Is There an Art to Traveling?
I thought I was properly prepared for my European getaway and once thrust into the situation I felt clueless! Thus began my vacation adventure. Everything that I held as normal vanished! In my world, almost everyone spoke English. Yes, I listened to my French language audio study course and thought I did quite well with it, and then was plopped into a cab with a man who only spoke French. This wasn’t anything like the studies had offered.
Stepping out of my familiar and seeing things I had never experienced before was mind-blowing! In fact, even in London, where people supposedly spoke my same language spoke something completely different. England was where my trip began and from the moment I battled my way through the airport and onto the train I knew that I needed to improvise every step of the way.
I eventually got off the train from Heathrow and found myself in Chelsea, which was just south or east of the town center – I wasn’t really sure. All I knew is I was on a mission to find my hotel. The train ride was stressful enough and now I had to figure out where north, south, east, and west really was. All I saw was a busy street and no street signs. I took a guess and followed the jotted-down notes I wrote, asking every person along the way for directions. Luckily I found one guy who got on his cell phone, pulled up a map and pointed me in the right direction. I was close, according to him. He mentioned I’d pass some small park, which I noticed and started to feel some confidence, yet no street signs were found and I needed to make a right turn but where?
It took me 15 minutes until another local looked at me and asked me if I was lost. I just wanted to find Sydney Street. The man pointed with a laugh to a building. How was I to know that street signs were on buildings and not on poles?
The staff at the hotel was amazing and gave me the best room since my T.V. didn’t work. I didn’t want to tell them I rarely watched the T.V. When I woke up the next day, in my nice cushy bed, I had a decision to make. Drag my feet and remain in the safety of the hotel room or go out and explore. The clock was ticking and I was faced with this meaningful moment in my life. Was I a viewer or a doer? I decided to ease into the trip, grab an Uber, and travel to a central spot in town right near Buckingham Palace and headed out. What transpired from that moment was absolutely amazing!
What I experienced in England was incredible. I talked to anybody that would listen and some that didn’t. Something that I rarely saw in this country was taking place and I ate it all up. It was people being happy, having a sense of family, and what hit me was the number of public gatherings going on where in the Seattle area, it seems like the masses just want to cozy up in their homes by themselves.
My cab driver in Liverpool explained a lot about life in the UK to me. Even though it was hard for me to understand much of his accent, I did understand that life was hard there, they had to struggle to get by and had to work every day of the week, but they still made time for family and friends and having a good time was a priority.
At first, I was needy of other people’s attention and had to recenter and focus on how I was with myself. I discovered how gentle I can be to myself. How I can laugh at myself as I made silly mistakes, mostly out of just not knowing. I could at least use it as a learning opportunity. You should have seen me trying to figure out how to do laundry in France. So what if I didn’t put in soap, it still worked. I got a huge chuckle from myself.
Had traveling solo been stressful? Absolutely. Especially in trying to understand airports, basic directions, and their mode of TSA enforcement. Do you know that they didn’t even look at my passport when I flew from Paris to The Netherlands? It turns out that once in the European Union, it becomes traveling like you are staying in the USA, but not once did they look at my identification.
I fought my way through Paris for a week, not understanding a single word or their customs. Buying food at the market was a nightmare. You had to go to one place to weigh your fruit, get a tag for it, then wait in line and do the self check out thing. There were 20 people in line when I went up to the front and the clerk lectured me about weighing the food. I didn’t know.
I got a call a few days into my Paris trip that my friend from Paris was there and he more than happily showed me around. My trip turned around from this point, and I was taken to the best places, best restaurants and seeing the Eiffel Tower at nighttime was spectacular!
Next, it was onto the Netherlands where I reconnected with family and boy did I appreciate being with them. I came out originally for my daughter’s 28th birthday and decided to make it an adventure. Little did I know that in being with her, her husband and my ex-partner would be an adventure on its own.
My daughter is a superstar and has lived in the Netherlands for six years, is doing incredibly well and for the Easter holiday got to spend each moment with her. Then she and her husband were busy and it was back together doing things with the ex – which went great – believe it or not. She lives there three months out of the year and has been taking me everywhere. What is striking about the Netherlands is that everybody in the country speaks English and an English you can understand.
I proved a lot of valuable things to myself. I can adjust, or more precisely make mistakes, laugh at myself and make adjustments. I am learning to be more confident with public transportation. Shoot, I even found a pharmacy that sells homeopathic medication!
For a living, my daughter has to travel to seven different countries and does presentations at museums and universities. Often she travels on her own and she told me what an adjustment it was for her to do so, but is now comfortable and enjoys it.
Let me not sugar coat this, traveling is stressful especially when you don’t know how to communicate. Though I did find ways to get my message across, it was not uncommon for me to feel overwhelmed.
Last night I went with my ex to Pavlov’s Restaurant. This ought to be good, I thought. Even on the outside menu, it had a dog and bells all over it and the slogan was “The menu was something to salivate over.“ This was too good to be true. And yes, they were right – the food was exceptional. We made jokes about psychology all night and then she rushed back from the bathroom. There was an advertisement for a class on vision boarding which got us chuckling. It turned out that the restaurant hosted monthly psychological activities. There I really felt at home.
It is Easter Sunday as I type this out. I’ll get out, maybe take in a church service in a different country. The Dutch do things right. People gather by the hundreds in small city areas to eat, drink, and laugh. I was mentioning to my family that I will walk through the Alderwood Mall to get my steps in and make note of the happy people that I see. Maybe in my few hours there, I will see a handful of people laughing but mostly people are seriously going on with their affairs. In the Netherlands, only a handful are unhappy and the rule is for people to be joyful.
Time to get out of my hotel room. Hope you enjoyed reading this. One more week to go and I wonder what new adventure awaits me.
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