Anonymous asked….

Oops! Radio silence! I could explain, but the truth is I have here the draft of a post I just never got around to clicking “Publish” on. I’ve been meaning to respond to some of the questions I’ve been asked since my return, but I’ve been busy writing incognito on the side,   thus letting this collection of expedition-related words fall by the wayside.

What was your favorite part of the trip?

To me, this is a pretty general question because it can be broken down into so many different categories. Favorite city? Favorite sight? Favorite experience? There are innumerable highlights, but I’ll try to divulge a few.

Hands down, Munich was the city I enjoyed most. I regret that I only had two nights to spend there because I kind of only added it onto my itinerary as a city to fly into and didn’t really know that I’d love it so much. Overall it was the city that I had the most straightforward fun in, the city where I felt most comfortable, and felt like there was a ton to do and see and keep busy. Had I known, I definitely would have arranged to stay here an extra day or two, but hindsight is always 20/20 and my motto when these things happen is “If I really want, I can always go back…”

Salzburg Castle topped the charts for favorite site. Not so much the interior of the castle, but really the walk up to the top and the views once we made it there. Pictures can never do justice for scenery, but getting to the castle and looking down at Salzburg below was one of the moments of the trip that always stands out in my memory. Going to the castle was fairly time-consuming, but it was so worth it that at the end of the day I didn’t reflect and think that we didn’t get much else done. I loved Salzburg.

I could get a little sappy and bring back the moving moments I had in Bratislava all by my lonesome, or Christmas day in front of the Colosseum, but easily my favorite story to tell is the one of me racing through the airport and ending up in first class. I’m sure I’ll continue to be moved by many worldly sights in my lifetime, but being treated like a diplomat aboard a transatlantic flight after a whirlwind three weeks abroad is definitely a feeling that resonates still several months after the fact. I loved being away, but being whisked back to the homeland in comfort and style allowed me to return feeling rested and deliriously content.

Hot towel, anyone?

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Favorite travel quote

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau

I doubt most people in the 21st century would desire to stake out a camp at Walden Pond and live bare-bones in a cabin for two years, but Thoreau’s spiritual journal towards self-discovery and independence is a profound one that easily translates into the experience of traveling, and even more so to one who is traveling on their own.

I realized early on in life that there were things beyond the Maryland suburbs that I wanted to experience. As early as 3rd grade I would spend countless weekends going to the library and checking out National Geographic documentaries about Egypt and Greece on VHS, oftentimes re-renting the same ones I’d already seen and watching them again. I felt like I was born with an infinite wanderlust, and when I could finally drive it was all I could do to coax my friends into taking the weekend road trip to some random podunk town, or absolutely anywhere, seeking adventure. I guess I could say that the idea of travel is something I always felt was part of my blood, something that was uniquely me, regardless of if I was ever old enough or financially sufficient enough to be able to express it.

I love this quote from Thoreau for so many reasons. I connect to it mostly because Thoreau is acknowledging two paths in life: one path where he keeps living as he has been, and another path where he believes that going to Walden Pond will make him feel more whole, and it acknowledges the idea of regret and living life to the fullest. When I decided to take my first solo trip, I replayed his words in my head so much that they were practically memorized. Our whole lives we’re taught how to work well with others, how to listen to others, and how to compromise, but Americans don’t really seem to value independence. People who spend time alone are often thought to be strange or recluse, and traveling alone is thought to be unsafe and unexciting, but I couldn’t accept this as my own path. I felt like getting to know myself wasn’t going to happen through hobbies or work, it was going to happen by completely removing myself from everything and everyone I already know, seeing what the world gives me, and finding out how I handle it. Regardless of waking up everyday and doing things, making goals and accomplishing them, the idea of never seeing much beyond the Eastern seaboard ate at me constantly. Every journey begins with a single step. I didn’t want to die having discovered I had not lived.

Massively bizarre transit day

Bostjan and I woke up at 3:30am to have adequate time to make it to my flight. I really wasn’t looking forward to the trip, but I was looking forward to getting home. In order to get a flight so close to holidays under $1k, I had to do a lot of homework and in the end have two connections. Ugh.

We arrived at Trieste airport in Italy the standard two hours before an international flight. As we pulled into the drop-off zone, we looked at the lobby and then looked at each other. “Why isn’t the airport open?”

We both had a moment of panic when we read over my flight details 10 times. TRS Airport. 6:40am departure. January 3, 2012. It’s correct. What is going on?

Slowly the lights came on inside and other travelers started to arrive around 5:15am. The check-in counters remained unopened for some time and security was somewhat lighter than the States (you can keep your shoes on through the metal detectors) but the plane boarded quickly and my 55 minute connection to Munich went by just like a blip on a radar screen.

I had a longer layover in Munich, so with little to do I was psyched on the free coffee bar and newspapers. This excitement ended quickly when 1 1/2 coffees deep, my heart started to palpitate and completely overreact to this unforeseen wave of caffeine. I blogged about Slovenia from my iPhone and boarded the connection to Zurich at 11:20am.

I have a strong distaste for boarding planes because it’s pretty much like herding cattle and the entire process takes far too long. We’re all going to the same place, really, on this same plane, so I don’t understand why people get all out of sorts about trying to get on first. In my opinion, I think all airlines should allow ME to board first, because I never bring any carry-on luggage, I always ask for a window seat, and I just get on the plane and sit the hell down. I always end up waiting behind these slow old people on the little walkway that connects the terminal to the airplane, usually in the middle of winter and freezing my ass off. I present a new policy for airlines: smaller, more agile passengers first. No matter what the freaking row assignment.

Since I am already not a fan of the whole boarding process, I was less than thrilled when I got on the plane and noticed that this little twat stole my window seat. A seat is a seat and I try not to sweat the small stuff, but to put things in perspective: I got up at 3:30am. ALL I WANT TO DO ON THIS PLANE IS PUT MY HEAD ON THE WINDOW AND GO TO SLEEP. I let it go. I didn’t ask him to move. I just got a bad kink in my neck and may or may not have drifted off into aviation slumber in this guy’s own personal space. Really, I don’t know.

For me, when I’m traveling it’s a consistent struggle to have any concept of time, so when I landed in Zurich and tried to figure out how much time I had to make my connection, I couldn’t completely figure it out. I didn’t know if Zurich was in a different time zone than Munich (it’s not) and I didn’t know why when I looked at the time on my phone it said I only had 25 minutes to make my plane to JFK. The short answer: the plane to Zurich took too effing long, and now it’s time to find out where the correct boarding gate is and HAUL ASS.

For anyone who frequents airports, it’s common knowledge that in most cases, a 1pm flight departure means that is the time that the PLANE departs. The gate often closes much earlier. Arriving at the gate at departure time is not an option. But being that the flight to JFK was going to be close to 10 hours long, I had two things only on my mind. In order of priority: 1. get to the bathroom and pee first. 2. actually make the flight.

And so I ran. I ran around human road blocks with their rolly carry-on bags, I ran up escalators, I narrowly escaped head-on collisions, and all I could think is “right now, I am totally that person everyone sees running through the airport. I am “that guy.” I was totally fine with being “that guy” as long as I could 1. make it to a bathroom and 2. actually make my flight.

I thought I had a good 15 minutes til departure when I turned the corner and was faced with Swiss Customs. Damn you guys. Dammit. Why won’t you just be a part of the EU? I asked one of the uniformed agents from the back of the line, “Hey, so, my flight boards at 1pm. Do I have time?” I was hoping he’d put me at the front of the line. He took about 8 years to look at his watch before responding, “Oh, you have time. It’ll take about 5 minutes to get to your gate. This isn’t like the US.” I don’t even know what that means, but I said “Oops, I meant, it LEAVES at 1. Not boards, it boarded already.” “You’ll be fine.”

Fabulous.

Waiting for the line to even budge in customs felt like years. Of all the lines, I picked the slowest one, while every other line had an agent who stamped the passport and said “NEXT.” I waited behind people who searched in their bag for their passport like they didn’t know they’d have to show it and now couldn’t locate it. This airport was hot. God, I am sweating. Why is this line moving so slow? I felt like I was in the opening scene of Office Space. If I change lanes, all the other cars will start moving.

I went through customs and with time not on my side decided to run, again, down the escalator stairs and over to… oh… there is an airtrain to the other terminals. Running is useless here. I just missed one. The next one arrives in 3 minutes. Megan, these 3 minutes will be the longest 3 minutes of your life. No one should ever have to feel this way in an airport. This isn’t a pregnancy test.

I was hoping that once I arrived in my correct terminal that I’d be almost there, but for whatever reason I was still without a boarding pass and I really didn’t know where I was supposed to get it. Still worried about priority #1, I ran up the stairs at the terminal to the closest restroom and… there was a line. Seriously? I don’t even have to go that bad, I just have to go NOW. This connection is killing me.

I ran in the direction of my gate only to be considerably more confused when I saw a desk with a sign that said something like “Transfer Desk.” What is this “Transfer Desk?” What does it meaaaaannn?!? The signs were so confusing and although I was convinced that this is where I needed to get my boarding pass printed, I ran onward, figuring at least if I made it to my gate and needed to go back, they wouldn’t leave without me.  I ran about 4 gates down (which in airport terms is something like an entire NYC block) and came across another, line-free Transfer Desk. I looked at the lady behind the desk from 3 rows of velvet rope away and blurted, “I’m not sure, I booked through United, I just got here. New York.” She looked startled and said “They’re waiting for you!” I almost felt relieved. “I just got here.” “I know.”

The lady behind the desk phoned my gate (still quite a bit away) and I gave her the information for the luggage I checked what felt like days ago in Trieste. Oh god, I hope my baggage makes the flight too. She handed me some form of a ticket, pointed towards the gate and told me to run.

By now I am completely over the fact that I am “that girl running in the airport” and run even faster than before. I throw my passport at another lady who is standing at a desk that reads “Passport Control” and proceed to the desk at my gate. Everyone knows I’m coming, but no one has any idea what to do with me. I need a boarding pass. Even more, I need a seat. I watch the women go back and forth on the computer, entering data codes and speaking in a language I didn’t understand. I’m still sweating. I must look gross by now. This fleece, this fleece is so freaking hot. My seat was given away already. I already lost my window seat on that last connection. I’m picturing myself “sitting bitch” for 10 hours in economy class, in the middle seat scrunched between a lady with a baby and a fat man and with no armrests. This! is my nightmare.

Finally a woman with a big smile hands me a boarding pass and says, “You can sit in business class. But you must not talk about it to the other passengers.” I was immediately grateful. Lady, your wish is my command.

I found my seat and shoved my coat under the seat in front of me. I sat down and instantly realized how strange doing that must have looked. Everyone else had nice coats resting on hangers. I just threw mine on the floor. Honestly, who brought this girl? I wasn’t wearing my Sunday’s best (or Monday’s, or Tuesday’s) but I praised my own decision to wear a blazer over my t-shirt today. I don’t look old and rich, but maybe I could fake this. Maybe if I just own this, I won’t spend the next 10 hours feeling like the girl whose seat was given away and normally wouldn’t be sitting in a seat in transatlantic business class.

The hours that followed were some of the most pampered hours of my life. A 5-course meal served on PLATES! With real silverware! A true luxury on an airplane. Soft thick blankets and fluffy pillows, big comfortable headphones, fully-reclining chairs that fold into a bed, and a maître d’cabin to fulfill any of my heart’s desires. At one point I really thought, “I wish they’d leave me alone now. All this service is getting annoying.” I threw an internal fit over not having a window seat on a 90-minute connection, but who needs sleep now? I’m enjoying myself! I snacked, sipped my sparkling water (I know, a crime when the liquor is free) and watched movie after movie from an altitude of 39,000 feet. What window seat?

Arriving in New York wasn’t met without even more hiccups (my iPod not working, getting off the train a subway stop too early, and having the PATH train doors close in my face) but it was easy to overlook them. My bag arrived in New York with me, and we walked down Grove Street towards home with an entirely new sea of memories.

Megbert goes Slavic

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Four months ago I’m not sure I could point out Slovenia on a map. I already had plans to be in Venice, so when I met Boštjan in September while he was surfing my friend’s couch outside of New York, it wasn’t too far-fetched to add a few extra days in Slovenia and see a country I might otherwise never get to know.

Nova Gorica is a small town by New York standards, though one of the biggest cities in the country. It’s nestled up against Italy to the west, a fact that seems to really bother the residents I spoke to. It was in Nova Gorica that I learned the most about the history and culture of a country, probably much more than the other places I visited combined.

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Boštjan and I took trips to Ljubljana (the capital) and the largest cave system in all of Slovenia, the Postojna Caves. They aren’t kidding around. Postojna has 20 kilometers of caves. We didn’t quite get to go spelunking, but this place is nonetheless worth spending some time. Dark caves and cell phones don’t really translate into blog-worthy photos but, well, you get the idea.

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Ljubljana felt much like a modern Bratislava. A castle on the hill and a river running below it. Ljubljana is another city where it isn’t necessary to sight-see, it’s best experienced with a leisurely stroll, even better with a Slovene boy himself. The Christmas markets were still up and running so we grabbed some food, I ODed on vin brûlée, and we watched the sun go down and the lights come on.

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The biggest thing going for Slovenia though is clearly it’s outdoors. We spent an entire day driving around the Soča Valley with the stunningly bluish-green Soča River in sight from practically any point on the road. To see a river this color in a nearly land-locked country feels strange. The water looks like it’s from any Caribbean beach, and it’s easy to picture all the swimming, kayaking, and rafting activities that take place in it during the Summer months. The entire valley is peppered with small villages, each one with it’s own quaint little shops, unique look-out points, and maybe a wooden bridge or two. I’ve never been to Vermont, but I couldn’t help but think the two are very similar: a skiers paradise in winter, and a lush, green, mountainous beauty when it’s warm.

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I have so much to thank Bostjan for, especially with all the driving and taking me to the airport and such. The time I got to spend with Boštjan’s friends and family made me feel really lucky, and I learned so much about Slovenia that I definitely wouldn’t have ever known. It made for a New Year’s I’ll remember for a long time, although…. the embarrassing dance with his dad is one part I wouldn’t mind to forget. ;)

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