See The Big Thing

 

12370871_10208399083156198_7633621875666313795_o

Tourist. Traveler. Local.

There are many ways to travel and they are all right.

Tourist: The very word conjures a colorfully decorated middle aged obnoxious couple wearing socks with sandals, zinc oxide on their already sunburned noses and a poorly fitting hat while extending their cell phone with a selfie stick, usually in front of a well-known landmark.

I have met such a creature. They’re not so scary in person.

Traveler: It sounds much more romantic. Going places for the fun of it, exploring the corners of the earth with Louis Vuitton luggage and assistant.

Local: this you understand, I am confident.

When I travel I try to combine all three. I cannot go to Rome without visiting the Coliseum or Paris without gazing up at the Eiffel Tower. I will stand in wonder at the special places of the world with the socked and sandaled sunburned. When I was in Rome I had to see the Spanish Steps. I found them, but I couldn’t see them, there were so many of those annoying tourists sitting all over them.

I’m hoping you’re catching the sarcastic irony.

The traveler in me seeks out attractions and hidden gems alike. I am a walker. And a talker. I ask concierges, locals, taxi drivers, richshaw drivers, strangers what I should see, where I should go. I visit lesser known places if I can, wander down the streets next to the main thoroughfare. I poke around. I try stuff.

If I am fortunate enough to stay in one place for more than a few days I do my best to fit in as a local. I find my favorite breakfast or dinner place and go a few times, establish patterns. I linger longer in public parks and cafes. I take the time to feel myself in the space. I make friends, learn the language – a few phrases at least – and shop for groceries. The mundane of normal life.

But it all starts with the intention to do the touristy thing.

See the big thing. Visit the places around it. Find favorite places and move in.

 

 

 

Training for Travel

Do you train for your vacation? For your cruises and other fun trips?

I’m not talking about starving yourself into your ideal beach body or spending hours in winter clothes and backpacks running during the hot summer months, but rather ensuring your body is fit for whatever you’re planning to experience.

It would be nearly impossible to enjoy the beauty of the Tuscan hill towns if you couldn’t walk up a few flights of stairs. Okay, many flights of stairs. Just as it would be difficult to follow an Indian swami as he or she called out yoga postures in Sanskrit if you’d never done a yoga class.

It’s fun to believe you could just grab your passport and hop a plane to Destination Anywhere and have a dandy time, but a little research and preparation can go a long way.

I’m all for spontaneity. All for going wherever the wind blows, but it would be foolish to allow the winds to sweep you to a place for which you are unprepared. So my motto, like my beloved Girl Scouts (Troop 654 National’s Capital) is BE PREPARED. For almost anything.

What does that mean exactly?

How to Train for Travel to Destination Anywhere (almost):

Strength: You may not think you need strength to meander the stone streets of Europe, but travel to foreign lands often means lugging your own suitcase up and down stairs and for long distances. Something as simple – I didn’t say easy – as a few push-ups a day can go a long way. Squats are great too for all those hills and rocky terrain. Can you say zip line? You’ll need a few muscles for that!

Stamina: Endurance may be one of the easiest activities to measure. Your phone probably has a step counter on it. If not, a Fitbit or similar device can help you determine your progress. Or, how about walking your neighborhood and going a little farther each time and then doing that even faster. No cash outlay. Don’t forget to incorporate hills, lots and lots of hills. If you don’t belong to a gym and live in the flatland, like me, stairs, lots and lots of stairs.

Lung Capacity: If you’re doing push ups and squats and taking your daily constitutional around the hood your lungs are working too. For more focus and even better results, consciously breathe. A yoga breath like Deerga Swasum is easy, portable and so good for you.

How to do Deerga Swasum

  • Sit or stand up nice and tall. Both inhalation and exhalation are through the nose.
  • Inhale deeply. Slowly. Fill the lower lungs expanding the belly, middle lungs expanding the ribcage and finally upper lobes of the lungs, lifting the collar bones.
  • Exhale, reverse. Collarbones drop, ribcage relaxes, then pull the navel all the way in toward the spine.
  • Repeat. For extra credit, do this while walking vigorously and see if you can maintain a slow steady breath. Breather level: expert.

In addition to becoming physically fit, consider your gut health as well. Travel to other countries usually means very different food options. Start yourself on a good probiotic a month or so out from your trip. Reduce caffeine, alcohol and sugar and ramp up raw veggies as much as possible.

I know this sounds like a total fitness plan and I guess it is. No matter where the globe stops when you spin it, you should be ready and pretty darn healthy. Here’s to a lifetime of fantastic voyages!

 

 

Excuses are Anchors

I have friends who have no desire to travel. Some cite contentment right where they are, others a fear of foreign places and people and the rest, concern for their safety. To the first group, I say, “good on you.” But check to make sure you’re not confusing contentment with complacency.

To the rest, I say, fear is the doorway through which you find magic.

Excuses dressed up like perfectly logical reasons are tiny little anchors keeping you stuck.

One of the biggest gifts travel to another country has given me is the ability to have my prejudices and beliefs blasted to smithereens. The more my perceptions are deconstructed, the freer I become. Now, I step through the looking glass with wonder.

With wonder, there is little resistance, with little resistance there is freedom, with freedom there is joy.

Where will you go next?

To Florence with Love

Florence IMG_9080

Florence is a love letter to the secret artists, tentative writers and hopelessly romantic wanderers of the world. She is gently rolling hills and curving waters; she holds cathedrals of art and temples of religion with equal care and love.

It’s easy to fall in love with Florence but it doesn’t happen immediately, at least it didn’t for me. On that first day, I entered the city from high above it – took her in all at once. The view was familiar, I was clearly standing in the same spot as myriad photographers before me, and perhaps that’s why I didn’t fully trust it.

To get from my perch to the banks of the Arno, the beautifully pristine river that bisects the city, I followed a path through flower gardens filled with playful, large bronze sculptures, allowing time and space for us to slowly introduce ourselves to one another.

I was one of a group wandering together in a pack. We were on a mission so once we selected which bridge to cross, our pace accelerated. I felt hurried, off balance. My flirtation with Florence cut short, hand slapped away. I tried snapping photo after photo to come back to it somehow but it caused me to lag behind so I slung the camera over my shoulder and stuck with the group. I would be coming back to this town two more times without the group so I gave into the flow and followed along.

We went to museums, the Uffizi among them, walked ancient streets, waited for each other, wandered off a bit, passed by the Duomo then all met back to return to our accommodations. It was lovely. I had done Florence and it was … nice.

But I was wrong; it was so much richer than that. It helped tremendously to be guided for that part of the trip, but the real gifts were revealed when just one friend and I had time to wander our own way.

For the first half of the day we saw what we felt we missed: a more thorough examination of the Duomo – we walked its looming circumference and marveled at its stunning beauty, but never entered; a more leisurely stroll along the banks of the Arno; and an extended stay at a cafe sipping espresso and people watching. We chatted up street artists, purchased a few souvenirs and took some photos.

As we sat for lunch, al fresco, with a view of street life, the magic began to reveal itself. It’s fun to get swept up in the activity of the city, to be guided this way and that by shiny things and crowds, but to truly know a place, one must become still. Lunch gave us that opportunity.

Seated in one spot, resting, taking it all in, Florence began to open her arms, show us her heart, share her pulse. We ate in near silence as we chewed slowly and simply observed life around us.

Get to know Florence slowly, romance her, seek out her treasures, ask her the right questions and follow her leads.

It’s important, as a traveller to have some objectives – some points of interest you’d like to see or experience. But it’s far more important to let go of plans when a city, such as this one, invites you to linger in secret little places you didn’t even know existed.

There are many ways Florence invites one slow down and notice life. The river, the Arno, hosts rowing clubs on weekend mornings. Street artists set up along the same river to work and sell their efforts. Any bridge across the river will offer you the most magnificent sunset on the water, but the preferred perch is the infamous Ponte Vecchio, full of its padlocks of love and star-crossed lovers with selfie sticks.

On Sunday mornings operatic choral music can be heard throughout the city but most notably, and perhaps most suitably, near the Duomo.

The gardens are never as crowded as they should be which is an especially nice secret and the best shops are off the main thoroughfare.

Unlike any city I have been to in Italy, Florence is perhaps the most welcoming and accepting. But you must invite her in. And if you close your eyes, you can feel her hand in yours as you wander her streets.