My first full year in Nashville was a momentous one. Here’s a look back in pictures of some of the highlights.
2022 was the year of the musical…..
I saw ten* live stage shows this year, nine of which were musicals, including my FIRST, SECOND, THIRD, FOURTH, and FIFTH shows on Broadway. (I never did a full write up of my second trip to NYC where I saw Funny Girl, A Strange Loop, and SIX, but maybe I will, because I still have thoughts.) I saw PATTI FREAKING LUPONE, Sutton Foster, Hugh Jackman, Beanie Feldstein, and Jane Lynch.
*Shows on Broadway: The Music Man, Company, Funny Girl, A Strange Loop, and Six; Broadway at TPAC: Mean Girls, Hamilton, Oklahoma!, and To Kill a Mockingbird; Nashville Rep: RENT
I wish I could afford to do this every year, but instead I will see every traveling show that I can at TPAC and most things that the Nashville Repertory Theatre does. Already have two shows on the books for early 2023!
2022 was the year of finally having bariatric surgery….
After a long wait, I finally had bariatric surgery. It’s been a journey, and I’m so glad to be on THIS side of things. I’ve lost almost 75 pounds since surgery, and almost 140 lbs since beginning this process. The best part of this journey is just FEELING better. While none of my numbers were in danger territory, they were all on the high end of normal pre-surgery, and 6 months post op my blood sugar, cholesterol, etc., are all on the lower end of normal. I feel in control around food and trust my body in ways I did not before.
2022 was the year of flying to LaGuardia thrice…..
I took the exact same flight to LaGuardia from Nashville three times this year (it was at 5:50 AM). I flew literally nowhere else all year either. Two trips to NYC one in January and May, and then a trip to NJ in August to see one of my besties and to finally meet my godson! I hadn’t been to NYC since 2006, so two and half times in one year was nuts!
2022 was the year of a Framily trip to Disney!
In October, my framily (friend family) went to Disney World, and a few of us went to Universal so that we could finally go to Harry Potter World (everyone else had gone before). It was exhausting, but SO much fun to a) experience my nephew’s first Disney-trip, b) to see how much easier these exhausting days were 100+ lbs lighter, and c) to see Disney with adult eyes with some of my favorite people.
2022 was the year of the book…
As I mentioned in my previous post, I read over 100 books this year, most of it new fiction!
2022 was a year that reinforced how very lucky I am to have a lot of amazing people in my life. A year with such big life changes required that I have a solid support system in place. I am truly rich in friendships. Thank you ❤
It’s America’s city. I think most Americans have strong feelings about it, details about this place are baked into our cultural consciousness without our even trying. You either love it or you hate it.
The Big Apple. The city that never sleeps. The city so nice they named it twice.
Until 2022, I had only been to New York City once, in 2006 for a choir trip. It was a good trip and I had a blast, but it very much was not a self-directed trip. I was with a large group most of the time and a small group of folks for the rest. I was a broke college kid so I definitely could only do so much exploring and experiencing.
As a part of my research travels, I have been to most of Europe’s biggest cities, checking off collection after quintessential collection of Roman art. If you had told young me that I would have managed to go to the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen before making it to The Met, I don’t think I’d have believed you. Alas…
So in 2022 when I was finally heading to New York City to see one of my dearest friends and to see my first Broadway shows, I knew that I would finally have a chance to do New York City more the way I wanted to do it.
GOALS FOR TRIP
Most of these adventures were had with my friend, Katie, who lives in NYC, so by that very fact it was a great trip. You can read all about my first Broadway shows, which were totally amazing and perfect. It was a life-changing weekend, where I existed in the presence of some of my favorite performing humans.
That NYC Experience
I love being in a city. The hustle and bustle. The architecture, the sites, the smells, even the bad ones. There is something about a city that when you figure out how to navigate it, you just feel like you’re so in control and independent. Some cities work with you to make it happen (others work against you and are hard to navigate–these are frustrating cities).
New York is probably the most easily navigated city I’ve been to yet. It’s the griddy-est of grid cities. It’s relatively straightforward to mark the cross-section of your destination and move in the correct direction (To be fair: I’m not sure how this plays out in boroughs other than Manhattan). The buses and subway are all relatively straightforward, especially with google maps. They’ve also introduced a new ticketing system called OMNY that lets you just tap your card to pay your fare rather than needing to purchase a separate card (really a relief for the visitor). After a couple of days, I felt confident that I could navigate anywhere I needed to go without much stress.
I had done some Midtown exploration back on my first visit in 2006, but I had no real idea of where I was going (someone else was almost always navigating during that trip because they knew the city better). In 2006, I also had only really explored one major city by myself (Paris, and well, I guess D.C., which was near home). Since then, I have navigated London, Berlin, Munich, Copenhagen, Paris (again and again and again), Rome, Naples, Florence, Venice, Athens, and many other cities, all by myself. Being able to guide myself around New York and definitely seeing it with “grown-up” eyes was great, and it let me see its many strengths that 20-year-old me was not able to see (and to be fair, its weaknesses).
Without even trying, I imagine most Americans have general cultural knowledge of New York City’s sites and offerings, more than they possibly realize. I am no different, and it was great to wander the streets of NYC, even if it was painfully cold for half of my trip. The worst was definitely the Saturday of my visit, when the high for the day was 16*. Way too cold for comfortable walking around. Way too cold. I can’t wait to go back and explore in more comfortable temperatures. I’ll be able to give Central Park more than a passing glance. I’ll feel more comfortable just walking around to explore, since it won’t literally hurt to be outside. I’ll get to notice all of those city details that make a city unique. I can’t wait to explore more of in NYC.
That NYC Food
My food goals were random. I just wanted to eat well. I wanted to go to a French restaurant. I wanted to eat a bagel. I wanted to get cupcakes from Magnolia bakery (lolz), and I wanted to eat a corned beef sandwich from a Jewish deli.
I managed to have that delicious corned-beef sandwich, get cupcakes from Magnolia bakery, and a nice dinner at a French restaurant. In addition to the things I wanted to do, I also had some delicious Mexican and Greek food, an honest to dieu croissant, and a happy-hour cocktail that cost $19.
Those NYC Museums
I honestly barely scratched the surface of NYC museums: I visited the Met, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Met Cloisters. Of these museums, I only feel as if I fully did the Cloisters (and I would happily go back). I am sure I will revisit all of them again in turn in subsequent visits to NYC, plus hit many of the museums I missed.
I have wanted to go to The Met since reading The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg as a child. (I’m pretty sure the only way you could convince me to go camping would be if it was in a world-renowned museum.)
Obviously, I started with the Greek and Roman Wing. Duh. Highlights of The Met’s G&R collection include, among many others, the New York Kouros, the frescoes from the Villa of P. Fannius Synistor at Boscoreale, frescoes from the imperial villa at Boscotrecase, oodles and oodles of ceramics, oodles and oodles of statuary, Greek and Roman, portrait and idealized. Twas a little-ole recovering art historian’s paradise.
I did have a few moments of profound sadness, though. This was my first visit to a major collection since deciding to not pursue a straightforward academic trajectory of a tenure-track job. As I perused the Met’s antiquities, in some ways it felt like a physical pain akin to grief. Well, no, I suppose it is legit grief; grief for the path that is no longer mine. I no longer know what my role in the art historical world is. For that matter, I don’t know what I want it to be, either.
I meandered through the Egyptian collection, taking a nice little footrest in front of the Temples from Dendur (standing on stone floors is hard, literally!), before making my way to the American Wing, which I only had time to do partially. I basically sprinted through some parts of the European painting collection and then to visit oh-so-briefly the medieval section. I didn’t linger in the medieval wing since I knew I’d be going to The Cloisters later that weekend.
I am so glad to have checked the Met off of my list. It was about damn time and I’m sure I will be back.
American Museum of Natural History
“The” Museum that is a quintessential stop for many visitors to NYC was without a doubt the most hopping place I visited this trip. The rest of NYC, honestly, seemed a little empty thanks to the pandemic.
I could have spent almost the entirety of the visit looking at the murals in the entry hallway, if it weren’t so crowded. In fact, this post took so long to write because I got lost in a research-esque wormhole looking up these batshit insane murals, which celebrate the (dubious) accomplishments of Theodore Roosevelt. (I think I’ll do a separate exploration of them later, because they are wild, and truly quite awful.)
I mainly wanted to see the dinosaurs and gemstones. I cared less about the anthropological bits and non-dinosaur life-forms. I just wanted to see some dinos and shinies. It was so busy compared to all of the other places in NYC, that it was a little overwhelming to my post-pandemic self. The whole time I was just thinking about those murals. But I love seeing dinos.
The Met Cloisters
The Met Cloisters is an extension campus of the Met focused solely on medieval art from western Europe. Built in the early 20th century to house cloisters that were brought from Europe to NYC, the museum displays Byzantine, Romanesque, Gothic, and early Ren art in various media: manuscripts, sculpture, frescoes, windows, tombs, architecture, ivories, textiles, and on and on and on.
It is a literal HOOF to get The Cloisters–you definitely don’t feel like you’re still in Manhattan–you are, but only just, it’s on the northern edge of the island. We had to climb a fairly significant hill to get to the museum, which just felt right. I feel like every monastery I’ve visited required a “nice” climb to get to it (I blame Italy).
It was an evocative space, it definitely felt like I was transplanted to Europe. There were even lots of other visitors speaking not-English, which definitely contributed to that sensation. It’s a great museum, the quietest that I visited this trip. it’s totally worth a visit and the hoof. I definitely want to visit it again, in the spring or summer when all of the gardens are more active.
Until we meet again….
It is now weeks later and I am still just so pumped from my extended weekend to New York. I feel like I packed a lot into a relatively short amount of time and I can’t wait to go back. Fortunately, I might not have to wait too long as I am currently scheduled to go to a work conference in NYC! This time I get to do NYC as a professional and it will not be nearly as cold.
In January of 2022, I journeyed to NYC to see my first shows on Broadway. After a lifetime of dreaming, it was becoming a reality. I was schedule to see The Music Man starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster and Company starring Katrina Lenk, Patti LuPone, and many others. I was full of apprehension…would I see these stars of screen and stage? Would the shows even happen because of the ever-evolving omicron wave of the pandemic? And…how would I react to finally seeing a show on Broadway?
Meredith Willson’s The Music Man: January 13, 2022
The Music Man was my first show, scheduled for the day I arrived in New York.
I have never been a huge fan of the musical The Music Man, maybe because I’ve only seen film versions of it. Robert Preston, who originated Harold Hill on Broadway and in the film version, didn’t do it for me. He was charming, but I think he was more cemented in my brain as Toddy from Victor/Victoria, and just felt too old, especially set up against Shirley Jones, who was too virginal and missish for me–not really surprising for 1962. (Fun fact: Apparently Robert Preston was 44 when filming The Music Man–almost 10 years younger than Hugh Jackman. The process of aging is SO DIFFERENT now.) In the 2003 film version, Kristin Chenoweth was a fine Marian Paroo, but Matthew Broderick… honestly, I found his Harold Hill to be creepy and charmless.
So going into this show I was excited for some fun dance numbers and the two stars and not much else.
All day I had been relatively calm; I was thrilled to be back in a bustling city, I felt alive and somehow myself again. It was a good day. Even if, for some reason, Hugh Jackman or Sutton Foster called out that night, I would still get to see my very first Broadway show.
After walking around Midtown and having a very nice dinner with my friend who lives in NYC, we walked over to the Winter Garden Theatre. My friend was not joining me for the musical, but she very kindly took some pictures of me before heading back to her apartment.
It was time for me to enter the theatre!
I showed my vaccine card and ID to the usher, then my tickets, and was seated almost immediately. None of this slow line nonsense I’ve experienced at local theatres where it takes for-freaking-ever to filter into your seats.
Everyone was masked and ushers walked up and down the aisles with signs to mask and they definitely made sure that everyone was wearing their mask properly. (My COVID travel anxieties were practically non-existent in NYC since people consistently wore their masks correctly and you had to show your vaccine card everywhere.)
Next to me, a woman was telling her daughter that she wasn’t getting a Christmas present or birthday present this year. “My credit card is done after this trip.”
When she mentioned having seen Company the night before, I totally butted my way in: “Oh my god was Patti there?” She was! I tried chatting more with her, but I wasn’t in Nashville anymore and she did not engage. But that was okay because the show started PROMPTLY at 8:00 PM.
It’s hard to describe the rest of the evening. It was surely one of the best experiences of my life.
It was magical.
And yes, BOTH Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster were there!
Their pure, unadulterated talent blew the roof off the house. Hugh’s Harold Hill was charming and debonair but also vulnerable. His charm was legit and never felt creepy or old. Sutton’s Marian Paroo was smart, sharp, and sassy. They just worked. Together, they are a powerful pair. I felt like I was riding high the entire time from start to finish, and I loved every moment of it.
For the final dance number, I had tears in my eyes because they literally danced for 10 minutes. I had seen Sutton sing in person before, but I hadn’t seen her dance. I didn’t want it to end.
But then it did.
It was over.
Making my way back to my friend’s apartment I was just totally overwhelmed. After 36 years of waiting, I had finally seen a Broadway show. And it was fantastic.
I felt like my life would never be the same or as perfect and wonderful as it was in that moment. I pretty much cried with joy the whole way back to my friend’s apartment, arriving on her doorstep with raccoon eyes (thanks, mascara).
I remembered how much my mom had loved The Music Man. How perfect was it then that this was my first show. A show that my mom would have loved. My mom, who without a doubt, started this whole obsession.
It felt like a perfect full-circle moment: I had been waiting my whole life to see this show.
Stephen Sondheim’s, Company: January 15, 2022
While writing this weeks later, I am still riding high from seeing The Music Man. So two days after seeing The Music Man, it was strange to head into my second Broadway show. This time, Stephen Sondheim’s Company, starring the grande dame of my heart, Patti LuPone.
After a very cold day in New York, my friend once again walked with me to the theater and snapped my pic in front of The Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre. I was nervous. After seeing BOTH Hugh and Sutton, would I actually get to see Patti too? It seemed impossible. I couldn’t be that lucky.
Bernard B. Jacobs is a smaller theatre than the Winter Garden and my seats were a lot closer to the stage (though cheaper than my MM tickets, haha) and the whole tone of the set and audience was different. It felt older and more mature. (Which makes sense given the the two shows I was seeing!)
My friend texted me that she had heard someone asking an usher outside if Patti LuPone would be on and the person said she was.
I didn’t want to hope but as the lights went down, an announcement was made: “There is no photography and please make sure your cell phones were off….or else.” I knew. I knew that voice.
That voice belonged to none other than La LuPone. In that moment, I was glad to be wearing a mask because my face was doing some real stupid shit.
I was about to see Patti LuPone perform live.
For once in my life, I was squeezed in between two people that were bigger than I am, so it was a physically uncomfortable viewing experience, but it didn’t matter. The moment Patti came onto the stage, the entire theater drew in a breath. There was a group of gays (<3) behind me who literally audibly gasped. She commanded the whole goddamn stage, filling the whole room with her charisma.
Besides being in awe of experiencing a long-and much-loved voice, IN PERSON, it was a remarkable show. First of all, I owe Sondheim an apology for all of my previous ambivalence about his shows. I recognized his genius and we can not overstate his contribution to American theatre, but I just didn’t like his work. To be fair, I think the Sondheim shows we see the most often are not his best, especially the ones geared to younger audiences; like how many bad productions of Into the Woods can you deal with?
Company, often regarded as one of Sondheim’s master works, however, is one of his that I actually knew most of the words to. I was familiar with the general gist of the plot, but had never paid much attention to the show. In short, it tells the non-linear story of a single 30-something who is questioning their life choices as a single person in a group of marrieds.
First, it was hilarious, something I didn’t fully appreciate from simply hearing the songs. Second, I do not know what gave Sondheim the right to personally attack me with this musical. This staging, departing from every previous incarnation of the show, is gender swapped. The lead, formerly Robert, is now Bobbie (played by Katrina Lenk). As a woman in her mid-30s, like Bobbie, also single and not sure how she feels about it, the musical felt so real: tagging along as the ever-present third, fifth, or seventh wheel, not wanting to be alone, but also not really wanting to deal with lame bumble dates, or any dating apps for that matter, feeling like you’re racing to GET IT DONE whatever the hell IT is, how even though from the outside looking in couples have tons of problems of their own and coupledom seems like a hot mess, yet it’s something that is just regarded as normal and desired, but is it something I desire, I don’t even know, how am I supposed to know!?
…Wait, am I talking about me or Bobbie? What a gut punch.
I am fascinated with gender swapping narratives. So much can change based on such a simple choice to change the gender of the main character. This show originally from 1970, it would 100% not hit the same if Bobbie were still Robert in the 2020s. In addition to changing Robert to Bobbie, the engaged Amy becomes a gay male named Jamie–also a perfect choice that made the musical feel way more authentic to the current era. This show would not have hit the right notes (heh) if it had been a straight male lead surrounded by all hetero couples. The success of the gender swap has made me ponder what other musicals would do well with a similar treatment. There are a few that, like Company, I think need it. I’ll save that for another post.
Obviously, I fell in love with this show. This staging was one of the last things he worked on before he died, and he saw this cast perform not long before his death. One of his greatest legacies is that he continued to support and mentor aspiring artists and playwrights, and how he gracefully let his work live through the kinds of changes made in later interpretations–like the swap from Robert to Bobbie and Amy to Jamie.
After seeing a staging of Company, I finally understand his genius. And I also think Sondheim is not for the young–Company would have hit me completely differently had I seen it in its entirety at 22 or 23; honestly I doubt I’d have been into it at all. Seeing this at 36 was, at times, a little too on the nose. I am sorry I didn’t see it and appreciate it sooner, but each season in its moment, eh?
The only thing that would have made this musical better for me is the casting of the lead. Katrina Lenk’s voice was passable, and her acting serviceable, but the whole musical builds up to this one song, where Bobbie just has a MOMENT. It’s THE song. If you know any songs from Company, it’s likely this one. “Being Alive”has long been a favorite of mine. It has frequently been sung by Sondheim-ites such as Mandy Patinkin, Raul Esparza, Bernadette Peters, and, you guessed it, Patti Ann LuPone (of course, my fav version). It is one of THE songs of the Sondheim repertoire. Lenk’s rendition was… fine. Technically, nothing was incorrect with her performance…she hit the notes and sang the song, but compared to the rest of the stellar cast, it was weak sauce, lacking in emotion, a disappointing culmination where there should have been a powerful punch of a finale. It was a bummer end of what was otherwise a fantastic show.
The rest of the cast was amazing–I especially look forward to seeing what Matt Doyle, who played Jaime, will do. Patti LuPone is a goddamn goddess and national treasure, and it was literally a dream come true.
I managed to hold it together after this show. It wasn’t the same surge of adrenaline that I had post-Music Man. Rather, it was a reflective kind of post-show joy, more of a diffuse warm glow that kept me warm on the very cold journey to my lodgings.
I can’t wait to do it all over again
I still can’t quite believe that I had this AMAZING experience, where I FINALLY SAW SOME SHOWS ON BROADWAY. I am still pinching myself that I got to see all three of the stars I wanted to see. Unsurprisingly, I am addicted and I can’t wait to go back for more. Beyond the shows, I also had a brilliant time exploring the city, eating delicious food, and seeing some world-class museums. More on my general New York-y experience in my next post.
**You’re Going to See a Broadway Show.
This line is from one of my favorite musicals, The Drowsy Chaperone, in the opening monologue by the Man In Chair. If you got it, congratulations, you get 10 points. Do with them what you will.
*10 points if you can tell me what show that’s from!
I have always loved musicals.
My mom started me down this path with some oldies-but-goodies at a very young age: Meet Me in St. Louis and The Sound of Music were constant repeats. She introduced me to others that became favorites like Singing In the Rain, White Christmas, Hello, Dolly!, Fiddler on the Roof, as well as some of her favorites that I didn’t like, The Music Man (heh), Paint Your Wagon and Seven Brides for Seven Brothers Disney classics, such as Beauty and the Beast, still my personal favorite from childhood, contributed to my love of expressing your feelings through song. Barbara Streisand, Bette Midler, and Judy Garland were my DIVAS. In high school, I fell in love with Les Misérables, which initiated my love of STAGE musicals. College ushered in the age of Wicked, which only increased my love of a powerful diva belt. In 2005, my friend Ashley introduced me to the Broadway version of Thoroughly Modern Millie starring a young triple-threat actor, the incomparable Sutton Foster.
In this same period, I feel like YouTube really took off (crazy to think about life, pre-YouTube, eh?) and I clicked around the internet falling more in love with diva belters like Sutton Foster, Audra MacDonald, Bernadette Peters, Sherie Rene Scott, and (my love of all loves) Patti LuPone. It was around this time when she was Mrs. Lovett in the 2005 revival of Sweeny Todd, only to shortly thereafter go on to her iconic run in the 2008 revival of Gypsy, and win her second Tony.
Obviously, given my penchant for the genre, I have always wanted to see a show on the Great White Way, but the opportunity never really presented itself. Growing up, our family vacations were more battlefields and journeys to historical sites. We’d go to baseball games (go, sports, go?), and visit with family. But never New York.
I saw a few touring casts, though–the first of which was Andrew Lloyd Webber’s CATS! in the late 1990s. Then grad school happened and money, time, and logistics just…it wasn’t possible for expensive tickets and an expensive stay in an expensive city, just for the pleasure of seeing something on Broadway.
Fast forward to 2021.
I’ve finished grad school. I have a grown up job. Ashley, my friend who introduced me to Sutton Foster, is planning a trip to NYC to see To Kill A Mockingbird and The Music Man starring Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster. I am, understandably, instantly jealous…. but in that way where you’re still excited for your friend.
Until, I get a text from her. “Charlotte, I have to tell you something. It’s okay if you get mad at me.”
What would make me be mad at Ashley? I already knew that she was planning on seeing Sutton Foster, her OG fav, but I couldn’t hate her for that. Unless… Oh. She must be going to see someone else big, someone else famous…. Someone that I adored.
“You’re going to see Patti LuPone, aren’t you?”
PATTI LUPONE in Company.
SUTTON FOSTER and HUGH JACKMAN in The Music Man.
Two of my favorites (and obviously, hers; she would at least appreciate the genius she was witnessing so, like, it’s fine, but still). I pouted grumpily for a solid five minutes like a petulant toddler.
But then, like a high kick straight in the face, it hit me. I have a friend in NYC who I was going to visit. I could just…go and see the shows, too.
Could it really be that simple? I could decide to go? And then do it?
In classic Charlotte fashion, I decided immediately: I WOULD GO TO NEW YORK, TOO. Within days, I booked flights, and got myself tickets to see BOTH Patti LuPone and Sutton Foster, for my first ever Broadway shows at the tender age of 36.
At the point of booking, things seemed to be looking up pandemic wise. Delta was on the downward spiral, I had been boosted, things seemed to be straightening out. Then, as it came time for our trips to happen (mine just a few weeks after Ashley’s), omicron started to rear its ugly head.
Would we both get to see these amazing leading ladies?
In late December, Sutton Foster got COVID. A few days later, Hugh Jackman also tested positive. With Harold Hill out of commission, The Music Man announced it was shutting down until a week or so before my show. Ashley’s show was canceled.
We both knew performance cancellations were possible; we are still living through a pandemic. But that was the whole reason for her trip! To see this show! Then, the night she went to see Company, it seemed like she would at least get to see Patti LuPone; they even included a sheet in the playbills listing the evening’s cast members with La LuPone on the roster. However, right before the performance began, it was announced that her understudy would be playing the role of Joanne that evening. (She still loved the show.)
This has always been one of my fears: finally getting tickets to that Broadway show, starring one of my favorites, only to show up and have them call out. Enter COVID and that possibility became much more likely. With Music Man shutting down and Ashley not seeing Sutton or Patti, I had to confront the fact that I might not see either of them, too.
Combating all of my nerves, both about flying for the first time since the pandemic started and the possibility of my shows getting canceled, I ventured on my own to the greatest city in the world: New York.
Would it be all that I dreamt of? Would I actually even see the shows? Would I see Sutton? Would I see Hugh? Would I see Patti LuPone? The nerves were real.
Spoiler alert: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And Yeeeeees (you need those extra LuPone vowels). Check back next week to hear all about it.
I love to travel so much that it is part of my identity. There is no Charlotte without travel. I love the planning, the execution, and, most especially, the return home.
Over the past two years of pandemic life, I’ve reflected a lot on travel–what I miss about it, what I don’t miss about it, and what I can’t wait to do when it becomes a regular part of my life again.
During that same stretch of two years, I also made some pretty big life decisions that will impact how I travel going forward. The first is to proceed with weight loss surgery (WLS). The second is the revisioning of my career and my life: no longer am I on the quest for a tenure-track life, but rather a much less circumscribed path.
Both of these decisions have changed how I think about travel. The WLS angle is complicated: I’m really excited to go places feeling more fit and hopefully having more energy, but WLS also means that I won’t be able to eat certain things anymore, and food definitely factors into what I enjoy about travel.
As much as the WLS disrupts things, the life change that impacts my travel habits the most is actually the career flip. Nearly all of my travel so far has been in service to my education and research. The places I have gone and the things that I have seen have all been dictated by my professional goals. Granted, my professional goals were closely tied to my personal interests and desires, BUT…I had to have a legitimate academically-motivated reason to go where I did, because I had to intellectually justify that reason to people who judged that rationale (and helped fund these trips).
It hit me.
My future travel will no longer be dictated by professional reasons.
I can go where I want because I want to go. I don’t have to apply for funds or offer supporting rationales for why I need to go there.
I can go where I want because I want to go there. I don’t have to schedule time for research or site visits. I don’t have to meet with other professionals in my field.
Within reason. And within budget. (Ugh.)
Because…wanting *is* a reason.
This realization felt at once freeing and terrifying. I am one that likes to have purpose and intention in all that I do. I like there to be an end goal. I’m not great at “for the sake of” adventures. But now I wonder: how much of that is from habit? What if I am able to just go for the sake of going, and I just don’t know it yet?
With all of this swirling around in my head, I started thinking about what I love about travel and the different types of travel that exist. Because I am, and forever will be, a recovering art historian, I love putting things into categories (and perpetually revising and expanding those categories), I present the first iteration of my categories of travel.
Categories of Travel
The Visit There is no other reason for you to visit this place besides seeing someone who lives there. Your primary goal is to see that person or group of persons, and anything else is secondary. You stay in their home and “spend time” with one another.
The Event Rather than simply going to visit someone, you go somewhere for a specific event, be it a holiday, baby shower, graduation, concert, wedding, or themed party. Generally speaking, the Event requires your participation. You buy a gift, you prepare, you must engage with the event, as well as the people you see at the event. The locale is irrelevant.
The Destination You are going to see a place that cannot be replicated elsewhere, such as architecture, art, food, shopping (I guess? for some people?), and other cultural experiences. This requires engagement instead of simple passive existence in the space. You will get out of it what you put into it (which, your goals may be different depending on how you travel). You can do this by plane, train, or automobile.
The Wandering There are some who can just wander. See where the day takes them, motivated by god knows what, by their own two feet or by car and public transit. I think camping, backpacking, and some road trips fall into this category. I am not a wanderer.
The Vacation Ahh, the elusive vacation. Some might call the above 4 categories vacations, but I would argue that they are not at all the same category. A vacation can happen anywhere, but the goal is to vacate….your responsibilities, your agendas, your obligations. Travel is not necessary to vacate, but is oftentimes more enjoyable when you do. You can have a staycation or a destination vacation, subcategories which I think are self-explanatory.
The Trip This category can comprise facets of each of the above. Elements of relaxation, visiting specific destinations and people, but there is an agenda. You have things to do, places to go, maybe even people to see. Some trips are more akin to vacations, while others more akin to a visit. It depends.
The Extended Stay For some, this will take the form of a study abroad, for others perhaps a home exchange (my friend and fellow blogger can talk your ear off about this). I categorize an Extended Stay as remaining in one place longer than 3 weeks in order to really understand the place that you’re visiting. You’re there long enough to develop some kind of routine, an understanding of the local grocery store, and pick out a favorite something in your “neighborhood,” be it a gelato shop, fruit stand, pizza place, bakery, etc.
Modes of Travel
Group Travel “Group” can be loosely defined. I would say that this is not family travel, though families can participate in group travel. The dynamics of the group can be ever variable. You can have smaller groups of non-related individuals or large groups of non-related individuals such as a tour group or class, or somewhere in between. Your travel will be impacted by the way that you interact with the group creating an additional layer to the experience.
Family Travel Family travel can have lots of the same features as group travel, but the dynamic can shift and change more rapidly, and is infinitely more mercurial. Anyone who has been trapped in a car with their siblings knows how rapidly that dynamic can shift.
Solo Travel You fly solo. You arrive solo. You may meet up with people for an activity or share a hotel for a few days, but for the most part, you drive the itinerary and the pace, pick all of the restaurants, and dictate the agenda. There are definite advantages to solo travel: not having to fight with people about what’s for dinner or doing activities you do not like. There are also disadvantages: being alone; sometimes not feeling safe; people seeing your being alone as an invitation to talk (it isn’t, ever, in my case); and being the only one to make decisions can be exhausting…but rewarding.
Business Travel This is a type of travel that I have only had some experience with, though you could make an argument that lots of my research travel was business, none of my trips were driven by commercial reasons. Most were not collaborative in any way. I see business travel as traveling to a location for a meeting, be it with collaborators or investors; travel for participation in a conference as a representative of an organization or institution; and travel for which someone else foots the bill.
Most of my travel so far has been some combination of solo/business, extended-stay, destination trips. There’s so much more I want to do and see! It’s liberating to know that I can do what I want rather than having to provide justifications for why. The only person I have to justify anything to is ME.
Here are some immediate goals that come to my mind:
An all-inclusive vacation type vacation. I want to go somewhere pretty and scenic, where I can experience a view, eat tasty food, and read books all day long. This could be a colder climate vacation. I’ve always wanted to go somewhere like Aspen or Vail, not for the skiing (because clearly I would kill myself) but for the cozy. Snuggle by the fire with a good book and make some trips to the hot tub (to read there too). It could also be a warmer climate vacation at a beachy type resort. Same activities, just different bodies of water, and different drink choices. Choice of location can be based exclusively on how pretty the view is and how comfortable I am able to be while enjoying that view.
A non-research related destination trip, international. The place that immediately comes to mind is Ireland. I have always wanted to go. Like many Americans, I’m vaguely of Irish descent (Forstall is an Irish last name, though there are many spellings). I could…just go? I need to start thinking outside of my research-driven travel box and think about other places I want to go…just because.
A non-research related destination trip, domestic. I’ve been to a bunch of places in the US, but my list could expand greatly. A lot of my travel in the US has also been in the category of The Visit (again, not a bad thing) but there’s a lot to do and see in this big dumb country. Similarly, I need to start thinking outside of the box.
What do you think? Are there categories and modes I’ve neglected? Where should I go? What type of travel should I try? What should I add to my list when literally anything is on the table? (Besides camping, I don’t camp.)
My friend Erin issued me this challenge: You are in Paris for a 24 hour layover. What do you do?
I am not sure a more difficult challenge could be issued to me, and I only mean that a little bombastically. Paris is one of my favorite places on earth. I know it well–it’s definitely the place outside of the USA where I’ve spent the most time. On the other hand, it never ceases to surprise me, it is never the same, but is always familiar. I know it’s cliche to be that bougie American bitch who loves Paris, but I like to think that my relationship with the city is not a superficial one.
There are so many different ways that I could pass a day in Paris. It could be a nostalgia walk—in areas that remind me of people and times that I love and cherish. It could be a museum day, where I visit some of my favorite museums, the ones that led me to my love of art and history. It could be an architecture walk, visiting some of the best Paris has to offer. It could be a food tour—hitting up some of my best and favorite places to grab some French treats. Honestly, it really has to be all of the above.
Let’s set the stage. I am off on a trip and I have a layover at CDG, where I have enough time to go into the city for the day. I’m going to pretend that customs and security lines don’t last forever. I’ll arrive in the city proper at 9 AM and my flight leaves at midnight, so I’ll need to RER to the airport at like…9 PM. TWELVE hours in Paris. I am able to leave my stuff in the airport so no chucking around luggage (phew). I am imagining that this day is in the springtime, still chilly, but comfortable.
Mission 1: Prend un café crème et un chausson aux pommes.
I will probably, owing to habit, take the RER to the Luxembourg station, disembarking there and finding a place near the Luxembourg gardens to eat my breakfast. For that breakfast, I will consume a cafe creme and a pastry, probably one of my favorites, the chausson aux pommes. Yes, I will be hungry in less than an hour, but this is my French petit-dejeuner of champions. A cafe crème is similar to a cappuccino or a cafe au lait, but with a little bit less milk. I might go back and forth between a cafe crème and a noisette (a macchiato)—or heck, go for both.
But the real treat will be the pastry. If you google “chausson aux pommes” you will see english results that call it a “French apple turnover” with pictures of triangular pastries. I feel like this is a description that loses something in translation. There is no triangular shape, but a semi-circular pastry with scalloped edges that show off the intensely laminated layers to perfection. On chaussons, there is no crunchy sugar topping, or even worse, some kind of icing drizzle. Filled with an apple compote, the texture of the chausson aux pommes is ridiculously delicious in its simplicity.
I will eat my petit dej, while enjoying the sounds of a city coming alive. I love Paris to such a degree that even just existing within its arrondissements makes me a happy girl. It has its own smell (there’s one stretch of metro that you could take me to blindfolded and I could tell you where we are immediately) and its own feeling and I love it so, even when it’s mildly (or egregiously) disgusting.
At that cafe, preferably in outdoor seating, I’d spend about 45 minutes to an hour sipping my cafe creme and eating my chausson and reading some kind of trashy novel–likely ordering une noisette after I finished my cafe creme. At the 45 minute mark, I know I’d be hesitant to get going, but simultaneously anxious to do so. Getting up, I’d do a little stretch and leave the little bit of comfort that the table and this spot provided. It was mine for breakfast, and I’ll leave it to someone else to enjoy.
Mission 2: Morning Walk through the center of touristy Paris
Given my choice to breakfast near Luxembourg Gardens, I’ve set myself up for an exemplary walkabout in some of my favorite areas of Paris. This walkabout is NOT for the weary. I’d walk my way up the Rue Sufflot and say hello to the Pantheon and St. Etienne. I’d maybe walk toward Rue Mouffetard and Place de la Contrescarpe, reveling in memories of my misspent youth. That sounds poetic doesn’t it? It really wasn’t that misspent, but I did traipse about with a backpack full of cheap wine, beer, and liege waffles for nights of youthful exuberant fun with mes amis de Paris.
Then, I’d wind my way back to the Rue Saint Michel and the Seine. I have oddly affectionate memories of Place St. Michel. At this intersection, there are several French bookstores that I might wind my way through for a hot second maybe picking up some postcards and bric a brac. I’d turn my sights toward the Seine and move toward Ile de la Cité and Notre Dame de Paris. I haven’t seen the cathedral since it caught on fire in 2019, so I’m sure I’d spent some time inspecting the structure to the degree that I am able. After finishing up with NDdP, I would think about going to see Ste. Chapelle, but then remember that it costs something absurd like 10 euro to go in and tell myself I’d go the next time I’m in town. I’d hie over to the Rive Doite and take in the Hotel de Ville. From there I would likely decide do I head east toward the Marais? Or west toward the Louvre?
I think heading west would win out. I’d walk along the Seine until I get to the westernmost bit of the Louvre. I’d go and check on my Napoleonic arches. La Grande Arche only from a distance; it’s too far out to really pay attention to today, but I can at least see it down that fine Hausmannian road. Nevertheless I’d pay attention to the Arc du Carrousel for many minutes and enjoying one of my favorite prospects, les Jardin des Tuileries. I’d cut back over the Seine, and keep walking. This walk would allow me to glimpse sights of some of my favorite Parisian buildings, most of them stereotypical touristy items like the Tour Eiffel, the Musee D’Orsay, the Academie Francaise. I’d conclude at the Tuileries. I’d hop on the Metro, ligne 1, en direction de Porte de Vincennes. I’d disembark in the Marais at the station St. Paul.
Mission 3: Lunch at L’As du Falafel OU un sandwich jambon beurre
Unsurprisingly, my chausson aux pommes would have long since left my memory during this jaunt around Paris. After getting off the metro at St. Paul, I’d head toward L’As du Falafel to get some of my favorite food to eat in Paris, the sandwich grecque, done, or falafel, whatever you want to call it. There are so many of these little shops and restaurants in Paris that sell the delicious doner kebab and its variants that to me, it’s one of the most dependable foods that I can always rely on to be cheap, fast, and filling when I’m traveling in Europe. It’s never led me astray and always satisfied me. This place, however, is *good*. It’s in the Marais, a neighborhood that is traditionally Jewish and still has a very strong Jewish presence (this is where you would go in Paris to find a bagel!). Given this fact, it is one of the only restaurants open on Saturdays in the area and is often overwhelmed with customers. Still, I’ve never seen it without a line. This day, since it’s my perfect day, is not going to be a Saturday. I will order a sandwich with frites, and literally shove it in my face with glee.
As tempting as this food will be, there is a good chance that hunger might drive me to seek sustenance elsewhere if faced with a substantial line at L’As du Falafel. In that case, I’d seek out the simplest and best of the French repasts, the sandwich jambon beurre. The smooth, rich saltiness of the French butter on that crunch, bien cuite, fresh baguette with the not-as-salty-as-in-the-US ham is just one of my favorite, favorite sandwiches that I cannot replicate aux Etats Unis, as much as I might (and I have) tried. My disappointment at not finding a smaller line at L’As du Falafel will not last long.
Whatever my lunch choice, I am also confident I would acquire a Fanta au citron and guzzle it down. I would be in a state of complete and utter happiness and exhaustion, but fortified to move on to the next mission.
Mission 4: Macarons from Pierre Hermé
Ah, the macaron. The crisp meringue cookies sandwich delightfully flavored buttercream. Rich and indulgent, these are among some of my favorite French sweets. Not too far from L’As du Falafel is one of the best establishments to get macarons, Pierre Hermé. No, not Hermès. Ladurée is great in a pinch (and available in the US, though only in NYC, DC, Florida, and California).* I’d hustle over there and pick up a box of these confections and eat them throughout the rest of the day.
Per usual, I’d choose my favorite parfums: vanille, café, pistache, and framboise (raspberry), and perhaps I’d try some more adventurous flavors. After getting my loot, I’d choose one to eat, and pocket the rest in my bag to be enjoyed later.
* There is also a Pierre Hermé in the US, but only one in Saks 5th Ave in NYC.
Mission 5: Une musée!
This is a hard decision to make. I must go to a museum while I was in Paris. As much as I would long to go visit the oodles and oodles of Roman statuary at the Louvre or the architectural awesomeness of the Musee D’Orsay, that’s just too much. For this single day of awesome, these museums take up too much time and energy. So I’d likely choose between a few of my favorites, which are all smaller, but stellar, museums.
Musee Marmottan Monet: Massive collection of Monet including one of the most famous Impression, soleil levant, as well as other works that date from the medieval to the modern eras.
Musee Gustave Moreau: Not going to lie, this is one of my favs but not for the collections, which are exceptional. The former home of Symbolist painter Gustave Moreau, this museum preserves his home and workshops which he left to the state at his death. It also happens to contain one of the most magnificent staircases of all time. The entire edifice just screams Belle Époque to me and I love every bit of it.
Musee Rodin: Housed in the Chateau Biron, a building in which Auguste Rodin, one of the best sculptors since Bernini, used several rooms as his studio space, this museum is a treat. The museum’s collection is composed of lots of his works, in addition to works that he collected, including a room dedicated to sculptures by Camille Claudel. Best of all, this museum is both indoors and out with sculptures in the well-manicured gardens, including a cast of his remarkable La Porte d’Enfer and iconic Le Penseur.
Musee Carnavalet: This is the museum dedicated to the history of the city of Paris. Not going to lie, this is the one that will probably win out amongst the others. For one, it isn’t too far from Pierre Herme. However, it’s also just an awesome museum that occupies two hotels particuliers. The Musee Carnavalet just opened after a large renovation in May of 2021, so of course I’d have to check out the changes, if my poor memory can fully recall what it was before. This museum’s collection goes well beyond painting and objets d’art, though it certainly contains oodles and oodles.
Mission 6: Confit de canard
After hours of museum going, I know my appetite would be demanding for some noms. I’d walk around a little bit more, probably in a direction that would let me accomplish goal number 8 (see below). The goal for dinner will be to find a classic French bistro that’s not toooooo touristy to eat my favorite French dinner. Confit de canard, crispy potatoes, and a salad with a lemony vinaigrette that I have not yet figured out how to make. I would probably glance at the dessert menu, but forcefully say no—there are better treats to be had elsewhere.
Mission 7: Trouvez des carambars fruits et des gaufres
The timing of this particular mission is inconsequential and should be based entirely upon opportunity. Carambar fruits are manna from heaven. They are what Starburts should aim to be. There are several varieties of carambar. The original flavor is a kind of a caramel chocolate tootsie roll that is *very* chewy—could pull your tooth straight out of your head if you were not careful. The fruit versions come in four parfums: orange, citron, fraise, and framboise. Unlike starbursts which are so sweet they hurt your teeth, these aren’t as sweet and they’re much softer in texture and less waxy. They’re my absolute favorite candy of all time.
Mission 8: See the Tour Eiffel sparkle
My last and final mission is a silly and sentimental one. Every night, on the hour, the Tour Eiffel sparkles for five minutes. It’s a sight that never fails to bring a smile, however small, to my face. I can’t deny that part of my love of Paris is its tendency to hit all of my favorite whimsical and romantic notes. I fell in love with Paris before I ever visited. My grandparents traveled a bunch and my grandpa would put together scrapbooks of their trips, with matchbooks, pictures, tickets, napkins, menus, all of the random things you collect while traveling. In addition they had all of these guidebooks. Whenever I visited, I would pore over them. The pictures, the history, the food, the cafes! Paris just seemed to have this aura that I wanted to revel in. It would have been hard for me to pick a favorite of their scrapbooks (one which I very much wish I had), I know I probably spent most of my time in their Paris albums and their Ireland albums. Taking French in high school and in college only pushed my love of Paris further. I finally got to meet Paris in 2004, for a 3-week trip for January term.
I was 18, and it was my first trip outside of the United States. I was lonely (definitely the only dork on the trip more interested in France than drinking), experiencing some unexpected travel shock, and my camera had broken on our first outing. I had been approaching Notre Dame for the first time—its size shocked me and it seemed unreal. I tried to snap a pic on my point and shoot (ugh, I’m ancient) and it just wouldn’t forward the film. I nearly cried. So later that day, when I saw the Eiffel Tower sparkle (which I’m not even sure I knew it could do until that moment), I just remember that feeling of contentment and disbelief that I was actually there, in Paris, in France across the ocean from my home overwhelming me. The bright sparkling lights brought joy and excitement for that trip and that experience back to my mind. Ever since, it’s moments like those that I try and chase that deep-seated contentment with the view in front of you and the experience at hand. A sparkly tour Eiffel now has the benefit of memory accrual—it brings to mind all of the wonderful memories I have when the tour was sparkling.
After winding my way through the city and my memories, my belly full of duck and potatoes, I’d probably try to find a crepe au sucre just to round out the culinary delights of the day. I’d head to the Pont des Arts before needing to catch the RER back to the airport. On the Pont des Arts, I’d feel that same feeling I felt in 2004, that deep-seated feeling of rightness. I can’t believe I am here in this city that I love, how lucky am I to be here. How lucky am I to return. And then the tour will sparkle.
Before I knew it, my time in Germany was over. It had some highs and lows, and I was ready to be in a place that was familiar. Germany and I never meshed in the week that I spent there; perhaps this was because it came on the heels of Denmark where I felt instantly comfortable or maybe I just wasn’t hitting the right spots. I really think the next time I do Germany, I need to do it with someone else who knows it, loves it, and can introduce me what it has to offer.
I was ready for Italy. My first stop of my Italian tour was the fair city of Verona, of Shakespearean fame (for most…it has many other, more remarkable things to be famous for says this ancient art historian). The train ride was long, but beautiful. Through southwestern Germany, Austria and northern Italy we went, winding our way through mountains, finally arriving in Fair Verona.
Verona was immediately from the outset, entirely charming. I lucked out with a very nicely located and appointed Airbnb. I did my usually settling in and took my first nighttime walk around Verona. I ate and I grocery shopped, at an Aldi, and came back to plan my one full day in Verona.
Verona has a lot of well-preserved Roman remains, of which I was only able to scratch the surface. I started my day with my traditional Italian breakfast of a cornetto con crema and a cappuccino, then walked to my first destination, the Porta Leone, which was really difficult to photograph, but super fascinating.
A defensive gate dating to around the 1st or 2nd century CE, the Gate of the Lions was incorporated into other buildings as time progressed, preserving basically one side of its facade. One of my favorite things about Europe is the manner in which archaeological remains have been integrated (even sometimes when done badly or even just haphazardly) with the modern city.
After drinking my fill of the Porta Leone, I walked down one of the main (touristy) drags of the town, ate lunch, bought market fragola, which were the best freaking strawberries I’ve ever eaten. It was such a gorgeous day, the right amount of sun and shade, bustling, but not overcrowded. After some disappointments in Germany, Fair Verona was living up to her name.
I continued to walk around Verona, taking in parts of the city that I knew relatively nothing about. I did some people watching, square sitting, church wandering, and tomb inspecting, as one does. A few churches that I wanted to inspect were closed, but I persisted. I walked by the so-called Houses of Juliet and Romeo; Juliet’s house was overran by tourists, Romeo’s entirely ignored.
I finally drew closer to the reason for my visit in Verona. The Arch of the Gavii. The arch is a curious one–an early quadrifrons monument with no extant sculpture. I did my scholarly thing, inciting the interest of a bunch of Veronese teens that were completely baffled by my interest in the structure that provided a spot for their post-school shenanigans. As an art historian, one who grew up in the relatively uninspiring world dominated by 1980s and 1990s strip malls, it’s always crazy to me to think of growing up amongst centuries after centuries of STUFF built by a city’s previous inhabitants. I was lucky enough to grow up in a state where there certainly is plenty of history, but it very much exists in a separate space from that of daily life, “preserved” for posterity by local, state, and federal municipalities.
Anyway, a tangent of an American abroad that’s constantly in shock of the material culture of places that aren’t home. I finished my scholarly perusal, visited a few other places that was on the ‘dissertation’ list, then went back to
my airbnb for a siesta. After my nap, I went to dinner, eating in the shadow of Verona’s famous amphitheater, which is so much smaller, but, in my opinion, no less impressive than Flavian amphitheater in Rome. Every summer, Verona’s amphitheater plays host to an incredible opera festival, and I missed performances by just one day. Just think, I could have seen Puccini in an amphitheater. As was becoming my habit on this Eurotrip, just as I was settling in, it was time to turn my attention to the next city. Next on the stop on the tour was also the first longer stay, and my long awaited return to my darling Roma!
After my fiasco in Mainz, I was ready to head to my last stop of my German tour: Munich. The train ride from Mainz to Munich was about 4 hours, and I was very amused to see a candy store in the Mainz train station THAT several people attempted to go into, even though it was obviously closed at 9am in the morning. WHEN YOU NEED GUMMY BEARS, YOU NEED GUMMY BEARS. Needless to say, they were disappointed.
Bavaria is where I’ve always wanted to go in Germany, and I definitely want to go back. My most recent ancestors to immigrate to the US were German, from Bavaria, in the late-19th century. In my mind, what I wanted to see of Bavaria was not in cities like Munich, but instead smaller cities. I was pleasantly surprised by Munich—though of all of my German stops, it was the most touristy spot.
I didn’t have a lot of time in Munich and of all of the places I traveled on the trip, I had the hardest time finding acceptable lodging in the city. BUT I found a hostel by the train station that was okay. Not great. Not terrible, but okay. I took one of my strategic taxi rides to the Siegestor, which was decently far away. A modern rip off of the Arch of Constantine ordered by the Bavarian king Ludwig the I. It took a beating in World War II, but instead it was partially restored to remind viewers of the toll war.
After I finished exploring the Siegestor, I walked down Ludwigstraße until I got to the super touristy area of town with the Glockenspiel, Frauenkirche, and many many other things. I walked around a bit, grabbed some dinner, dessert, kept walking and taking in what I could of Munich’s historic center.
The next day was what I had been waiting for: my reasons for visiting Munich. The Glyptothek and catching up with a friend I hadn’t seen in years who was coming to see me from where she was currently living in Germany. I walked to the Glyptothek after enjoying breakfast and a coffee.
My so-called tour of colonialism continued. The Glyptothek was quiet, I had the place nearly entirely to myself, and I spent as much time as I could in each room. All in all, it wasn’t a terribly large museum, but every room had canonical works of sculpture.
While I was in the museum, it had started to rain, and not just little rain, but hard core pouring down rain. I met up with my friend for lunch, we caught up, walked around as much as we could in the rain, and had a swell time just shooting the breeze. It was fantastic seeing a familiar face attached to someone I hadn’t seen in a while.
Sometimes when traveling things go wrong. Sometimes it’s big. Sometimes it’s little. And sometimes it’s a series of things that just cause you to go mad.
The latter fits my trip to Mainz.
It started with confusing alerts about my trains being cancelled or me being unable to make my connection via the Deutschbahn app. This led me to be super nervous about making my connection in Frankfurt. Mainz is relatively close to Frankfurt so I assumed that it would simply be a matter of catching another local train.
My train left super early and with the confusing alerts, I decided to arrive well ahead of the scheduled time. Fortunately other travelers had decided to do the same. While I was waiting for the train, a man came up to me and asked me a question in broken English about his ticket, which he held out to me. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand his question, the ticket wasn’t for the same train as mine, and I found the German train system a little convoluted. I said, I’m sorry I don’t know. Apparently this response was NOT what they wanted to hear. He started to yell, but again, I couldn’t understand him. Thankfully, a man who was there with his family moved closer to me and stood behind me, gradually shying off the yelling man. This was the third uncomfortable/aggressive interaction I had had with a strange man since being in Germany (Portuguese man on the ferry, then one while I was at the Memorial to the Murder Jews of Europe, then this train guy).
Next, I ended up sitting in the wrong compartment on the train. The cars, instead of being labeled at the beginning of the car, are labeled at the end. I thought I was in car 12, but I was in car 14 (there was no car 13). After a few minutes I went to go get some food for breakfast, and when I came back there was someone in my seat. I said politely that I think there’s a mistake that I think that’s my seat, not in German of course. The lady of course spoke perfect English but her response was nearly hostile. Eventually, we figured out that I was wrong (it took too long b/c instead of just being like see this is car 14 she wanted to argue and refused to engage). When I finally said, okay but why doesn’t it have it labeled at the beginning of the car and it’s only labelled at the end after you’ve passed through the car, she softened a bit and chuckled and said that, yes, it was confusing.
The rest of the train ride was uneventful. My train arrived in Frankfurt and I was expelled into a mad mess of people. I feel as if I have to explain that I’ve traveled a lot by train. I love train travel. Most of my travel has been in Italy and France–both systems are easily navigable. Germany…I had my ticket, but I couldn’t figure out which number on the ticket my train to Mainz was the one on the departure board. I eventually figured it out and caught my train with no fuss.
I arrived in Mainz, excited to be outside of Berlin and in a different region of Germany. I was only staying in Mainz for one night and I chose a hotel right by the train station, or so I thought. Turns out, no, I kind of did, but it was up an incredibly steep incline that seemed ridiculous with my suitcase and backpack. I took a taxi because I really didn’t want to walk up the mountain and find out I had gone the wrong way.
After checking in at my hotel I rushed down the mountain to the museum I was there to visit and it was SLAMMED with people. I was so surprised to see it was full of people, but there was some exhibition that had a draw to kids. I wandered around the museum and kept expecting to see the stuff I was there for, but it wasn’t there. I was super confused and so I asked. It turns out, the stuff I wanted to see had been moved to another museum, several years ago. The collections still technically belonged to the museum I was visiting, and thus that’s how they were listed in the sources I found it in and nothing on the website indicated they were at another museum. The museum they were currently in, was closed the day I was in Mainz, and it opened after my train left the next day.
I was really mad at myself. I hadn’t considered the possibility that they’d be at a different museum than the one they were cited in. I had gone back and forth about keeping my trip to Mainz so short, and clearly I made the wrong decision. If I just stayed an extra day, there would have been no problem! But alas! This is the difficulty with planing a trip that moves so fast. Shit happens, literally.
So, I said to myself, “that’s okay! There are things OUTSIDE that I want to see. I will go see them.” I took a gander at google maps, assured myself of the coordinates, then walked in the direction of the first monument, and I began to see glimpses of the pretty part of Mainz. Just when I began to arrive near where the first monument, and most important, was there was a swirl of activity…barricades blocked the road, fences were blocking the park, and about 150 military vans and vehicles with their accompanying personnel. In the distance I saw the monument that I wanted to see, but between me and it, were the barricades, the humvees, the machine guns, and the personnel.
It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I was exhausted and about a week into my trip (usually when the first round of tired hits) and I had been going non-stop. Things had not gone my way that day and I had a choice, Mainz wasn’t going to work research wise and all of my things to do in Mainz were for research. I had no plan for other things to do. The tired wore out. I decided to have an off afternoon, a thing I hadn’t had since arriving in Europe.
Before hiking up to my hotel, I grabbed some doner kebab. The people in this small doner cafe were the warmest I had met in Germany thus far. A few families with small children were there and their antics cheered me. The prospect of doner also didn’t hurt. I ate my doner and headed up the mountain, and took a much-needed nap. I took the gift of a free afternoon, and I needed it sorely.
Fittingly, I only took 2 pictures from my day in Mainz, one in the train station before I got yelled at and then my doner before I ate it. The before and after of the worst day of my trip.
I have decided that I am not an “in the moment” blogger. I need some reflection and some time to process. My Eurotrip 2018 was FAST, a whirlwind, and I moved fast. Six countries in six weeks. I wrote my blog on Copenhagen while in Berlin, but then stopped…unsurprisingly. This works out well for you, because now you, dear reader, get fond remembrances instead of in-the-moment whining.*(see above note about six countries in six weeks. I was TIRED.)
Anyway! Back to your regularly scheduled blogging!
Berlin, Day 1 I didn’t know what to expect from my first city of my German tour. Somehow, I think got my preconceived notions concerning Munich and Berlin confused. I expected Munich to be cold and sterile and Berlin to be vibrant and lively. And they are both those things in some parts, but Berlin was far more cold and sterile that I was expecting. I have a feeling that doing it again someday with someone that knows and loves it, could change my opinion…and I WILL go back. I need to see the Pergamon Altar. Doing these things solo definitely have an impact on how I experience a place, not always for the better, and sometimes, probably not for the worst.
Getting to Berlin was nothing what I expected. I thought I had booked a train, but I in fact booked a bus. The bus departed Copenhagen bright and early, and it took the ferry from Denmark to Rostock, Germany. The ferry was actually pretty neat…It was nice having lunch and getting to see the water. The only downside of the ferry is that there was nowhere to go when an itinerant Portuguese man struck up a conversation in the hopes that I would take him back to America as “your man.” After the ferry, the bus drove to Berlin and dropped everyone off at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, where I taxied over to my hostel, which was unfortunately a little far afield.
I was immediately stunned by how modern Berlin felt. This should have been a no brainer that Berlin would feel different than any place I had been in Europe. My visions of Germany were decidedly Alpine, so the reality of a pretty typical American-looking city as my first stop in Germany felt disjointed.
I arrived at my hostel, which was not nearly as swanky as my hostel in Berlin, and the welcome desk person chastised me for writing my nationality as “American”* and also said, “well, America is kind of a shit country now isn’t it?” I’m not really sure anyone in Western Europe gets to point fingers. 😛 Tired me did NOT want to deal.
Me in front of the Altes Museum. I couldn’t wait to go in the next day!
The Berlin Cathedral! Alas, I did not go in. Much regret.
Now, I only basically had a day and a half in Berlin. I needed to set out immediately to do my non-museum exploring. I wanted to do the Brandenburg Tor, the memorial to the Murdered Jews, and just get the feel for Berlin, and grab FOOD. I also wanted to get a new bag, because the bag I had brought, from Eurotrip 2017, had NOT held up well and was falling apart. I ubered to Alexanderplatz, quickly found a TK Maxx and bought a new bag. I walked slowly towards Museuminsel, continually struck by the newness of it all. Marienkirche was a weird juxtaposition of old with the industrial newness around it.
Me and the Brandenburg gate
There’s a street (and apparently a neighborhood!) with my name!
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. It was super impactful.
Museuminsel was the only bit where I clearly felt like I was in Europe. Berliner Dom and the Altes Museum, though both from the 19th century, provided much of the “ambience” I had expected. Now, I was getting hungry. I wanted food. Preferably German food. I walked to Brandenburg Tor from Museuminsel and there was literally nothing between the two (oh, besides the Porsche cafe by the Porsche store, and Starbucks, but, no). I took my time at Brandenburg Tor, then headed toward the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe. No food. Kept walking. Finally some food, but it was all curry. Now, I like curry, but I had had curry for lunch, so I didn’t want more curry. I kept walking, trying to swing back in the way I had come, hoping to find something. Anything. Finally, shops! A mall, but alas, no restaurants serving food that I wanted to eat or could afford!
I FINALLY found a place, which was a total tourist trap. It was a Bavarian restaurant called Maximilians, never mind I was not in Bavaria. I realized there, that my idea of German food was also quite stereotypical. Sausages. Pretzels. Beer! Sauerkraut! It was probably good I stumbled onto a touristy place to eat, because I learned the next day that most Berlin restaurants don’t take cards. What I ate was delicious, including the pickle, which was delightful. I had a berlinerweisser with lambic, a pretzel, and far too much food. It felt like a good hello to Germany, even if I was super cranky by the time I found it. I ubered back to my hostel, and slept SO hard that night. I had a LOT of museum-ing to do the next day.
Berlin, Day 2
I woke up early enough to be at the Altes Museum when it opened. I bought a ticket for the entire Museuminsel and planned on doing as much as possible–I wanted to spend as much time with Altes and the Neues Museums as humanly possible. I also wanted to do the Pergamonmuseum, and the Bode. IF I had time, I wanted to see the Altes Nationalgallerie (painting!). (Hint: I did not have time). I had planned on seeing if there was a place to grab coffee and breakfast nearby, but alas, this is where I learned that they did not take cards, and I was fairly low on euro after the previous night’s dinner, AND unlike the US, there were not ATMS or “geldautomatiks” located in the establishments) I decided to wait until lunch. It was a very hungry day of museuming.
Name that mythological sarc! One of my favs!
I won’t often say it, but DAMN the pots in this place.
This little Athenian owl buddy.
I forgot that I was going to be seeing this at the Altes. It was amazing.
It is really hard to sum up Museuminsel. The Altes was where I spent the most time, and every step I took it seemed like I was confronted with a canonical artwork from antiquity. The Altes was without a doubt my favorite museum of the day. The Neues was also very cool–but much busier. Like at the Altes, I saw many, many things I had only read about before. I went to the Pergamonmuseum just to see the Market Gate of Miletus and the Ishtar gates, but it was the most packed of all the museums I visited and I was starting to get worn out, both of museuming and the crowds. At this point, it was about 3:30 in the afternoon so I didn’t have much time left to do the last museum, the Bode, until stuff closed down at 5. The Bode was so quiet. I had most of the entire place to myself. Focusing on the medieval and Renaissance periods, it was a museum with a vast scope, one on I only partially appreciated (see earlier note about being tired).
Amarna relief with my hand for scale. SO TINY (Neues)
Ishtar Gate (Pergamon)
Miletus Market Gate (Pergamon)
After finishing up at the Bode I sat in front of the museum for a bit, listening to a super talented musician play his guitar. I was tired and VERY hungry…all I had had that day to eat was a coffee, water, and piece of pastry from the coffeeshop in between the Altes and Neues, but the music, plus the beautiful afternoon calmed me. I walked in the opposite direction than I had the night before, and discovered I had made an error (not really, I wanted to see the Brandenburg Tor), there were about 1001 super cool restaurants to the east of Museuminsel. I found an ATM, got some dinner and ate some food. I headed back to my hostel, pleased with what I had accomplished that day. Just like that, my time in Berlin was DONE!
Finally seeing some urban scenes in Berlin I could appreciate.
*The rationale is that other folks from the Americas could also call themselves American. I’ve heard this before in my time abroad, and I see the point. I wouldn’t get upset if someone from the Americas called themselves that. However, “American” as the adjectival nationality of an individual from the United States is universally known/understood. United Statesian isn’t a thing. We’ve got plenty of faults, why don’t we stick to those?
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