Friday, January 28, 2011

Why Do YOU Travel?

I decided to stop and use this blog post to find out why so many of us travel. I always find it interesting to hear people talk about where they are going, how long they’ll be gone, and what they plan on doing, but the one thing I want to know most is, why?

Each of us has our reasons, whether it is to take a break from work, relax in some tropical region, go on an adventure, or for some, traveling allows them “to find themselves.” I’ve never been too sure of what that statement means but I guess if you think traveling will help you do that, go right ahead. For me, traveling is therapeutic. It gives me a chance to break away from everything that is deemed “normal” and actually experience something new and exciting.

I have been incredibly fortunate to have grown up with parents who believe that taking their kids on vacation is a necessity. Granted, I have spent many summer vacations in St. Petersburg, Florida; a relaxing destination that is a favorite of ours, yet, within driving distance to some of Florida’s best amusement parks. Besides a few smaller weekend getaways, my parents have never left my sister at me at home for a vacation. If you talk to my mom, she will always say that no matter how young we were, she couldn’t let us miss out on what the world offers. Some of my fondest memories are those of when I was very young, playing in the pool in Florida or digging for seashells on the beach. I owe my parents for giving me those experiences.

Another reason why I travel is to take in the history of these destinations. Anywhere you go, you can find history. Whether it is in a building, a book, or monument, history is everywhere. Now, some of you may not be as enthusiastic about history itself. You may have even hated learning about it when you were in school, but we all can appreciate what history has given us. On my trip to Europe this past summer, I was given the opportunity to see parts of history that I never thought I would ever see in my lifetime. Standing on Omaha Beach, visiting the Sistine Chapel, and even lurking around Casanova’s holding cell in Doge’s Palace in Venice—all of these are where history lived and continues to live today.

You see, for me, it is much like walking into an old archive and being given the chance to hold an old document. The faded writing, the fragile paper, and the significance of what it is you are holding in your hands; that feeling of awe and excitement in that moment is one that can never be replaced. These are the feelings I yearn for when I travel. To be inspired by the faded paintings and written text, to see and touch the fragile buildings and sidewalks that make up history, and most of all, to recognize and cherish the significance of that painting, that text, that building, or that sidewalk—that’s why I travel.

It disheartens me when I hear of others who are giving the opportunity to travel the world and yet, take their experience for granted. It doesn’t matter to them that they stand where hundreds of thousands of men and women, who have died for this country, lay in Arlington National Cemetery. It doesn’t matter to them that they are where nearly 3,000 innocent Americans lost their lives on September 11, 2001. It doesn’t matter to them that they are standing in the hall that ended World War I. It saddens me that these people can bypass, overlook, and even disregard the importance of the past.

I look at traveling as a chance to visit the places that have played a role in how we live today. The more we know about our past, the better prepared we are for our future. The day I stood on the hill of Robert E. Lee’s home, I looked out over the hills of perfectly manicured, green cut grass, and truly understood the ultimate price of freedom. There stood hundreds of thousands of white crosses, each engraved with a hero’s name. Suddenly, I felt inspired by the reason these men and women gave their lives for this country, I understood the significance of what each of those crosses stood for and the way they represent freedom for this country. Finally, I saw and felt how fragile a heart can be when realizing what the sight before them means.

I started this blog because I wanted to share my love for traveling. Whether or not it was just me reading it or thousands, I couldn’t hold these experiences in any longer. I have pictures and video to remind me of the beauty I have seen throughout my life (okay I’m only 25 so maybe not a long life), J but to be able to share my travels with others, and at the same time, share with you all, the importance of traveling…it brings a lot of joy to my life. This is something I want to do the rest of my life. One day when and if I get married and have children, I hope that I too can show them the wonders of this amazing and awe-inspiring world.

So tell me, why do YOU travel?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Piece of Paris Beauty

When traveling through Paris, it is a must that sightseers visit the beauty that is Notre Dame. Not visiting this sight is like not visiting the Sistine Chapel while in Rome. This piece of Gothic, French architecture stands at well over 400 ft tall and has 422 steps for visitors to climb.

West Facade of Notre Dame
Don't think that 422 steps wasn't going through my mind when I learned that we would be climbing to the bell tower. This is why I suggest to anyone who wishes to visit Notre Dame, please do not do it on the same day you visit the Arc de Triomphe. Unless you have legs of steel and thrive on the gym's stair climber, you will regret doing them back to back. This was a lesson I learned the hard way on my little trip.

Nevertheless, the line that forms outside the cathedral, you will see is for all those willing to take on the 422 step task; all so you may see a breathtaking view of Paris, from atop the bell tower. Given that you will experience amazing views when atop the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomph, looking out onto the Paris skyline and streets below, when standing atop Notre Dame; it is a sight that every tourist should see.

When climbing your way to the top, you will travel upward in a spiral motion. If you are unsure as to why I mention this little tidbit, it is because when you get to moving on steps like these, especially ones that are so close together, you tend to find yourself climbing at an enormous rate. It is almost as if you feel you will fall forward if your feet don't keep up. A little over halfway up, I had to stop due to my lungs feeling like they were about to pop and my legs feeling as if they might buckle at any moment. Please do not read this and convince yourself that it is not worth it if you have to endure this kind of climb...I assure you, I did not die and after a few minutes of deep breathing and waiting, I finished the climb and was presented with a beautiful Paris view.

Stepping onto the bell tower area, your eyes take you immediately to the outward view, overlooking the west side of the cathedral. Those down below will see the two large towers standing before them, statues depicting Christian apostles, the bridge that connects the two towers, and the infamous west rose window.

For those standing atop the bell tower, the sights of the gothic gargoyles are enough to make some wince with fear, while others stare in awe of their beauty. Half man and half beasts, these creatures prove to be one of the most popular and notable aspects of the cathedral itself.

Moving along through the narrow walkways, you may get a small glimps of the bells that live in Notre Dame. Both towers have bells that are rung for holidays and/or church services. Don't expect a close look as there is only a small space that you  may look through. And unfortunately, you won't find Quasimodo standing in there preparing to ring the bell while yelling out the words, "SANCTUARY!"

South Rose Window
Making your descent down the steps, you once again, reach ground level and are now able to venture inside this ancient building. Naturally, the feel of peace and serenity overcome you and you are transported into a holy sanctuary where numerous historical and religious events took place. The great organ is the largest in France and sits in front of the west Rose window.

Visitors can find unique paintings, elegant furniture, and more statues inside the cathedral, such as The Pieta. The original is said to sit inside St. Peter's Basicilia in Rome, but a copy of it sits inside Notre Dame. A large cross sits behind a saddened Mary who is sitting with her arms open while a dying Jesus lays in her lap. In my humble opinion, it is one of the most powerful and humbling depictions I have ever seen. For anyone who is a Christian, this statue brings about a slew of emotions. Then, so does being inside one of France's greatest religious structures.

"The Pieta"
Leaving the cathedral, I felt a sense of excitement wash over me, realizing that I had just been inside such a historical place. If you haven't gathered by this point, history and I go hand in hand. To be able to visit these historical sights and actually see and feel the places where so many historical figures stood, you can't replace that feeling or memory. Even for those who are not history buffs like me, Notre Dame provides so much for visitors to see and experience...even if part of that experience is climbing 422 steps!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A List for the New Year

Last year has come and gone and it is only natural to embrace the possibilities that 2011 has in store for each and every one of us. I don’t know about you, but I was most certainly not sad when 2010 came to an end. Yes, there were happy and glorious times (my graduation and amazing European trip), but the amount of stress I put on myself…I am never more happy to see it behind me.

One thing I have learned during my hardships of 2010 (and even dating back several years before then), was that every hardship I face is there for a reason. I firmly believe that life will always throw curveballs at us, and sometimes those curveballs will take us to a place we never thought we would ever see; however, through God’s graces, he will always see us through it. I had to constantly remind myself that “what does not kill me makes me stronger.” I’m still alive so, I’m only hoping now that what I have dealt with and experienced in my past will only help to make me stronger in the coming year.

So, in regards to the New Year, I have decided to start fresh…in many areas of my life. Not only am I following in the same resolutions as much of the world (losing weight and exercising), but I am going to make more time for God, so that I can have a deeper and closer relationship with him. In no way do I wish to force this notion upon anyone else, but for me personally, it is something that has been a long time coming and the time is now. Seeing as I will dedicate the time to work on my spiritual and physical health, I also wish to work on my aspirations and “goals” if you will.

For those of you who have seen “Eat, Pray, Love” you will remember that Julia Roberts claims to have a box, under her bed, full of the various destinations she hopes to travel to one day. I have decided to do the same. I may not have a box, but I have a brain and I figure that as long as I make a list than I’m good to go.
However, I’m not na├»ve in thinking that all of the places I wish to see will be easy tasks to fulfill. For travelers, not only do you have to have the want and desire to travel, but you have to have the need, the determination, and of course…money. Due to the fact that my current income is quite small, it may take me some time before I can begin to actually travel to these places. However, I will get there one day.

So…without further ado, here is a list of places I hope to travel to in my lifetime (Over time, the list will grow much longer…I am sure of it):

Dublin, Ireland
London, England
Edinburgh, Scotland
Auckland, New Zealand
Munich/Berlin, Germany
Bali, Indonesia
Nanking/Hong Kong, China
Verona/Florence/Sicily/Naples/Milan, Italy
Manila, Philippines
Athens, Greece
Lisbon, Portugal
Moscow, Russia
Vancouver/Quebec/Montreal, Canada
Madrid and Barcelona, Spain
Cannes/Monaco, France
Santiago, Chile
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Sydney, Australia
Papua New Guinea

For anyone who has visited or even lives in these countries, I would love to hear from you. I would love to hear your stories, recommendations, advice, and anything else you would be willing to share. My list may seem far-fetched and unrealistic but like I said before, I do not expect to travel to each of these places every year. As a young, aspiring traveler, I realize it will take time and lots of hoping and praying in order for me to visit these destinations. However, what is the point of setting a goal and having a dream if you don’t plan to at least TRY and attempt to achieve that goal, right?