an end of driveway sign blatantly posted at the road screams “L’ABRI”. Wow, couldn’t have missed it if you’d tried. Another note: Be patient and relax everything will eventually reveal itself. 

To be continued…

 

 

 

Traveler’s Shock and Isolation pt. 1

Day 1:  Wave 1

It sets in like a cold, symptom by symptom. Nervousness in airport transit, languages you can not identify pummeling your ears. Crowds pressing up all around you, every individual sharing in the common denominator of travel, sharing the same air, but all too wrapped up in their own journey to notice much else or speak beyond the basics of finding their gates. Security. Your anonymity and scrutiny are in painful magnification.

Your clutching your passport tightly, feeling it every few minutes to check yet again if it remains in your pocket. You’re paranoid of European pick pocketing. But the reality is that you are surrounded by internationals from every continent, 99.9% of them doing the same thing as you: slightly panicking about getting to their destination.  Again you pat your chest to feel that comforting rectangle. You pull it out for quick showing as you hustle into what looks like more security checks. No. It’s only  the English customs check and they don’t need to see it yet. You have to mix your luggage up a bit to find  your  liquids to show  them. They talk loudly and articulately, but not kindly, not to their fault…it’s their job to get people through. You’re fumbling at the supplied tables, trying not to hold up the line. Have you got everything? You scurry toward security to be checked again, and you tap your pocket, but you feel nothing. You panic. Has your trip ended before you’ve even finished transit? Even worse, your no one without that laminated rectangle; you have essentially become as misplaced as it.  Sweat begins to bead your upper lip and your jacket feels like a wearable greenhouse. How you smell has become irrelevant. Your at basic instincts level, already.  Wobbling about, trying to disguise the fact that you are in panic, your eyes strain for some sighting of the lost passport. How could you have misplaced it? You’d been so careful…too careful. You’d touched it too many times, the neurotic necessity to handle it and feel it in your possession blinding you to your own human error. You could die right now and no one back home would know! In fact, you probably will die! Geeze, they’ll probably just toss your body into recycling or you’ll end up in one of those “BODIES” exhibits!!!

“Passport! Someone need their passport?!” Oh man! You race toward the voice with a mechanical smile plastered over your lips which are slightly trembling. Ironic, you’d picked your own pocket.

 

 

Travel Shock and Isolation

It comes on like a cold. Symptom by symptom, sometimes suddenly, sometimes unnoticeable until you are in the throws of the worst of it. And how it’s handled is dependent, person to person. It’s what I call nomadic loneliness. Solo travelers may attest that traveling in foreign lands (especially in places where the entire language is different) can breed intense loneliness.

This loneliness stems from the  isolation that comes from stepping outside your own cultural context and into another. Conversations change, inherently,  and the realities of camaraderie bred by lingual connection between peoples becomes very apparent. In fact a conversation or, simply, human interaction becomes a priority and necessity. It’s easy, within your own comfortable group at home, to forget how quiet you can be among people, how much you can recede into yourself  when others around you are talking and interacting. But being the constant, wordless observer takes a toll on a body. It can also take a lot of the fun out of travel.

Never having struggled with loneliness in my life at home, I figured I’d be a perfect candidate for solo travel. But a three month stint over seas in countries where English is most definitely a second language, gave me my first taste of it. The fact that the first nine weeks were spent in a close knit community based environment, with almost constant discussions definitely caused  the solitariness of the rest of my trip to be more acutely felt.  Having spent the time at L’Abri (the commune-like place) being enlightened to the importance of language and how it shapes so much of our lives, cultures, and thoughts, gave me an interesting perspective during the rest of my trip. But to give you some of an idea of what one might go through during their first solo back-packing trip, what  follows are some mini- chapters on my traveler’s shock and the isolation that lead to it.

Just a little Bite

It’s been a while. Shall I tantalize you with just a smell of all the good stuffs I’ve been holding out on? IMG_0310

It’s nature, I know, but in a place like the Swiss Alps what’s more lovely to look at? Like a constant painting, the peaks  package in the picturesque place that is Huemoz and the mountainside villages.

 

Switzerland: Day 1 1/2

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Welcome to Switzerland! Currently I’m sitting in the Cookie Cafe with my friend and room mate Ellen (shown above) in the glorious Villars. Just so you know, I’m not dead, but simply in a winter wonderland. More to follow, about traveling, nearly losing my passport in Heathrow, London, and getting lost in the Swiss Alps. All in a days work, my Loves!

I Want to be a Culture Clubber

Awwww. The “Motherland”. I’ve never had origins to speak of such a place with nostalgia. I’m not sure you could even consider America a “motherland” in any sense. It’s much too young. More  like a child, still. While America is yet adolescent, we are already a bit stagnant. Our meteoric rise as a world power has caused American culture to become a bit stunted. Perhaps, like a child forced to face adult responsibility too early,  America has acquired that same uncultured maturity. The kind that circles itself.  We’ve packed a ton of history into our few short centuries, without  the time to process all of our experiences with hind site  that nurtures growth.

We are a young country, indeed, and perhaps think too much of ourselves. “Wisdom” beyond our years. It’s created an arrogance that is imbedded in our cultural fibers.  Your culture we will take and adapt to our own, stripping it of its antiquity and turning it into an American novelty. We are a bit of a lost people, bound together by our misplacement and common desire for freedom of self.  Although we are unified in these ideals, we retain little to no historical commonality. Persecution of faith, persecution of ethnicity, or poverty we come to America to escape our demeaning conditions with  our hearts still full of another land.  Like a childhood friend or the bond of family, there will always be an inner loyalty for someone’s origins that is diehard. In times of trauma our core ideals of freedom and equality galvanize our unity, but without threat we lack camaraderie. It is a common history that the peoples of America lack, for we are simply a house of orphans.

Now, all of that may sound very pessimistic, but being American, born and raised, I love my country dearly, but I also understand the her and her personality with an intimacy only found in a native. It is from this intimacy that I wish to escape, for a time, to broaden my worldview. And so, to another land I go to be cultured and expanded by the habits of a foreign place and it’s people. After much prayerful debate and contemplation I’ve decided to experience Europe.  I know, cliche, right? Everyone does Europe. I’d thought of getting out of the first world and trekking through Peru, living on a mountain top with a host family or even exploring the wily landscape and Merino Wool farms of New Zealand. What really cemented my decision to go to Europe, though, was the opportunity to study at L’Abri,  tucked away in the snowy Swiss Alps.

Rhone-River-Valley-View-from-LAbri

(Lovely)

For 9 weeks of my trip I will be at L’Abri studying philosophy, developing relationships with other people within the community, and learning about different worldviews through lectures, reading and conversation. It’s a rather Miltonic environment to say the least, and quite exciting, the point being that I will begin to discover a purposeful mission for my art forms. Perhaps it is un-American of me, but I am most excited to be banned from internet and computers during my time here, save for 1 1/2 days out of the week, and even that is discouraged.  All those staying at L’Abri work together to keep the place running smoothly: we cook, clean, garden, etc… call it a commune if you must.

It will be no picnic, and that is refreshing. I want to push myself during this trip, I want to disconnect from frivolity so that I can reconnect with people. All too often I find myself careless in my relationships with others and this is disturbing to me. To find I care more about a concept or social trend than an actual human being, frightens me to the core. To realize that I have become so much a  product of my own shallow culture drives me to transform my perspective. To be unselfish, open and genuinely interested in people, and to desire human connection is one of the main agendas for this trip.

After L’Abri my itinerary  will take on a necessary expedition to England, where for a couple of days I will explore and conquer the monster known as “London”. There will be great tidbits posted later from this, and the street fashion should be very invigorating. I’m excited to do some picture-to-sketch projects while there.  After London, I’ll be somewhere in Holland most likely for the remainder of my trip, but  there will be no set-in-stone itinerary. Between the tulips, museums and windmills I’m sure I’ll have time to immerse myself into a bit more of the history and culture of what I’ve heard is a peaceful and congenial place.

I do not expect to be treated the same as I am at home. From what I’ve heard and seen in popular portrayal American’s are not the most favored visitors in any country. Whether this is true I will soon find out, but I do not hope to become a casualty of this national stereotype. I believe in an “Ideal American”, one who embodies the best of classical American ideals, with respect, understanding, and an embrace for all cultures as well as a loyal intimacy with their own.  Already I have so much to offer, for I am native of a country globalized at it’s origins, more diverse than Ancient Rome and younger than most of it’s allies. Yes, I already have so much to offer,  but I want more….how very American.