September 15, 2012

A contest entry, just in time for a new start.

Travel blogger Nomadic Matt is giving away a 12 day trip to Prague, Budapest and Vienna (!!!!!) with hotel, train and airfare paid for the person who writes the best blog/video entry that explains why they should win the trip. 

These are my thoughts on the contest and why I should win:  

On the contest page, Matt suggests that we develop a unique angle for what we would do if we won, and I’ve spent days trying to find mine. What am I good at - what’s interesting about me? First I thought, I will do various difficult looking yoga poses in picturesque spots in every city! But the emergence of Lululemon, and coconut water has turned Western yoga into a disingenuous hobby.  Then I thought, I could offer to eat my way through each city!  But that’s a given, and I’d hate to pass myself off as a poor man’s Anthony Bourdain. 

My next idea was that I’m a voracious reader.  I could read a book about Prague IN Prague and so on…and…no.  Not good enough!

I was deep in thought about this on the way to meet my friends for lunch the other day, when I realized I had stepped off the train and walked in the opposite direction from the restaurant…for half a mile, in the city where I’ve lived for 2 years. I proceeded to turn around, and walk another quarter of a mile in a different, still wrong direction.  

My route on the way to the restaurant.  Should have been a simple line to Point B, as you can see, I took the scenic route that included Points C, D, and F. 

Annoyed, I sighed to myself.  How many times can a person get lost?  But then my annoyance turned to triumph when I realized - yes!  That’s my thing!  I will get lost every day in every city, at least once on purpose.  And document what happens when I deviate from what’s known.  I’m exceptionally suited for this task.   I can get lost walking back from the restroom in a crowded restaurant.  

Ok, I exaggerate. It’s not that I’m completely directionally challenged – I can read a map if I concentrate.  I know my cardinal directions in daylight.   

See?  Me, faithfully studying a guidebook full of maps at the Qutb Minar in Delhi.

It’s that I’m more prone to notice random interesting things around me rather than street signs.  That I prefer to follow an enticing scent down an unknown street without thinking.  That I’m likely to discreetly follow a group of locals to their regular eatery without leaving a trail of crumbs behind me, and have been known to let myself be swept away by small crowds.  

Me in purple, getting swept up in monks on Mandalay Hill, Burma.

Truthfully, in a weird way, I like to get lost.   When my agenda is empty, when I have no expectations, when all I know is that I have no idea where I am- I’ve found that’s when the really good stuff starts to happen.  Send me off to get lost in these cities!  

In Bagan, Burma, riding in more than 100F in the heat of the day.  We followed a random, questionable path that led to this beautiful temple in the middle of nowhere.  And it looks like a fairly clear path, but just in front of me, the path turned into a mix of sand, brush, sticks, and other various substances that made riding a 20 year old bicycle quite difficult, before the path disappeared altogether.

Why do I want to win/why should I?

My blog is a collection of my random travel stories…and I need new inspiration!

I should win this trip because I just put in my two weeks’ notice at my well-paid, low stress job in academic publishing so both my husband and I can travel to a new place and pursue our dreams, and at the moment I’m looking at a lot of free time.  But I’m also looking at a huge opportunity to see what else exists for me when I have no boundaries.  Just the other day Nomadic Matt posted on Facebook: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”  I have a sneaking suspicion that for the last two years we had been nowhere close to risking going too far, so now it’s time to test where that line is.  

So, my husband is pursuing architecture and what’s my dream?   I want to write and travel!  I want to write for the sake of writing, travel for the sake of being inspired.     

One hitch - I have yet to find someone who will pay me to write…but this contest is a good start. 

Why should I be sent to Prague, Budapest and Vienna?  

Simply, I’ve never been to this part of Europe.  Funny about this traveling thing– for every place I cross off my list, I add 5 more.  The more I see, the more I realize how little I’ve actually seen.  Years ago, I simply wanted to go to Spain.  Then when I spent six months in Spain, I wanted to see Italy.  Once Italy was crossed off, the whole of Western Europe became my goal.  And so it continues.  

There’s also something poetic about starting this new phase of life with a trip where I have the chance to walk down the streets of the original Bohemia.  Maybe I’ll try out a Bohemian lifestyle for a while. Love, art, music, writing.  Maybe I’ll skip the drugs and absinthe.  I once took a shot of absinthe in a tiny cafĂ© tucked behind the Coliseum in Rome at midnight and promptly lost all feeling in my legs.  Note to self: ingestion of absinthe is in inverse correlation to proper use of limbs.  

At the absinthe bar in Rome.  Obviously before taking the shot, as all limbs seem to be in working order. 

I want to see all the tourist spots that make each city so beautiful, but then I want to get lost on the way back to my hostel and find the little streets, corners and cafes that used to be teeming with artists of all kinds. 
So in addition to the seeing the winding streets, historic museums, beautiful fountains and views of these cities, I would love to: 

Visit every single palace in Prague!  The little girl in me loves palaces. The big girl in me loves palaces - I instantly want to move in to each intricate palace I see, and have fingers crossed that any day now, my husband will reveal to me that he is secretly a prince. 

My husband and I at Palacio de Sintra outside of Lisbon, Portugal.  As he is Portuguese, this would have been the perfect moment for him to let me know that the Palace was actually all his!
I couldn’t leave Prague without drinking some beer too.  Beer, palaces, and daydreaming in the plazas. Now that will give me something to write about. 

One of many Palaces in Prague - Goltz Kinsky Palace - Source:
I would visit each library in Budapest.  As a writer, I also love to read, and I consider the library to be the greatest social invention of all time.  Free books!  Seriously!  I’ve heard Budapest has some awesome libraries, and I want to get lost in each of them.  

Reading Room of Szabo Ervin Library in Budapest - so many old books!  Source:
I would experience Vienna knowing it’s the City of Music.   As a pianist, I want to walk in perhaps the exact same place where the big guys did.  I mean, the really big ones – Mozart, Haydn, Strauss.    I want to stop for a glass of wine in a cafe and wonder if Beethoven had lines of Moonlight Sonata running through his head in that exact spot. 

Vienna: Source:

 So that’s the short version of why I want to win this contest: because I really want to get lost in these cities, especially at this period of change in my life, where everything seems possible – I just need a starting place.  I want to open my notebook, grab my pen, and write about it all.  

And I believe that in wandering through Prague, Budapest, and Vienna, I’ll come to realize something that I already suspect: I’m not lost, I’m only in search of a little bit of inspiration.    

Getting inspired in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia, looking out over the tea plantations. 

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