Saturday, March 16, 2013

Trains -- A Time to Sleep or a Time to Reflect?

Finding myself on a five hour train ride from Warsaw to Berlin, I am finding it awfully difficult to try and sleep. In an effort to try and watch the last episode of season two of Downton Abbey last night, I didn't go to sleep until after midnight. All the more reason why I am fighting to keep my eyes open as I write. 

I've learned through my travels that there are pros and cons to traveling by train, but for the most part, I like to think of it as a time to take in the scenery, and depending upon where you are in your travels, a time to reflect. 

Anyone who has ever planned a trip to Europe, or anywhere outside the United States really, understands the difficulties one can face when searching for hotels, flights, trains, etc... I like to think of it as the pre-trip torture session. Even for me, as much as I love to travel, the planning stages can be a bit aggravating and well, let's face it, extremely time consuming. However, I always manage to find the silver lining. Before I left, everyone kept asking me, "Are you counting down the days?" I was, but only when it was a few short days away. Often, my mind is pre-occupied with last minute packing details, making sure all of my confirmations are printed out and in order, and well, making sure that everything that can be caught up at work, is caught up on. 

 I'll admit, usually, and it's always about 2 days before I leave, I get a small hint of hesitation....always. Although I've traveled many times before, I believe it to be a small sense of fear that hits me just shy of my departure date. So many world travelers jet off without feelings of homesickness or fear, but I guess that is what makes me somewhat different. Close with my family and friends, I do get somewhat homesick while I am away. Granted, I've always had a traveling companion, whether it has been my sister or my mom, but knowing that I have family, friends, and of course, my pets waiting for me, keeps me yearning for home at times. 

This hint of hesitation may always appear, but it always dissipates the day of departure. Stepping onto the plane and knowing that within hours (many hours usually), I'll be on the other side of the world, experience a culture far different from my own, now that's why I travel. There is so much left to the imagination when you are at home. We turn on our TVs to see what people in other parts of the world are experiencing when we could be experiencing it for ourselves. 

Before leaving on this trip, I had many people ask me, "Why Germany and Poland?" My answer... why not? Why not step outside my day-to-day bubble of home, work, and gym, and take 2 weeks to see, experience, and learn about another country? 

I'll admit, I had an agenda when planning this trip, and that was to see where much of the Holocaust happened. Everywhere I go, I want to know more about the history of a place. When I traveled to Ireland, I knew very little about the country and its past; however, because of that trip, I learned more than I could imagine. Not only its history, but its view on life, its traditions, food, and its people taught me that Ireland is a true hidden gem of Europe. 

Back to the train though. Here I am, sitting across from my mom, who is desperately trying to sleep and being forced to sit next to a man, who although nice enough, provides a bit more of a cramped atmosphere than the open seat next to me. 

Snow covers the ground in Poland this time of year and with each turn of the wheel, we pass homes that look as if they should be condemned, trees that are waiting for spring to bring them back to life, buildings that are charmingly decorated in colorful graffiti, and railway cars that sit on abandoned train tracks. Traveling to towns that have steeped in so much history and devastated by war, it makes me appreciate the life I have back home, in a country that has been so fortunate to have escaped the trials that war can bring upon a country and its people. Now, this is not to say that I have forgotten about the Civil War, Pearl Harbor, or 9\11, but to stand in a city like Warsaw, having been completely in ruins at one time, you are a fool not to appreciate that life you have been given. 

Each city I visit brings has its own character, whether charming or depressing. Munich is a city of life and full of fun. Expensive in its cost of living, the people there know how to have a good time and appreciate the tourists who visit their lively city. Although portions of its history prove dark, it does not overshadow the way of life for people today. 

Krakow proved to be much different. A beautiful city, in parts, one can feel the remnants of a city torn apart by war. I found myself wondering if every elderly person I passed on the street had been involved, or witnessed, the horrors of what occurred in World War II. When traveling to Auschwitz, I wondered if the young people living in the small city nearby knew or even cared about what took place more than 75 years ago. 

Then there is Warsaw...a city that will literally blow you over if you're not careful. At night, I tried to imagine what it would be like to travel to this city during the summer months. Its hidden streets full of boutique shops and bistros, and open squares full of people, I have no doubt that in the warmer months, it would be an enjoyable place to visit.

The weather can play a huge role in your ability to enjoy a trip like this. Although it may be significantly cheaper to travel during the winter months, it can often make for a bitterly cold time, which can often be somewhat miserable. However, as cold as I have been, and as sad as traveling to places like Auschwitz have made me, this trip has been a blessing. I have seen first-hand what so many only read in textbooks. I have yet again, checked off a few more destinations on my personal bucket list, and most of all, I have shared my experience with one of the most influential women I know, my mom. While I don't expect her to share my deep-seeded passion for all things history or travel-related, she appreciates the passion I posses and encourages me to pursue it every single day. 

So, I guess in answering my question, I'd say trains are a great time to reflect. Besides, sleeping is overrated when you've got a warm seat, a beautiful view, and another destination just waiting for you to arrive.


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