the compound interest of love

Friends – you must read this. Anyone who loves to travel will love the journey one kind act made and the tremendous results of that trip!

pull up a chair

the arithmetic of love cannot be plotted, nor graphed. nor queued in a line. it explodes, scattershot. sometimes it leaks — drip, drip, drip. sometimes, like a mountain rivulet running hard against rock, it carves its own escape route.

at its most glorious, love multiplies with compound interest.

the email began: “Praying it forward haha.” it went on to explain:

Praying it forward haha – I gave a copy of the book to Lisa because I admire her so much as a Mother, friend, caregiver, person.  After meeting her for lunch and giving her the book she shared that she was looking for work she could do at home – we were looking for someone to do our social media and not so surprisingly she had recently received a degree in that!  Of course we hired her.  She prayed it forward by giving 10 of her friends the book and…

View original post 1,223 more words

Advertisements

Feeling Safe – a short series

When women talk about traveling alone, safety almost always comes up, but are we really talking about physical danger? For me, it is less about the real probability of harm and more about  feeling safe.  It’s always smart to consider the practical things we can all do to be and feel secure when we travel.

Preparing to post this blog, I asked friends about their strategies for travelling alone – for work, vacation, close to home and far afield.  Over the next weeks, I’ll share short blogs with practical advice and stories from my brilliant friends.  Let’s start with why feeling safe can change your travels.

When I feel safe, I try new things – I walk alone at night or take the subway to an out of the way stop or come back late from a day trip. When I feel safe, I push the boundaries and experience more.

Once on a trip to France, I was given the email and phone number of a recent graduate doing an internship in Paris. One of the unexpected benefits of dinner with this savvy short-term native was the conversation we had about women and safety in Paris.  She was a great adviser for where to feel safe and where to be careful. I was surprised – in my city, the farther from the city center, the safer I felt. In Paris, she told me it was the opposite. She would feel no concern walking through the area I was staying after dark and into the wee hours.  Her own train stop, far out in the suburbs, however she felt could be a little dicey…after midnight at least!

That conversation allowed me to enjoy what became a favorite pastime on the trip – each night, before turning in, I wandered through the dark streets behind Notre Dame, emerging on the square in front of the cathedral. That spring, it was full of dancers, artists, fire twirlers (really) and tourists like me. I would have felt, without a travel companion, that I couldn’t do that so late if I hadn’t had good advice from someone I trusted.

So, I have found that I need some basic reassurance to make me brave.  Here are my six favorite tips.

  1. I try to dress like the natives, standing out as little as possible from the women I see on the sidewalk. No white sneakers, usually no white for that matter, usually darker colors – it’s fun and I don’t feel as obvious. I have, of course, never managed to look French.
  2. Travel with cash and card in a safe pocket. If I’m not entirely sure of myself, I’ll leave the bag, the camera and all my “stuff” in my room, tuck money and a credit card in my pocket and take off.
  3. Using public transportation, keep a back up ticket.  If  you are not using a pass that gives you several days of bus or subway travel, you may be buying tickets at the station. In Paris, I noticed that in small stations, the ticket machines were very occasionally (not often) out of order. Most locals seemed to have a monthly pass so they weren’t worried but I was. I started keeping one spare ticket in my pocket just in case.
  4. Walk with others. Sometimes you may end up on a street you aren’t sure of or you’reS just out a little later than you planned.  Look for a group of women or couples and tag along. I’ve gone a block or two out of my way just to stay near a group when I felt uncertain.
  5. Go with the flow.  If you are lost – and I am lost at least once a day – stop and look around before you start making guesses.  In many cities, before you get too off track, you can stand on a corner or in the middle of a square and watch the foot traffic for a minute. What’s happening – where is everyone going? Usually, the majority of folks are travelling toward major streets, subway stations, train stations or entertainment areas.  If you stop, look and then follow the crowd, you may not get home but you will get somewhere recognizable and busy.
  6. Wait, where am I staying? Pronunciation isn’t always my strong suit and every cab driver isn’t a good interpreter. For the first couple of days in a new place, I stick a hotel matchbook in my pocket.  When I’m in a jam, I can show it to a cab driver, policeman, or subway attendant and point.

There’s a memorable story that made me pretty committed about this matchbook plan.  It was about a traveler in a group in Italy who showed up quite late to dinner, furious that she’d had trouble getting back to the hotel. The name of the hotel was long…the word she chose to remember was the one that, in Italian, was a word for “hotel.” Albergo.  She did not recall the important and defining part of the name that would tell her cabbie which one.

What I Learned

Trust your gut.  Travelling through a city or town, pay attention, real attention, to who is around you and how the scenery is changing. You will yourself be the best judge of what’s right.  You have much more intuition that you many realize.

Don’t take advice like mine, Aunt Sarah’s or what’s in the guide book from 1994 too much to heart.  Neighborhoods change, the economy improves or declines, feelings toward Americans wax and wane. Find a woman your age at the hotel or in a shop – one who doesn’t have anything to prove with hotel PR – and ask her advice. If it doesn’t feel right, ask another woman and compare responses.

Most importantly, don’t let fear keep you from something that is a main scene in your own big travel dream – like seeing the moon rise over the canals or the great view of the buildings of Parliament at night.  If nothing else, grab a cab at your hotel and arrange for a night drive or book a dinner cruise just to create a comfortable way to be where you want to be. Don’t miss anything.

Travel Mercies

We have the possibility of being free agents of fate,

the random representatives of hope in the world.

Travelling alone, I often rely on the kindness of strangers. They are the problem-solvers, the direction-givers, the staff who go out of their way.  I was reminded recently that when you are alone traveling through the world, you yourself have rare opportunities to turn the tables and pay real attention to those strangers around you.

Not long ago, on a plane to Kansas City, the young man sharing the row with me, slipped me a note and asked me to read it when I got off the plane.  (OK, this could be good or really bad. I haven’t been handed a note since 6th grade and that one was not at all encouraging.)

The note was very simple, written on a page of paper he’d borrowed from me in the air.  He said, “Thank you for the conversation. I needed that more than you can know.  I wish you and your family a happy holiday.”

I was no angel of the airways here. Actually, the reason I chose the seat doesn’t speak well of me.  It was going to be a fairly full flight on Southwest and I had some important reading to do en route.  As I went down the aisle, I spotted this really big, imposing young guy in the window seat of an otherwise empty row.  I’m thinking – this guy is NFL-size, really big, scary big.  So, with me on the aisle –  traveling with the laptop, the notes and the folders, I look like a fidgety, uptight nightmare of a seat mate – no one, unless forced, would choose the middle seat between us. (I was right.)

After takeoff, we talked a little and he told me that he was moving from his home in Kansas to another city, one he’d just visited. It was a required move for his employment.He was worried and had never lived away from his home and his family. I work with a church in that city and had heard some surprisingly encouraging things about it, even given its economic woes.  We talked  the climate of the area, the bright spots, the turn-arounds going on.  The conversation was light – no advice or deep thoughts but it was a good connection and it passed the time.

The spiritual practice I was reminded of is attentiveness. When we travel with our family and friends, we turn to each other. Sharing the experience is a big benefit of traveling together.  When we are alone, we are present in a different way. We have the possibility of being free agents of fate, the random representatives of hope in the world.

It brings to mind the quote from Macrina Wiederkehr, “Remind yourself often, ‘I am pure capacity for God; I can be more.’ ”

 

 

Solo Travel and the Do-Over

My last morning in Spain found me chasing the moon across Mallorca, driving pre-dawn through fields as the ‘super moon’ set on the horizon. I had just completed a week-long riding clinic. It was a big ending to an unexpected trip.

Expectations with travel are complex. What do you see when you look back over your travels? What has changed for you as you try new things or become more at ease? More importantly, why do you travel?

For me, what began as week-long explorations of single cities (which I highly recommend) or hopping trains across a country I love has now evolved to adventures that add more and more challenge.

Pushing myself with a new challenge brings me home with more confidence and assurance in what I can do in everyday life. There is always learning – figuring out public transport, acclimating to the pace, and managing to buy a coffee in Italy. (It’s not easy.) By the end of the trip, you find the perfect view, buy the coffee, begin to feel at home in a new place and at home in your own skin.

New challenges are an important part of why I go solo. On recent trips, I’ve done  more driving and spent more time out in the natural landscape. So fewer museums, more mountain roads.

This past year was a new step for me with solo travel.  As I passed a big birthday, I wantedto reclaim a hobby or skill from my past, something I could reclaim and keep.  So after almost a year of lessons, off I went to Mallorca for a week of horse riding.

If you are a school or a course junkie, you may have had thoughts about a cooking or language immersion or, like me, a school for equitation.  I learned a little more than I expected – I realized that what  makes this travel work are the constant opportunities to start over!  Yes, the Do-Over.

When you are alone in Iceland and do something unbelievably stupid, you make it back to the hotel, (in my case dry off), get a good night’s sleep, and start over! While you are conquering the world, the presence of strangers allows you to make mistakes, step back, try again and hopefully take the day…eventually.

With a week-long class or clinic, you have an epic fail, get a good night sleep, get up and see the same people again at breakfast.  I am not a good rider.  I learned this in bold new ways on my trip. Most of the experience was spectacular…but part of it was likIMG_0260 (2).JPGe being back in high school gym class but with better and more expensive workout gear.

My best moments were when I slipped away in the snappy blue Fiat I rented and navigated the hill towns on Mallorca, found hidden backroads, and learned how to pay a parking ticket (all of this as you can imagine is related).

Push, try new things, leave time for complete relaxation – but as you travel, you’ll become more aware of where you find your joy.  What’s next for me?  Train hopping across a country I love – the one I call home!

What I Learned

  • If you are looking at a learning trip, think about the pace. Is there time for your own adventures? Do you love meeting new people and cherish the group time? What do you want the experience to be like?
  • If it’s learning a skill, give it up a little. It won’t be the same – the accents will differ, the horses won’t have the same gaits, the cooking measurements aren’t as familiar, the instructor has a different approach.  Be ready to shift.
  • Start below your perceived skill. Take the pressure off. Who doesn’t want to be promoted once you are there?
  • Most of all, appreciate the journey itself. I wouldn’t trade moment of my year of lessons preparing for the trip. It was the best part but it took planning a trip to get me started!

 

Solo Travel: Estimated Time of Arrival

 

In the weeks before, you lean forward into that moment when the trip begins. The moment when you will put one new shoe over the border and step into the adventure, when everything goes Technicolor around you, and you become The Traveler.

When is the exact moment when you cut the invisible cord and truly, irrevocably depart?

My dear friend drops me at the airport door as he has done many times. He dispenses blessings like a priest giving last rites and sends me on my way. Once through security, the detector arch like a door, I’m on the other side, in this new space. There is nothing but Me and a very compact roll-on bag that contains only what this anonymous “Me” will need to trek through the world without footprints.

One thing I like about travelling on my own is that I own my time. I know I will land at my connecting airport earlier than is really necessary. With airline club day pass in hand, I savor the hours with my maps and iPad.  I buy the last glass of wine on this shore…with bubbles. The journey has begun.

Air France knows what they are doing. There is something wonderful about the line to board the plane. How is it so civilized? I chat with a spare and chic older couple as we wait. We are blank slates to each other. We share stories and they ask who am I. (I’m not sure yet.) As we file in, we realize we are seat mates. We settle in and the flight attendant brings us an aperitif. (yes, an aperitif. In coach. Merci.) The entertainment system on the seat back has not just movies and TV but audio presentations of entire operas. I pick La Boheme just because. Oh, Air France. I’m happy for this cozy respite.

A weak sun greets us as we land in the early morning. We fly through customs. There is no waiting for luggage with my wheeled closet. I sail into… a mass of unhappy people trying to understand how to take the train into the center of Paris. North American credit cards don’t read in the ticket kiosks and the change machine is not working. And the ticket kiosk take cash but only exact change. One pauvre l’homme mans a solitary window for two hundred people.

Is this like child birth, the sweaty, grubby, peevish part of a trip that you always forget upon arriving home? Finally I’m on the RER train, surrounded not by urbane French citoyens but equally sweaty Canadian and British tourists who look too large and open-faced for their surroundings.

I did not give up on this RER train. One of its major stops is beside my hotel. The idea was genius two months ago in a world where my credit card and currency were at home. I prevail.  Once a ticket was in hand, it could not be more convenient. And cheap.

I roll my not-now-so-compact seeming bag out of the train.  My bag, my maps, my crumpled jacket and I ascend the mossy steps out of the station.

I am now The Traveller.  The mid-morning sun has burned off uncertainty as I rise out of the depths into the very heart of Paris.  Notre Dame is over my shoulder. Around me the British and Canadian counterparts have scattered through our previous stops and it’s…just…French… in my ears.

What I Learned

  • It’s great to get your local currency from the ATM at the airport, particularly if you have checked on the international fees.
  • With credit and debit cards at simple machines like train and metro ticket dispensers, however, unless you have a chip or in some cases a chip and pin credit card, you can be in trouble . (Stores, restaurants, or a staffed window at the train station, no problem.)
  • Safety flash – if you travel down the escalator into a sea of frustrated tourists, turn around.  Once I realized that we all needed cash AND the correct change, it was over.  No store or coffee shop facing this mob was going to pony up.  Backtracking, I bought coffee back near the customs area. Twice.  Change in hand, I dove back in and pretended to be from Barcelona.
  • Be nice, be helpful or be quiet as you stand in the boarding line. While solo travel brings anonymity, the plan is different. You may be spending eight hours in the company of the person next to you. They may have good chocolate or at least give you shared time on the armrest.

 

Listen

When good Americans die, they go to Paris.  Oscar Wilde

I’m standing on a quiet street in Paris. The square in front of Notre Dame is deserted. Early is different in some European cities than in Tennessee but 7:00 a.m on a Sunday is universally, undeniably early.

As I turn toward the bridge, I wonder if I’m going to be walking all the way to Rue Cler. Magically, out of the mist, a taxi emerges. Since it’s just three of us – the cab, my Rick Steves roller bag and me –  the situation is clear. I hop in.

Here is the truth. I am not a good listener. All my better qualities of determination, force of will, and focus create a flip-side deficit of patience and listening. When I travel on my own, there is an opportunity to try harder, start over and learn.

On my own, I need more – more clues, more information and more nuance. When someone who doesn’t share your native tongue says, “sure, it’s nice”…you have to listen with your intuition. Nice could mean “nice if you like tripe”, “nice if you like tourists, you’re sure to see someone you know” or “nice but if my brother-in-law didn’t own it, I’d tell you the truth.”

The taxi that Sunday morning was a surprise. There was a master plan. I flew into Paris, stayed in the Hotel Dieu, the ancient hospital adjacent to Notre Dame, and was up early. The spreadsheet said to start the day by going straight to the hotel where I would stay on my return to Paris, drop the luggage, and take off for Mont St Michel with nothing but a shoulder bag, 2 croissants, and a sense of adventure.

At the beginning of this plan, the hotel was supposed to call a cab for me. No big deal. Except that a jet lagged, laser-focused American couldn’t get the French college student to make the call. “It’s not going to come” he says. “No one will come. Just go outside”. (Read that again with a French accent, imagine he’s still looking at his iPhone, and you’re me.) You fill in the rest.

This is not a critical story but it was a flash point for me on the first day of my trip. The kid was exactly right. There was no traffic, but the one cab out and about found me.

This moment made me think for the rest of that trip  – what does it mean to hear to what someone is trying to tell me?  Generally, I find most people I run into when I travel do try sincerely to help. I find this a singular marvel. My job is to take a breath, look carefully and listen intently. It’s my job to at least start from a place of belief and gratitude that doesn’t lead with my own plan.

That may be at the heart of becoming a citizen of the world.

A Favorite Hotel: The Europa Regina, Venice

The great advantage of a hotel is that it is a refuge from home life.
George Bernard Shaw

I am obsessed with hotels. I spend more time researching and comparing hotels, b & b’s, and odd little inns that I do planning the entire itinerary. Can I stay in monastery, is there a castle, a glamping hut?  Once I stayed in a guest room in the oldest hospital in Paris.

But here is the thing. Your hotel is your home away from home and when you are a long way from home, it’s home base, theater, information center, companion, and solace. You’ll pick your bolthole differently than I do but here were my criteria for an off-season solo trip to Venice.

History. At the end of the day, when my feet are done but my imagination is still alive, I want to come home to a real destination. The Europa Regina has quite a history. It was originally five palaces – one belonged to the Tiepolo family who gave Venice two doges andMorning Gondolas from room a famous painter. Another of the palaces was originally the San Moise Theatre, home of Rossini’s first opera. Another became the Hotel Britannia where Monet stayed in 1908. Better yet, a part of the square used to be a workshop for gondolas, an iron chain was attached that when drawn from this spot across the Canal was a 9th century protection against pirates. Yes, pirates.

Public space. When I travel alone, a great lobby bar or veranda or library is important. A place to be near the flow of people, stories and the great parade. You can be ‘in’ but not isolated. The Europa Regina has a wonderful piano bar that opens onto a veranda overlooking the canal, ringed with leather chairs and endless bowls of olives. Especially in winter, this was perfect. As the sun set, but too early for dinner, I was ensconced with a campari spritz, my diary, and endless people-watching.

A sense of place. In my room, I was in Venice. On the first morning, I awoke to the flood sirens and leaned out my little window and watched the canal water lap over the pier and up into the walkways. The dome of Santa Maria della Salute loomed across the way. The daily traffic changed from early morning fruit deliveries to mid-day gondolas and vaporetti to evening quiet.

The practicalities were, well, practical. Now that it’s a Westin, I could use points for an opulent (and completely unaffordable otherwise) breakfast and those evening drinks.  And they had resources and an extensive staff who were ready to offer advice and solve problems.  The place was timeless but the service amenities were very Westin.

You will have different priorities but if you are on your own, think through what you want, how you want to start your day, what is important (security, location, price, comfort), and how you want to end the day as you return to your home base.

What I Learned

When you travel alone, single rooms can vary greatly.  Here, the single rooms were really part of adjoining suites, a boon as the room itself was small but the bath was suite-worthy and wonderful.

Let the staff know if you love historic hotels. I let wrote that I was travelling alone with little luggage and wouldn’t mind an inconvenient or quirky room – if it had a great view or a story.

If it’s a special occasion, also let the staff know.  I may have mentioned it was my birthday and on my special day, they delivered chocolates and flowers.

 

What’s nearby?  At the Europe Regina, all of Venice is at your doorstep.  You might enjoy the restaurant at another beautiful and historic hotel just steps away, the Saturnia-International.  Delicious food and excellent service.   You are also just two stops away, on the #1 vaporetti line, from Ca’ Rezzonico, a palazzo restored its 18th century grandeur with furnishings and art of the period.