Destination Unknown

Destination Unknown

I remember the first time I encountered Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken”. I was in 6th grade and Miss Clark had given us the poem to memorize. When I shared this news with my dad, he instantly perked up (let’s face it, elementary school homework doesn’t often elicit parental joy). But this time? Here was his favorite poem — something he could share with his daughter in the form of homework disguised as life lesson. He sat with me as I attempted to commit each line to memory, reciting the verses ad nauseam.

” I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”

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I Came, I Saw, I BlogHERed

I think I may have started this blog post 5 different ways. I mean, how else could I fully capture the BlogHER ’12 experience? After all, prior to attending I wasn’t a part of the BlogHER community.  As a PR gal I’d heard of the conference as the perfect avenue to reach women bloggers, but it never occurred to me to actually go. I have a small, travel-centric blog; a blog that really serves as a place for me to share my writing with others instead of keeping it tucked away into my trusty Moleskine. So the possibility of joining the ranks of fellow bloggers was slightly intimidating.

But as luck (and my new job would have it), the opportunity presented itself…a week before the conference began.

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A Twinge of Nostalgia

Confession: I miss New York. Or to be more precise, I miss living in New York.

It’s been a little over a year and a half since I said good-bye to the frenetic city streets, concrete and high rises to follow my heart to New Jersey. To be fair, I feel perfectly at home and content in a town 15 minutes from the beach, where, on a quiet and clear Friday night the light of the full moon blankets my bedroom in a luminescent glow. But lately, when I travel to the city for my weekly NYC work day, I find myself falling back into my old rhythm, taking up that brisk-paced walk, weaving through throngs of tourists and motoring to my destination with a longing in my heart for this loud, dirty city. It’s a comfort, a place I know well, even though it’s constantly changing – small bodegas being gobbled up by Starbucks and now (gasp) Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. It is always New York — vibrant and alive, diverse and eclectic.

It’s the distinct New York-ness that kept me there, longer than I thought and made it hard to say good-bye. But this new feeling of “missing” my old place of residence has me wondering, why?

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The People You Meet Along the Way

The other night on the train I sat next to an older woman, obviously not your typical NJ Transit commuter as she was nice when I asked to sit next to her and proceeded to engage me in  conversation (a rarity). Barbara from Avon, was in her seventies, with short curly hair and creased skin that told of summers spent down the shore. During the course of our ride, I found out she 6 kids, 17 grandchildren and had been in the city for a show at the Javits Center.

She was mesmerized and saddened at how much New York had changed in the 40+ years she had traveled up to the city. “Fifth Avenue is depressing,” she said. “In the 50’s and 60’s, it used to be the place to shop. Each store was so glamorous and enticing – you could window shop all day. Now it’s all the same, Gap, H&M, Victoria Secret. It makes me wonder, what happened?”

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Finding Home

Sitting down to write today’s blog post and it dawned on me that as of today, I will have written for two weeks consecutively. That’s Monday – Sunday (x2), an accomplishment in and of itself. Seeing today’s 30 Days of Indie Travel Project email, I smiled. A part of every journey is coming home. Whether it’s returning to someplace familiar or setting off in a new direction — it’s more a feeling and a sense of contentment than any physical address.

Day 13: Home

For some people, no matter how much they love traveling, there’s always no place like home. Other travelers make their homes wherever they happen to be. Tell us about your home – where is it and why do you consider it your home? 

Until I moved to New York, I never really had a settle down type of life. I always craved the next job or city — the prospect of moving to a new place, starting a new job and meeting new people held a certain allure. When the prospect of first moving to New York presented itself, I questioned it. Could I live to New York? My time in Boston for grad school had me questioning whether Nor’easters were worth the fall foliage and proximity to Fenway Park. New York was an entirely different beast.

Fast forward seven years and after six on the isle of Manhattan, I’ve moved yet again, this time across the Hudson over to New Jersey. A place I swore I would never live,* is a place I now call home. It’s here I find my respite from the daily grind, where I can hole up with a good book, write a story, spend time with friends and loved ones.

Until now, I had always eschewed a permanent residence, always treating my apartments as temporary dwellings. No need to invest in furniture or nice art, after all, it was never meant to be my actual home. Our place is an eclectic mix of our personalities and artifacts from our travels. The buddha head Marc bought in India, the cedar box with Mandarin carvings from the flea market I went to in Beijing are just two mementos that are sprinkled throughout our home that bring a smile to my face when I pass them. Marc and I sometimes wax wanderlust about places we could move to — at this stage, what the future will bring is anyone’s guess. But wherever we go, the relics from our past travels will come with us.

This post actually fits with a new favorite song, which reminds me of Marc. The aptly named, “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes is poetically beautiful, captures the feeling of love and damn, it’s catchy. The chorus is simple and I think best summarizes what domestic bliss means to me, “home is wherever I’m with you.”

*Note: my preconceived notions of New Jersey were formed by relatively few trips in/around the Newark area. I couldn’t understand why it was called “The Garden State” until friends moved to Middletown, NJ. They helped me see the light and in fact, thanks to their daughter’s first birthday, introduced me to my boyfriend and current roommate. 

Kindness Abounds Abroad

Day 5 of the 30 Days of Indie Travel Project. So far, I’ve loved being able to write daily on different travel topics and create new blog content. On the other hand, it’s a bit difficult to discipline myself to sit down and write. I think on one hand I’ve always thought of writing as this intensely creative and personal process, as if a wave of creativity needs to sweep across you, an idea that springs forth in your head while you’re out running and you need to jot it down immediately before it becomes a fleeting thought and is lost forever.

So here’s to discipline…and harnessing creativity.

Day 5: Kindness

One of the greatest joys of travel can be the random acts of kindness you’ll receive from total strangers. Have you ever found kindness from strangers in unexpected places?

I work in midtown Manhattan, close to the Chrysler Building where, on any given day, I have to wind past the throngs of tourists, camera lenses poised to the skyline to capture its splendor. While it can be a bit of a nuisance on the busy work days when you just need to get to the office, I know how it is when the shoe is on the other foot and I’m the one traveling in a distant land and soaking up my surroundings. Be it a crowded city like Hong Kong or the quiet solitude of the Cotswolds, when I’ve been out of my element locals have been the key to helping me find my way, offering assistance or just being a friendly face in the crowd.

When first landing in Prague, Zuri and I were entirely out of our element. It was a national holiday, nearly everything was closed and the Czech language was indecipherable. By the time we found our way and checked into the hostel we felt turned around and defeated. Once we were settled in we sat in the common area, guide books in hand trying to figure out what to do first.

“G’day ladies!” came a booming voice.

I looked up to see a smiling Australian with a mop of curly blond hair.

“Did you just arrive in Praha today?”

“Yes, and we had no idea it was a holiday weekend. Do you know if everything is going to be closed?”

“Yeah, bit of a bummer about that. But there’s still plenty to see in town. If you’d like, I’m happy to show you around.”

And with that, we were off. He took us to a cozy cafe where he told us about his time in the Czech Republic and about his extended two-year trip, traveling across Europe, working odd jobs before he would head home and settle down in Oz. From the cafe we walked through town, stopping at the Orloj in the Old Town Square in time for an hourly show. It was such a small, yet lovely gesture, taking two weary travelers who were very out of their element and introducing them to the city.

It’s those moments that we all experience and what connects us. We know what it’s like to be in that position, feeling out a new situation, unsure of what lies ahead. So it makes it that much easier to recognize the tell-tale signs in others and offer a lending hand.

Restless Legs

Once a month in the city of Manhattan, in a neighborhood south of Delancey Street, a group of travel-philes congregate at Lolita Bar. Their quest is a simple one — listen to well-known travel writers share stories of adventure and self-discovery from around the globe.

I discovered Restless Legs after attending the New York Times Travel Show (if anyone has been following this blog since its inception, they may have uncovered by now that the show was the impetus for me to get back into blogging). The moderator of one of the travel writing sessions, David Farley, began the reading/lecture series that brings together an inspiring and impressive group of travel writers once a month.

Marc and I attended the February event as it was the same day of the Travel Show, but despite best intentions I never made it back. Until last night.

This month I set an appointment in my calendar and made a promise to myself to go. When I waffled about attending alone, Marc was right there to encourage me to attend. And I’m so glad he did. This month the spotlight was on female travel writers, specifically four women (Meera Subramanian, Abbie Kozolchyk, Nancy Kline and Carol Reichert) who had their work published in the 2011 Best Women’s Travel Writing anthology. Their stories spanned the globe from France and Spain to India and a quest for football jerseys that took one woman (Abbie) around the world.

The stories were amazingly heartfelt and evocative – Nancy’s description of Paris made me long for the City of Lights and those overcast days spent strolling down the boulevards, taking in the sights and sounds of a city that is authentically itself. But more than that, it reignited my love of writing, and good writing at that. Truth be told, these women have serious skills!

At the end of the readings and before the Q&A session began, a brief 10-minute break allowed everyone to stretch their legs (no pun intended) and grab that last $3 happy hour beer before the clock struck 8 o’clock. At the top of the stairs I found Carol Reichert who had wrapped up the session with a stirring tale of flamenco lessons in Sevilla, after she and her family left suburban Massachusetts to move to Spain for 14 months. There she was, all smiles in full flamenco regalia. We had a terrific conversation about travel and writing — and in some ways her life mirrors my own (I’d like to call it a kindred spirit kind of way). Both of us work in the healthcare field (she in medical education, me in PR), have partners who are photographers and a love, no passion, for writing.

As we made our way back downstairs, her husband and I (who had met at the beginning of the evening) continued our conversation. He shared stories of their time and travels in Spain. His eyes lit up as he told me about a trip they had taken to Marrakech, from the sights and smells in the local markets to the haunting and beautiful sound of the muezzin who, perched atop of a minaret, called faithful Muslims to prayer. This is what I love about spending time with fellow travelers — the sense of camaraderie, connecting with others through a love of exploring a little sliver of the world and how it leaves its imprint on your soul. It’s exhilarating, and I find I want to hold onto that feeling for as long as I possibly can, before the reality of daily life sets in.

As the evening drew to a close, I had found a renewed sense of determination to make writing a priority and get published this year. I made my way through the crowd to pick up a copy of the 2011 anthology (inspiration!) and found my way back to my spot where Jerry and Carol were standing. As we said our goodbyes, I watched as they turned to climb the stairs when Jerry stopped and said, “Just do it.” A simple phrase but one that, Nike connotation aside, I took to heart. The main obstacle is me. If I want to write and travel the world, it’s not an improbable goal. Feeling buoyed by a sense of optimism, I slowly gathered my things, took one last swig of Sierra Nevada and made my way into the New York City night.