As you move through this life… you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you.” — Anthony Bourdain
Metz, France was not a walking city.
Not entirely, at least. The lack of any nearby scenery, combined with a hoard of taxis lined up in front of the train station told me that the city center was a good distance away, much further than it had been in other places I’d visited… probably not meant to be walkable. But I set out on foot any way. Armed with a map from the visitor center, I figured even if it took me an hour to get to something scenic, I could always take a taxi back. If there wasn’t anything scenic here, oh well, it had been a nice train ride.
The first twenty minutes of my walk took me past several freeways. I was on sidewalks, so I was safe, but my surroundings still looked awfully different than what I was used to in a European city — lots of concrete. Then, a few minutes later, the classic French architecture familiar from trips to Paris began to show its face. From there, well…
I ended up having the stamina to make the walk back to the train station three hours later as well, energized by my classic French ham and cheese baguette (I’d eaten it while strolling around the city square and window shopping along the famous shopping streets). I’d seen the famed cathedral, awed at the architecture and lit a candle inside it; I’d wandered across the river and admired the buildings along the water; and I’d even (accidentally) stumbled across the Place de Chambres, another famed Metz destination that lived up to the hype. It had been a perfect day trip, the scenery so lovely, the attractions iconic. And just four hours ago, I’d wondered if and what I’d even find in this city.
Frankfurt started similarly, this time with rain. After a two-hour drive, my good friend and I parked a few blocks from a main drag, and the buildings we encountered on the first 15 minutes of our walk did not look like those of a famous city, especially from beneath the rim of our umbrella. But once we found the town center, it was all uphill: The rain stopped, and we found far more charming scenery than I’d expected in somewhere known as a banking capital. We capped off our day with an amazing German lunch of fried cranberry cheese, tomato soup, and some crepes for dessert (okay, we added a little French to the menu).
The train to Bacharach was quiet, probably a little too quiet for some, and I’d expected this given January 6th was a major German holiday. But I wanted to spend my last day in the country exploring, so I made the trip any way — I had nothing to lose.
My first thought upon arriving was how indeed empty the town was, only one bakery open amidst dozens of closed restaurant signs. Yet as I started to take pictures of the most charming scenery I’ve ever seen, I realized this emptiness allowed for perfect photo ops. I climbed up to the castle, marveling at the river views, and, with a croissant from that lone bakery in hand, wandered around the timber-framed buildings for over an hour. At the end of the day, I found myself convinced Bacharach is exactly what Disney had in mind when they built the setting for Beauty and the Beast. No wonder it’s often referred to as a “fairy tale” town.
On the mornings of each of these day trips I woke up having absolutely no idea what was in store for me, but on every single night of them I went to bed marveling at my memories, thinking “wow, that was so much better than I expected.” And that is why I love to travel.
It reminds you to enjoy the unknown.
The end of 2013 brought the most uncertainty of any time in my life; at the end of high school I knew where I was going to college, I had my post-college job secured nearly six months before I graduated; I’d made it into grad school four months before leaving that job. This time, with this graduation, it wasn’t a silver bullet: a few good possibilities, but still far more ambiguity than my type-A personality would have liked upon starting the new year. So what did I do? I went to a place where things are even more uncertain; where I had no idea what I was going to see or do or learn each day, and I got reminded over and over again that this uncertainty — not knowing — is what makes life so great.
In many ways, it’s a microcosm of the college experience I reflect on so often. I heard someone say once that you should go back to your college campus every year, because thinking of yourself as a freshman reminds you how uncertainty ends up working out. Yet while I make sure to visit my beautiful alma mater at least a couple times a year, I think traveling is an even easier way to accomplish this feat. You are left with no other choice than to trust the road ahead of you — no matter what the scenery is on either side. You are taken completely out of your comfort zone, but taught so quickly how to find new comfort… even in places thousands of miles from home.
It’s hard for me to believe that just a few weeks ago, I didn’t know what I’d encounter or see on my two-week trip to Europe, or that in the midst of so many things that could’ve gone wrong, so many things went right. Ironically, I can say the same thing about where my life has gone since the start of the year, and with a “traveler’s attitude” I have enjoyed every second. If you’re feeling uncertain about life, or even if you’re feeling certain, travel… to a city you’ve never been to before. Learn how to trust the journey; find out how many amazing things can happen in the midst of the unknown. And if something does go wrong?
Well, just like life, if you keep the right attitude, it merely becomes part of the adventure.