Monday, January 30, 2012

The Train to Brussels

When Eric and I were traveling together for the first time in July and August 2010, we planned to take a train from Marseille to Nice to catch a flight to Rome.  We got to the train station in Marseille early, grabbed some sandwiches for lunch, and sat near the right berth to catch our train.  When the time came, Eric asked a conductor - in French! - which train we should get on to get to Nice.  We boarded, settled into some comfy seats, and pulled out our books for the trip.

The train station in Nice.
As we pulled away from the station, the conductor began announcing the stops.  At first, the geography seemed okay.  The cities were in the right region, I thought.  Then I realized the cities were going the wrong direction.  Then he announced that the final destination was Brussels.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

My First Solo Travel Adventure

In the summer of 2010 I was an intern at a business school in Nantes, France.  Up to that point in my life, applying to work and live in France was the most adventurous thing I'd ever done.  I loved staying with my host family, exploring the city and practicing my French, though I was homesick and had some definite culture shock.  (Banks in France don't have cash boxes, so when the ATM gives you a 50 euro note you can't walk in and break it into smaller bills.  I still don't understand it.  It's a bank - why don't they have cash handy?)  There were two other girls from Michigan interning in the same school, which made it much easier to adjust and gave me automatic travel buddies on the weekends.  

Houses by the chateau in Nantes - the former moat is now mostly a garden.
One weekend, however, I had Friday off of work and the other Michigan girls had plans.  Without my usual travel companions, my first thought was that I'd be spending all three days in Nantes.  This would have been fine since it is a great city, but I wanted to see more of the country.  Specifically, I wanted to see castles.  The idea of traveling on my own made me nervous.  What if I got lost?  What if something happened and I got stuck in a random town?  What if my guide book was out of date and the buses I was counting on were no longer running?  As I thought through the various scenarios, I also thought about what some of my favorite people would do.  My best friend Hope was living in France on her own that summer and often took trips around the country.  My boyfriend Eric traveled on his own all the time.  My aunt moved to Turkey when she was only a little older than me.  If they could do it, I thought, I can do it.  I shouldn't let myself be held back because I'm on my own.  I got out my guide book, did some research online, and planned my weekend.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Flight Story

I am not a social person when I fly.  I get to my seat, pull out my book, and aside from smiling and saying hello to the person next to me, I usually read until we land.  I know people who have made great connections while on airplanes - my uncle met my aunt on a flight - but I tend to err on the side of "I'm just here with my novel."  For the most part my plane travel has been relatively uneventful (unlike this girl's story) but here is why I am hesitant to chat with the person in row 23 seat B.

I do make exceptions.

Monday, January 16, 2012

North and South

There are a few specific moments in the TV series Mad Men that make me want to teach American history.  One is a short scene in the Draper family kitchen in 1963 (Season 3, episode 9).  Betty Draper enters the room as her children’s nanny Carla is listening to the radio.  Carla turns it off, and Betty asks what she’d been listening to.  Carla replies that it was the funeral of the four girls killed in Birmingham.  Betty shakes her head and comments that it really is a tragedy.  After a pause she expands: "I hate to say this, but it's really made me wonder about civil rights.  Maybe it's not supposed to happen right now."  Carla doesn’t respond.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Kitten Spotting

When I first arrived in Athens in August 2010, what struck me most aside from the ancient ruins were the dogs wandering around the city.  They were everywhere, trotting through the Plaka, sleeping by the Acropolis.  They were mostly big dogs, which at first made me a little nervous.  I asked my boyfriend Eric about it, since he had spent a few months traveling around Greece before.  He explained that Greek people often toss their dogs outdoors at night.  The dogs spend the night exploring and sleeping out in the open.  It's not that the dogs were all strays, though many were.  Greek people were generally less concerned about dog-napping or other dog-related shenanigans than most Americans.  For the most part we left these dogs alone, and they ignored us.

Taking a nap in the shade next to the Parthenon.
After a night out, a group of dogs adopted a few of us and followed us around as we looked out over the city at night.  They tagged along as we walked back towards our hostel.  Just as I was beginning to wonder if we were going to have to find a way to keep the dogs from wandering into our rooms with us, all the dogs started barking and and galloping in the same direction.  In the distance, I could see a cat running for its life.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Keep Believing, Keep Pretending

One of my English class assignments junior year was to write a speech.  I could write as any person I wanted and on any topic within the boundaries of general high school decency.  I chose to write as Kermit the Frog, calling the Muppets to band together and make better movies.  It was titled “Those Without Feet Can Still Take a Stand” – I have to admit I’m still a little proud of my seventeen-year-old self for that one.  

As Kermit, I admonished the Muppets for giving in to a culture that refused to appreciate innocent entertainment.  Elmo had sold out for a snazzy dressing room with bowls of red M&Ms while unemployed Muppets auditioned for Avenue Q just to make some cash.  After Muppets From Space, all of the Muppet films were made-for-TV or direct-to-DVD.  Rather than embracing the light-hearted musical numbers and jokes from earlier films, the more recent movies relied on the same innuendoes and winking adult humor that Shrek used to draw in older audiences and to remain relevant in an increasingly crude and reality TV-driven culture.  My point was that they didn’t have to try to relate to the same audience that watched Fear Factor and The Simple Life.  There was still an audience for films that were fun, musical, and didn’t feature people who are famous for spending lots of money and making sex tapes.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

New Years Resolutions

I went to a sleepover at a friend's house a few nights after New Years 2007.  As the other girls and I stayed up late chatting, one girl asked what our new year's resolutions were.  We each answered with varying degrees of depth.  I think my resolution was to practice my trumpet more.  When we turned to the girl who asked, she didn't have a resolution.  She explained that no one ever keeps them, so making resolutions just makes you feel bad about yourself when you break them.  It felt a little like like a bait-and-switch.

I love that New Years is an excuse to drink champagne!
(photo credit: zpeckler, Flickr)