Get comfortable with being uncomfortable.” -Jilian Micheals
Even booking the hotel made me less nervous than the other cities.
For most of the Eastern European destinations I’d visit for the first time, I made sure to book a hotel in the top 20 on Trip Advisor (if you’ve never been to Eastern Europe, please note this does not mean you’re spending a huge sum of money). For Vienna, from what I’d read, what I’d seen pictures of, and what I knew about the country/city, I didn’t mind booking a hotel in the top 100. I still read the reviews of course, but staying outside the heart of town didn’t bother me, and it left a little extra money for excursions.
The architecture my stepmom and I viewed driving by the city struck me right away. So elegant, a lot like the French architecture that had dominated some of my favorite prior destinations — Luxembourg City, Metz, Paris — but cleaner in a way, ornate.
The food didn’t taste terrific — I’m not going to lie, it’s hard to get on board with Schnitzel. A travel book had exclaimed: “Make sure you try the veal, not pork, it’s definitely not the same thing!” Well, I’m sorry if this offends anyone, but I tried the veal, and the pork, and you know what, when you deep fry something to that degree, it’s pretty much the same thing. Yet even that food tasted familiar compared to what I’d eaten in Turkey; I’d had similar meals in next-door Germany just a few months before, and the focus on desserts like cake and strudel? I can definitely get on board with that.
Our sight-seeing and touring proved nothing less than spectacular, everything right up my interest alley — a horse show at the famous Spanish Riding School; a symphony emphasizing music by Austria’s own Strauss and Mozart; a few historic churches; even a zoo, where seeing a baby panda up close brought me back to my childhood days of watching Nanuk the polar bear at my hometown attraction. By day 3, I couldn’t help but think to myself “gosh, after being somewhere so exotic as Istanbul, it’s nice to be back in my comfort zone!”
Yes, thousands of miles away from home, a language apart, no Americans in sight (truly, I could count on my hand the number of US citizens we encountered in Eastern Europe), and I felt comfortable.
I had another idea for this post, about how Vienna taught me that it was good (and important!) to go outside of my comfort zone with a trip to Istanbul (also true). Yet I wanted the post to be more about Vienna itself, and in thinking about this foreign destination, I realized it was ironic to call it comfortable.
Tucson, Arizona is comfortable to me, too. The scenery looks nothing like my hometown in Wisconsin — every time I come back from a visit there the mountains prove that much more striking. The traffic patterns are unusual — Tucson city council, if you’re reading this, could we please get just ONE freeway? The Southwestern adobe-style architecture rings clear from almost every building. And of course, save for my trusty golden retriever sidekick, all the faces are new as of February. It’s all different than where I lived the first 30 years of my life.
But different than “home” no longer equals uncomfortable to me.
As a young college freshman away for the first time, differences bothered me — new faces, a college campus environment, a dorm room instead of a house. My initial instinct was to cling to what felt familiar, stick to a routine of studying, working out, and hanging out in the dorm room with my five suite mates. On some level the routine helped, but what helped even more was when I figured out midway through the semester that getting out and exploring a new place actually makes it feel more familiar. And the more new places you see, the more you expand that level of comfort and familiarity. It becomes a much quicker process too.
That’s why it took only days when I moved to Tucson, and even less time when visiting “exotic” Istanbul. That’s also why a city that like Vienna hardly presents a challenge any more. Traveling has taught me that adjusting is as easy as breathing in the new air, taking in the new sights, letting go of expectations and just… experiencing, whether you’re somewhere for a few days, a few months, or a few years.
It’s ironic as well that my stepmom and I had our first rainy day in Vienna. That could’ve felt a little uncomfortable too. But you know me…
I love to dance in the rain.
(Note this picture is actually from Vienna, an attempt by my stepmom and I to replicate my book cover).