Maybe We´ll Meet Again Someday

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It´s true that I travelled a lot before this trip, but this experience has added so much more to my understanding of travel. I have learned that we travellers really are a global community. I´ve had conversations this week with people from nearly every continent on earth and asside from the occasional language blip the conversatio nhas flowed easily every time because we all recognize in each other kindred spirits. I know I sound like Anne of Green Gables by using that reference, but it´s incredibly accurate. We all want to see the world and learn by doing, so here we are in Europe, or in any hostel in the world, sharing our passion with those near us and with a worldwide network of thousands, maybe millions of other like-minded people.

My first night I bonded with an Austrial girl, two nights ago I learned a little latino dancing from a Columbian guy, and last night I sat in the common area chatting with two Argentinians and three Canadians. Now we´re all taking off in opposite directions, but we experienced enough imediate connectio nthat we all exchanged facebook information and if we all keep travelling maybe we´ll meet again. I certainly hope we´ll meet again. I´d love to show off my corner of the United States to a person who will enjoy it for the culture, or visit Buenos Aires and experience that parts of the city that the locals love.

Hopefully as I continue to travel my network of backpackers will continue to grow, whether I travel alone again or with a companion who likes this community just as much as me. Maybe one day I´ll even travel with somebody I meet on the road!

In Real Life Now

You can study all you want, but there are just some things you don´t pick up in a classroom. I consider my comand of basic spanish to be pretty good and I´ve had teachers that did a great job of introducing cultural aspects too, but now that I´m in Spain, there are still some important things I´m learning on the fly because the real world is trully the only place to complete your education.

Last night as I spent the evening with a handful of students from South America that I met in my hostel, we were engaging in a conversation that cxonstantly switched between languages. I asked one of the native spanish speakers where he was from… and got an unexpected result. First he looked at me in confusion and then everybody else teased me because I had used a form of the question that was so formal that they didn´t realize what I wanted to know at first. The way people engage in real life is not equivalent to the textbook! I was told not to use the informal tu form with any strangers…. but among young people here it´s always used. Somebody I don´t even know just used it to address me mere minutes ago! (he laughed because I used a grammatically incorrect response though).

Studying human interaction can be a life-long pursuit for us all, especially when crossing borders and learning new languages! It´s great seeing this with my own eyes and learning be doing (and by making mistakes).

True Local Flavor

Travelling looks like a series of locations, doesn´t it? When we go home we post a batch of monument pictures, smiling tourist shots, and the occasional food picture on Facebook. And those are often the things we talk about when recounting our trips.

However, when you stay in one location long enough you start delving a little deeper. You take it slow and start getting to know the locals, trying to use the language, and walking down streets that have zero international recognition. I think meeting the local people is the most important element of getting to really know a place. For me in France, I´m getting a feel for how realistic the Alsacian people can be and how strongly they value family. During my current trip to France, I´m seeing how lively the people are, from waiters who are just a bit too forward to flamenco dancers that have immense pride in the dancing they do and the tradition they keep alive.

Although I visited many jaw-dropping sights yesterday, going to a Flamenco show (a true Spanish show; not the tourist version) was still the highlight of my evening. Everyone could feel the raw emotional power of both the singing and the dancing. The dancer used her whole body, moving her feet rapidly and flourishing with her hands as well as letting her face show her emotions. I´d like to think I came away from the performance with just slightly more understanding of the art of flamenco and a greatly increased appreciation of it.

Rocking the Solo Life (La vida sola)

I have arrived in Madrid on my first ever solo trip! So far it´s going well, although it´s a little nerve wracking at times. I had to take two planes and three metro trains to reach my hostel, but once I did I was able to start experiencing Madrid, a trully beautiful city.

I´ll admit that I did get lost once when I set out to explore, but I just stayed calm and it wound up working out wonderfully because I stumbled upon the anthrpology museum, which is free to students such as myself. I spent the rest of the afternoon in there (getting thoroughly spooked out by the 8 foot skelleton that was discovered in Africa and the mummy) and in El Retiro Parque, which must be at least the same size as Cebtral Park in Manhattan. It was an interesting dichotomy- one place full of death and history while the other brimming with life as people jogged, played music and enjoyed each other´s companyn in the sunlight.

As I went about these adventures I felt an enormous sense of pride to be able to accomplish this on my own. Traveling solo is certainly a diferent experience, but so far I´m liking it because I get to make all the decisions and do exactly what I want. Many people asked me before leaving if it was a safe idea…. and the truth is that being alone is never 100% safe, even at home, but I checked the statistics and violent crime here is incredibly low, so as long as I keep my valuables in inside pockets and maintain sobriety, I think I´ll be okay. The other question I was asked was whether I might get bored staying in one place for nine days. To that inquirey I just tried not to laugh. Madrid is full of more activities than I could posibly do in just 9 days and I can´t wait to try to hit as many of them as possible. Maybe I´ll even go to Toledo for a day!

It´s possible that I´ll get lonely, but I think I´ll be too busy to be lonely! And I have yet to meet my hostel room mates. It´s possible that I´ll find a freind after all.

What are your thoughts on solo travel? Have you done it? Would you ever do it? Any wisdom you wish to share? I´d love to hear from you!

Street food delights

This post is extraordinarily belated and long after my last post, but all of my writing recently has been focused on an important research paper regarding the plight of the Roma people in France. As if that wasn’t enough to occupy me, I also went on a study trip to Brussels last weekend, which kept me busy and my mind occupied nearly constantly. But in the moments when I was free I was able to get a feel for the wonderful blend that represents all of Belgium.

Imagine eating escargot at dinner…. and then chasing it with Dutch beer. That food analogy is the best I can come to describing the general atmosphere of the Belgian capital (And arguably the capital of Europe). It is very unique with it’s location between France and the Netherlands and the ethnic devision of the people. The capital is disorienting because the architecture leans toward Danish origins, but the language most frequently spoken on the street is French.

However, as in any city, I thoroughly believe that if you can get a feel for the cuisine, then you can get a feel for the culture, so I dove into my Belgian options. My time and funds (and those of my accomplices) were limited, so I turned to every budget traveller’s best-friend; street food.

The first option I passed was reminiscent of the French I had left behind on the other side of the border- escargot, sold from a street cart. I was sorely tempted, but I shied away nervously. Something tells me that Belgium doesn’t have an FDA equivalent that checked this man’s business out on a regular basis… And if I’m going to eat snails, I prefer only the best that the mollusk world has to offer me.

Moving on, I resigned myself to making a beeline toward the tourist traps at the center of the city. At this point I was well aware that I had under 3 hours until my train would be leaving, so I needed to make the most of that time. I took more pictures in the Grand Place (read that with a french accent or it just won’t sound good) and then traipsed the well worn path to Brussels’ famous Manneken Pis. On the way I scoped out all of the shops that I wanted to check out.

Finally deciding that it was nearly an acceptable lunch hour, I bought a sinful amount of chocolate truffles to enjoy on the train (one of each kind, because who can choose from the huge variety than every Belgian chocolate store offers?!). Then, I re-traced my steps all the way back to the very first waffle stand I had seen on this street. Watering at the mouth I ordered a belgian waffle with chocolate syrup and banana slices. I paid, staring reverently at the food and then retreated to a set of cathedral steps to eat my treat while people-watching.

Well, I wound up doing more food-watching than people-watching. With just the tiny plastic fork I had been provided it was a little tricky to chow down on my waffle and anyway, I was utterly obsessed with my treat. It was the perfect level of sweetness with a wonderful lightweight consistency. Add my love of chocolate and bananas to the equation and you have the perfect food. I could scarcely believe that I was lucky enough to be eating a Belgian waffle in Belgium.

Having eaten one of these in Amsterdam when I was ten, I was on the verge of regressing into childhood, but then I sat up with just an ounce of dignity because I was proud to have gotten myself to that spot where I was able to eat the perfect dessert without any help. Waffles and chocolate= a recipe for a feeling of accomplishment.

belgian waffles with bananas!

When What’s the same… is Different

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It seems that a large number of my foreign adventures revolve around food (a fact I’m not complaining about!) and so the latest story centers around the dinner table in my host’s house. I’ve now thoroughly learned not to assume that just because something has the same name, the food will be even remotely recognizable as the dish I love back in the united states. It’ll be good, but in an entirely different a surprising new way.

Tonight’s unexpected cuisine was… an OMELET. When my host said we’d be eating omelet, I pictured the folded, well cooked and often cheesy delicacy that I know from back home (and that I’m terrible at making). I couldn’t have been more wrong….

The food that my host mother scraped out of the pan was not what I call an omelet. It was a LOT less solid than I’m accustomed to and completely lacking in cheese… though what it lacked in cheese it made up for in red bell peppers and tomatoes. It’s possible that it’s just the way my host mom prepares it, but it could be the French custom!

I wound up liking it anyway- I’m finding the key to enjoying my food here is not to look for similarities to the things I recognize, but rather to simply enjoy it for what it is!

Museum Magic

There’s nothing quite like museums to pack a load of learning into just a two hour span, to connect with a place on an intellectual level, and simply to get out of the rain.

Yesterday was a perfect day to combine all three of those elements and delve into the history and culture of the region that I’m calling my temporary home. I braved the rain for a walk to the Alsacien museum and then spent the subsequent two hours with an audio guide pressed to the side of my face as I wandered through the exhibits. I was enamored enough with the knowledge pouring into my mind from that little phone shaped device that I wasn’t even concerned with the number of other tourists who had probably touched it before me.

It’s amazing how many little details you can learn. Sure, none of them will help me pursue my goals in life, but they will enrich my experience in Strasbourg. For example, I now know the hallmarks of a traditional Alsacien chair and that wood furniture in this region was made entirely with fir wood at a time when the rest of the continent favored softer woods. Useful? No. Interesting? Yes. I found myself completely in awe with the little details which will help me have a deeper understanding of the worlds around me in this city.

Even the museum building itself was a true experience. My immediate thought upon entering it was: this is NOT the Smithsonian. The museums I am accustomed to in the USA tend to be big buildings with vaulted ceilings and spacious passages. The Alsacien museum was tiny by comparison, cramped in to it’s little space (although really it was three old houses stitched together) and with much narrower aisles as the buildings retained their original rooms, but had been filled with artifacts in every nook and cranny. Furthermore, American style museums favor very straightforward and easy to follow layouts, sometimes even with maps on the wall or in pamphlets to aid you. The Alsacien museum was a complete maze. Half the time I was unsure how to get to the next part of the exhibit. Once, I got so confused I retraced my steps all the way back to the beginning before returning to right where I had been! So even if you don’t like museums, I found that the Alsacien (and perhaps other European museums) is worth a visit just to marvel at the difference between it and the American way.

Strasbourg makes visiting museums even more accessible with deals and special museum days. I purchased a student pass that lets me into any museum (or really any venue) at a reduced price and I believe tourist passes are available too. As if that’s not enough, on the first Sunday of every month (oh look; today!) all museums are free… So I guess it’s time to get off the internet and go explore!

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