Travel Light

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If you wish to travel far and fast, travel light.  Take off all your envies, jealousies, unforgiveness, selfishness and fears.”   Glenn Clark

Have you ever sat back and just marvelled at the power of words?  At how something you hear or read can halt you in your tracks as it grabs your subconscious and forces you to pay attention?   Tonight I had another one of these moments with the quote above.  And I can’t believe I’m going to write about it publicly since those are qualities I would prefer to keep locked away, out of reach of my own attention and certainly anyone else’s.

This quote from Glenn Clark first found its way to me about 6 months ago, I don’t remember where I saw it but I added it to my little notebook list.  I liked it then, and also the other times I’ve seen it when I open that page to add another quote or thought.  Somehow though, I didn’t need those words until right now.  I sometimes passively wonder when the others I have jotted down will spring to life….

I’ve been travelling for the past 12 or so weeks, and as I absorbed these words tonight I had a flash of recognition.  A vision of myself and the backpack I’ve had with me, smiling for the camera in front of some far-flung location.  That smile is genuine, by the way, full of hope, the excitement of adventure and pride of accomplishment in equal measure.  But my pack is too big and becoming more unwieldy as I pose and I realize I’ve brought along too much with me – those negative emotions I’d stuffed in with the rest of my dirty laundry.

In just this past week I can easily list off the times I harboured envy, nursed petty jealousy, felt unwilling to forgive and thought selfishly.  It has been a significantly harder week than my usual, but I don’t want to allow that any foothold in my life nor do I wish to get used to the idea that my circumstances control me.  I still get to choose my reactions.  So I choose now to ‘unpack’ and leave these behind.  I know this won’t be the last time I’ll allow negatives and fear to burden me, but for now I’m repeating this quote as my mantra until I can travel lightly enough to fly far and fast to the great things ahead.

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P.S.    I did say in my very first post (Introducing: aimlessly + anywhere) that my blog may end up with a bit of everything.  This one certainly fell under the ‘therapeutic diary’ category rather than travel journal….  But I’ll be back on the road before long and hopefully have some good stories to tell soon!

If you’re as inspired by the quote as I was, and would like to keep it with my picture you are welcome to save the image at the top of the post.  In case you’re curious, I took that photo from the Citadel at the top of the Gellert Hill in Budapest.

Winding down in Warsaw

This morning I’m sitting in Warsaw, and thrilled to be here except for the tiny little wish that I could have kept the weather I’ve gotten used to – I’ve been so lucky with sunny days and 30• heat for several weeks now – and it’s cold here!  Thankfully at least the sun is out.

In a few minutes my friends will be arriving to meet me and start another day of exploring the city.  Until then I’ll try to get a few of my thoughts written down here.

One of the countless beautiful buildings in Warsaw

One thing I love about travelling is how it challenges me to be a better person, by allowing my eyes to be opened to things I may have never otherwise thought of.  The other day was a perfect example:  I’ve been on the go for a while, and the wallet I’ve been using was already old and worn out.  It’s ripped and torn, and missing a zipper.  I grabbed my wallet at a cash register and ended up with coins fallingout and clattering all over the place.  As 3 people stooped to help me collect my money I made a comment in my embarrassment along the lines of how I needed to get rid of my gross ghetto wallet.  And instantly as I heard the words come out of my mouth I was horrified with myself, as I had JUST finished touring through a museum exhibit of the atrocities of the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto… I can really be an insensitive ass sometimes….  It never occurred to me that the origins of the word are so awful; it was an adjective I used to sprinkle in my speech as a way of joking about anything I own that’s in less than perfect condition.   So that stops now. 

Speaking of the museum, anyone travelling through Warsaw should make a stop at the Warsaw Uprising Museum.  It’s full of detail and wildly interactive, if a little confusing to find the correct order of walking through the exhibits. I wonder if that was intentional… It IS commemorating a period in history full of chaos, after all…

At the Warsaw Uprising Museum

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My friends that I mentioned at the beginning arrived, and this part of the post is being written more than a day later than the top of the page was.   (Thought I’d better explain that in case I start to confuse you with a mix of past and present tenses in my writing.)  So I introduce you to Jeff and Jeanette, two great goofballs and my official guides in Warsaw.  Who, by the way, seem to be very connected in the city – in the hours we were out we bumped into different people they knew four times, plus she still has family here.  Keep in mind there are over 2 million inhabitants so it’s not just some little village where everyone generally knows everyone else…  Jeff joked a couple times about how he could arrange for me to end up stranded somewhere so I’d have an interesting story to write about….  I’m just glad they chose to have their people stand down!!   Ha! 

During the two days I had in Warsaw, I think we did a pretty decent job of hitting the city highlights.  We ate a lot (and you already know my love affair with food!) walked in calm city parks, and ogled the architectural achievements of the city.  Oh plus we accidentally wandered into the middle of a political demonstration at night.  All of a sudden we were surrounded by a noisy crowd and the lights from tv news vans, and in the time it took us to get to the other side of the gathering the noise had become organized into a demanding chant – we took that as our cue to make a hasty exit before things got out of control.  

Back to the food again, where it’s so easy to get a sense of an area’s culture by seeing what may be unique, and being able to contrast that with tastes that are pretty much universally enjoyed.  I can’t picture a scenario that would have me choosing to eat raw beef at home, but in order to test out culture I dipped my raw hamburger in a raw egg too! It was kinda good, actually….  At least not awful when I got over the fear of eating it.  So far so good – no food poisoning!    And on the other side of the scale we have chocolate.  Lunch was at Warsaw’s original chocolatier, and cumulated in Chocolate Perogies! Delicious! 

This grin looked a little devious to me, so I didn’t take a bite until after I watched her eat it first! 

E. Wedel’s Chocolate
The palace on the label of Belvedere Vodka
Poland loves its churches

Winding down in Warsaw…. Definitely not physically since I was busy the entire time, but this is the end of my European jaunt.  I’ve had a blast exploring places I never expected to see, and am already looking forward to (hopefully) having a chance to come back, but it’s back to North America for me again now. 

A glimpse at Auschwitz

I’m stuck trying to figure out what to write about now, but it’s kinda the opposite of writer’s block. I have too much to say about everything I’ve experienced in the past few days and I don’t know where to start or how to weed it down to keep it interesting for you!   Do I go back and finish gushing about Budapest, or do I move on and try to catch up to my current events??!?  Dilemma….

Ok.  Current city stories it is. 

I have just finished almost 3 days in Kraków, Poland, and am feeling refreshed and energized again.   I decided to come here on the advice of a friend specifically to see Auschwitz.    And like I’ve said before of other monuments, this is both awful and awesome to experience.   Rather than regurgitate everything and risk losing you in a dusty history lesson I’ll just try to convey a few of my emotions.

Flowers laid at the entrance
Arriving by rail to the camp, most were optimistic it was only a temporary displacement
Suitcaes packed in a more hopeful time
Always surrounded by double fences, barbed and electric
Faces of concentration camp prisoners

3 levels of beds, often with 8 people living on every level. These barracks house 700-1000 people each
Cobwebs and reflections of history

We saw the gas chambers and furnaces that were used, viewed photos and read accounts of the ruthless way more than a million people were lead to their death.  I learned so much more from this day than I hadlearned from school and movies, and being here experiencing the emotional impact still in the air is exactly why I think everyone should try to see this once if possible. 

This day at the concentration camp museum was certainly the main event for my time in Kraków, but it wasn’t the only one.  I saw a salt mine that has been used for centuries, and witnessed the art and ingenuity that people are capable of.  I met some really great people and spent a couple days just seeing the sights of the town as we found them. 

Salt carvings deep within the salt mine
Canadians!

Next blog post is already late even before this one is officially posted…..    Stay tuned for what I see in Warsaw!

Budapest!

I have so much to catch up on after 4 days of sightseeing in Budapest that it’s almost a bit daunting to start this post.  I guess if last time I had Pretty Prague this would be Beautiful Budapest… Ha, maybe not my most clever line but it’s so fitting I can’t resist!   Here’s a quick peek first:


 One of the first things I set out to find after I arrived was a Holocaust monument I had read about.  In 1944-45 Hungarian Jews were forced to line up at the edge of the river, step out of their shoes and set all valuables inside.  Then were fired upon and left to fall into the river.  I still can’t understand how humans could do this to each other…   Shoes on the Danube, a simple memorial of bronze shoes created in 2005, left a mark on my soul.

Being here, on a spot that these incomprehensible acts took place, made me so much more aware that this was real, not just distant stories from history and another world. 


After paying my respects here I made a very deliberate effort to notice the great things around me, and that quickly was easy to do with so much to take in.   Budapest is full of pedestrian friendly avenues and these are packed with cafes and parks.  Everywhere I went the sun was shining, birds were chirping and people whistling a happy tune.  (Or maybe not that last part…)

The city is also a little quirky, but really, what else could you expect from a place that that has been inhabited “since pre-history times”?  Entirely by accident as I was walking around I found the entrance to the labyrinth that was used as a prison for Dracula – the real Vlad Dracul; a Houdini museum; Sputnik and soviet communism shops and tours; and Ruin Bars.  It’s a whole thing here where PopUp bars are opened in abandoned buildings right in the middle of residential neighbourhoods.  Somehow it really works!


And CASTLES! Everywhere I turned I’d see another one!!  While that might not be technically true, as a Canadian without much to compare it too, these are castles in my vocabulary. I’ll admit, it was enough to wake my inner princess…. I was tempted to find a ball gown to put on and a dragon to slay!


Honestly I’m a little surprised Budapest wasn’t completely overrun with tourists like I had grown accustomed to after Barcelona, London, Amsterdam and Prague.   I kinda think Budapest is better! But let’s keep this our little secret for a while longer…. 

So Pretty, Prague

Pretty Prague. It would have been easy to stay here longer, but I’m on a roll and want to keep moving before my next bout of inertia hits.   
This capital city really is impressive, though, and the old architecture has been beautifully preserved leaving it easy to see all the intricate details of the baroque and gothic buildings. I learned from another blog that most of Prague was spared from destruction during the wars, and I could feel the history charge the air as I strolled through the city. Walking under the gargoyles I imagined some of the ancient Czechs as pretty fearsome people, judging by the art that remains today….. I should clarify here that I differenciate that from modern Czechs – they were lovely. The hostel owner told me “you’re safe here. I’d let my mother walk any street at 3am! Someone may try to steal your wallet but definitely no one will hurt you.” 

Threat of death guarding the old castle
See? Fearsome ancients here

Beyond the breathtaking sights (that we’ll get back to later) there is the food. The air around the plaza was sizzling with enough aromas to make me wish I could eat quadruple the meals I was actually capable of. One snack I did indulge in was a fresh baked pastry cone spun in cinnamon sugar and almonds and filled with ice cream. Ah-maz-ing! I didn’t even care for a second that it likely contained my calorie quota for 3 days! 

Fresh pastry cone baked over open flames for the Trdelník
My Trdelník treat

And some of my Prague experiences seemed straight out of a movie casting call:  1) Have dimly lit restaurants play “Rah Rah Rasputin” and early 90’s pop hits from tinny speakers.  2) Fill the scene with burly men wearing colour-block neon track pants, and give everyone a beer stein.  3) Place some women with up-to-the-minute modern designer wear in for contrast.    

I’m sorry to perpetuate stereotypes, but it was all so fabulously fun that I couldn’t help but notice. Of course there is so much more to culture here than that. Please know no offence intended! 

Maybe I’ll just get back to how pretty the city is, and end it with my visuals of Prague.


Until next time, 

Ali 

Starting the second round

It’s a good thing I like airplanes so much. A few days after crossing the Atlantic to come home and recuperate from my first month of travel, I make the same flight back again to set off on another expedition.  That’s about a 9 hour flight each time for anyone curious.  I used to joke that I make a terrible passenger because I’m so used to walking and standing in the galley during flights, but I think I’m getting the hang of it!  

I don’t know about a ‘good’ passenger, but I sure was a lucky passenger this time.  I somehow ended up with my own middle row to myself all the way to Gatwick, and I took full advantage of those 3 seats to stretch out – ignoring the looks being shot my way from the less fortunate around me.  And unknown ahead of time, I also had friends (plural!!) on the crew working the flight who came to chat with me when they had a spare minute so those 9 hours evaporated before I knew it. 

That luck ran dry after I arrived in London though (…knew I shoulda shared the row! There’s my karma) as I ended up spending another 9 hours trying to get from the London Gatwick airport over to the London Heathrow airport and onward to Prague.  After 3 train transfers, 4 flights too full for me to get a seat, 2 times cancelling/rebooking/cancelling again the third leg of my journey I finally was able to leave London, but with a new plan.  Standby travelling on passes is great but sometimes this happens.  Roll with it all with a smile, fake as that grin may need to be!   Maybe it was all fitting, because in my exhaustion my small spacey smile and glassy bloodshot eyes meant I could fit right in with the crowds in Amsterdam! Ha!   Sorry, couldn’t resist that bad joke…

The next morning I checked out of my airport hotel and made my way to central Amsterdam to wander around with my camera.  I had the whole day to see what I could see before boarding my overnight bus to Prague.   Here’s what I saw. 


—  I call that black & white compilation “sitting and smoking and me the creeper.”    I have more of those shots if you feel like seeing them! 😏 — 

Famously London

Here’s the sentence I want to use to start this post: I was out with a major movie star last night!   And here’s what I’ll need to write instead to keep this from being a work of fiction: I was out and I saw a major movie star last night!  I guess that’s still okay on its own, but it doesn’t have the same oomph as what I wish I could write… I can imagine a whole scene where said star was so impressed with our table and the way we would have smiled hello and just let her enjoy her evening that she’d end up chatting across her table with us and before long we’re all laughing at stories of co-star antics on set….  Could’ve happened….  Here’s the real version.  I was with four others at a bright and airy little pub in a London neighbourhood when I noticed Amy Adams was sitting just behind me.  I was the last in my group to realized a celebrity was there, but the only one that could recall her name.  Unfortunately, despite our attempts at discretion she noticed us noticing her and before we had a chance to show her we’d leave her alone, she and her husband finished the last of their beer and left.  I feel really bad for spooking them away – sorry Amy! – but I can understand.   So it may have been brief, but a legit brush with fame is fun anyway.  Immediately after our table was all swapping celebrity stories and since I’d only just met this group I got to pull out my old “I hung out with Jackie Chan” stories again.  All 5 of us had  met famous people before, and clearly my own social status has been upped a notch or two now just from those few hours out! Ha!

And speaking of famous people, earlier that morning as I was walking a few blocks from my hotel I passed the house Alfred Hitchcock used to live it. (I tried to take a picture befitting of his genre)  London is great for that, so much history and culture that’s strutted out for the rest of us.

Former home of Hitchcock

While we’re on photos, here are a few more images from my 2 days in London.  I have really been on an “over processing” kick lately with my pictures….. It’s probably just a fling, but fun for me while it lasts.