Tag Archives: travel

To Be a Tourist or Not to Be a Tourist (that is the question)

Prior to coming to Scotland, I had big ideas of the different places I’d travel to during my stay in the UK. Every person I talked to gave a different recommendation for where I should visit or what I should see.

London would be beautiful at Christmas time. You have to go to London!

Belfast is a beautiful city and less than an hour flight from Glasgow. You have to make it to Belfast.

Nessie! Go visit Loch Ness and look for the monster!

You have to see the castles of Scotland. Do a castle tour!

Yes, I thought, I do want to see all of those things and I really do (although I’d imagine a sighting of Nessie is probably outside the realm of possibilities). In fact, if I was here purely as a tourist, I would have been to and seen those places already, but I’m not and I haven’t. I’ve not been to a single city other than Glasgow and Edinburgh and the only touristy thing I’ve done in the whole six weeks is visit the Edinburgh Castle. Is that a bad thing?

Every weekend I wrestle with this dilemma: to be a tourist or not to be a tourist. That really is the question. Should I be booking a flight to a different part of the UK every weekend? Going to visit famous monuments, buildings, museums? For some reason, the very thought of being a tourist has left me feeling completely exhausted. There is so much pressure to see and do it all, to make an itinerary and plan out the days.

In Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel, he writes about an invitation to a conference in Madrid and his decision to stay a few extra days so he could visit the many attractions he had been told about on several occasions. Upon waking for his exciting Madrid weekend, he feels anything but excitement. He feels only lethargy and lack of enthusiasm for seeing all these things a ‘normal’ visitor would be enthralled to see.

“On the desk lay several magazines provided by the hotel, offering information about the city, and two guidebooks that I had brought from home. In their different ways, they conspired to suggest that an exciting and multifarious phenomenon called Madrid was waiting to be discovered outside, promising an embarrassment of monuments, churches, museums, fountains, plazas and shopping streets. And yet the prospect of those enticements, about which I had heard so much and which I knew I was privileged to be able to see, merely provoked in me a combination of listlessness and self-disgust at the contrast between my own indolence and what I imagined would have been the eagerness of more normal visitors.”

Every weekend I find myself riddled with guilt that I’ve been given this great privilege to be here and see things and I’m not taking advantage of it. But is it wrong to simply enjoy being where I am right now instead of jet-setting or train hopping to a list of possible destinations and attractions?

Every other adventure abroad I’ve had, I’ve been a complete tourist and I’ve never really had the experience of living abroad. Technically I lived in Cyprus during my study abroad experience a few years back, but I never actually lived the Cypriot life. I stayed in a flat with American students and travelled around Europe doing just about every touristy thing I could possibly do. You see a lot as a tourist and have a lot of different experiences, but you only merely scratch the surface of a place without ever truly getting to know a city, a culture, or country.

My time in Scotland over the past few weeks has been completely opposite of every other abroad experience I’ve had. I’m not hanging out with fellow Americans, visiting tourist attractions, and doing pub crawls with backpackers. I’m living in a Scottish residential community, eating Scottish food, making Scottish friends, and working at a Scottish company (not to mention learning the Scottish ‘language’). I’ve become completely immersed in the culture here and for the first time, I’m truly getting to know a place.

So I’m doing it… liberating myself from the shackles of tourism. If the question is to be or not to be, I’ve chosen to be an American, living and working in Scotland… and not to be a tourist. And I think I’m happy with that.

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“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.” – Steve Jobs

Follow your passions. Don’t accept the mundane. Life is what you make it. Live it, love it, make it yours.

Motivation to be….

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Thanksgiving Nostalgia

Have you ever had those extremely nostalgic moments where one little thing makes all of these feelings and memories come flooding back like 50 feet of water barreling over your head? Then you’re just drowning.

I didn’t have a traditional Thanksgiving this year. But I did still have a good Thanksgiving. An untraditional dinner with a new friend. It is a weird time, though, to be away from loved ones on a day so closely associated with them.

I brought a few books with me on my trip. One is Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger. I had read it before, years ago, but decided I wanted to reread it like I often do with my favorites. It was last week, the Tuesday before Thanksgiving and I was about ten pages in when I got this strange feeling… déjà vu.

There I was four years ago, sitting in a recliner in my Aunt Charlene’s house on Thanksgiving. My family was in the room adjacent and my Grandma in her room on the other side of the house. The cancer once again reared its ugly head, and although she was a fighter, she was older now and after a few previous victories, the villain was making a vicious comeback.  

I always considered Thanksgiving to be one of my favorite holidays. It’s the holiday I’ve always tied to my paternal grandparents. I remember my mom baking fresh pumpkin pies and putting candles in them for my Pap and older brother’s birthdays that happened to fall within days of the holiday. I remember my Grandma busily cooking succulent turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and the darkest most delicious gravy in her kitchen. And I can’t forget the pickled cabbage that only she really liked, and everyone else heartily joked about because, well, it’s pickled cabbage… I remember Grandma’s homemade apple pies. That smell filled the whole house and nobody has been able to make a pie quite that good ever since.

I kept reading that book and with every word, I saw another flashback. Grandma slowly making her way through the room, past my recliner, into the living room with the rest of the family… We were all so used to her being the life of the party. After all this had always been her day. But this Thanksgiving it was different and we all knew it might be the last one we spent with her. And it was.

Nostalgia.

Déjà vu.

They are funny things.

But I’ll never forget the good times.

And this Thanksgiving I was thankful… for memories.

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10 Things I’ve Adapted to (and may have even begun to like) in Scotland

“Man is a creature that can get used to anything, and I think that is the best definition of him.”― Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The House of the Dead

When I first found out I was coming to Scotland for eight weeks, I was ecstatic. I was so excited for a change, to get out and see a new part of the world. Along with excitement, I felt pangs of nervousness and apprehension. This isn’t my first long term trip abroad. A little less than three years ago I was boarding a plane bound for a five month stay in Cyprus. Being a seasoned traveller, I knew that with the new and exciting surroundings comes new and exciting (not to mention somewhat stressful) challenges and adjustments. There is no way to prepare for these challenges because you always end up finding them in the most unexpected places. The funny thing about humans, though, is that no matter what seems to be thrown our way, we always find a way to adapt to changes big and small.

Ten things I’ve adapted to (and may have even begun to like):

  1. Driving on the left side of the road while sitting on the right side of the car: I’m sitting in the “passenger” seat, driving into what feels like oncoming traffic, my brain screaming, “You’re going the wrong way! Keep right!” It only took me three weeks of opening the door on the left hand side of the car and realizing the steering wheel wasn’t there to remember the driver’s seat is on the right. I also stopped hitting the curb so much as I grew accustomed to judging how much of my car is to my left.  My tires on the left side thank me.
  2.  ‘Round-a-bouts’ or traffic circles if you please: I’ll never fully adapt to these, but any little improvement is a milestone for me. Although I have gotten much better at guessing which lane I need to be in and knowing who goes first, I’ll never understand the traffic signs. A giant circle and little arms coming off in all directions that looks like an alien drawn by a five-year old child doesn’t help me. I can always see where I want to go, but very rarely do I get there on my first try. I’m always driving in circles, but not because I want to be.
  3. The Scottish accent combined with fast talking, shortening of words, and vocabulary I’ve never heard of: Slagging, snogging, chippies, crisps, the use of “wee” before every noun… at first it was like we weren’t even speaking the same language, but now I find myself using words and phrases I didn’t even know existed four weeks ago. My personal favorite is “Et’s tha dug’s bollocks!” If a word or sentence can be shortened, or even if you think it can’t, the Scots will find a way.
  4. Rain, darkness, rain and more rain: The first thing you do here when you get into the car is turn on your headlights because no matter what time of day, it’s dark or raining or both. I miss my friend the sun, and I started writing to him daily. I’m hoping to get a response back soon.
  5. Traffic on the way home from work: We don’t get much “rush hour” traffic in small-town Altoona, PA. The after work commute here has taught me two important things: always pee before leaving work, and dancing in your seat pretending your steering wheel is a percussion instrument truly helps the passage of time. An added bonus is the reaction of others around you.
  6. Always carrying a pen and teaching people how to swipe a credit card: Magnetic credit cards don’t exist here. They have “chip and pin” cards and have no idea what to do when you ask if they can swipe your card. Although I’ve tried in vain to become a good swipe instructor, I typically end up sliding my own card on their machines because for some reason, it is an extremely complicated task beyond their comprehension. Don’t forget to bring a pen to sign the receipt, because I promise they never have one, even though they’ve used a pen just less than an hour ago to take your food order.
  7. The food: Some of the food is delightful. Others I just don’t understand. A bacon sandwich with brown sauce? What is brown sauce? Nobody knows really. Chip sandwiches (French fries on bread), crisp sandwiches (potato chips on bread), haggis (Google it), and just about anything you can deep fry including Mar’s candy bars and pizza. I can’t say I hate it… but I can say, it’s sure to be life shortening.
  8. The five keys and five different locks to get into my flat: Yes, that’s right. Five keys and five locks to get into one building and one flat. Between the number of keys and the fact that three of them look like they’ve come from the princess chambers of a castle (huge brass things that practically look hand-cut), I don’t worry about my security. It is so secure in fact that up until a week ago when I mastered the “turn the key and wiggle it frantically” method of unlocking the door, it took me 10-15 minutes to get into my own place.
  9. Always looking right, left, right before crossing the street: It’s an easy one to forget when you’ve been conditioned from childhood to look left, right, then left again. It’s also an easy one to remember after the first two or three times you almost walk out in front of a moving vehicle.
  10. Learning to live with myself, by myself and moments of intense loneliness: The biggest adjustment thus far. At first you feel very alone in this foreign place where you know nobody and soon enough you find you rather like the time you spend alone getting to know yourself. It’s relaxing, refreshing, rejuvenating. It’s not without its moments of intense loneliness, but if you can’t learn to love to live with yourself, who can?
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Dissecting a Bad Date: where did it all go wrong?

We had met the other night, briefly. It was late and I was walking past as he asked for directions. “I’m not sure,” I said, “I’m not from here.” He seemed nice enough, about my age, a seemingly sweet fellow. We chatted about twenty odd minutes. “Maybe we can go for drinks on Friday?” he asked. “Sure,” I said, “here is my number.” What do I have to lose, I thought. A Friday with the possibility of good conversation versus another night sitting at a bar by myself seemed like a no-brainer.

My friend joked that I would be like Cameron Diaz in The Holiday and I’d find my Jude Law. A charming thought… maybe it was pessimism or realism that made me doubt I’d live the dream of the female who goes abroad and falls madly, deeply in love with a complete stranger with a sexy accent. That is for the movies, although a charming sentiment.

I boarded the train and had a few moments of chick flick surrealism allowing myself to think maybe I could be a Cameron Diaz, real life version, meeting my Jude Law. I quickly laughed at the thought, realizing how stupid that really was.

I arrived at the meeting point about fifteen minutes early. He walked in promptly at 8 o’clock, the agreed upon time. I ordered a red wine and he, a beer. I typically go for taller gents as I’m slightly taller for a female. Height would never be a deal breaker for me, but when I stood up to the bar to order my drink, it became apparent how short he really was. I hadn’t noticed the other night because he had been sitting down. I was towering several inches above him. It didn’t help that I had chosen to wear heels. Whatever, I thought. Height is just a physical thing anyway.

I was slightly put-off by the fact he arrived in a t-shirt. I put forth the effort to get dressed up and I even wore heels, a very rare thing for me to do. And he, for a first date, a first impression, shows up in a t-shirt of all things. Laziness, I thought, sheer laziness and lack of effort. Whatever, so he is short and he chose to wear a t-shirt in a place where all the other men are dressed nicely in button-ups and sport coats. Maybe I’m being too critical, I thought.

The night began fine with casual conversation. He appeared to have a decent sense of humor, an important thing to me. By the time I had finished half a glass of wine, he had drank nearly four pints of beer. Okay… maybe he will slow down, maybe he was just nervous and the beer is a confidence booster. By the time I ordered my second glass, he must have been about ten pints deep and his personality drastically altered… drunk.

He tells me I am beautiful. “Thank you,” I said feeling slightly awkward. And then suddenly as if I have no real name, every sentence he begins with calling me beautiful. I have to be honest, that word is flattering at first in the right situation, but when it becomes the beginning of every sentence, it loses its appeal and quickly becomes annoying and insincere. I feel myself losing my patience and wanting to leave.

We leave the bar and begin walking toward the Christmas lights I’ve heard so much about in George Square. He tries to grab my hand and I promptly move it, avoiding the attempt at handholding. I am not a particularly large fan of public displays of affection as it is and although I’d have no problem holding hands with a boyfriend in public, I do have qualms about holding hands with a complete stranger. He makes another attempt and I so obviously once again avoid the handhold for a second time. Again, he tries and is denied. Are you not getting the hint here, I think.

Twenty minutes later I say I must catch the train back home. “Will I see you again?” he asks. I don’t respond at first and with hesitation I say, “We’ll see.” But we both know that is the last time we will be seeing one another. Another first and last date. I’m cold and annoyed and can’t walk away fast enough. Maybe I am a bad person, a shallow person, but as I walk to the train station I think to myself, “He was short anyway…”

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Strathclyde Park: a pooch’s paradise

“The neighbourhood park became a desolate spread of mud and water, lit up at night by rain-streaked street lamps.” – The Art of Travel, Alain de Botton

I’ve been here in Scotland for about three weeks and thus far have been quite unmotivated to create my own adventures, which to be honest, is very unlike me. Because the sun was finally shining, albeit through overcast clouds, I decided to visit nearby Strathclyde Country Park. I had been told by several Scots that the park was beautiful if I “fancied a walk”.

After a frustrating battle navigating the “round-a-bouts”, I arrived second-guessing if I was in the proper place. The sign read “Strathclyde Country Park,” this must be the right spot, I thought. It’s not like it was ugly by any means, just not what I expected of beauty coming from one of the most beautiful parts of the US (although a possibly biased view) in Central PA with sprawling mountains, flowing streams, and crisp blue skies. Perhaps they meant it was beautiful in the summer… because at least in my opinion, the park was not so in the traditional sense of natural beauty.

Grayish overcast clouds clung to what little sun fought to shine upon the brown, dismal loch. Leafless branches trembled in the chilling wind that created currents, propelling ducks across the waterfront. The grass was the only thing of color…kind of. A thick layer of brown mud fought to drown it out. It was as if the tips of the blades were sinking into quick sand with just their heads above the surface, begging to be saved. It seemed as though even the white swans had a brown tint to them.

Despite the lack of traditional beauty, Strathclyde Park offered an untraditional, picturesque air about it. Dogs excitedly pranced about through mud and puddles, their fur covered in inches of wet muck. For a brief moment, it made me wish I had a dog to bring here, although I wouldn’t want to be tasked with bathing it when I got home… (or for that matter, let that muddy mess in my car to get home).

And for another moment, I wished I actually was a dog, blissfully leaping into the loch after a tennis ball, swimming happily to shore to return the ball to my owner’s hand to be thrown once more. What a pooches’ paradise, I thought. It was a place the equivalent to a beachside resort for a human: relaxation, leisure, sport and members of the opposite sex to mingle with.

By the time I left, I had been splashed by so many pooches prancing through their paradise that my boots and jeans were covered in mud.  So much so, you would have thought that I actually had been a dog flouncing around through the muddy gunk.

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Finding warmth in a cold, dampened place.

Prior to coming to Scotland, I had heard the winter was full of darkness, of rain. “Worst time to visit,” they’d told me. Ah, it can’t be that bad I thought. No worse than a Pennsylvania winter where it’s dark at 5:00 PM and the wind chill is enough to freeze you in your tracks. But at least in PA there is sunlight… sometimes.

In the posh little Glaswegian suburb of Bothwell, I awaken nearly every morning to streaming beams of sunlight shooting through the cracks in my window blinds. I awake with anticipation of a marvelous, sunny day. I make my way to the kitchen for my morning cup of coffee and plop down on the flattened leather couch by the bay windows. Fifteen minutes has passed since my waking and with the passing of the minutes has come the passing of a thick, grey blanket of clouds that now shields the sun. Ah yes, like clock-work, minutes later the raindrops begin to pitter-patter on the window panes. This is Scotland, where the sun comes out long enough to wake you and the rain stays long enough to make you cool and dampened on the inside.

If it weren’t for the kindness and warmth of the locals and the brightness of the red wine in my glass, it might be a depressing place.  But luckily for me, I’ve felt welcome and accepted here. Despite the undesirable weather, I anticipate many desirable experiences to come.

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Welcome to the world

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” Robert Louis Stevenson, The Silverado Squatters, 1883

The world is a vast and beautiful place, one of many natural wonders, peoples, foods, languages, etc.. With a little curiosity, countless adventures can be found. I grew up in a small-town area in Central Pennsylvania, USA  referred to as “The Cove,” a place where residents are nestled safely between mountainous walls with very few ever venturing far from their safe haven. My curiosity to learn more about the world began at a young age when I started to get lost in books and blogs about foreign lands and people.

I began my travels with a study abroad program, living in Nicosia, Cyprus for 5 months. I traveled throughout the region and continental Europe to 15 countries and 33 cities. I quickly became completely enamored with culture, people, and madness and I started writing stories about my adventures. Since then, I’ve begun to gradually add to my portfolio of worldly experiences.

That’s what this blog is about. Not just travel, but my stories, my adventures, my perceptions, and other things that may interest me along the way. I’m most interested in a deeper experience, a deeper curiosity than what is on the surface of a city, country, or culture. This is my story, my life… perhaps somewhat mad, somewhat offbeat.

The world is a beautiful place. Don’t be afraid to explore it for yourself. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone. As an influential Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “It was a high counsel that I once heard given to a young person, ‘Always do what you are afraid to do.”

With a little curiosity and a willingness to learn, there is no foreign land.

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