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Tag: travel (page 1 of 3)

Vondelpark Bridge in Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Bridges are awesome not least because you can come across them virtually anywhere – as majestic architectural masterpieces in large cities or as randomly strewn about planks across a creek somewhere in the middle of nowhere.  Vondelpark, Amsterdam, Netherlands

This small bridge in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark combines the aesthetic striving for perfection of culture with the beautiful surroundings of nature. Of course it’s not entirely natural, it’s still part of a park and as such quite domesticated. Nonetheless places like these are really important for a big city. They are green little retreat spaces that make you forget about urban noise and agitation.

When I was small I had a children’s book about Claude Monet called „Linnea in Monet’s Garden“. If you have children (or just love children’s books…) look it up, it’s really cute. When I came across this bridge, I felt instantly reminded of Monet’s pictures as I remembered them from the book. It’s really almost as if it was taken out of an impressionist painting.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Travelling Differently – Have I Grown Up?

In the beginning of the year I thought I wouldn’t be able to travel at all this summer due to work committments. It was then when I first realized that I must really have come dangerously close to that dangerous state they call adulthood – obligations tying me down, curtailing my flexibility. Turns out though that I just don’t function when I don’t get out at least for a little bit. So when it came to planning my summer, I figured a few days away would only help me work more productively afterwards. So I started planning – and much more specifically so than I used to. That was hint number two that I may just have grown up.

My love affair with bridges prompts people to give me travel advice. Most of them suggest Venice. While that is on my list, I want to do it some remote February weekend when the city is touched by tourism as little as can be. So it wasn’t really an option for my summer trip. Second on the list of recommendations has always been Amsterdam. And now we’re talking. A new country, one in Western Europe at that. Breaking with my old travel patterns. How exciting!

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdam

Once the destination was decided, for the first time in my travel life, I decided to ditch my beloved public transport and rent a car. I had done car travel before, but never abroad, only for short trips inside of Germany. For one thing, I didn’t think trains and busses in the Netherlands would be so different from Germany as to add indispensable experiences to my travel adventure (correct me if I’m wrong!). Secondly, I planned on visiting a bunch of friends I hadn’t seen in a while on my way West through Germany, and the car gave me flexibility.

With the car came a few other side effects, such as the fact that I wouldn’t be needing a backpack. I would be able to travel like a civilized person with a roll-on suitcase! Fascinating! Finally, when all of that was set already, plans were slightly overthrown and it turned out I wouldn’t be travelling alone. As part of a couple, new options arose that would have been out of question otherwise, if just financially. Jan and I decided to rent an airbnb apartment instead of hostelling.

Rental car in Amsterdam

It’s not my most flattering picture, but I realized it’s the only one I have in which you can see the car. I loved its signal red colour 🙂

Yes, I was quite curious how it would feel to be travelling so differently. No overnight busses, but a rental car. No backpack, but a suitcase. No hostels, but an airbnb apartment. And not single, but as a couple. My travel self has so far usually said sentences like „I’m flying into a remote ex-Yugoslav country, just me and my backpack, and I’m not exactly sure where I’ll go there, but I got my Couchsurfing profile ready and some hostel recommendations scribbled in my notebook.“ Now I found myself saying: „Me and my boyfriend have a car and an apartment in Amsterdam rented for four nights, and a hotel booked for a night in Groningen after that.“ How grown-up does that sound?!

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still in love with the backpacking thing, and I’m sure it’s not over for me. But I can’t deny that the comfort and security that this other travel mode generated felt very, very nice. To be entirely honest, I am less tolerant when it comes to drunk hostel dorm mates waking me up in the middle of the night, and spending nights in bus stations because the connection didn’t run is a lot less glamorous and exciting when you’ve done it a couple of times. It felt nice not to have to calculate every expense – because both the car and the apartment are of course things that I never did so far because they were too expensive. The relative luxury of travelling the way I did now was not least a financial one.

Zandvoort, Netherlands

Day trip to the North Sea

It felt really nice to be able rely on the things that had been planned beforehand. And it was absolutely wonderful to not have to take care of everything by myself, but have someone take over the wheel every now and then – literally and metaphorically. Speaking of which, in sum, the Netherlands were not the perfect country to take a car to. Petrol is ridiculously expensive, and what’s more, parking will leave you nearly penniless. Seriously, if I had been on my own I would have been completely desperate in the face of the expenses I had for parking which amounted to a good 20€ every single day except Sunday when parking suddenly was free everywhere. But then again we did beautiful day trips and stop overs on our way through the country that wouldn’t have been possible without a car. I think next time we might try just going by bike. It seems like the perfect way to travel the Netherlands.

Bike, Amsterdam, Netherlands

A bike in Amsterdam, camouflaged in flowers 🙂

I am also happy to report that with all the grown-up stuff, we were still plenty spontaneous. We hadn’t made up our minds as to what we wanted to see in Amsterdam, we had barely decided which other towns in the country we wanted to visit. We didn’t over-schedule our days, but took plenty of time strolling around, getting lost in beauty, and enjoying each other’s company sitting underneath light houses looking at the sea and talking. We never went out for breakfast, but went grocery shopping the first day and finished the remains on the last morning on a bench on Groningen’s fish market. So I didn’t feel like I had betrayed my travel style at all. It has just slightly shifted. A little more comfort. A little more safety. And a lot better company.

Breakfast, Groningen, Netherlands

Breakfast in Groningen – from my lap 🙂

Travel is a very big part of my life. It has made me who I am. It changes with who I become and with who accompanies me. That is just another way in which it is a beautiful metaphor for life itself. Maybe perceiving the way I travelled now as „grown-up“ is actually missing the point. Maybe it is just a new way that seems to fit the person I am, the life I have, regardless of age or status.

On Being Driven

My life is a succession of settling in new places. My life is the process of settling inside of myself. I’m sure there is absolutely nothing special about that. It is everyone’s life story. But I can’t speak for how other people perceive this journey through life. I can only speak for myself.

Butterfly, Mostar, Bosnia & HercegovinaI guess most people will call me well-travelled. Compared to a lot of people in the blogging community, what I have seen is but a tiny fraction of the world. I don’t think I could have fit much more into it though. Some people are still in their twenties and have been to more than a hundred countries. I sit and wonder – how much have they taken in from each individual country? How well do they know the places they have been to? I have been to 33 foreign countries, if my count is not mistaken, but I would consider myself to have an actual idea of just a few – Germany, obviously, then the States, Poland, and Bosnia and Hercegovina. If I’m very generous with myself I could count Croatia and Greece as well because I’ve travelled them fairly thoroughly.

The longing to see new places is always there. I am a driven person. Driven in many senses of the word. I am driven to achieve things, driven to success. Driven also to be active, to create things – the only way I know how to, artistically, in writing and music. Driven, very much, to love. Driven to move, quite physically, and to discover. My drive doesn’t aim for quantity though – or at least not first and foremost. It aims for depth.

Rose, Pocitelj, Bosnia and HercegovinaTalking about this is so close to my heart that I feel the English language makes it hard on me to phrase things properly. This rarely happens to me, but for once I feel that German would provide me with a more suitable vocabulary after all. However, only recently a blogger I very much appreciate said that phrases like „I’m at a loss for words“ or „Words cannot express…“ don’t suit a writer because words are your job, and I think she is right. So I will try.

The awareness of my need for depth wasn’t always there. I had to find it through experience. I used to call just about anyone a friend. In times of facebook, we all know how lightly that word is used. Today I am much more careful. Acquaintances are plentiful. Friends are rare. I chose a field of study in which I would gather a broad basic knowledge instead of specializing in one field, and have only come to find true insights that approach the core of things very late in my academic career. And I used to want to see many places instead of lingering in one and getting to know it well and truly.

Time and time again it occurs to me that I have been so lucky to have seen many places and found much happiness in the vast strangeness of countries and cities formerly unknown to me. So very lucky. And I needed the quantity to find the quality in small parts of it, which I have been blessed enough to manage. How I deserve this, no one will ever know. I have no explanation but some kind of metaphysical grace.

Alt-Lübars / Berlin, GermanyThe more I reflect it, the more I come to the conclusion that what makes us decent human beings are mainly three things: gratitude, empathy and respect. Most of the time, all three of them come naturally to me. Again, I don’t know why, but I am glad it is the case.  That does not mean I don’t have difficulty with either one of the three at times. I am no angel. But I am driven to work on myself.

All there is to learn about these three things can be learned from human interaction. I have encountered people who don’t have much to be grateful for. Some of them turn jaundiced and embittered. Others fight tooth and nail to still see the good in their lives and be grateful for what they have. I have also met people who have trouble feeling other people’s joy or pain, or even understand a different viewpoint or life choice. Some of them try hard to find that compassion inside of themselves. Others just turn into loners and give up on a social life (which is a veritable life choice in itself, albeit a bit sad from my personal standpoint). Then there are those I have met who don’t respect either other people or life itself. I must say that this is one of the things where my ability to empathize meets its boundaries. How can you not respect life? How can you not treat it carefully and try to make the most of it, for your own benefit and that of other people? But maybe that is my drive speaking. My drive to be the best possible version of myself. Ultimately that is what it all comes down to.

Tempelhofer Feld, Berlin, GermanyI am very much aware that I was only able to develop this kind of drive, to feel gratitude, empathy and respect, because I had the best conditions anyone could ask for with material and emotional security provided by a loving family through all my life. Who knows if I could have done it if the terms had been different.  But what sense does it even make to ask that question. We all have to make the best of what we are given. I can only thank my lucky stars that they have made it so easy on me.

Why am I writing this? Maybe to remind myself of my own principles on a rainy day when life doesn’t seem to hold much beauty or joy to be grateful for, when I encounter something I cannot for the life of me understand, or when people act in ways that threaten to make me lose respect for them.

When I was 13 and attending confirmation classes in church, our pastor, a man I truly and deeply admire, said to us something about the concept of sin (which I realize is a tricky term in itself, but bear with me). He derived it etymologically from sound – as in water, not as in music. The words are closer in German, Sünde and Sund. He said sins were the things that seperate people from one another and from God the way that open sounds seperate land masses. I believe that lack of gratitude, empathy and respect are what seperates us. But I want to build bridges. I want to cross the sounds. I want to find true connection to the world and within myself. This is my drive.Stari Most, Mostar, Bosnia & Hercegovina

 

The Things I Love About Poland – Part I

My self-imposed focus when it comes to travel and thus, to writing (since most of the time one means the other for me) is Eastern Europe. How that came about is a long story. But one part in it is certain: that it all starts – and possibly ends – with Poland.

I would be lying if I said I had always had a fascination for that part of the world. When asked on a study trip in high school, I distinctly remember saying: „What in the WORLD would I want to see in POLAND?!?!?“ I went to Greece instead, which was nice. But it is no Poland.

Pasym, Poland

Pasym, a beautiful small town in the Mazury Lake District

How did my love affair with Poland come about then? In college I needed a second major adding to the one I had always known I wanted to get – German literature. I chose Polish. One of the questions I must have been asked most in my life is certainly: „Why Polish???“ – usually asked with an undertone of utter disbelief. Well, it was a mixture of random reasons, but really, most of it was gut feeling. And the older I get, the more I believe that this is a better reason for decisions than most others.

From then on, it all just added up. Poland and I are, in a way, meant to be. I’ve come to love it more and more. And here is why.

1. The Cities

Poland’s cities are special. They are different from the cities I have seen elsewhere – they are beautiful and ugly, and full of atmosphere and history. And they are very different from one another. That is best displayed in contrasting Warsaw and Cracow – without feeding on the rivalry between the two. They compliment each other in the best possible way – Warsaw is grey, progressive, and full of hipster culture and modern art. Cracow is traditional, conservative, and insanely pretty.

Palace of Culture, Warsaw, Poland

Warsaw’s Palace of Culture – a gift from Stalin to the country and an impressive example of socialist architecture

Sukiennice, Cracow, Poland

Cracow’s main market square, the largest medieval square of its kind in Europe, with the beautiful Sukiennice (Cloth Hall)

Travelling in Poland, one should obviously not neglect the other urban gems, though. Wrocław might be the most accessible city for foreigners, and it somewhat combines the best of the two previously mentioned cities. Gdańsk has the added selling point that it is right by the Baltic Sea and, as an old hanseatic port city, has a tradition of being very open-minded and down-to-earth. Poznań may have the prettiest market square I have ever been to. And I haven’t even been to Łódź or Lublin. Indulge!

Market Square, Poznan, Poland

Poznan’s beautiful market square

2. The Sense of History

When travelling in Poland, it is impossible to miss the active memory culture that the country has. Memorials are all around. For a history freak like me, that is just plainly wonderful. Poles generally know their country’s history much better than Germans from my experience. They are aware of their country’s proud past as a mighty kingdom in the middle ages, and their painful loss of territory which forced them to exist as a nation without a country between 1795 and 1918. They have been in an unfortunate geographical position in the 20th century, wedged between the Germans and the Russians, and it has shaped their identity. They have fought for their culture time and time again, and they are proud of it while still being critical of it. And they know that it is important to remember the past.

Shipyards, Gdansk, Poland

Memorial to the victims of the strikes in the Gdansk shipyards in 1970. Most of the fight against the socialist regime was yet to come. The memorial was one of the early achievements of the Solidarnosc movement that contributed significantly to the downfall of socialism in Europe.

3. The Hospitality

None of the above would mean a lot if it wasn’t brought to me by the most hospitable, caring, genuinely kind and wonderful people. If for a woman the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, for a country the way to my heart is through its people. Hospitality in Poland is of dimensions that were unknown to me before I came there. They are so much less distrustful than Germans are. Don’t be surprised if you ask someone for directions and they walk you to your destinations. Don’t be surprised either if they invite you to their home for dinner – and don’t say no. I’m getting to the food in the follow-up post! In short, it is easy to make friends in Poland – and you will want to make friends there if you want to truly see through the more complicated dimensions of the country’s history and culture and get to taste the truly amazing vodka.

Friends, Grudziadz, Poland

My friends Agnieszka and Karol are among my favourite people in the world. I met them in Gdansk, but this was when Karol took us on a roadtrip to visit his hometown Grudziadz.

4. The Language

Ah, that singsong sound of the Polish language with all the freaky consonants and a few nasal vowels. That grammar that drove me up the wall when I learned it, but is capable of expressing things so precisely, so uniquely, most of all so differently from German. The germanisms like wihajster, literally whatshisname and used for any random thing you can’t find a name for; and the anglicisms with their weird spelling that turns manager into menedżer.

I have been learning Polish for ten years, I cursed it and loved it, and was always pretty sure I’d never actually be able to speak it. But I’m getting there, one tongue twisting hell at a time, and loving every step of the way.

Signs in Gdansk, Poland

German – Polish – English. How I love it when translations come out all weird and funny as they do in this German sign outside a ramshackle building. It sounds as though the building was a person, verbally threatening to cripple or kill the visitor.

5. The Music

When learning a language as twisted as Polish, music is of huge help. I know about half my Polish vocabulary from song lyrics – singing along, trying to understand what’s going on, sometimes actually translating the lyrics at home at my desk. Over the years I have been in touch with Polish pop, rock, rap, reggae, folk, and basically everything in between. I will just give you a few examples here. The Polish equivalent of the Rolling Stones is the rock band Dżem. Their song „List do M“ was the first Polish song I knew by heart, and it is a beautful and sad rock ballad.

A specific kinf of music I got to know in Poland is Klezmer. It is a Jewish musical tradition, not so big on lyrics, but mainly instrumental, using different instruments to make beautiful, yearning, sighing, swinging music played often at celebrations of any kind. The band Kroke may be the most famous Polish Klezmer band.

My personal favourite is the Polish singer / songwriter tradition that brought forth many wonderful artists I listen to almost every day. It is quite folksy, and if we translated the lyrics, most would run away screaming for they drip with Kitsch – but in Polish, they somehow work. There is a tradition called Poezja śpiewana, Sung Poetry, that is especially well known for its poetic song lyrics. Jacek Kaczmarski, whose most famous song „Mury“ I put here for you, is a bit of a special case. His songs are much more political, and he is often referred top as the Barde of the Solidarność, the trade union and political movement that brought down socialism in Poland.

If you find I am missing things, rest assured that I will probably mention them in my follow up post on more things I love about Poland. It will discuss the landscapes, the food (and the vodka…), the literature, the beauty of Polish swearwords, and the incomparable Polish sense of humour.

Have you been to Poland? What do you love about the country? Or was there anything you didn’t like at all?

A Letter From My 25 Year Old Self

I made my one hundredth blog post a special one – so it only figures that I should do the same with the two hundredth. And how fitting is it that I am posting this on an important anniversary – four years ago today I left Germany for my Balkans travel adventure, the reason I started blogging in the first place. It’s such a damn platitude, but I can’t believe it is that long ago. I feel so close to the girl I was then – and yet so much has happened. Look at me, just having finished my Master’s degree, ready to take on life, on the very day I left for my trip:

Mariella, Departure Day 2010You know when people write about the advice they would give a past version of themselves? Usually a 30 year old telling their teenage self something along the lines of: „Don’t worry honey, you will have a great job in a few years and have lost 20 pounds.“

I could be telling the girl in the picture exactly that. But honestly, I have nothing to say to her. She doesn’t need to know about me today. In fact I think if anything it might hold her back. In many ways she is a million times cooler than me. Brave – nay, fearless! Excitable, of boundless curiosity, trusting, even naive, but in the best possible way. Open to the world, and confident that life will take her just to the place she needs to be. What I really need is advice from her! So what would she be telling me? What must she have been hoping for me? I am trying to remember it, an act I find it strangely comforting. I am thinking it would go something like this:

Dear 29 year old me,

it feels strange that I could be giving you advice on anything. After all, I am just a younger, less experienced version of you. You could be looking back at me and want nothing to do with who that is anymore. But then I do hope you still value my opinion. Wouldn’t it be a comforting idea that we can learn from our own life over and over again, and that you and I still respect and love each other?

I hope you look back at me and smile, and I hope that you remember vividly how happy I am. I take on this journey knowing that it will be wonderful. I know that it will empower me and make me strong. I am not afraid of being alone. And I hope that after this, you never will be, either. I hope that I will learn for you and all the future versions of us that being by yourself is not scary, but beautiful, even healing. I hope that I will learn how to listen to our own heart’s desires and how to follow them. And I do hope that you will be able to put all that to good use.

I know that I will meet boundaries, both physical and emotional ones. I know that I will push them, overcome them, and sometimes have to step back and just accept them. I know it won’t always be easy, but I am not afraid of any of it. I am excited for it. Please never forget that this is one of our most empowering traits: We don’t shy away from challenge. Never shy away from an opportunity to grow!

I ask you to remember all the things you should be grateful for. This journey surely makes the top of the list. The landscapes that I will see! The people I will meet! The emotions I will feel! It is now all ahead of me, but you will be able to carry the images in your heart as a constant source of comfort. And even once this is all over and has made its way into that foggy, yet golden country called memory, please be assured: There is always something to look forward to. There will always be amazing things to see and discover. Never lose the curiosity and the enthusiasm for discovery that I am bursting with in this moment. It will drive you to greatness, and what’s more, to happiness.

I don’t need to know about you – what you have achieved, or where you stand. I know that whatever you do will be wonderful and good for both of us. I am unshakingly confident that you will have made us both proud, and that you live your life as best you can, striving for happiness and fulfillment. I wish I knew what you think about me today. I am only just realizing that we have an immense capability for love and happiness, you know, and I hope it’s never lost.

Much love,

your 25 year old self xx

I was so insanely hopeful and confident. And then my trip was all I hoped for in that moment of departure – and more. I returned from it a different person – can you tell from the pictures?

Mariella, ReturnDay 2010Now what would this girl say to me, at the eve of her 26th birthday, having just returned from her journey? She would look at the letter above and say: „Told you. All my hopes and dreams came true. We can manage everything. I have nothing to add.“

When I am tied behind my desk these days, working on things I really love and that make me happy, I still feel a lot more cynical, a lot more fearful and a lot more on guard than I used to back then.

Mariella, Regular Work Day 2014It is good for me to think back on the person I was four years ago. I have a lot to learn from her. And I hope that even at my desk, fighting the smaller wars of daily routine, I would make her proud. I am insanely proud of her.

Travnik Castle Bridge in Travnik, Bosnia & Hercegovina

In spite of the fact that my roommate has today, truthfully, noted that the sun has been shining in Berlin for the past three Saturdays, I miss summer. And I miss the Balkans. And most of all, I miss Bosnia. On today’s Bridges on Sundays, therefore, I am indulging in reminiscence of the wonderful time I had there.

Travnik Castle Bridge, Travnik, Bosnia & HercegovinaThis is me in May 2010 on the grounds of Travnik Castle in the heart of Bosnia & Hercegovina. Behind me is the bridge crossing the moat – white, eternal, covered in moss and weeds, delightfully morbid and beautiful. This was about 6 weeks into my trip and I had finally truly come to and found my place in this lifestyle that I was so incredibly lucky to live for another 3 1/2 months to come. I was utterly happy, and I think it shows in my face.

I went to Travnik with my couchsurfing host from Sarajevo. When I had written to him if I could stay with him for a bit, he’d replied: „Sure, but me and my best friend are going on a road trip that weekend. You wanna come?“ I never hesitated for one second, and ended up on a road trip through Northern BiH with two Turkish expats. At the time it was starting to get incredibly hot in Bosnia. The white scarf around my head I wore as a head scarf half of the time against the burning sun. The guys joked that I would make a pretty Muslima, and then stopped the car by the side of the freeway at what to me were random intervals – for prayer. The green hills, white fortresses and the muezzin’s call for prayer fell right into my heart and I fell for Bosnia head over heels. I haven’t been there in over two years now. But there’s a piece of my soul in that country, always waiting for me, always calling.

If you have read My Mission statement, you know why I love bridges. To me they are the most universal symbol of connection, of bringing people together and overcoming anything that may seperate us. I want to present to you pictures of bridges that I really love in places that I really love on my blog every Sunday. If you have a picture of a bridge that you would like to share with my readers as a guest post, feel free to contact me!

Myths of Diversity – A Travel Rant

As of lately, there have been quite a few articles that deal with the downsides of life as a travel writer. They address issues such as loneliness, exhaustion, instability, angst and overworking. I think those are very very important points to bring to everyone’s awareness. Even having been out there just once for a relatively short amount of time, I had to deal with some of the issues and did not enjoy coming back and having to explain to people that I did not just return from a five-month wellness trip. But the articles also made me think about some more uncomfortable things. And for the first time in my travel blogging life, I really wanted to rant about some stuff.

The first thing that came to my mind is that these articles serve a very specific function – and that is, they ask for sympathy. I do not think that the main purpose is to inform people who do not know about the issues raised. It is to be reassured by like-minded people that it is okay to sometimes feel bad in this very privileged lifestyle. Why do I think this is the first reason for these articles? Because, if we’re honest, the travel blogosphere is for the most part a self-sustaining microcosm. Especially when it comes to the vast amount of smaller blogs, we write for each other and reproduce the lifestyle we love for one another, justifying our belief system to a crowd of people who support it anyway.

Usually, I do not have a problem with any of that. I am part of this system and I think each of us still has enough wisdom to share that there is a justification for all of our writing. But sometimes I miss the reflective side of it. And while it is important to speak about the downsides of travel and the hard times, I think it is equally as important that we understand what an extremely privileged life it is.

In this context, there are a few myths that persist and that no one touches. One in particular. And this is where my rant starts. Here it is:

Travel does not bring together people from „all kinds of different backgrounds“. It is by and large a community of quite privileged people.

Just like travel blogs are not read by „regular“ people but by a specific travel crowd, the people you meet travelling are not all different from one another. This is nothing but a lie. Travel brings together a very specific clientele of people. And what is more unsettling: Usually they are well-educated and from privileged backgrounds. Think about your couchsurfing hosts, your hostel roommates or the people on that boat trip you booked around the islands of any given country. I would be very surprised if the majority in any of these scenarios was not something we would call privileged.

To me the most significant thing is this: Go to any twitter travel chat and see what people say to the question what inspired them to travel. 95% of them will say that they are from families where travel was valued and that they have been travelling with their families since they were children. How many families with children can afford extensive travel? Even if it’s camping, hitchhiking and couchsurfing! If you talk to people who are actually not privileged at all, they will laugh in your face when you tell them about travel inspite of a low budget, especially with a family. Who will work their two jobs? Who will give them more than a few days in a row off work?

I am not saying that travel cannot be strenuous. By all means I am not saying that professional travel bloggers are not very very hard workers or don’t deserve the life style they have created for themselves by putting in the effort. But as we seek comfort in each other when we feel that it is all too much, let’s remember that to a great number of people those complaints must sound like sheer mockery. Because they never even had the chance to leave the country – even when the next border isn’t far away. They never had a chance to act upon their curiosity for the world and their wanderlust, because they weren’t taught that it might actually be possible and because their finances barely cover the cost of living.

Everyone who grew up travelling or discovered travel as a grown-up and had the means, chances and luck to include it in their life extensively should thank their lucky stars that it all came together for them. I consider myself undeservedly privileged in that sense. I have no idea why I should be one of the chosen ones who can afford travel, but I am, and for this grace of fate I am grateful every day.

An Afternoon’s Meditation – Chicago’s Graceland Cemetery

I have already written about my love of cemeteries as a place of rest, meditation and a new perspective on life. When Jesse suggests that I go to Graceland Cemetery on the Northside of the city, I am making a note of it immediately. One of the more humid and overcast days of my stay in Chicago, I take the bus to the red line of the L and go up to Sheridan to discover the large cemetery that has been the final resting place for many a Chicagoan since after the Great Fire in 1871.

photo 4

The L stop at Sheridan already puts me in a slightly pensive mood, because it is of the run-down morbidity that I love about cities in Eastern Europe. The platform is made from hard wood planks, and the stairwells are narrow and have rusty bannisters painted in red. You can see through the grid onto the mezzanines and there’s a lot of old rubbish and flaked off paint. I think it is pretty. I am not sure why.

photo 3

The entrance to the cemetery is on the far side coming from the L, so that I have walk along the high brick wall for quite a while. On the Southern side there is a piece of cemetery that is seperated from the street by just a mesh wire fence, and I catch a glimpse of the first tombstones. I see many German names, a foreshadowing of what I am about to see later.

photo 2

After I have found the gate and entered, I immediately feel that this place is very different from all the cemeteries I have been to in Europe. Wide asphalt streets run between large patches of grass on which the tombstones are spread out as if desultorily, aimlessly planted just anywhere. I see no system, no plan.

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You can stumble upon one family, and then rush right into the next one without noticing. As I contemplate that, I like it a lot. Because what system is there to death? In the beginning I am even unsure as to whether I would be allowed to leave the asphalt street, but then I notice that most graves cannot be reached unless you walk across the lawn. So I start venturing.

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I come across many sites that have massive pillars crowned with sculptures, or sumptuous sarcophagi. Most of the people have been dead for a long time, a hundred years or more. Only occasionally will I come across a grave that is adorned with fresh flowers – I read somewhere about this cemetery that its eerieness stems from the fact that most children of the dead lying here are also dead. I don’t find it that eerie, though. Probably because it is so wide and light and so little overgrown. Some of the mausoleums are almost cold and sterile – very clean.

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I start thinking about wealth. What would lead someone to ask for a final resting place that had something so pompous about it? I don’t feel like I could grieve properly in any of those cold stone halls, however impressive they might be. I do like all the stones that are just laid out on the grass, shone upon by a burning sun in the sweltering heat of the day. They feel integrated into the nature of the place.

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As I walk from passed life to passed life, I come to the peak of one of the soft hills. There is a bush, and a tombstone hiding away underneath it, a bit aside from all the others. It does not seem to belong to any of the families around, and it is small and simple. Unobtrusive, like the bridge I will discover half an hour later and that I have written about here. I come closer and study the stone. Across the top it says EDWARD, and on the stone it reads „Died Feb 2, 1868, Aged 19 yrs. 6 months“. I sit down.

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I wonder if anyone still knows about this grave and who this boy was. I wonder if he died because he was ill, or if he had an accident, or if he was poor. I think about how he has lived to see the Civil War, and wonder if he lost his family in it. I wonder if he ever was in love, and if he ever had a first kiss or if he ever got to lose his virginity. I ask Edward all these questions, but there is no answer from the small stone. As I get up again to explore more of the cemetery, I think that for what it is worth, someone took note today of this life that once was and said a little prayer for a boy who lived a life that was too short 150 years ago.

The American Dream – My US Experience

Rewind 13 years. I am now 15 again.

It is Saturday, August 5th. I am due to fly to the US on the 8th to spend a year living there with a strange family, going to a strange school and, hopefully, making memories that will last forever. But I do not know yet where I will go. I don’t know the family yet that will take me. All I know is that I will probably end up in the South somewhere.

Innocent and young, before my departure to the States

As on every other day for the past 5 months, I am anxious as I look in the mailbox. There is a letter from my exchange organization Youth for Understanding. I tear it open. And there I have it. I am going to El Paso, Texas. My hostparents are both 35 years old (not much older than I am now). I will have two little host sisters aged 4 and 7.

It is now Tuesday, August 8th. I am smiling as I pass through security, waving at my crying mother. I am excited and full of naive anticipation. I have so much to look forward to.

Fast forward one year. I am now 16.

Jesse and I

It is July 10th. On my way to the airport, I am holding hands with my friends Angela and Jesse. I am sadder than I have ever been before. I want to go home to Germany. But this, El Paso, is now my home, too. I have memories here. Friends. A family. I am so confused. I don’t know any longer where I belong.

On July 11th I arrive at Hamburg airport. At baggage claim I feel like my legs are shaking so much that they must give in at any second. What will it be like to see my family? I walk through the doors. There is a blur of laughing faces and bright yellow. I am being picked up by my parents, my sisters and ten friends. Everyone of them holds a sun flower for me. I laugh and cry at the same time.

Fast forward three years. I am now 19.

Turning 20 in El Paso

I am going back to the El Paso for a three week vacation. My littel host sisters are now 8 and 11. They have grown so much. Most of my friends are home from college. I fall in love. I turn 20. I sneak away a drink at a restaurant and get all nervous about it. I drive my host dad’s car on the freeway, windows open on a hot desert night. I cry almost my entire transatlantic flight back.

 

 

Fast forward to the present day. I am 28.

Bag on my back, ready to go

I have not been to the US in nine years. I have met up with my host family in Europe, four years ago, and I have seen my host sisters grow on their facebook profiles. I won’t get to see my family this time around. I am not even going back home, home to El Paso. I am going to visit one of my favourite people in the world, my friend Jesse, in Chicago, a city he loves to live in.

There are countless What’sApp messages between Jesse and me in preparation. „What’s the weather like so I can pack properly, Jesse?“ „Mariella, what time do you get in so I can take time off work?“ „Dude, I just saw in my travel guide there were BEACHES in Chicago!!“ „Hey, you wanna do an architecture tour when you’re here?“ „I just learned about the Grant Park Music Festival. Jesse, we have GOT to go!“ „And also, we have got to go sing karaoke in the German neighborhood. Check!“

Germans call this Vorfreude, which literally translateds to pre-happiness. It is something like the English anticipation, although to me that is closer to German Erwartung which also means expectation. Vorfreude is purer, cleaner. Expectations can be disappointed. Vorfreude is just a feeling of great great joy in the face of something happening at all, not necessarily a clear cut idea of what that something is going to look like. Granted, I have some ideas. I think there will be discussions on life and friendship and career and love and music. There will be reminiscing of old times. There will be my 29th birthday. There will be lots of laughter. And there will be the long big bear hug I am planning on giving my friend when I see him again after nine years. All the rest is a big surprise. I am so excited to go to the States again. I am so excited to, in a way, come home.

What’s your home away from home?

From my Travel Playlists

There is a playlist on my iTunes that I treasure dearly. It holds the music I had on my iPod shuffle when I travelled the Balkans three years ago. A limited selection of songs that accompanied me on many bus and train rides through the beauty that is South Eastern Europe. Tunes so familiar to me that I know every change of rhythm and every funny note, and for most of them, the entire lyrics. Some of them I started out with, some of them I added while on the road. I picked a selection of them to share with you – because when I am having a melancholic day, I put on some Bosnian coffee and this music and I am transported back to Balkan sunshine and the soft rocking of a bus on a scenic route. And also because right now, it is summer in Berlin and I am happy, and this music makes this feeling ten times more intense.

1. Regina Spektor „Better“

If I kiss you where it’s sore
Will you feel better?

I love this song especially for its piano intro and for Regina’s slightly strange pronunciation of English. While the lyrics are actually quite blue, the melody is wide open. If songs had a colour, to me this one would be as turquoise as the waters of the Bosnian rivers I love so much.

2. Dixie Chicks „Not Ready to Make Nice“

I’m not ready to make nice
I’m not ready to back down
I’m still mad as hell and
I don’t have time to go ‚round and ‚round and ‚round

I downloaded the Dixie Chicks album because of a different song, but this one came to be ma favourite. I learned the whole history behind it only later, but it spoke to me as a fight song from the beginning, as a song that encourages you to stand by your anger and not surpress it, to admit to feeling hurt and misunderstood and treated unfairly. I sometimes forget that it is important to allow these feelings their space.

3. Bijelo Dugme „Tako Ti Je, Moja Mala, Kad Ljubi Bosanac“

Jesi l‘,  mala, ljubila do sada?
Jesi, jesi – al‘ Bosanca nisi!

Have you kissed already, little girl?
You have, you have – but not a Bosnian man!

This song is on a Bijelo Dugme album that I bought in Rijeka in Croatia. Bijelo Dugme are something like the Yugoslav Rolling Stones, and quite a few of their songs just put a huge smile on my face because they are playful and silly and fun. I also learned quite a bit Bosnian / Croatian / Serbian by listening to their music.

4. Edward Maya „Stereo Love“

When you gonna stop breaking my heart?

There are no lyrics of any great depth to this song – what is so catching about it is the instrumental part. It was played in countless beach bars and night clubs I went to on my trip, and while at home I probably never would have liked it, on the trip it encaptured that feeling of relaxation, summer heat and freedom of care.

What do you think? Do you have travel tunes that remind you of a certain trip? Does music ever transport you back into a situation in the past?

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