There is something about a road trip that gets my heart racing. When I’m having a bad day, thinking about an open highway is the perfect escape. Growing up, my parents loaded my brothers and I in our minivan and drove us around the country–from Maine to Alabama to national parks out west.
It’s been about a year since I’ve properly traveled. Last April, I did a month-long trek across Europe on my own. Upon returning, my bank account was dangerously empty and I’ve been focusing on my librarian career ever since.
Still, it was high time for a road trip.
This past weekend, I took a few days off and made the trek with a friend from Minnesota to Nashville, Tennessee. Round-trip, we drove 1,500 miles and spent about 24 hours in the car. Our only mishap was a speeding ticket in Iowa.
The further south we went, the world came alive. It was as if we pressed fast-forward on Spring. Grass and flowers emerged, the temperature dropped, and leaves sprouted from trees. By the time we arrived in Nashville, we had stripped down to t-shirts and shorts for a few days of summery warmth. Continue reading →
I am a pilgrim, a wayfarer, an adventurer. I am a sojourner, making my way through lands real and imagined. I travel by multiple mediums. My feet carry me across continents familiar and strange. My imagination soars through the minds and hearts of people who have gone before, ferried by the pages of a book.
I am a reader. I am an explorer. Sometimes, the two combine and I become a pilgrim.
Merriam Webster dictionary defines a pilgrim as “one who journeys in foreign lands”. Traditionally, pilgrims journey towards a sacred, often religious place. One of the most famous pilgrimages in literature is Chaucer’s band of characters telling tales on the road to the cathedral in Canterbury.
I am a lover of pilgrimages. My journeys, however, are literary in nature. In them, I travel to a place that holds bookish significance–the house or grave of a writer, the location of a beloved text, the place that inspired a famous text. Continue reading →
As another year comes to a close, it’s time to reflect.
By global standards, 2016 was pretty much a train wreck. Personally, though, it was a beautiful journey that I will tell in three parts.
A year ago, I was an unemployed college graduate with no idea of what I wanted to do with myself. You see, for the majority of my life, my intuition has been my guide. Until this point, early every major life decision has been guided by instinct. College? My gut lead me to the right fit. Major? My heart found home in the English Department. Work at camp in the summers? It just felt right.
The future, however, holds infinite possibilities and the prospective paths had me absolutely paralyzed. I had absolutely no idea of anything. My intuition, the little tug that pulls me in the next direction, had failed.
So, at the beginning of 2016, I felt my heart tugging me back to Europe and, against all logic, I followed. Continue reading →
When one travels for an extended period of time, certain aspects of foreign life cease to leave you in wonder. Cobbled streets, castles, and cathedrals blend together. It’s just another city, just another place to walk, just another destination. Your feet become weary and your heart longs for home.
And then… out of nowhere, a city sneaks up on you and gives you a sucker punch to the gut. You’re absolutely breathless and it’s a little painful because it came when you didn’t expect it.
For me, Vienna was just a place on the map–a grand capital to check off my list, a place to become a little more cultured. I didn’t expect the city to move me. I didn’t expect to fall in love. Continue reading →
Traveling alone is, in many ways, a liberating adventure… but like anything, it’s got it’s challenges. Being able to come and go as you please is a blessing, but what is the point of experiencing beautiful places if you without someone to share it with?
Encouraged by my L’Abri tutor and several friends, I took footage throughout my month-long journey aiming to make a video. Doing so helped me through the loneliness that can come with solo travel by giving me a way to bring others into my adventures. As I travelled, the thought of making this video really did help me during the rough days. Instead of feeling sad and mopey about being alone, I was so focused on and excited about capturing my experiences in a creative way that negativity was driven from my mind. The idea kept me going. Continue reading →
Well… after four months living abroad, I’m finally home in Minnesota. I’m sure that nostalgia and longing to be out in the world will come eventually, but right now, all I feel is drained. Continue reading →
After being on the road for a month, living out of a suitcase and staying in hostels, the thought of going home is strange.
It’s bliss to imagine all the comforts of home: Understanding the language, sleeping in the same bed for more than a few nights, not having strangers coming in and out at odd hours while I sleep, actually eating regular meals… The list goes on. Continue reading →
I’ve spent the past few days staying with friends in the city of Innsbruck, Austria. It’s a stunning city, located in a wide valley in the middle of the Tirol Provence. Unfortunately… my first couple of days were rainy. Most of yesterday was spent enjoying the city center–sitting in cafes and wandering into beautiful Baroque churches. I knew there were mountains (after all, I’ve been here before!), but couldn’t actually see anything. That is… until today.
This morning, I had the opportunity to go hiking with my friend Anna and her mother. Thankfully, I’ve been traveling in a pair of heavy-duty boots and was well prepared for the climb. Continue reading →
Staying with strangers is odd.You spend a couple of weeks emailing back and forth with a person you’ve never met, making arrangements.But, the whole time, you’re never really sure if it will work out… will it be a total disaster?Will we get along?Will I be in the way?
I’ve spent the past few days in Konstanz, Germany staying with a friend of a friend.I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but it’s been a really positive experience.My hosts have been incredibly kind and accommodating, giving me a room of my own to sleep in, a bike to use, and a spare key so I can come and go as I please.They even invited me out with their friends for an all-you-can-eat and drink meal of what they called “German pizza”.(I don’t know what the real name is, but it looks like pizza, only with no sauce and different toppings.)
After a few weeks of exploring big cities and cultural centers, it feels good to be off the beaten path.Konstanz is a tourist town, but most of the tourists are either German or Swiss.It’s located on the shores of Lake Constance (the largest lake in Germany) at the intersection of three countries: Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.On a clear day, you can see the Alps from across the lake.
On my first full day, I biked out into the countryside.I spent the morning among rolling hills, vineyards, and blooming fruit trees. In many ways, it reminded me of being home. I visited a nearby island filled with small, independent farms and old churches.My afternoon was spent wandering around Konstanz, exploring the old town and harbor. Compared to some of the grand old cities I’ve explored, it wasn’t anything to write home about, but still nice.
On day two, I took a day trip.I pulled myself out of bed bright and early, found my way to the bus stop, and an hour later, I was in Zurich, Switzerland.Most of my day was spent wandering around, exploring whichever narrow, cobbled streets caught my fancy.Sadly, I didn’t do any traditional Swiss things.No new watches or fancy chocolates for me… Switzerland is expensive and I’m on a tight budget.I did spent a couple of hours in the city’s art museum, delighting in their national collection.I lingered on the shores of Lake Zurich for a long, long time, soaking in the Alps and enjoying the fresh air.
On day three, I did absolutely nothing. I mean that literally.I stayed in bed almost the entire day, reading and binge watching Call the Midwife on Netflix.Travel is exhausting!It sounds weird, but it’s sometimes good to take a vacation from vacation.I did venture out to the supermarket in the morning, along with a short walk around the neighborhood in the afternoon.Besides that… the day was all rest and relaxation.
It was a bit awkward because my main contact was away from home during half my visit. She returned to her hometown to help a friend shop for wedding dresses, leaving me alone with her male roommates. I felt a bit out of place, but they were nice, and I mostly kept to myself.
Now, I’m on to the next chapter of my adventure.After a great week in Germany, it’s time to turn to it’s neighbor: Austria.
Yesterday afternoon, I arrived in Nuremberg and, after briefly settling into my hostel, hit the city. As the sun began to set, I wandered around the old town, soaking in ancient churches, marketplaces, and the beautiful castle.
Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady)
View of the city from the castle
Then I did my research.
I knew that Nuremberg was an important city for the Nazis, but not much beyond that. Before going to bed last night, I found some old photos that were uncanny. They depicted Hitler, flanked by crowds of swastika-waving supporters, parading through the streets. What bothered me wasn’t necessarily the pomp–I’ve studied history and have seen such photos before. What bothered me was that the churches, marketplaces, and even the castle gleaming in the background of the photos were the same ones I had been admiring only a few hours before.
I dedicated my day to seeing Nazi-related sites. My main stop was the Documentation Centre, a museum dedicated to the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. I spent hours in the museum, going from room to room. The entire exhibit was in German, but thanks to an audio guide, I was able to follow along in English. I encountered the Third Reich in a way I never have before. In American schools, they don’t explain all the steps that lead to Hitler’s rise in power.
Luitpoldhalle area, where the Nazis annually did a ceremony where they honored the dead from the first World War.
Luitpoldhalle. April, 2016
Until today, Nazi Germany was just lines in a textbook or scenes in a movie. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like I understand now. I understand the political tactics Hitler took on his route to dictatorship–well, not all of them, but enough to appreciate his cunning. I understand the fear-mongering. I understand the purpose of the rallies–to whip up the people into an emotional fervor that keeps them from rationally realizing they’re being manipulated. I understand the indoctrination of young people. I understand the appeal of a unified country with a single, shared identity. I understand the dehumanization of entire classes of people.
I understand… and I feel the weight upon my shoulders. So many times as I walked through the exhibit, I wanted to break down weeping. For the second time in my life, I feel like I encountered pure evil.
Pure evil is intelligent. It tells lies, it manipulates, it preys on fears, takes advantage of ignorance, and silences any voices other than its own. The most dangerous thing about evil is that it disguises itself as truth.
And, God, the consequences.
The museum didn’t shy away from the Holocaust. It hit it straight on, explaining in detail the different concentration camps, what they were used for, who went there, and how many people lost their lives to starvation, forced labor, biological experiments, and the gas chambers. Millions of human lives exterminated, slaughtered, killed like animals. I don’t know if I will ever forget the photos of the malnourished naked corpses piled in the dirt and grime.
Of all the Nazi’s actions, what disturbs me most is probably dehumanization. I believe that people are made in the image of God, therefore the simple act of being human deserves dignity and respect. Our humanity is what links us together–we differ in language, culture, and appearance, but at the end of the day, we are all human. To deprive a person of their dignity is disgusting. To strip away their humanity is disturbing. But to slaughter millions of people… horrifying.
Sadly, I wasn’t able to visit the courthouse where the Nuremberg Trials took place after World War II ended. For some reason, it was closed today. But I did spend a few hours wandering around the grounds where the Nazis had their rallies. The once-grand structures have fallen into decay–a remnant of history that Germany doesn’t care to preserve. As I stood on the balcony where Hitler delivered some of his greatest speeches, I could imagine the scene: Banners waving, people cheering, thousands of soldiers in perfect regiments raising their arms.
I’ve loved my time in Nuremberg. It’s a beautiful city. I’ve loved wandering its historic streets and meditating in its grand churches. What more, I’ve entered into–no–I’ve been sucked into history here. I’ve encountered the past in a way that is so much deeper than storing away facts intellectually. My emotions and deeper being have been touched. It’s not often that I’m moved in this way and to experience it here has been incredible.
I’m so glad I came here. Tomorrow, my adventures in Germany continue as I head south to the town of Konstanz near the Swiss border. I’ve got an early bus and need to pull away from the blog so I can pack my bags…