Sunday, November 20, 2011

Wide load coming through!

Traveling is quite different from any other thing I've experienced in my life. It challenges me daily, excites my heart, and provides me with an almost constant new perspective. My view of the world, both figuratively and literally is changed with a quick train ride. I am reminded of how wonderful home is and feel overwhelmingly blessed by all I have at home in opportunity, family and friends. I am reminded of the beauty of this life and allow the hours to slow down so that I don't miss a thing. I am learning to enjoy the minute I am in without craning my neck to see what's coming in the next one. Once you realize that the worst stories often make the best stories and that every single thing happens for a better reason than you originally had planned anyways...all is well with the world.

As I recline in the bus from the Netherlands to Belgium, I look out my window and see several sheep on the hills to my left and to my right. They make me smile because simply the fact that they are Dutch sheep already makes them far cuter than any American sheep I've ever seen. So, I've decided that from now on, when I can't sleep I will be counting Dutch sheep in order to bring sweet dreams.

Every morning I remind myself to take a deep breath and take in every moment and detail of what is surrounding me. I realize I get the distinct pleasure to wake up today, with nothing written on the agenda except the doodled words "enjoy life" with an exclamation mark and a smiley face. Soon, I will have to return to reality. The working world will be knocking at my door again and I will be forced to welcome it in and offer it a beverage. But until then, I will savor these experiences with every morsel of my being.

That previous sentence makes me hungry, which makes me think of all the outstanding ethnic food I've been enjoying on this trip. Here, I will take a minute to divulge a quick bulleted sample of my favorite foods thus far.

Panna cotta gelato- goes without saying that this is my favorite Italian dessert
Langoush - a Hungarian flat-bread pizza
Mulled wine - a Hungarian hot wine with spices and fruit
Kurtoskalacs - another Hungarian street treat that is a spiraly batch of deliciousness
Viennese hot dog - who would have thought my favorite, cheese-filled hot dog would be discovered in Austria?
Frites with mayonnaise - these Dutch fries will have me forever questioning my previous loyalties to ketchup and ranch as my favored dips
Doner kabab - a wonderfully concocted selection of chicken(?), grilled veggies and a toasted tortilla in Amsterdam
Goat cheese salad - best salad of my life in Brussels, the goat cheese was in a very lightly breaded pastry and immediately became the cheese who stole my heart
Belgian chocolate - Neuhaus they aren't lying when they say they know how to make chocolate there. Heaven in chocolate.

Cumulatively, these will be the culprits responsible for my family's inability to recognize me when I step off the plane in December. Also, we have officially diagnosed ourselves with Pastry ADD. Oh, wow look at that beautiful, ancient cathed...mmm! Pastry!!!

Getting on and off the metro tests my ninja like abilities, as I am forced to maneuver my body into some very strange positions in order to avoid knocking the granny next to me out cold with my backpack and tied on tennis shoes. I'm thinking of installing a beeper into the pack to signal to everyone near me, that yes, I am indeed backing this thing up into a crowded train carriage right now. Or maybe I'll just wrap myself in some yellow and black tape to signify "wide load" coming through - I mean, someone should warn these poor people. It's bad enough that I already have somewhat poor body awareness, but strap a giant pack who's size compares to a small toddler, accompanied by his overweight friend..and lookout people, we've got problems. No worries about getting pick-pocketed from behind - I have strategically placed all my dirty laundry in the front zipper pouch, so if anyone decides to get handsy, well then, they can just help themselves to my one and only pair of smelly socks and everything else that goes along with a backpackers recycled wardrobe. Thinking defensively, that's me. My favorite is when I see the eyebrows raise in a slightly judgmental manner while the couple next to me in the tram talks in hushed French whispers about how rude I am to consider taking public transit when I clearly should be standing on a highway somewhere with my thumb extended and my trusty dog by my side. I may not be able to speak French people, but I see your finger pointing my direction and I can only laugh at it.

In traveling with someone it is only natural that you both fall into certain roles, both of which are equally important and necessary. Jodi is the super observant one who keeps us from getting squashed by oncoming cable cars, finds the hidden street signs, spots the Wifi passwords, and discovers the exit we have been hunting for the past half hour. She is also the first to point out the backpacker who just pulled a half empty soda cup from the trash can and proceeded to slurp away. Dude, if you can afford a train ticket, you can afford a soda for one euro. I am the keeper of the map and have been dubbed the Columbus of the trip, doing my best to navigate these strange foreign waters to get us safely to our hostels and attractions. Although with Austrian street names such as Stephenplatz and Swedenplatz, you can imagine there have been a few moments of confusion.

You can trust that when it is time to get up for a day of lazy strolls and sight seeing, I will be up, ready and waiting on Jodi to crawl out of the covers. BUT, without fail, when it is a day that time management truly matters, like when there are scheduled trains and buses to catch, you can absolutely bet that Jodi will be dressed and ready while beating me over the head with a packed backpack to get my snoozing butt out of the bed. But we are both in training to adopt both roles for when we separate. My observation skills are constantly challenged like when we quickly scale the escalators in the metro in search for our bus platform with only five minutes left until departure. My systems are bombarded as we have to make quick choices and answer questions that will alter our travel plans for the day if the wrong decision is hastily made - which way is that train going? does it stop there? Is that our connection? where is the exit? what did that announcement say? did that say platz, plein, or stkfljnakbng?? Do you swipe this thing somewhere or just throw it at the train??

Apparently the area of Belgium we stayed in was not as frequently visited by tourists and the menus were therefore in all French with no English subtitles (like several countries have offered before). Every meal was like a game of Russian roulette..close your eyes, point and hope that what you get in return does not have eyeballs, does not fight back and is something you recognize. That being said, French cuisine is probably my favorite thus far. It was so good I didn't even want to drink my water between bites because I would lose some of the flavor. I did discover that I like Kriek, a Belgian beer that tastes like a refreshing shirley temple, but better. Just don't ask me what I ate, because you know I can't tell you.

The myriad of languages and culture continues to be one of the most mesmerizing aspects of this trip for me. There is at least a 10 second delay in our responses to most people as we sort through the few key foreign phrases we know to determine which language to spit back out. I am the classy one who settles on a hearty, "Yeah that was soo good" with a thick Texan accent when asked by the French waiter if I enjoyed le cordon bleu. I have to bat away the instinctive belly rub and back of the hand face wipe that insists on following that statement.

I do believe that French is one of the more beautiful languages of the world. It is properly placed in the romance language category. German on the other language should hurt your throat that much. I love that when learning to speak Italian I am suddenly amazed at how fluent I am in Spanish. I also love the customary greetings that include kisses on the cheeks. They all seem so genuinely happy to see each other, every single time. Who would turn down all that free lovin every day? You people back home might want to watch your cheeks when I get back, I'm just saying.

I do sometimes miss home and the simplicities of my life without a giant blue backpack garnishing my back. It will be nice to hop in the car and be at my destination in five minutes tops, all without having to pull out three maps, a translation book and the Lonely Planet. However, I will say we have done amazingly well at getting off of our train/bus and strategically working our way to our hostels with minimal time spent being lost, and with absolutely no taxis! Well, there was the exception of the few hours spent wandering around the red light district in Amsterdam at 4 am..let's just say there are some interesting window displays around there that include things that I will NEVER be window shopping for..we jumped into a cab, followed by a bike taxi pretty quickly. Yikes.

Yes, I will definitely miss the feeling of success that comes with finally finding my destination - there is a great sense of joy and personal accomplishment that comes over me and I immediately feel like I deserve a great big pat on the back, a trophy or certificate of some kind and a round of applause. None of these things have been given to me, but I will continue to take my bows when I can.

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