My Travel Intentions for 2018

I read somewhere recently that one should set intentions, rather than make resolutions for the beginning of a new year. I don’t know that I’ve ever actually held onto a resolution long enough to see an impact in my daily life, so I’ll get on board with setting intentions for 2018. These won’t be about my health or finances, though those will likely come too. These will be travel- and human-related. Better to write them down, if they’re actually going to happen, right?! Hopefully I’ll come back to these, and update my progress, for my own sake!

Wishing you and yours a happy and healthy 2018!

  1. Take advantage of at least five new cultural/historical experiences right here at home. Thinking about starting with the Somali Museum of Minnesota, the Mill City Museum (which I still can’t believe I’ve never been to!), and the top of the Foshay Tower.
  2. Make concrete plans to get to South America. Find a travel partner for Machu Picchu, find a company for my Trail trek, and start saving! Doing responsible, adult things means less disposable income, but this particular site seems time-sensitive, as travel on the Inca Trail is being limited by the Peruvian government.
  3. Be more open to new people when I travel. It’ll take work to make this happen, especially when I eat, as I often eat alone, but this also applies generally. I usually have my RBF on in full-force when I’m in situations that could turn precarious, but especially as the image of Americans around the world is changing, I will try to smile more often, and experience things that will find me in communion with other travelers I can learn from.
  4. Be more open to spending money when I travel. I’ve been really conscious about spending money on experiences, rather than souvenirs, but I’m also still a product of my mother (who I’m convinced actually grew up during the Depression). I think I often miss out on cultural touchstones in an effort to be frugal. That €4 to sit and sip espresso at a cafe in Roma that I can never justify, the Czech Pilsner at dinner overlooking the Charles Bridge that I hesitate in ordering, the three or four meals it takes trying to find the best schnitzel in Vienna. None of those are necessary, but everyone needs to eat, and all of those choices enhance experiences. I need to remember that. And dang it, when you want an Aperol spritz in Piazza del Popolo with people you haven’t seen in years, spend the €11!
  5. Plan my 2018 to include at least one road trip and at least three new cities.
  6. Connect with at least five current and former students about study abroad options at the college of their choice.
  7. Write an actual letter once a month to someone I’ve lost touch with, but want to keep in my life.
  8. Actually write more here too–this blog is largely self-serving, but if I can convince even one person of the importance of travel (or reinforce what they already know!), it’ll be worth it! Once a month might be tricky in the doldrums of early spring, but it’s a pretty minor commitment to make.
  9. Help at least two people who have the desire to travel (but lack the practical planning tools) to take their first trip, domestic or international.
  10. Be the best ambassador I can be for everything I represent. Minnesotans, Americans, teachers, women, sports fans, politically-engaged individuals, travelers, etc. Life today is challenging enough; we should all try to do the best we can to represent ourselves to the world with integrity, virtue, and value.

That sounds like a pretty valuable way to bring in 2018. Hopefully, I’ll update this list as the year goes on, but until then, hope we’ll all find fulfillment and challenge in 2018. It’s gotta be better than 2017, right?!

MC Lean

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10 years as a traveler: my love letter to the world.

In front of my apartment at Via XX Settembre 49. Leaving Roma in 2007, returning in 2014, and our mini-reunion in 2017 (after a full day of biking the Appian Way!)

 

On December 22, 2007, I met my family at MSP in international arrivals, after requiring that they pay crazy amounts to park and come in to greet me. I had been gone for four months, after all.

I had spent those months visiting London, Salzburg, Munich, and Berlin, living in Athens and Rome, traveling around Greece and Italy, and finally, stopping in Paris and London again on my way home. I studied history, art history, theology, culture and language, and took my senior seminar on ethics and morals. I lived in a hotel with 27 other students, and shared an apartment with eight other women. I ate out for every meal in Athens, and cooked lots of pasta and ate lots of cheese in our tiny Italian kitchen in Rome. I learned the dangers of walking in Athenian traffic, and the stop-on-a-dime habits of Roman drivers. I wandered through political protests in the cradle of democracy and endured countless transportation strikes in the Eternal City.

I came home from that adventure on December 22nd, 2007. I distinctly remember sitting at Christmas celebrations feeling off. I was happy to be home, and even happier to be eating all of my favorite foods with some of my favorite people, but I just couldn’t put my finger on why I wasn’t entirely happy. That December 31st, instead of seeing friends I hadn’t seen in an entire semester, I sat at my parents’ house. Alone. On New Year’s Eve. It was then that I knew that reverse culture shock was real, and that something just wasn’t the same as it had been the previous three Christmases of my college career.

It was a slow burn, but over the next several months, it became clear that it was a permanent feeling of different-ness at home. I didn’t know what or why, but something had changed. I re-adapted to life in central Minnesota as I finished my senior year and prepared for student teaching. Adult life awaited, but I just wanted to get back on a plane. Turns out, that feeling doesn’t go away either.

“To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.”

Bill Bryson

Before I left, I wasn’t sure I’d survive the semester. When I got home, I knew I’d never be the same. Ten years later, the wanderlust that was implanted over that four months in 2007 has grown into more numerous and diverse interests than I could ever have anticipated. It has led to trips all over the world with dear friends to share experiences with, and adventures by myself, discovering the joys of solo travel. It has taken me to five continents, and provided me a lengthy list of future trips to be taken. It has shown me who I am and what I value as a human, and has made me a better teacher and person. It has cost me thousands of dollars and enriched my life in ways I can’t explain. And it all began with a semester I didn’t know I would survive.

My mom gave me a little business card-sized quote that I’ve carried in my wallet every day since. I certainly didn’t realize the power of that quote at the time, but I come back to it often.

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”

― Mary Anne Radmacher

There’s so much of the world to see. Get out there and do it.

 

MC Lean

Global Gratitude, part II: back on solid ‘Merican ground.

So, this post rounds out Eurotrip 2016. I’m grateful for the chance to chronicle my experiences this way, and in a few years, when names and places are escaping me, I’m glad I’ll have this lengthy, delayed, though hopefully *mildly* thoughtful account of an incredible few weeks. I can’t quite thank the Goethe-Institute or the people at the Transatlantic Outreach Program, Deutsche Bank, Robert Bosch Stiftung, Siemens, and the German Foreign Office, enough for the opportunity not only for two weeks in Germany, but for enabling a continuation of my trip, allowing me to see two new cities, and return to one of my favorites. My kids and I will benefit from the experiences I gained in these short weeks for the rest of my teaching career, and certainly I will for the remainder of my days.

Of course, as I’m a millennial, after I got coffee, the next thing I did when I got back on US soil was update facebook. Don’t ask why. I can’t explain the human compulsion to chronicle life via social media, but I willingly participate. Here are my immediate thoughts upon landing in Detroit:

11 July, Detroit Airport

“Back on solid ‘Merican ground. Gratitude is oozing out of me as I reflect on the past four weeks, so why not start sharing it now? In no particular order, I am especially grateful for…
1. A funny, engaging German seat mate named Rudy who kept the wine and the conversation flowing
2. Live piano and a Caribou in the Detroit airport
3. Snarky, clever British flight attendants who DO NOT like being accused of sounding a little bit Irish, thankyouverymuch…
4. Seeing American men in baseball hats as soon as we got into the airport (superficial I know…so sue me!)
5. The incredible people I met and the incredible places I visited in just over three weeks in Germany, the Czech Republic, and Austria.

What a gift to love the place I’m coming home to just as much as the places I’ve been.”


I cannot overstate the importance of this particular trip in helping remind me why I do what I do, and am becoming who I am becoming. The two week immersive learning experience exceeded my expectations in ways I can’t describe, but the 11 days that followed were self-indulgent, freeing, enlightening, and reassuring. 


My first Christmas back home after my study abroad experience, my mom got me a gift that has remained incredibly profound in my daily life, though I don’t know that I’ve actually told her that. It was just a piece of card stock, about the size of a business card, with a quote that I didn’t fully understand the value of then.

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.”

Mary Anne Radmacher

How true it was then, and remains to be. London and central Italy await…and I can’t wait to head back to where it all started. Roma; non basta una vita.

 

MC Lean

Vienna has my heart.

I knew so little about Vienna before I got there it was almost criminal. I knew the Habsburgs were important. I knew about the Opera house, and I knew that Rick Steves loves Vienna. If I’m being honest, the last reason alone was enough to get me there, but man, was I in for a treat. While in the city of music, I discovered SO MUCH MORE to love about the former seat of a powerful empire, and the cultural hub of Europe.

To start, knowing as little as I did, I followed a TripAdvisor “Three Days in Vienna” itinerary. The Ringstraße, or ring road, circles the city. My hotel was outside of it, so getting to Ringstraße, and following it became my initial method of navigating the city. My first stop was the Winterpalais, per the itinerary’s suggestion, and what I found upon my arrival left a bit to be desired. Their exhibition at the time was modern art, and the art found in various rooms included a Bud Light box, a display of assault rifles made out of metal pipe, and stuffed sock monkeys. The palace was beautiful. The exhibit was something else. I decided after that experience I would just walk and see the city for the remainder of the day.

I made it a priority to find the cakes that Vienna is famous for, making my first choice the Sachertorte, a Viennese specialty made of dense chocolate cake and a thin layer of apricot jam, that is covered in dark chocolate icing. I stopped at the less touristy location of Konditorei Heiner, on Wollzeile, instead of the location on the main shopping thoroughfare of Kaerntnerstraße. I might have gone back the next day to try the other cake the woman helping me suggested, where I also happened to meet a lovely woman from Pittsburgh who had lived in Vienna for the last 20 years. Good conversation always enhances good dessert. I also had the chance to stop at the famous Café Sperl and enjoy a Sperltorte. Kaffee und Kuchen is a tradition I can definitely get behind. It’s a good thing I was only in Vienna for three days!

I also spent most of a day at Schloss Schönbrunn, exploring the beauty of the Imperial Palace and gardens. It was a busy day at the Palace, full of large tourist groups, but it was definitely worth the time and energy to get there and endure the crowds. I could have spent all day in the gardens, if there wasn’t so much else to see and do in Vienna!

I wandered through south Vienna for the rest of my second day, found a little bit of hipster Wien that reminded me of the Lyn-Lake area of Minneapolis, and finished my adventures at Silberwirt. I had a delicious Tuscany Cordon Bleu filled with Parma ham, mozzarella and basil, breaded in sunflower seeds. Hands down, it was the best meal of my trip; the setting of Silberwirt’s garden in their courtyard was perfect, John Legend happened to be my dinner companion, and the concern and care my waiter showed me made the night even more lovely. The Austrian people have been nothing but kind and caring in my several experiences in Salzburg and Vienna.

Other reasons to love Vienna:

  • The Kunsthistorisches Museum is incredible–not only do they have a huge amount of art from the Habsburgs, while I was there, they had an exhibit on photographs taken in Egypt in the early 1900s, so while experiencing Greek, Roman, Habsburg, and global history otherwise, I could also revisit one of my favorite travel experiences.
  • It has craft beer stores, where I found Surly. Beer that’s produced 10 miles from my house is available in Vienna. Though I always try to stick to local brews when traveling, my affinity for Vienna grew exponentially with this discovery.
  • It has some of the best street food–if you’re not sick of sausage, stop at Bitzinger Wurstelstand Albertina right across from the Opera House. I had the käsekrainer–a cheese sausage inside a delicious, crusty piece of bread. Keep in mind, if you’re trying to be a good guest in Austria (or Germany for that matter), don’t offend them by putting ketchup on your sausage!
  • The Viennese Opera is world-famous. If you can’t get tickets (which you should try to do), they’ve started live-streaming the shows outside the Opera House. Pick up some quick dinner across the street (see above!) and enjoy the Opera outdoors.
  • It is also an incredibly progressive city–there was a change several years ago to make the Ampelmännchen more representative of modern Austrian society. The change was supposed to be temporary, but as of July, they were still there, as public symbols of tolerance for all to see.

I can’t wait to get back to Vienna, and experience everything else the city has to offer. I’ll definitely plan for more than three days next time!

MC Lean

Global Gratitude, part 1.

After I left the group, I was reminded that traveling alone provides quite a bit more space to think about what it is you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Though I really do appreciate solitude, and love walking around cities on my terms, I don’t enjoy eating alone, so I felt like I needed to occupy myself while I would eat. One way I often passed the time was to write down whatever I was thinking about. As I continued on in my solo travels, I realized that what I was often thinking about was gratitude. So, in honor of that, with an eye toward the upcoming November holiday when everyone seems to exude more gratitude than during the other 11 months of the year, I’m sharing my thoughts of gratitude. Because I truly do understand how lucky I am to get to do the things I do, I’ll hope to continue doing this year-round, not only when I travel, but in all aspects of life. Some of my reflections are deep and meaningful (to me), some are incredibly practical, and a few are even completely superficial, but the gratitude is real in all cases.

4 July, Prague

“Today, on the 240th anniversary of the ratification of our Declaration of Independence, I’m grateful for the freedom of movement. In the literal sense, certainly, as the 25,000 steps I’m walking a day have freed me to see these cities in the way I want to. Figuratively though too, as the ability to travel, to explore, to be challenged, to be restless…this is what makes life worth living.”

5 July, Vienna

“Today, I’m incredibly grateful for wireless internet access. It certainly makes most other aspects of life easier, but it has also revolutionized travel. I can call or text across an ocean for free. I can connect with fellow travelers or new friends in more meaningful and direct ways than ever. I can book hotels, tours, and train tickets, find advice and events to attend, and I can even watch Netflix in my hotel room on nights when I just want the Sound of Music.”

6 July, Vienna

“Traveling is a trip (ha!). Suddenly, I’m acutely aware of every person I walk by on the sidewalk. Every noise, every piece of refuse, every smoker. After two weeks of being surrounded by Americans nearly every waking moment, now, it’s just me. There’s some satisfaction in that, to be sure. I do what I want when I want. I stop to eat when I feel like it, and don’t need to find bathrooms on someone else’s schedule. I can skip the ‘checklist’ tourist items if I feel like it, and wander random streets until I don’t want to anymore. I can walk and walk and walk, destination unknown, with my fitbit as my only constant companion. But Aristotle is sticking with me today. People truly are political animals. I’m realizing with every day that passes how much I truly thrive on interactions and connectedness. I find myself smiling at every baby I see. I eavesdrop on English conversations, making passing judgments on the people and the topics I’m listening in on. Today, I’m especially grateful for a kind Viennese waiter, who, once having gotten over the surprise that I was having dinner by myself, chose the beer, the side, and the meal I would be having. Having spent an entire day without saying more than 20 words in English, this man and his kindness was exactly what I needed to enjoy the best meal I’ve had thus far in Europe. The food was great, but the care for someone who would only be in his life for an hour or so was an incredible reminder of the value of slowing down and taking time to think, appreciate, and listen. Often, life moves at too hectic a pace to appreciate. My two hour solo dinner, my kind waiter, my delicious Austrian cuisine, the beautiful Viennese evening…doesn’t get much better than tonight.”

7 July, Vienna

“Today, I’m thankful that I get to see the world while I’m able to. I go too many hours between meals, I walk until I seemingly can’t anymore, and then I walk some more. Today, I went to Schloß Schönbrunn, a 17th century Baroque palace that was once a home to Austro-Hungarian Emperors. While there, I realized that one of my travel flaws is that I get easily annoyed with tour groups that are big, loud, and inconsiderate of other people’s space. What I need to remember instead is how fortunate I am to have the means and the self-assurance to travel on my own (and the RBF probably doesn’t hurt…). Group travel is awesome and exhausting and a variety of other things, but being here and doing this on my own is a pretty incredible thing.”