Saturday, August 31, 2013

Europe, looking back

Having had the privilege of having lived in Central Europe for quite some time, some days I cannot help but look back and reminisce with a sense of nostalgia for days long gone. So, dwelling further, I was intrigued to find out what it is I am really reminiscent about, and here it is:

Although I could miss Germany/Europe, I don’t miss it the way I lived it…I am now grateful to:
-have my own house, generous backyard with privacy for enjoying anything, hosting parties, eating dinners, suntanning, doing yoga, working on my computer from a lounge chair in my "outdoor office"
-I don’t miss the drunken voices outside my window yelling at all times
-I don’t miss not having any privacy or sense of ownership, knowing that the "hausmeisters" are watching you, just waiting for that one time when you will slip up and forget to sort out your recycling properly
-although I do not meet the people often, if and when I do meet, it’s the people I really want to see and spend time with…ones who know me well and  we have a fantastic connection, can relate to each other on many levels, have fun, without the language or cultural barrier.
-I love the big, wild, open spaces-and easily being able to reach them-unlike Europe. 

The bottom like is, both places have their advantages. It can be very interesting to discover all the small town of Germany, especially if you are camping, knowing that there are always things around to see and do, but on the same token it can get weary knowing that everything is so dense, built up, with people everywhere like ants...and at times when what you are seeking is a connection with nature and solitude, that may not be all that conducive.

I absolutely adore some aspects of European life, BUT I’ve come to believe that to truly enjoy it, one would have to be a couple (or a young adult looking to party non-stop and have a good time, some casual encounters- that’s pretty easy to do there too, and you would have an amazing time, as it is far easier to find someone who just wants to party with you, go out and drink, rather than someone to relate to you on a more meaningful level, share your interests, and so on). However, Europe, although as an undertone, suggests to be  best viewed as a couple. All the apartments come furnished for a size of 2 or so…the last minute travel deals that would blow your mind to almost anywhere… for two. I am not even going to mention all the cute cafes and intimate restaurants you could have countless dates in and build lasting memories. Another positive-Europe is extremely kid friendly and pretty awesome for travelling with young kids-most of the time, no fare needs to be paid on ground transportation for kids under 7 and the amount of kid-friendly cafes and playgrounds will astonish you.

Overall, while I enjoyed myself  immensely and will once in a while become nostalgic for certain parts of the European lifestyle,  I much prefer the freedom and ample opportunities that the western world has to offer... Having said that, I am already planning my next vacation to Italy in my mind :)

Friday, August 23, 2013

On travelling alone: the pros and cons

Throughout the duration of my studies, the people in my group often commented on my zest for travel, whether I had a travel buddy or not, simply because once I got the idea in my mind of where my next destination should lie, there was very little else stopping me.And while most of the other international students were content with a trip or two, here and there, wherever their friends were willing to travel, I needed to squeeze in as much as I could, knowing that it will all be over sooner than I can imagine. Thus, in a span of 2.5 years I've visited,and some more than once: Spain, Italy, France, Denmark,Switzerland, many parts of Germany, Croatia, Czech republic, Morocco, Greece, as well as the islands of Tenerife, Ibiza, Skiathos; I've volunteered in music festivals without speaking the language, I've stumbled upon free concerts and art exhibitions, met wonderful people all over, some of whom have left lasting impressions...and the list goes on. So, for those of you who are reluctant to travel the world, unless accompanied by a partner/friend, etc- here is my list of "pros" and "cons" regarding solo travelling.

The "pro's":
Well, these are pretty obvious: you're on your own schedule, free to change your mind or adjust your plans at any time. Not only does this give you a tremendous flexibility, but it also increases the probability or meeting people anywhere you go-perhaps other solo travelers, or locals who feel like striking up a conversation while sitting next to you on a park bench. I'll never forget the sweet old man in a Copenhagen park, who, apologizing for his "very bad English" went on to tell me his life story without missing a beat. Or the generous stranger who bought me a train ticket back to the airport after I'd figured out I don't have enough local currency. The thing is, people are kind and open to tourists intrigued by their culture, because at the end of the day we all want to feel proud of where we're living, so by showing interest in local history, traditions, culture, by striving to understand how people live in a given region, makes you more relateable than simply being another "american tourist" (as canadians are most often lumped together with americans, unless you're willing to make a fuss about it and explain the difference to each and every one).

The "con's":

Well, we're all human and sometimes we just want someone to share a moment with. Whether you've stumbled upon a gorgeous view, or a neat marketplace, it can have an even greater memory-making potential once you've shared it with a fellow traveler. Needless to say, mealtime is a little daunting. You can hide there all you want with your guidebook and notes at a corner table, but most people in our society view meal time as a social occasion, thus making you stand out like a sore thumb. I have to say, my opinion differs on that-yes, I prefer a take out when traveling alone, with a possibility of going to a nearby park and enjoying the views and the outdoors. It can also be enjoyable to sit there with a cup of coffee and people watch. However, in some societies it just won't do: in Morocco, for example, a single woman on the streets is basically a "working girl", or so the locals see it,-so, just to make it easier on yourself, I'd advise against it. Same goes for Egypt. Other places, like northern Italy and Switzerland, I was ecstatic to be alone, as there's just too much to see and do to waste your time on group travel.

Of course, it all depends on where you go and with what intentions. If you're looking to meet people along the way and spend a day or two exploring a new place together, hostels are great for that. If you prefer the introverted route, taking photos and blogging about your travels can make you feel like you are sharing these experiences regardless of whether or not you travel solo.I often catch myself walking around thinking how I will write about my day or a particular experience on the road later on. In a way, I find that this internal dialogue keeps you connected to your outside world, with your senses concentrating on perceiving every exotic and foreign detail: someone's conversation nearby, a bird's cry, a new smell, a friendly smile from a stranger, a unique piece of art- a sense of envelopment arises, envelopment in something new, different, strange, scary and yet exciting at the same time-life, at its fullest, on the road.