It seems that the blog which has been viewed the most in the past week is the one where I talked about traveling. I think this is a little ironic because here I am to talk about it again.
The last time I went to Europe was in 2004. I know this, and will not forget the year, because throughout my visit they were playing the Euro 2004. That’s football, by the way, soccer. I would root for whatever country I was currently in, and if they weren’t playing I’d just pick the team with the cutest players. What? The system worked, and I got to see that awesome match when Wayne Rooney came out of nowhere and scored pretty much won the it for England. I can always remember that when he’s stepping on people’s faces. My best friend, incidentally, has a tattoo of his face on her ass.
Anyway, this is not about football, it’s about traveling. The point being, of course, that it’s been nearly six years since I have been to Europe. In all facets of this piece of information I find this completely unacceptable. Don’t get me wrong, I could myself extremely lucky to have been there in the first place. To see the things that I have seen, to be able to take a photo of the Eiffel Tower and know that it’s real, to know that it’s metal and hydraulics and not some hazy sort of image that I believe in. I’ve been a lot of places, but all I can ever think of is that I want more. Traveling is a lot like power or love, in that respect. You can have more than you need and somehow you always want more. But really, there are so many places I haven’t been. So many ticks on a list that I want to cross off.
When I went to Paris for the first time it was with interest, but little awe. I never had the sort of feeling towards the City of Light that other people do. To me it was always just another city, one I’d like to see, for sure, but nothing to make my heart quicken. For me it was always Italy. Florence to be exact. I imagined it very old, with cobblestone streets and too much wine and pasta. I imagined people eating in overflowing Trattorias, art on every corner, grand churches and views. I think in a lot of ways Florence became a little revered to me. Somewhere to save. For my honeymoon, have you, which… well, I will never have. Things have changed since then. For starters, you can’t have a honeymoon if you don’t want a wedding, because otherwise it’s just a vacation. The point, of course, being that I still have never even been to Italy, let alone Florence. But, Paris is the sort of blurry around the edges lovely that I could immerse myself in happily for the rest of my life.
But, of course, traveling requires, and herein lies the crux of the matter, one very key ingredient; money. You can travel cheaply or you can travel expensively, but even the cheap variety does tend to be a bit expensive. And when one is working at a part-time, minimum wage job and attempting to pay off student loans the money thing… well, there’s not much of it. So, in order to alleviate this problem I invented Bedroom Traveling (called such because it generally takes place in my bedroom, obviously). It’s not quite as good as the real thing, but desperate times call for desperate measures. There are several ways Bedroom Traveling can take place.
Firstly, at the end of every year major bookstores tend to clear house of a lot of their books. The Christmas season is over and they generally have a lot of excess merchandise floating around. It’s also about this time that all those Travel Guidebooks tend to expire. You know the ones, Lonely Planet, Frommer’s, Fodor’s, Eyewitness; usually they are large brick sized tomes dedicated to giving you as much information as absolutely possibly within the smallest amount of space. They come out with new editions every year and when the new ones come out, the old ones go on sale. Now, if I were planning a trip to Europe the best thing to do would be to buy the latest edition. I mean, clearly. Information does change from year to year, new things gets build, old things move, festivals change, but for Bedroom Traveling… that really doesn’t matter so much. Old editions are cheap and they have most of the same information in them. Some are more text based, others have more pictures (honestly, if its pictures you’re looking for go with Eyewitness they have cross-sections and everything), but the thing they all have is information, which is the essential here. I read travel books like they are novels. Well, not entirely, because in travel books you can skip around, read the bits you find particularly interesting. Like the adult intrepid explorer version of Choose Your Own Adventure.
This is how I know Paris so well. Yes, I have been there, twice, but visiting somewhere twice does not an expert make. It was rather the fact that between visits; 2003 and 2004 respectively, I read so many travel guides, studied so many maps, and watched so many videos that I became familiar enough with the layout that on my second trip I asked for a map and when the kindly concierge asked if I needed anything pointed out I gave them a shrugging ‘Nah, I got it’ while they stared at me rather astonished (this is one of my prouder moments).
The second way is the Travel Channel. I do have to say that a lot of the time when I turn on the television hoping to get a glimpse of a locale I’d like to add to my mental traveling checklist I managed to pretty much just find Anthony Bourdain. Don’t get me wrong, I think No Reservations is a cracking show, it’s very informative and if that’s your sort of thing then great. But it’s not so much for me. Last time I was in Europe I sustained myself pretty well on cheap sandwiches bought at the side of the road rather than searching out the local gourmets. And really, it makes sense. I was alone and the last thing I felt the need to do was sit at a restaurant several times a day reading a book. I stayed primarily in hostels, and if you’re lucky they serve breakfast, and if you’re very lucky they serve lunch meat at breakfast (as most Europeans do) which you can make sandwiches with to take with you. It’s cheaper. Also… college cafeterias. But I digress. Food is not my number one priority, so a lot of the time I sit idly while Bourdain tastes his local delicacies and get itchy palms to see the scenery. So, my favorite travel show is Rick Steves’ Europe on PBS. Okay, yes, he’s sort of dorky. He’s probably geared towards the typical American that I strive not to be. But, he always manages to do a complete overview of a place, showing just enough to pique your interest while still managing to cram quite a lot into a rather small amount of time. Also, he always features places, both hidden gems and side trips, that I probably never would have see had I not watched his show. Hallstatt is a perfect example of this, as is floating down the river in Berne. Actually, pretty much my whole desire to visit Switzerland in general came from a mixture of his ‘Great Swiss Cities’ episode and Johanna Spyri.
My friend, D, does not seem to approve of my Rick Steves love. In fact he likes to do a little impression of him that makes him sound like a Middle America hick-like loser. Well, I am not saying I want to party with the man, but his information about Barcelona? That I’ll take.
The third way of Bedroom Traveling is the most accessible, but probably the least reliable. It involves Wikipedia and Google image. This is probably the version I implement the most often, simply because it’s the easiest. It doesn’t involve going out and purchasing books, nor foraging through ones already bought. It doesn’t involve waiting for PBS to show another episode of Rick Steves or buying a bunch of DVDs. It’s easy and it doesn’t even require moving at all. And easiest still it’s easy to find new things because when things are highlighted on websites it usually means that you can click them and find other things! Of course there are downsides to this. In this day and age portability is not really one of them… most people have internet on their phones and if you’re like me and are too poor then you can still probably take your laptop pretty much anywhere and find some wifi. But there is always the fact that Wikipedia… is not always the most reliable source in the world. There are other websites of course, and feel free to go through them, but despite it’s possibly inaccuracy I prefer Wikipedia. Why? Well, I like its format, it’s really as simple as that. I like that it shows photos on the side, with essential facts and figures and more detail within. And I like how it gives lists at the bottom about where else I can click on.
Finally, of course, and this does not need much explanation, there is looking through old photographs. Whether they are pictures of buildings or pictures of people in different places looking at old photographs is the best way to remember what it was like to be there. The majority of my Bedroom Traveling tends to be to places I haven’t been. And honestly, I hardly ever look through my old pictures. But when I do I can’t help but be taken back there all over again to places I have seen and loved. I am sure that’s relatively the same for everyone.
No, Bedroom Traveling is not as good as the real thing. It can be a little sad even, thinking about the places that you can’t go. But mostly it’s fascinating to see pictures of places where you know you’ll go eventually. It’s exciting to add a certain cathedral or park to the long list of places you are sure you have to see. It may not be now, it may not even be soon, but I know that I will get there. And, in the meantime… I can visit them any time I want from the comfort of my own bed.