Saturday, August 20, 2016

How wild it was, to let it be: a love letter to travel and my natural state of movement

One of the questions I get most often regarding my travel habits is something along the lines of, "Why do you travel so much? Do you hate America or something?" The answer is simple: travel is my biggest love. (For the record no, I do not "hate America or something.") Ever since I got that first taste of travel from my 2008 trip to China, I have been chasing that illustrious siren's call ever since.

To travel is my fate. Case in point,  I scoured the internet to hear some great minds had to say about the desire to move, see more, and live an adventurous life filled with global exploration. During my search, I read a quote from Wild by Cheryl Strayed that goes, "How wild it was, to let it be" from her book Wild. When I was in Kuala Lumpur, I quickly scanned the free bookshelf at my hostel only to see a copy of Wild with a note scribbled inside by the previous owner about her own love of travel. I was meant to read that quote and then find that book while in Malaysia, just like I am meant to travel, explore, wander.

Scattered throughout my own reasons for loving travel, I included some magical quotes from other adventurous souls about their own wanderlust.

Dear travel,

Thank you for being both a constant companion and something I will spend the rest of my life chasing. I love you travel for the way you make me feel, change me, and teach me.

First and foremost, travel makes me feel closer to the world, like a global citizen, connected to this incredible planet we call earth. No other feeling compares to the sentiment of feeling close to the world. For comparison, this feeling is similar to the one that I, along with many others, get when they spend time in nature. When traveling, I  marvel as the vastness of our world and I remember what a small part of the world I actually embody. But even those small parts of the world make a huge difference. In learning about other people, cultures, and places, I feel a closeness to the world that I cannot express in words.

Travel makes one modest: one sees what a tiny place one occupies in the world--Gustave Flaubert, author

Traveling empowers me. When I search destinations to visit, I often stumble upon articles and tips for female travelers, or articles about why women shouldn't go to certain places alone. While I agree safety should be a top priority for all travelers, not just women, traveling makes me feel like I can do anything. This is a feeling I first had while in Prague on my first ever solo trip.  After this trip, I knew nothing could ever stop me and that I am the only thing standing in my way. When I am sauntering around the globe, I have no one to rely on but myself or a few travel companions. Very quickly, traveling taught me I can handle more than I ever thought I could. I constantly seek this feeling of control and the ability to do anything.

Loving life is easy when you are abroad. Where no one knows you and you hold life in your hands all alone, you are more master of yourself than at any other time.” – Hannah Arendt

Travel teaches me about myself. When I move from place to place, I spend more time than I would like to admit reflecting, journaling, and thinking about life. Each place I visit changes me, and every time I go somewhere new, I become more myself than I was before. Every city, town, place, experience makes me the more complete, whole, and fuels me to continue finding myself.

We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls--Anais Nin, author

I want to do, feel, experience, try, love, and explore anything and everything I can. I want to see what else is out there, what lies beyond my comfort zone, my bubble, my consciousness. One feeling that terrifies me is regret; I want to regret nothing in this life so I take each opportunity that arises to explore. Sometimes it is beautiful, sometimes it isn't, but at the end of the day, I want to have stories that proved that I lived bravely and took advantage of life, the world, and opportunities that surround me to learn, love, live, experience, laugh, cry, and grow. When it all ends, I want to say I used everything I had to live the fullest life I could.

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!”--Hunter S. Thompson, American journalist

Finally, I love to travel because I constantly chase the natural human desire to move. The natural order of the world is one of chaos, motion; that's a scientific notion. So maybe I'm not actually chasing anything, but I'm just following my natural state of being through my constant motion.

For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move--Robert Louis Stevenson, author

I don't think the wanderlust will ever subside and I am totally content with that. I will always have a home and will spend the rest of my life chasing travel, my first, longest, and deepest love.

Ludwig Museum in Cologne, Germany has the right idea about travel "Keep moving forward and do it yourself."

Until next time!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Insta Recap #10

Long time, no post. To be completely honest, my motivation to blog has been lackluster at best not for a lack of trying. Of course, I have plenty of things to say, I just can't seem to find the words to articulate my thoughts. To get back on the blogging bandwagon, I've decided to bring back my Instagram Recap posts.

Doi Suthep, a Buddhist temple, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Chiang Mai. Sitting majestically on the top of a mountain, it is certainly a sight to be seen. One of my first weekends in Chiang Mai, I rode on the back of a friend's motorbike up the mountain to see the temple. While visiting, we received a blessing from a monk that involved being hit on the head with a stick, but I'm not complaining; I'll take blessings in any form.

 Doi Suthep

Temples abound in Thailand. While Doi Suthep lies on the top of the mountain, Wat Chedi Luang rests in the center of Chiang Mai. On a sunny afternoon, I ventured with some friends to see the ancient ruins of this Buddhist temple.

Gold Buddha in front of Wat Chedi Luang

While in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, my companions and I spent an afternoon at the Batu Caves, a limestone cave outside of the city dedicated to the Hindu god Lord Murugan. The golden statue in the photo is the largest statue dedicated to Lord Murugan. At the base of the steps, monkeys sit and wait to be fed bananas brought by eager tourists and will come and snatch food right out of the hands of unsuspecting visitors.

All of those steps lead up to the cave!

In Malaysia, Islam is the state religion which means that they have a National Mosque. Throughout the day, the National Mosque has visiting hours where the space is open up for curious tourists. In the time I was at the mosque, I saw dozens of tourists from all over the world enter the mosque, all of them willing to learn about Islam. Naturally, the mosque is completely stunning, with gold and blue stained glass windows and open-air patios letting in rays of the Malaysia sunshine.

Prayer in the National Mosque

Whenever I travel, I drink copious amounts of coffee. In Belgium, I spent hours sipping speculoos lattes in cafes to avoid the rain, and in Chiang Mai I pass quite a bit of time drinking Thai tea or regular lattes. For a Saturday activity, I visited one of the most well-known coffee haunts in Chiang Mai, Mao Coffee. "Mao" in Thai means "drunk" and, as one can imagine, it is known for spiked coffee beverages. The atmosphere in Mao Coffee is aesthetic goals for sure:  wood paneling, wildflowers sprinkled in vases on all the tables, and the perfect coffee shop playlist.

Mao coffee with a brownie cheesecake--it's very difficult to find exceptional baked goods in Thailand, but the cheesecake at Mao Coffee was 10/10!

Hope you all enjoyed a little glimpse into my life in Chiang Mai! Expect more posts to come soon; writing this post has inspired me to continue sharing!

Sunday, July 10, 2016

[A little over] one month in Chiang Mai

Guess who's back? That's right, I'm back traipsing all over the globe, and this time I'm coming to you live from Thailand. In June, I moved to Chiang Mai, Thailand to begin a year of teaching at a Thai school. Since my arrival I've been to Hong Kong, Thailand, and Laos. I've seen some signature Chiang Mai sights like Doi Suthep, a Buddhist temple, and the famous Night Market. Still, there are plenty of things to do over the next year (or so). In the month I've been here, I've learned quite a bit that I thought I would share.

1. Thailand is hot. Of course, I knew Thailand would be toasty, but I never expected constant heat and humidity. I am learning to accept being constantly covered in sweat. However, there is a silver lining; I can tell I'm getting used to the heat when 85 F doesn't seem all that hot. Air con is a gift from above and cannot be taken for granted.

2. Thai desserts are sweet, and often times jiggly. Thai people like their sweets and condensed milk is the sweetener of choice for many drinks, like the signature orange Thai tea, and desserts. Even the bread here is sweet. My first Thai tea was a shock; I couldn't believe how sweet it was, but much like the weather, I quickly adjusted to the sweet drink and now I actually enjoy it quite a bit. Not only are desserts sweet, they often have a jiggly component in the form of JELL-O, jelly, or some other congealed product. Needless to say, jiggly desserts aren't my sweet of choice and likely never will be.

3. Thai's drive on the other side of the road and motorbikes are the transport of choice. In Thailand, drivers drive on the left side of the road while motorbikes weave in and out of the cars, making them the perfect choice to avoid Chiang Mai traffic. Everyone, even babies and children, ride on the backs of motorbikes, some with and some without helmets. In this past month, I've ridden (and driven) a few motorbikes!

Sorry mom!

4. It's true what they say about Thailand being the land of smiles. Everyone is incredibly friendly, warm, and almost constantly smiling.

5. According to my students, I look like Ed Sheeran, the English singer, and appear to be from the North Pole. These were two things I had no idea about, but I'm glad to know for future reference.

6. Taking a 10 hour, overnight van is maybe not the best way to travel. I took a van with two co-workers to go to Laos to get Thai visas and needless to say, I felt like a human pretzel trying to get comfortable in the middle seat. At least the trip was worthwhile.

7. Thai food is delicious and inexpensive. Paying $1-3 for dinner is not unlikely here and the food is incredible. My personal favorites include Pad Thai (typical), coconut curry, and Khao Soi. Finding vegetarian food is a little bit more difficult, even though I learned the word for vegetarian early on. In the quest for good vegetarian food, I've found quite a few delicious spots that serve entirely vegetarian, and mostly vegan, food. The fruit is a whole other story. I could eat just Thai fruit for every meal. The bananas, mangos, pineapples, lychees, watermelons, and dragon fruits have been my personal favorites for far. Not only are they delicious, the fruit is also dirt cheap.
A young Thai coconut, fresh fruit and muesli

8. Temples are abundant, sprinkled throughout the city serving as a nod to the past. I love driving around Chiang Mai and seeing another golden temple glistening in the sun amongst the other buildings.

On the steps leading up to Doi Suthep

9. Thai massages are real and rough. For a one hour Thai massage, the going rate is 200 baht, or roughly $6 which is a far cry from the $60 I pay at home. When you go to a Thai masseuse, you will gaze in awe and wonder at the sheer strength of the thumbs of Thai women. Many of these women could become world-champion thumb wrestlers with thumbs that strong. Thai massages are one of those things that hurt so much that it actually feels good.

0. It's true what they say about Thailand and lady boys; you will see more of them than you think and no one bats an eye seeing a lady boy walking down the street. That kind of acceptance is pretty freaking cool.

11. When it rains in Thailand, it pours. Belgium is a country known for rain, as is Thailand. However, Thai rain is another beast. In Leuven, it would lightly drizzle all day, so no one ever really took notice of the rain. In Thailand, it will be beautiful and sunny all day until the dark clouds roll in at 4 p.m. on the nose. All of the sudden, it downpours and it is not fun to be caught in instant, pouring rain.

12. There are stray dogs everywhere. Some of them are groomed, some of them are scraggly, all of them are cute.

Stay tuned for more updates about school, travel, and everything in between.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Czech me out: a love letter to Prague

Long time, no post. With June being the last month of my stay in Belgium, I decided to step away from the computer and enjoy the last month of my year abroad free from the computer screen. However, I do have one final trip to tell you about. For my final trip I went to Prague, Czech Republic. By myself. And it was the best trip of the entire year!

First and foremost, I decided to venture to Prague since my father's family is Czech and I wanted to see where my ancestors came from. I loved Ireland so much, which is where my mother's family is from, so I knew I needed to get back to my roots once again so to speak.

Even though I did not have a travel companion, that did not stop me from booking that Ryanair flight. Of course, I took more precautions while traveling alone than I normally would if I was with a friend. I took cabs to and from the airport and did not go out late at night by myself. Never once did I feel unsafe and I had a great time being able to do what I wanted when I wanted. I truly enjoyed the freedom and I regret not travelling more by myself throughout the year. Fear got the best of me and when I finally let that go, I found myself forced to meet new people and have a completely unique experience. I met travelers from all over the world and we spent the weekend together in Prague. Even though we just met, we all became fast friends. That is one of the joys of travelling: making new, fast friends all over the world.

Prague is a beautiful city that is completely walkable and very user friendly. Of course, almost every person I encountered spoke a bit of English, so the language barrier was never a problem. Of course, I hit many of the major tourist attractions including the Astronomical Tower, Prague Castle, and I climbed the Bell Tower at St.Vitus Cathedral. Not only was is beautiful, Prague is a very affordable city with a great exchange rate. One euro is roughly 27  Czech crowns and there were plenty of place to exchange currency. After visiting Prague, I wished I had spent more time in the surrounding countries due to the low prices and gorgeous scenery!

The view from the Town Square

View from Prague Castle

I went to a LOT of churches in 10 months and St. Vitus had the most-spectacular stained glass!

 A doorway in Prague's Jewish Quarter

Of course I loved every city I visited during my time abroad but Prague holds a special place in my heart and it always will. Prague will forever be the first place I traveled to alone. Never have I felt more independent and able, something that can be easily squashed by feelings of self doubt. Confidence washed over me in Prague. I made new friends and forced myself out of my comfort zone in a big way. After Prague, I felt more confident than ever. I knew nothing could stop me from having the time of my life and I put myself out there into the world headfirst. Prague, thank you for pushing me out of my comfort zone.

With the famous John Lennon Wall

Thursday, May 28, 2015

9 months down, one to go: 9 small things I will miss about Leuven

Nine months ago, I wrote about my first impressions of Leuven after being here for one month. as of today, I have one month left in Leuven. Thirty days, that's it. Needless to say, ten months goes faster than I ever imagined. I remember writing that first post, finding it unbelievable that I had already been in Leuven for a month. Now, I cannot believe I have but four weeks left in Europe. My heart is heavy and the only adjective that can seen to capture my feelings is bittersweet. On one hand, I will miss Leuven deeply. I'll miss my friends, the Loyola International Nachbar Huis, and jetting all across Europe. On the other hand, I love home and I cannot wait to see my parents and my friends I haven't seen since Christmas. Plus, my siblings are coming home, so I have a lot to look forward to seeing when I return to the United States. Reflecting on having just thirty days left, I realize I will miss so many things. In honor of the nine months I have spent in Leuven, I decided to round up 9 random things I will miss about Leuven.

1. Really good coffee
I admit, before coming to Europe I really didn't drink much coffee. After this year, I grew to enjoy coffee quite a bit and Europe has some really great coffee shops. I am going to miss vanilla latte's from one particular cafe in Leuven. Not that America has bad coffee, but Europe's coffee is pretty spectacular.

2. Mandatory recycling and expensive garbage bags
Bet you didn't think garbage would end up on this list, did ya? Hear me out: I am so much more of the waste I generate when I have to buy garbage bags and I am required to recycle. Plus, the garbage bags for garbage that cannot be recycled is over two euros, so I never want to have garbage that goes into those bags due to their expense. I feel really great being able to recycle so much and I respect Belgium for making citizens recycle and compost food. It is eco-friendly and honestly, it is so simple.

3. Ryanair
Alright, so flying on Ryanair isn't the most comfortable or glamorous, but I cannot complain when it gets me to Prague for 15 euro. I am so deeply going to miss cheap flights that allow me to explore the world on a random weekend. Dear USA, please get Ryanair!

4. Everything in walking (or biking) distance
Everything in Leuven is within walking distance or can be biked. I love being freed from cars and being self-sufficient by powering my transportation myself. Of course, it is ecological which is awesome, but it is also less expensive and honestly nicer than driving and it doesn't take much time at all. Since everything is withing walking distance, I can absolutely do everything I could possibly need to do. Not relying on a car is more convenient and easier and I will miss the simplicity of walking or riding my bike,

5. The farmer's market
On Sunday, nothing in Leuven is open, so the farmer's market becomes quite the event and a ritual I look forward to. I walk to the farmer's market in the morning and come home to cook a beautiful breakfast with my fresh produce before most of the world is even awake. I am sad this ritual will be ending at the end of next month. It is so peaceful and something I look forward to every weekend.

6. Zara down the street
I am obsessed with Zara and I will miss having one to pop into just up the road. My closet will be sad about that, but my wallet will be joyful.

7. The lack of textbooks
This year, I bought one book for college, setting me back a small fifteen euro. At home, I would easily spend ten times that. I will miss not having to buy textbooks and having to lug them around.

8. Cobblestone streets
Cobblestone streets are beautiful and serve as reminders that their were people on this earth before us who fashioned these pathways and there will be people after us who will use the same paths. Plus, walking along a cobblestone street just feels like you are a part of a fairy tale.

9. Dutch
I admit, I don' speak any Dutch but I will miss hearing it everyday. There is something beautiful about hearing another language that reminds me of being an outsider and for whatever reason, I like that. Plus, Dutch has grown on me and now I think it sounds cute when I hear it.

So, there you have it. 9 smalls things out of a million that I will miss about my European home. Can exams be over already so I can enjoy my last month here?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Sentiments on the selfie stick

Confession: I used a selfie stick. I am somewhat proud of it.

Before I reunited with my parents in Rome, they passed a week in Paris. Since it was just the two of them, sometimes they struggled taking photographs with both of them in the frame, or there merely were not any people around to ask to snap a photo, something that has likely plagued travelers for years. In order to combat this, my dad succumbed to pressure, purchasing a selfie stick. For those of you who are unaware of this device, it is a pole that attaches to a cell phone that allows one to take a selfie from further away, allowing a larger frame. Through the duration of their travels, my dad continued using the selfie stick over and over. Soon, it became an obsession for him. In three weeks he took over 2,000 photographs. Don't worry, not all of them were selfies, but a lot of them certainly were! Even though it was incredibly embarrassing at times to use the selfie stick, it certainly had pros and cons and got me thinking about photography and life through a lens.

When my mom first told me they bought a selfie stick, I gasped. My parents tend to be the cool trendy parents; my mother wears purple-tone hair and my father bought overalls in Paris! My parents rock cooler-than-average parent status. When I think of the owners of selfie sticks, I imagine narcissistic teenage girls posting one-too-many selfies on Instagram, not trendy globe-trotting parents. After spending a few days with them and the selfie stick in action, I noted some of the appeal. It allowed my family to take pictures of ourselves in areas when we were the only people around.  As my father put it, he wants photos of himself with my mom or with me, not just photos of beautiful places with no one in them. To him, photos of beautiful landscapes aren't as special as ones containing people. This extendable phone arm allowed my parents the ability to have photos of all of us without having to ask others do help us. At first, using the selfie stick was a bit embarrassing, but after a while, I did not mind as much. I chose not to care what others thought and I decided to enjoy taking the photos so that I would have lasting souvenirs, making the fleeting embarrassment easier to bear.

My father made a valid point about wanting to possess photographs with people in the frame. They make photos of beautiful places like the Eiffel Tower all the more personal. It is one thing to have a picture of a gorgeous location, but these places are made all the more beautiful through the inclusion of loved ones. He furthered his point by saying that if he wants a picture of a beautiful building, like the Colosseum, he can find a more stunning one from another source. The sentiment of my father is something I certainly agree with wholeheartedly. I much prefer having pictures containing people. For me, they help me remember the feelings I held in that particular place, reminding me of the energy of the moment. Often in my travels, I have found that the photographs I possess of  locations rarely make the cut for photo albums or scrapbooks. I choose people pictures over photos lacking subjects any day of the week.

After talking with my dad about his feelings on photographs, I thought about my own ideas on the topic. As I said, I agree that it is 100 times better to have photos with people in the frame. That goes without saying. I think my dad is right in expressing that if I want photographs of a certain landmark, it is incredibly easy to find better, higher quality pictures in gift shops on postcards, on the internet, in educational books, or magazines. There is no lack of beautiful pictures of famous landscapes at one's fingertips. As someone who takes all of their photographs on an iPhone (Full disclosure: all the pictures on my bog have come from the iPhone and I have to say, I am thoroughly impressed with the quality!), I completely understand that my pictures will not compare to anything a professional captures. I do not expect perfect pictures and I actually enjoy some of the imperfections; imperfection mirrors real life. However, If I want a stunning photo of St. Peter's Basilica, I can look to some incredible photographers to find a stunning photo that will remind me of that place. I have an incredible amount of respect for photographers. It is an art form about which I know very little of which I am completely in awe when I see stunning photos captured by professional eyes. With that in mind, I would prefer photos of people that I take and look to professional photographs for locations.

Looking to professional photographers brings me to another point I have mentioned on my blog; sometimes I do not like taking photographs in certain situations. Allow me to elaborate:in certain situations it is better to look and enjoy with the eyes rather than look at the world through a viewfinder. Do not get me wrong: Take photos. Take as many as you can within reason. But in museums, do you really need to take a picture of the art on the walls? If you want a picture of the "Mona Lisa," you will find a perfect one in the gift shop that will be infinitely better than anything you can take on your selfie stick. Maybe I am jaded-I got smacked in the face at the Louvre by a tourist with a long-lens camera taking photos of every single work of art in each and every room. Instead of really looking at the artwork, they look at the world through viewfinders. So much of life is spent looking but not really seeing. For me, it is about being present in the moment. Look with your eyes, not with the camera. Do yourself a favor and see the world fully.

Thinking about photographs, I know I truly love them. They are some of the best souvenirs, lasting a lifetime and taking up no room in that over-stuffed suitcase. So here's what I have learned about photographs: buy the selfie stick and take as many photographs as you can. With technology that holds thousands of pictures, click away and take as many as you can. You will never regret it. However, be selective of what you choose to snap. Remember that it is important to document the trip, but you will never look back at that picture of that random street in that random city with no one in the frame, but you will enjoy the pictures of your family and friends. If you want a beautiful picture of a famous place, support a photographer and buy prints that will remind you of the places you visited through a gorgeous piece of art.

Take photos and see the world! xoxo--C

Friday, May 8, 2015

Insta Recap #9

Well hello to my fabulous readers! I cannot believe I am already in my ninth month of living in Leuven! This past month of April, I posted up a storm and I have to say I love writing more! With that being said, I haven't done an Instagram recap in a loooong time! Without further ado, let's get into the recap!

Before my flight to Florence got choppy, I couldn't help but enjoy the view of the Swiss alps from my window seat! 

Parc Guell in Barcelona looked just like a gingerbread house in a surrealist version of "Hansel and Gretel!"

On a rainy Leuven Tuesday, I posted this mural from the Eastside Gallery Wall in Berlin for some much needed weekly motivation. "Many small people, who in many small places, do many small things that can alter teh face of the world."

I shared this photo in my post regarding the Big Splash in Leuven! Can you believe this is my library and this is a school sponsored event?

Friday was May 1st, Labor Day in Europe, making it a holiday so everything was closed. As such, I went for a long walk around Leuven and I spent time in the Groot Begijnhof and I fell in love with these gorgeous lion heads.

 I cannot believe that I only have two more months left in Leuven-time is flying fast. I hope you all enjoy my surge in posting and I hope to continue this streak!