Most people don’t love this city, but I do. I’ve been coming here a few times a year for as long as I can remember, and it’s home to my favorite bookstore (McKay’s Used Books and More, if you’re ever in the city), my favorite ice skating rink (the Ice Chalet), and my favorite sporting events (Lady Vols basketball games). Here are some random thoughts I jotted down the last time I was there: This is the only city I know where people buy and wear orange clothing in such large numbers. This is big orange country, where the entire population lives and breathes college sports. The businesses on the strip plaster their front windows in orange propaganda, and on game day, floods of people dressed in the color fill the streets. I love the energy in the air as people come from across several states to cheer on our team. The air is electric with hope, anticipation, and possibility. When you leave, that same air is filled with either disappointment or celebration, but, for a couple of hours, you’re holding your breath with twenty thousand strangers, uncertain as to which it will be.The pollution leaked into the air taints every breath we take. We gasp at its beauty as it manifests itself as an orange glow (appropriate) over hazy purple mountains at sunset. Were we not breathless at the sight, the smog in the bitter cold air would be slowly killing us. The city sprawls out farther than is reasonable in every possible direction, lighting up the night sky. It is simultaneously crumbling, growing, and unchanging. There are abandoned warehouses, factories brought to life as restaurants on the river, a coffee plant whose huge sign drowns out anything else in that corner of the city, rusting railroad bridges, and new construction on the never-ending, always confusing, always changing reeways. It is expanding, decaying, and experiencing a rennaissance of sorts as it is rebuilt. That construction has been going on since before I was born. I stand high above the river, and the vastness of the city never fails to startle and amaze me. I can’t see the end of it.
My BlogI want to see the world. I've seen some of it, but rather than satisfying me, that only made me want to see more! Read here about my current travels, my past travels, and what I hope to do in the future.
This happened in summer 2007, so my recollections may or may not be accurate and complete, but I felt like reminiscing. The woman in the photo is my grandmother.
After arriving by train from London after flying in from the US, I was exhuasted by the time we got to the boat in Tamworth. I don’t believe I even got past the cushioned bench at the entrance (where I slept) before collapsing after being awake for a good 30 hours!
When I woke up the next day, the sun was bright outside, and it remained bright and warm for all but one of our days on the canal–something of a miracle for England, or so I’m told. We drifted through the gorgeous countryside, and I spent quite a bit of time reading while stretched out on the boat’s roof in the sun. We tied up outside various pubs at night, and ate our meals there. We met locals and fellow boaters, including a couple from London who spent up to six months at a time on the canals. During the day, we stopped at whatever town looked interesting, Tamworth and Lichfield being the most notable.
Traveling with my grandparents, I had freedom that would have given my mother a heart attack. Our first full day in England, I left my grandparents happily drinking at a pub (the reasoning was that if they didn’t have to drive later, why limit the drinking?), and wandered into town on my own.
Tamworth is a lovely city–I loved the English houses, the park stretched out at the feet of the old castle, the walking paths and bus routes that made independence much easier than at home, all of it. It all felt very English, and perhaps some of my love for the town is influenced by the fact that it was the first time I’d been overseas, but I still think I’d like it if I returned. I found the shops in the town centre, and had so much fun just wandering and watching people. I also loved the discount bookshop! I spent far too much of my money there.
Another day, I visited the castle with my grandparents. It was lovely, with a fascinating history. My favorite story is about Ethelfleda, the power behind the throne of Mercia. When she was fifteen, and travelling there to get married, she was attacked and successfully fought off her attackers! After her husband’s death, she wasn’t just the power behind the throne; she was the real, official leader, and she was awesome. I don’t remember all the stories, but I’m sure you can find them online somewhere.
As much as I loved the castle and its history, I also loved the views of the park and the rest of the city from the castle, high on a hill overlooking the rest of the area. Gorgeous.
The cathedral in Lichfield was another highlight of the trip. The stained glass and high ceilings are, I’m sure, standard cathedral fare, but it still amazed me. Right by it was Erasmus Darwin’s house and garden, also fascinating. The garden was beautiful.
However, it wasn’t a specific site that made this week one of the best of my life. It was the ease of independence, the long walks I took, thinking and just taking in the area and how wonderfully different it was from home. It was the general cheeriness of the people we met along the way at the sun’s extended appearance. It was just something about this place, floating lazily down the canal in the warm sun, that felt right, and I was sorry to leave at the end of the week.
I think I need to set some long-term goals for myself, because I know I’ll be very unhappy if, at the end of 2018, I look back on the past ten years and I’ve spent it all in one or two places.
For the next ten years….
- I don’t want to spend more than two consecutive years in one place (I’ll break up the four years of college by studying abroad).
- I want to spend at least a summer in 5 different countries, and at least a week in 15 countries. (Not counting the United States).
- I want to visit five continents (I doubt I’ll make it to Antarctica, and I’m leaving a little room in case I don’t make it to Australia, too).
- I want to be decently skilled in three foreign languages.
Specifically, how am I going to achieve these goals? Well, I’d like to go to college abroad, but I don’t know if that will happen. I’ll definitely study abroad. I want to spend this summer or the next at language school in Guatemala. I want to spend two years in the Peace Corps. I want to teach English somewhere. I want to travel alone for long periods of time whenever I have the money. I’m not clear on all the specifics, but I want to make it happen. And then, maybe in ten years I’ll feel like having a “normal” life…But I kind of doubt it.
In the past three months, I’ve been on two short trips (long weekends), one to DC and one to Boston. The main purpose of both of these trips was to visit colleges, but I had other fun, too.
Boston was a far more independent experience for me. I stayed with my cousin, who’s a student at Emerson, and spent the days largely on my own. I visited three colleges (I applied to one), successfully navigated the T (not a problem after successfully navigating the New York subway system!), and had a rather collegiate experience of Boston. I stayed with college students, partied one night with college students, went to CollegeFest, an event for college students. This probably influenced my perception of Boston quite a bit; I know it’s a city with a lot of history, but what I saw was a very college-oriented city. I don’t think that’s totally inaccurate, though, after talking to other people. There are just so many college students in Boston! I doubt that Boston’ll be the city for me, though, because I want to go to a “real” city; that is, one that doesn’t seem to cater to a specific segment of the population. I had fun for a weekend, but I think I’d get bored spending three or four years there.
In Washington, DC, I was with my dad, and, again, I visted three colleges and am applying to one. I made all of the arrangements, made plans, navigated, all of that was up to me, though, so it was good experience for later. DC is also oriented to something specific, like Boston, but in this case it’s politics (big surprise there), which, I think, is an orientation I prefer (though still not what I consider a “real” city). Navigating public transit was pretty simple. I ate tasty Salvadoran food, and I love Salvadoran food, so that was great. I also went to my favorite Smithsonian (Natural History–I like the rocks). I saw a book that I contributed to, in paperback (the first time I’d seen that) in a Barnes and Noble; that was amazing. It wasn’t my first time in DC, so I already knew I liked the city, but I also know that no American city will ever compare to how much I’d love to live in New York.
On both trips, I flew through Detroit. Flying over Detroit, I know I never want to spend time in the city itself–it’s organized around the major roads and goes on for miles and miles of flat roads. I hate driving, I don’t really like the Midwest, and Detroit just looked so uninspiring from the air. It looked soul-sucking. But I did like the airport. It’s got a little train-subway type thingy going from one end of the terminal to the other, and an interesting art installation with flashing colored lights and weird sounds in a tunnel between two different terminals.
In case anyone’s interested, the colleges visited where Boston University, Tufts, Suffolk, George Washington, Georgetown, and American, and the ones I’m applying to are Suffolk and George Washington.
(This is reposted from my non-travel personal blog at wordygirlj.wordpress.com)
If you know me, you know that I want to see the world. You know that I devote quite a bit of my time, energy, and money to getting to experience new places. I just wanted to share some thoughts & quotes about travel in general today.
I see travel as the one of the most important ways of expanding human beings’ understanding of each other. Through travel we discover humility, love, friendship, passion and ourselves.
I don’t actually know who this person is, but I love what she has to say (the quote came in one of my Why Go emails). I agree 100%. Understanding each other, and the world, is vitally important to humanity. There are things we simply cannot learn from books, things we must experience ourselves, in both a small, personal sense, and in a big picture sense.
How can we ever expect to fix the big problems if we don’t understand each other on a personal level? How can we expect to fix international problems without an understanding of how these problems came to be? This sort of understanding includes culture and religion and history and politics–some things you can learn from books–and also a personal understanding of how people think, which is something that cannot fully be learned from a textbook.
In support of that, I have another quote from Why Go:
Travel is the key of the life time. I’ve never figured out anything without being there.
Yes! And thanks to these people for articulating my feelings so much better than I am able to. As much as I love to read about different parts of the world, to read about life, I know that it is really no substitute for the understanding that comes with experience.
Is travel selfish? I’ve been accused of hypocrisy because I want to help people but I also want to travel. I don’t think that this is hypocritical. Certainly, there is a selfish way to travel. Staying in an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica, never leaving your poolside chair and trashy magazines, is selfish. But it is also not what I think of as genuine travel, because you could just as easily do it at home (except the weather wouldn’t be as nice for most of us). It is vacation. Which, I suppose, has its place, but it is not what I am talking about when I say “travel.”
Travel is about understanding the world. It’s about opening our eyes to what is really going on. It’s about experiences that make us better people, experiences that we’d never have at home. And with these experiences, with this understanding, we should get some feeling of social responsibility. We see things happening abroad that would never happen at home, and we should all make it part of our goals to help everyone have food, clean water, education, healthcare–the things that many of us take for granted.
Of course, ignorant “help” can exacerbate a problem. To genuinely help, a thorough understanding of the situation is necessary. And this goes back to idea #1–this is not something you can learn from a textbook or television documentary.
Is meeting an individual traveler the peace process in itself?
Peace is something else which must come from understanding and experience. Peace must also happen on an individual level as well as a larger-scale political level.
Hate and prejudice come from ignorance. People hate whatever group (illegal Mexican immigrants, Muslims, whatever) because they fail to understand them as people. There is also ignorance of the situation–not understanding, for example, that radical Islamists do not represent the beliefs of the vast majority of Muslims–but I believe that a lot of it comes from a lack of experience and understanding of individuals.
When we connect on an individual level with people different from ourselves, we are dispelling our prejudices, conscious or not, against other people. It is much easier to hate an ambiguous ethnic or religious group than it is to hate a person. Travel allows us to step outside of our comfort zones and connect with so many different people from different places, different faiths, and different cultures–connections we would not make at home. Of course, the internet makes more connections possible, but it still lacks the immediate realism of a face-to-face connection.
The Final Idea:
There is no substitute for actual experiences. Travel is a collection of experiences that lead to understanding that is impossible from the comfort of home. Travel is a series of connections that allow for even more unique understanding. Understanding is the key to solving our problems, on a personal level and on a global level. Thus, travel is a necessity.
I’ve been planning a five-week trip backpacking around Europe with three of my friends. It will be the summer after we graduate high school, and seems like a great way to celebrate. We plan to spend time in Germany (staying with a friend), Paris, Barcelona, Madrid, Malaga, Venice, and Rome, for at least three days each, with short one-day stops planned as well. I have some reservations about this trip, though.
First of all, I’d like to spend more time, go less places, be more spontaneous, and stray off the beaten path a little more. I’d also like to be cheaper than I think they’re planning on. I’d also like to go alone or with one friend, rather than having a group of us. I also have at least one friend who crosses the line from “cautious” to “uptight” a bit too often for my taste, and she can be really controlling.
I don’t know how I can back out, though. My parents are far more willing to let me go to Europe with three friends than solo, and they’ll want an itinerary. If I’m eighteen with my own money, I suppose I can do whatever I like, but I’d rather not have a huge fight with my parents if I can avoid it.
The trip we’re planning seems like a bare-bones overview of three countries (Germany being the exception as we’re staying in a small town with a local and seeing more “real” Germany than tourist Germany), hitting the big cities. Some of the best times I’ve had were in small towns, off the beaten path. The best week of my life was spent in and around Tamworth, England–certainly not a tourist destination.
On the plus side, it will be fun if we don’t kill each other. I also think, with the mix of people, we can have a good balance of fun partying and sightseeing and other stuff, too. Also, if I’m planning to save for Europe and it doesn’t look like I’ll have enough by the time tickets are being booked, I plan on going to Central America instead. Way cheaper. I was thinking Guatemala.
I have lived in Asheville, North Carolina for twelve, thirteen years. Well, outside the city itself, in a more rural community, but it’s the closest thing that can be called a city. Downtown is nice, but not that big. Other than that four-or-five-block radius, I’ve never really found much to enjoy about the place I consider home.
Today, though, I walked to the grocery store and back. It’s about forty minutes each way, but I don’t drive, and I didn’t really mind today because it’s a beautiful day outside. The sky is blue and cloudless, flowers are starting to bloom, trees are starting to come back to life. The breeze smells of clean linen and dirt and, closer to the highway, car exhaust. Outside, I love the feeling of the new spring breeze on my skin, and the sounds that surround me on days like this: birds sing, dogs bark, animals rustle the leaves unseen, and there’s always the distant sound of laughter, of cars going by, and of lawn mowers (people like to mow their lawns here).
None of that is anything new. Why am I writing this, then? Because I never really appreciated it before. I am always dreaming of being somewhere else, and if you’re reading travel blogs, there’s a decent chance you’re the same way. But today, on my walk, I realized how gorgeous and beautiful and peaceful it can be here. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to travel the world, but it means maybe I can appreciate home a little more, in the same way I would anyplace else. Maybe this isn’t the worst place to be.
I kind of forgot about this blog for months and months, but it’s coming back to life now!
I have some definite and some tentative travel plans for the next few months. They are:
- Definite: A few days in Gatlinburg, Tennessee with my parents next week. Should be fun, if not all that exciting. They have an ice rink there! I love ice skating.
- Tentative: A month in Guatemala this summer (probably mid-June to mid-July) by myself studying Spanish! Despite this taking most of my savings, I really, really hope that it works out. I want to improve my Spanish this summer, and Guatemala is the most inexpensive Spanish-speaking country in which to do so at a language school that I’ve found. Probably something in Antigua, though of course I haven’t worked out the details yet.
- Definite: A week in early August at Hilton Head with my entire extended family for a family reunion. This should be nice, to see people I don’t usually see, even if I am not the biggest fan of Hilton Head.
- Tentative: A few days-a week in Toronto with my dad. He’ll be on a business trip, and I’ll be checking out the University of Toronto. This will probably be in early June or late July.
- Tentative: In the next six months or so, I will probably visit Washington, DC and/or Miami, Florida to check out various universities.
So, look forward to my chronicling my adventures here!
In Madrid, I learned something about how I travel. When I set off alone, wandering up and down the twisting streets, I was totally (unreasonably, perhaps) okay with it when I realised I was lost and had no idea where I was. I thought about where I’d been and figured it out easily enough, but I didn’t panic. It was eleven at night (late for us Americans, not so much for the Spanish), it was dark, it was crowded, it was loud, it was amazing. I was glad I got lost. I just marvelled it what I saw, what I experienced there. Madrid in the daytime is pretty but kind of boring. Madrid at night is amazing. That’s when the city comes alive. I guess that’s sort of obvious to most people who go there. Two of the three nights we were there, my grandparents tired themselves out doing touristy things like bus tours and seeing the palace all day, and went to bed really early. I guess it’s understandable, if you’re seventy. But, a word of warning for all going to Madrid: Don’t do that!
Madrid is only alive at night. It’s bright and loud and beautiful and crowded. It’s very Spanish. I knew when I went there that, in Spain, people eat dinner at ten or eleven and even adults with families stay out until the early hours of the morning (not like here!), but my grandparents didn’t know so I didn’t really experience it so much (next time, it’ll be different!). I saw people juggling fire, playing various musical instruments, just walking around with their friends. The people! The music! The sound, the lights! It’s so my kind of city, at night. And I’m a night owl.
We drove to Madrid from Calahonda in our rental car. The driving itself was pretty uneventful, but when we finally got to Madrid, we had some difficulties finding the rental place because of unmarked/badly marked streets and weird internet directions. We drove around for ages, finally asked for help, got weird directions then, too, and eventually ended up with myself and my grandmother getting in a cab and giving the driver the address for the place we were staying, while my grandfather followed behind the cab until we eventually did get there and a helpful desk clerk directed us to a train station where we could turn in the rental car. I’m not naive enough to think this is major hardship, but it was interesting! I would have had more fun wandering around Madrid (getting lost is usually fun to me) if it weren’t for my grandfather in the driver’s seat complaining and generally stressing me out.
In Madrid, during the day, we took tours on the red double-decker buses(I think they’re called Madrid Vision, but I could be wrong. If you go, though, you’ll see them around and see their schedules at the regular bus stops, so you should be able to find them). They make stops most major destinations in Madrid, and have tour narration available in lots of different languages, and it’s fairly inexpensive for a tour and transportation. We went to El Retiro, which is a very nice park (which, for some reason, has people dressed up like disney characters). We saw the Royal Palace (not so great, but the view from the outside is nice). We did lots of riding around on the buses, actually. My experience of Madrid wasn’t what one would call amazing until the last night, when we were actually out at night, to experience Madrid. The squares were nice, though. We sat in squares and watched people and I learned to make a tiny, expensive Diet Coke last for hours since there are no free refills in Europe. We shopped at touristy shops. We ate lots of sandwiches (because they’re relatively inexpensive), and I almost always got egg on it when I asked for a cheese and tomato sandwich (sometimes hard boiled, a couple of times fried), and the waiters almost always got my order wrong even though I spoke Spanish (I guess maybe they couldn’t understand my accent).
We also went to the wax museum in Madrid (Museo de Cera). That was…interesting. I was kind of unimpressed with most of it (I guess Madame Tussaud’s would probably be better than this), although I found the displays were organised kind of weirdly (one included Hitler, Mussolini, George Bush, and Tony Blair; next to it was a display with Mother Theresa, Princess Di, and Fidel Castro). Upstairs was incredibly beyond creepy, though. It was the “crime gallery.” Realistic-looking displays of wax figures being subjected to all sorts of torture and dismemberment. Creepy music. Things that jump out at you. I shudder just remembering it. I was very freaked out by that. Very disturbing. And there were small children there! *Shudder*
As I said about London (and as I’ll continue to say), I would love to go back. I had a tiny taste of the city. I can’t wait to really experience more of it. Only I never want to go to that wax museum again.
Obviously, my blogs of past travels aren’t really in order, just the order I feel like remembering them in. London was the first stop on the trip (after driving to to the Charlotte airport and flying to Newark), but I don’t know if that first stop actually counts as a stop.
We flew into Gatwick airport (and walked right through customs with no one stopping us. I don’t think we were stopped by customs once the entire trip), got on the Gatwick Express train into London proper, and then pretty much immediately hopped on a train to Birmingham, followed by a taxi to…Well, that’s another blog (I would have liked to stop in Birmingham, but we never did).
After a week in a canal boat wandering around the vicinity of Tamworth (which was amazing, but that’s another story), we went back to London. We had a day and a half to make the most of an amazing city that I really hope to return to one day.
First, we checked into our hotel, which I can’t actually remember the name of, only that it was on a lovely little square a supposed “fifteen-minute walk” from Victoria station (obviously the people who wrote that didn’t count in that we had tons of luggage–that was a big lesson I learned on that trip: how to pack light!). It was quite a bit longer than that, quite tiring after a day of travelling! IThe staff was nice, and the hotel what is to be expected if you want cheap-ish accomodation in the middle of London (about 40 dollars per person, per night, three of us. We were on the third floor (no elevator), and it was my first experience sharing bathrooms, but it was all very clean and nice. There was a window that opened out on to the square. It was quite lovely, really. It was some kind of old house or something, creaky and twisty and turny, but that just made it interesting. There was a coke machine downstairs in the dark, which was kind of funny because, well, it was dark.
That first night, we first went to see the play Fame, for which my grandfather had gotten cheap tickets online. The theater was small and very nice, and I absolutely loved the play. It’s a musical about some kids in a New York high school for the Performing Arts, based on some TV show I’d never heard of. The cast was amazing, the music great, and the story itself quite good. If I find the brochure, I’ll definitely post some more information about that; it was great.
The next day was our only full day in London. It was the Queen’s birthday, so we couldn’t go to Parliament, but we did get to see some of the festivities (although we did not queue up the night before to see the Queen and the parade like some people). We started out in Westminster Abbey (not of my choosing; in fact, I found the place incredibly creepy–dead people in the floor and walls and everywhere. Though it was also interesting. And creepy.), and outside of it ran into an American, twenty-something woman, who was teaching in England, and so was quite helpful.
Then, we took a boat ride down the Thames, from about Parliament to the Tower of London (we didn’t go into that, either), which I highly reccomend. I found London to be a lovely city. After that, we wandered a bit (I found the Underground quite easy to navigate, thankfully. If you go, you’ve got to get the Oyster card, which saved us quite a bit of money on the underground), and, on the advice of the teacher, visited Covent Garden and the market, which actually reminded me quite a bit of my hometown, Asheville. Lots of interesting street performers, and gorgeous (but expensive) crafts being sold. I also found a nice discount bookshop, owned by The Works (which appears to be an English chain of discount bookshops, and I spent a good forty pounds at one in Tamworth–I would have spent more except that my luggage was overweight as it was and I had to leave some books behind. I’m a huge reader! I read a good twenty-five novels on the three week trip, and don’t feel like I missed anything as it was all on trains, at night before bed, etc.), but with a different name that I can’t remember. Something about bannanas. I love discount bookstores; very random, but with good deals! There are some I’ve been to here in the states, too, but sadly none near where I live.
Also in London, we visited Harrod’s, which was certainly an experience. Huge and random and quite interesting. Department of lighter repairs?? The Egytian escalator was cool, too. Also had to restrain myself from buying more books in the Waterstone’s inside Harrod’s. I think that books by English authors should always be read with the English spelling, grammar, etc., but that’s hard to find in the US! And kind of a weird way to think, I guess, but I like it that way. Anyway, Harrod’s was impressive, but I didn’t find it much more impressive than the Corte Ingles department store in Madrid. Corte Ingles is…Well, that’s an experience, too. It is a department store with a supermarket inside. It’s also a chain, and which departments they put in their smaller stores appears to be a pretty random decision, too. I went to one with home furnishings and a supermarket. But, that’s another story.
London impressed me. It’s a city I’d love to spend more time in, as I only got the smallest taste of it, with just a day and a half. It’s also pretty much the only stop on this trip where I did absolutely no solo wandering, which also makes a difference. I kept seeing things I wanted to see more of, but that’s hard travelling with other people! I can’t wait to go back on my own. London is full of contrasts. Old and new, British and also very international, lovely parks and grimy side streets (both of which I love)….I guess that’s true of a lot of big cities, to an extent, but something about London really appealed to me. Perhaps I could put my finger on it better with more time there.