I had a conversation recently with a woman a bit older than I. She was retiring from a job she had held for 15 or 20 years, a job she had done very well for all of those years. It hadn’t paid her much, but her true calling had been motherhood and she had only taken the job after her children were well on their way to being grown.
Now that retirement was imminent, we talked about what she would do with her time. The topic of travel came up and she expressed how uncomfortable she was about going somewhere she’d never been before without the company of someone who had traveled previously to wherever that destination might be. I nodded as the words bounced around in my head…thinking…wait! How in the world do you ever go somewhere new? Are you saying you’re afraid to ever leave home? How does a competent, intelligent woman allow fear to limit her horizons?
International terrorist attacks are happening with increasing frequency. We’ve all seen it – there’s truly no safe place. Church, work, markets, concert venues, airports, train stations, all have witnessed the deaths of innocent people around our world. I’m not even including the tremendous losses we’ve suffered in the U.S. to gun violence – in schools, night clubs and office buildings. The world is a dangerous place.
There are things that scare me, too. I hate to fly because the more often I do it, the greater I think the odds are for a bad outcome. I don’t like heights or crowds and there are places I’d be hesitant to go to without the company of someone native, like Turkey or Indonesia. But, the world is also a remarkably beautiful place filled with people from whom we can learn. Visiting new places, observing customs and absorbing history and culture are one of life’s greatest gifts. It enriches us beyond any other experience, in my opinion, and I dedicate a lot of my expendable income on collecting memories in new locales. It’s money well spent.
Diminishing our lives as we seek to preserve them seems counter productive to me. If something ever happens to me when I’m traveling, reread this post and know that I wouldn’t have wanted it to be any other way. I’m way more afraid of not seeing everything possible than I am of dying while trying.
In the early 90s I visited Washington for the first time. It was easy to see why it was such a magnet for creative, artistic people. There were mountains, rivers, desert, islands, and even a rain forest, to inspire and awe, and as a tourist, I fell in love. I’m no camper, but I’d go back to the San Juan Islands in a heartbeat and sleep in a tent happily.
We spent some time in Seattle, a city I found to be smartly set-up with highways that flexibly changed their direction according to traffic demand and rush hour. Clever. Of course, we went to Pike’s Market and did a little shopping. I don’t remember buying anything from the market other than edibles, but nearby at sidewalk booth, I found some pottery that I immediately loved. The pieces on display were gorgeous – rich colors, weighty and beautifully formed. At the time they seemed expensive, but as a recent college graduate living in NYC, many things were beyond my financial reach.
The replacement piece
It turned out that there was an outlet nearby where Bruning sold their pottery seconds. You know, stuff that might not have turned out as perfectly as planned, yet still was lovely and useful. I came back east with a couple of pieces and an undying love for their work. Over the years the collection has grown (we eventually had dinner service for 6 or 8), divided (divorce) and diminished (breakage), but there was one steadfast piece that I retained and used regularly for making quiche and pies and serving, a deep blue dish that I absolutely loved.
The bonus piece
I noticed a couple of months ago that a crack had formed in this dish and was paralyzed by the thought of no longer having it in my cabinet. I went online, searched Bruning Pottery and got a contact email address. After a series of emails, I selected 2 dishes to replace my old steady, one a very similar color, the other completely unlike any that I’ve owned before. They’re a little fancier with their fluted edges, but when they arrived in the mail I felt like I was welcoming an old friend home again. I just may bake a pie this weekend.
When I travel, my favorite thing to bring home as a souvenir for myself is something practical that I can use or enjoy regularly. On recent trips I’ve returned home with linens, perfume and liquor bought in Duty Free, a hand painted trivet, earrings and scarves. I absolutely love reaching for an accessory to finish an outfit, or setting the dining room table, with an object that comes complete with a memory.
My plan for Germany was to replace a pair of worn out black flats with some new, comfortable walking shoes. And I didn’t mean Birkenstocks, either. I wanted shoes that worked with skirts, as well as jeans and I looked really hard in countless stores in Berlin and Potsdam for the perfect pair. Don’t believe me? Ask Quinn who was remarkably patient as I dragged him in and out of shoe store after shoe store.
While I found a couple of pairs of shoes that tempted me, I wasn’t interested in spending 175 euro for a pair of shoes. Other than my Fryes, I just don’t invest in footwear that expensive. I came home from Germany empty handed, other than a cheap white scarf. No big deal, except that I still needed a new pair of everyday black flats.
Home again, I searched online without success. Nothing grabbed me. Each time I put my crappy black shoes on my feet, I shook my head and hoped no one looked at me below the ankles. Last Sunday, as I was leaving a friend’s house after a lovely brunch, I impulsively steered my car into the town of New Paltz to check out a great shoe store, Pegasus. I trolled the sales rack and found a fantastic pair of wedges that unfortunately were slightly too large, and not at all what I needed. I kept looking.
Anti-stress shoes! Who doesn’t need that?
In the front of the shop there was a display of new arrivals and pair of flats caught my eye. They were simple enough to be versatile, yet super cute with interesting cutouts. They were available in my size and felt comfortable on my feet. They were in my budget and…they were German. Sold.
We’ve been back for about 10 days and there are some really positive impressions from our trip that I thought to share. How about one for each day we were there?
1. Roads. I don’t think I’d mind paying a 19% VAT if the money went into highways and other infrastructure. We traveled a few hundred miles on the autobahn and those roads are beautifully maintained.
2. Groceries. In Berlin we shopped at Lidl which is similar to Aldi. For less than $9 I bought the following: a fresh pineapple (fair trade), a quart of apple juice, 2 croissant, a package of sliced gouda, a large plain yogurt, a small fruit yogurt and a pint of chocolate milk.
3. Beer. I almost exclusively drank hefeweizen, although I had the occasional shandy and in Berlin I drank a specialty beer called Berliner Weiße mit Schuss. It’s wheat beer with a shot of woodruff. Kind of sweet but a nice way to end the night, I thought.
4. Public transit. It’s available, easy to understand and cheap. A day ticket cost approximately $7.50 and my son rode with me for free.
5. Cleanliness. The streets, the bathrooms, the trains, with only one exception (a bathroom at a big tourist spot) all were immaculate.
6. Markets. The Munsterplatz is the place to be if you’re looking for produce, flowers, cheese, meats and prepared foods. We also checked out some markets that were more like American flea markets, also. Good deals were all over the place.
7. Flowers. Germans like their gardens and even in early spring, most homes have tended plots of land. The lilacs bursting open everywhere were lovely, too.
8. Ice cream and cake. There’s an acceptance level of these sort of items perceived by Americans as “treats,” and both were included in our afternoons.
9. Coffee. Dark, strong and delicious.
10. Punctuality. The only clock I’ve ever seen not tell accurate time in Germany was the battery operated one in our rented apartment. I love counting on the church bells and public clocks to keep track of time for me.
A bonus thing: DOGS! They were everywhere – restaurants, cafes, trains, stores, yet, not once did I see any piles of poop.
The only that I didn’t appreciate was the prevalence of cigarette smoking that still goes on. It seems like smoking is much more pervasive in Germany than in the States. I suppose I could complain that the weather wasn’t great either, but, really…spring is a crap shoot in Albany, too. At least the hail that fell on me was German hail.
Note: for suggested soundtrack for reading the following post click here.
Despite my best attempts (hello, hefeweizen!), during quiet moments on this trip my mind has been busy. I suppose it’s to be expected considering all of the things going on – in the world, during this trip and in my life. I had a motivating thought, though, the other day and it keeps rising to the surface: this one very moment may be the only chance. The only chance for what? Everything.
When I was in the Black Forest and the sky was spitting at me, I ran up a damn big hill because I recognized that I might not have that opportunity again. What if I never made it back to that special place? What if I was fortunate enough to visit again but my body wasn’t capable of making that climb again on my own two feet? The moment was now and I needed to live it. I ran.
I had a similar thought in Nuremberg – when was I ever again going to have the opportunity to run around the medieval walled center of this beautiful city? Recognizing that all had aligned to provide me with that experience inspired me to make the effort to put my sneakers on and get out there. I was rewarded by the universe with sun on my face and lightness in my heart.
But, it’s not all about running, even for me. It’s about realizing that we each only get one chance at now, that these exact circumstances will never again be replicated. How do you honor that? Are you guilty of postponing life waiting for the “perfect” moment while this one very moment right now goes unrealized? When are you going to wise up?
A couple of weeks before my trip I splurged on a pair of pricey slippers. When I say “pricey,” I’m talking like more expensive than most of the shoes in my closet, not including Frye’s and running shoes. Yes, they were a bit of an indulgence for sure.
When they first came in the mail I didn’t know if I was going to keep them. They were a little tight and I wasn’t sure if I could justify the price unless they were absolutely perfectly comfortable. I gave them a couple of days of wear around the house, they began to conform to the shape of my foot and the rest is history – $90 Ugg slippers are my new favorite way to say home.
When it comes to reading, I’m old school. I still like a print book even when it is ridiculously heavy.* After wanting to read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr for more than a year, I finally got my hands on a copy (Thanks, Maria!), and I couldn’t have picked a better book for this trip. I’m nearly to the halfway point of the story and the novel is as good as I had imagined it to be.
What I somehow missed in my packing was tweezers. I think I erred when I started mixing around with my toiletries bags, believing that I had a pair always at the ready for the errant hair in my make-up bag, which I do. Unfortunately, though, I neglected to bring that particular bag opting for a smaller one. I’ll be stopping in an Apotheke today to rectify the situation. There’s a stray brow hair that making me crazy!
What are your musts when packing? What’s the worst thing you ever forgot to bring on a trip?
*I stashed it in Q’s luggage. Hey – his was lighter!
I know there’s some kind of Jersey saying about gym, tan and something else, but I’m a New York girl, not a New Jersey one, so my trio of activities is a bit different.
First, I took a run. In all honesty, I wasn’t too excited about getting outside again not knowing what the weather was going to bring after a morning that included heavy, wet snow. I motivated myself with the knowledge that this very day might be the only day in my entire life that I would have this opportunity. I was rewarded for my commitment to living when the sky got blue and it became warmer than it had been in days. I hit it just right.
My plan was to follow the wall around the oldest part of the city. I went in a clockwise direction, which eased me into things by beginning in a downhill direction. Keeping the wall to my right, I circled the oldest parts of this beautiful city, pausing to pet a puppy or take a photo when I found it necessary. The route took me past the hauptbahnhof, through grassy paths and across water. It was a run that will stay with me even though my running app neglected to record it.
After the run, I gave Quinn the secret code word to gain access to the hotel room, grabbed my swimsuit and went to the sauna. God, I love a sauna! That dry heat just does it for me and even though I was decidedly overdressed, I thoroughly enjoyed stretching out and taking a little time to relax. Someday I may get beyond my American puritanical sensibilities and go bare, but I’m just not there.
My final stop was the hotel bar for a beer to bring to our room. The Franziskaner Weissbier provided the perfect buzz and I’m feeling remarkably mellow. Vacation and its magical combination of getting away, yet being in the moment, is really working for me. Life is good and I know how lucky I am to have this life. Next up, yet another S – soccer. Go Bayern Munchen!