I recently returned from a two week trip through Europe. It was a holiday that I had set up to be a learning vacation of sorts. I had lots of “heavy” things on the agenda, including visits to both Auschwitz and Birkenau, and a visit to a refugee center outside of Italy. I knew this wasn’t going to be a vacation where I was relaxing or lying on the beach, although I did have some touristy things planned in London and Reykjavik. I came home fundamentally changed, which was what I was hoping for and expecting.
But now I had folks asking me, “How was your trip?” and I was really at a loss. How do you sum up a trip that changes the person you are in just a few words? (And realistically, did anyone really want to hear it anyway?) How do you describe the emotion that you experienced, and what it did to you? I really couldn’t do it. I also couldn’t just say, “Great, it was a great trip,” because that wasn’t true either, and would have diminished the impact of the experience. So finally, I decided on a description of one of my first experiences in Poland as the perfect mini description of the entire trip. It’s a little funny, a little sad, and expresses the mood of the trip perfectly. I would like to share it with you all now.
I got into Krakow in the early afternoon, and took a cab to my hotel, which was set between Rynek Glowney and the Jewish Quarter, not exactly in the tourist neighborhood, but that’s exactly what I look for when I travel. I prefer to be where the locals live, so I can see what life really looks like from their perspective. Once I got settled into the hotel, I asked the gentleman at the front desk for directions to an ATM so I could take out local currency. I visited four countries in Europe this time around, and each one had their own currency. Next time I’m just going to Google, “Countries that only use the Euro” for my destination list! I walked to the area he had directed me, found an ATM, and got the cash out. It felt like I had been walking for a bit, but after 10 days of walking miles and miles each day, I couldn’t really tell anymore,
As I finished with the ATM, I saw a small food market across the street. I went in and picked up some groceries – A bunch of bananas, two apples, a croissant, a yogurt drink, a piece of fresh mozzarella cheese, and a liter of water. In the process of paying, the young lady at the register said something rather gruffly in Polish. I explained I didn’t speak Polish, and asked if she spoke English. She said the same thing in Polish again, this time a little louder. I again explained that I only spoke English. She then asked, in English, if I had any coins. I responded that I did not, so she put my change on the counter and started helping the next person. I asked if they had bags. She told me that I would have had to ask for a bag prior to the transaction. Since I didn’t have much other choice, I scooped up all my groceries in my arms and headed out the door.
Once outside, I realize that I had strayed a bit far from the hotel, and I was lost. I started walking in the direction that I thought the hotel had been, and after about 15 minutes of walking (carrying my groceries in my arms) I because aware that I was not going to find my way back. A moment of panic set in, so I found a place to sit down, a stone wall in front of a church, and I laid my groceries out in front of me, wondering if I should keep them or jettison them, as they were getting heavy and I looked really ridiculous. I realized this was probably the time to turn on mobile data on my phone (which I had disabled so as not to get a thousand-plus dollar phone bill when I got home) and hope that Apple Maps would help me find my way back to the hotel. After putting the hotel name into Apple Maps, it informed me that I was a 27 minute walk away from the hotel. I realized this was doable, even with two arms full of groceries, so I plugged in my earbuds and off I went. And I found the hotel, just where Apple said it would be. I’m sure I looked a little odd walking through the tiny lobby to the stairs with my armfuls of groceries, but up to my room I went to have my fruit and cheese dinner. The evening, and the food, was saved.
When I tell people about my trip, this is the story that I say best expresses my experience. Some good things happened, some bad things happened, I learned a lot, and everything turned out OK in the end. Which, I know, is more than some people can say. What a beautiful, cruel, uplifting, heartbreaking experience this travel was for me. It changed me in ways so fundamental that I can’t really explain that with just words. But it was one of my most unforgettable experiences, and one that I hope everyone gets the opportunity to try someday. Travel can be about fun, and lying on the beach, and gourmet food, and sightseeing, that’s perfectly OK. But it can also be about seeing things that you never thought you would, and experiencing life through a different lens, and allowing that to change your heart and lead your soul. There’s room for both. But unfortunately, that means there’s no good answer for, “How was your trip?”
Until next time, friends, Travel Joyful!