Travelogue Part 1: On Becoming a Traveller

 

 

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The difference between tourism and travel was a widely discussed topic in our classes in Rome. During one of our classes, Rachel said that tourists know where they’re going but do not know how to get there and travellers know how to get there but have no destination. To me this perfectly sums up the definition of the two. I noticed that our small group began the journey as tourists but emerged travellers.

In the beginning, we considered ourselves travellers because we wouldn’t in Rome just for a short time; we were living there. Even though we didn’t want to admit it, we were definitely more tourists than travellers. As we got our bearings in the city we had noses shoved in maps and we viewed sites more through camera lenses than our own eyes. We took pictures of everyone and everything, documenting each moment.

As the weeks progressed and we became more accustomed to life in Rome we were transformed into travellers. I’m not sure how or why it happened, but eventually it did. We became more laid back about what we were going to do on free days and during free time. We would say things like, “I’m not really sure what I want to do so I’m just going to wander around.”

During those wanderings we had some of our best adventures. Dr. Kim gave us an assignment to find a non-Italian restaurant, so we split into groups to complete the task. As we walked down Via Nazionale my group and I passed a small bookshop. A classmate and I were immediately intrigued and asked the other group members if we could go inside. They agreed, and what we found was an unexpected surprise.

Two wicker baskets sitting unassumingly on a table held hundreds of old postcards. Some had been mailed to friends or family members, and some were blank, but all were unique and interesting in their own way. They had come from countries all over Europe: France, England, Germany, Hungary, and many more. We spent close to an hour going through the baskets and picking out our favorite ones. The shopkeeper didn’t speak a word of English, but he would smile and nod at us every so often to show that he appreciated our wonder at his collection (and pending business as well). Each of us walked away with at least five of the vintage postcards, and I still think they were the best things I bought for myself on the trip.

That little bookshop is something we wouldn’t have discovered if we had been acting as tourists. It was in those moments, the spontaneous, unexpected ones, that we made the best memories on the trip. Not having a set destination allowed us to freely explore and get to know the city in the way only a traveller can. As J.R.R. Tolkien said, “Not all who wander are lost.”

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Travel Writing: Journal # 6

One border that our writers have travelled is the one between expectations and reality. This is something that can be seen in any person’s travels. Everyone has ideas of what a place will be like that they are visiting, but nothing is ever quite what it seems. Sometimes this is a good thing, and other times it only leads to disappointment.

I too crossed this border in my travels to Italy. I had images in my head of the idyllic Italian countryside and some of the sites I had seen in movies such as Roman Holiday. While I did see these things during my trip there, I also saw many things I was not prepared for. I know that there are poor people and beggars everywhere, but I seemed to disregard that when I imagined my trip. This reality was somewhat jarring at first, but soon it became commonplace and I was almost desensitized to the sight of a poor woman holding out a paper cup to passersby. These poor people reminded me that the suffering are everywhere and that I do not have to go somewhere like India to help the poor. There are always people in need, and that made the world feel a bit smaller and more connected. Once I became used to this site I was ashamed of myself for not feeling the same tug of compassion and pity for these people. I became skeptical of their motives and the reality of their situations. This desensitizing isn’t something I ever expected would happen and I couldn’t help but wondering if it was good or bad.

Another reality-check I experienced was the language barrier. I thought that all Italians spoke at least a little English, but this was far from the truth. While most Italians knew a few words and phrases because of all of the tourists in their homeland, not many were fluent in English and this posed problems when trying to communicate. I could usually get by with a combination of broken Italian and vivid hand gestures, but there were times when I just couldn’t get my point across. This experience taught me the importance of learning a bit of the country’s native language before travelling there. My assumptions and expectations originated from the slightly arrogant American mentality that since we are a world superpower, everyone should know some of our language. Now I have a much greater respect for those who are bilingual and put forth the effort of learning another language. It is not an easy thing, but it is a sign of respect to the natives of the country you visit.

Travel Writing: Journal # 5

Russell crosses a border into a country filled with diversity, culture, and grief. She learns what it is like to be in a country that is recovering from a devastating war and finds that while the people are sad, life is moving right along. Things aren’t at the expected standstill and the people are not militantly divided. Serbs, Croats, and Bosniak are coexisting in one city – Sarajevo – seemingly without much conflict. People are as peaceful and respectful there as in any other city. As she wrote on page 144, “My own city, unique though it is, is largely untouched by other cultures and remains, therefore, sadly unenriched. In Sarajevo, however, Bosniak, Serb and Croat have blended together over the centuries. Islam, Judaism, Serbian Orthodoxy and Catholicism have all made room for each other.” Russell finds herself in an environment that has managed to begin moving forward without forgetting the devastation of the past. It seems that she has a great respect for Sarajevo and feels that her own city, Dublin, could learn a thing or two from it. I do not think that was what Russell expected to find, and thus that is the border she crossed: the one from expectation into reality. This is indeed an important barrier because it is one that divides many people and ideals and prohibits them from seeing things as they truly are.

Kapuscinski crosses a border of pure culture shock. It was the first time he travelled and couldn’t even imagine what it would be like to leave his country. He had a sort of spiritual experience crossing the border because he came from a communist occupied country and had never seen any other lands. He grew up being told to fear the west only to be thrust upon it, resulting in feeling very much like a fish out of water. After having such a new cultural experience, he went to India and was confronted with even more differences. There he hardly knew what anything was and had no plans from which to go off of. He did, however, pick up an English book and that paired with his English-Polish dictionary helped him to understand a bit more of his surroundings. That opened up his experience a little bit because what he understood, he remembered. He said that language presents a physical border or barrier. That was the most prominent border he had to cross. As he wrote on page 22, “I understood, in short, that the more words I knew, the richer, fuller, and more variegated would be the world that opened before me, and which I could capture.” If he failed to cross the language barrier, he wouldn’t have as full of an experience because the essence of the country would have passed right before his eyes. It was critical for him to cross this border so that he could fully experience India and broaden his horizons a bit.

Travel Writing: Journal #4

The way in which a person travels truly sets the stage for what kind of experience they will have on their journey. Regardless of the weather or accommodations, if one travels well they will have an amazing experience. One example of what I believe to be “travelling well” is that of Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love. Before I began the book, I anticipated a conglomerate of clichés and banal anecdotes thrown together for an audience of restless housewives. I was surprised and impressed to find that such was not the case. Gilbert’s story is one of self-discovery that just happens to take place within the backdrop of three different countries: Italy, India, and Indonesia. While staying in Rome, her tongue is her guide. She pursues the Italian language, which she deems most beautiful, and any and every epicurean delight to be found throughout Italy. In this way Gilbert adapts the travel style of a wanderer. Even when she has a specific destination in mind she follows her instinct – and stomach – rather than a tour book. She embarked on that journey in pursuit of pleasure and as an escape from the devastating aftermath of her recent divorce. In order to experience pleasure, Gilbert decided to center the trip on what she wanted to do and not what was expected of a trip to Rome. She wrote, “There are so many manifestations of pleasure in Italy, and I didn’t have time to sample them all. You have to kind of declare a pleasure major here, or you’ll get overwhelmed. …I found that all I really wanted was to eat beautiful food and to speak as much beautiful Italian as possible. That was it,” (63). Her trip was spontaneous and rewarding because she did exactly as she wanted to. Along the way, Gilbert reclaimed some of her former happiness and rediscovered herself as well. That, I think, is the epitome of travel: to visit a place with a loose itinerary and to let instinct be a guide. During my time in Rome and Paris, I have had my best experiences when I have wandered the cities and visited places simply because I liked the way they looked.

I think that the form of travel that best embodies this mentality is a road trip. I view road trips as a chance for friends to bond and to see places and cities that they may have otherwise skipped over when travelling through a country or state. In a favorite book of mine, An Abundance of Katherines by John Green, the protagonist and his best friend take a road trip through the United States shortly after he was dumped by his girlfriend. The trip ends up taking a stop in a random small town in Tennessee, where a bulk of the story takes place. It is the idea of a road trip, though, that inspires me to take one someday with my best friends. The thought of riding in a car, being with them, and experiencing life while on that sacred stretch of highway is something that appeals to the very American side of me. In the novel, Green writes, “One of those moments he knew he’d remember and look back on, one of those moments that he’d try to capture in the stories he told. Nothing was happening, really, but the moment was thick with mattering.” These are the kind of moments that I love to experience with my friends, and I believe that a road trip would grant us those. This type of travel is also very spontaneous, which gives the best opportunities for making memories. An overly structured itinerary can suffocate one’s experience, so I hope to follow the examples of Gilbert and Green in order to have the ultimate travelling experience.

Travel Writing: Journal #3

While travel and tourism may seem synonymous with each other, I believe that they are anything but. Tourism brings to mind large groups of white people navigating busy streets while following some person carrying an umbrella. Tourists tend to be the ones who visit a place purely for sensory pleasure. They seek out the beaches of the Caribbean, the food of Italy, and the sites of Paris. While tourism isn’t necessarily something to be looked down upon, it is a trip solely focused on relaxation and pleasure. A tourist wants to experience another country or state while still keeping the comforts of their own home.

Travel, on the other hand, is an opportunity to step outside of one’s comfort zone and dive headfirst into a different culture. It gives one a chance to experience an alternative way of life and escape from the vice of comfort and routine. As Paul Fussel wrote on the first page of his introduction to The Norton Book of Travel, “The escape is also from the traveler’s domestic identity, and among strangers a new sense of selfhood can be tried on, like a costume.” When one loses oneself to another culture and fully embraces all that culture has to offer, true travel is experienced.

Travel is about understanding others. One cannot do this without experiencing their lives firsthand, and that includes the troubles they endure. While tourism is focused on pleasure, that is not on the radar of a traveler. Travel is best when it is uncomfortable. In every area there are poor and suffering people and if one truly wants to know what it is like to be a part of that city or country, they must immerse themselves in every aspect of the culture, including the impoverished. Trips to areas like India, Central America, and Africa are far from vacations. They are excursions taken by those who want to empathize with the world and feel that face-to-face interaction with their brethren is the best way to do so. Global travellers are not visiting these areas to relax and have a good time. They journey to these places as a way to better understand humanity and how to help others. Rick Steves really emphasizes this in the video. He talks about how one has to have a particular mindset if they are going to visit India or Africa. One cannot go to a place like that and expect to be comfortable; they have to be willing to not only step but leap outside of their comfort zone in order to make the trip worth their while. It is that leap that distinguishes a tourist from a traveler. While a tourist steps, travelers leap.

About Social and Economic Differences

“Excessive economic and social differences cause scandal, as well as reduce the cause of social and international peace.” Before agreeing or disagreeing with this sentence, it must first be clarified. What is scandal? Typically scandal is defined as a disgraceful or disreputable action (Dictionary.com). However, the Church defines scandal as something that leads another person to sin. The next thing that begs to be defined is this so-called cause of social and international peace. Peace is achieved through harmony and co-existing with others, so what better way to achieve this than to live by God’s rules? God himself and living the way he wants us to is the cause of international and social peace.

Social and economic differences could greatly disturb this. Economic differences breed social contempt and discontent. When there is a lack of middle class and/or a surplus of the impoverished, many problems can arise. There is often a great increase of crime, teen pregnancy, and drug use in areas with a high poverty rate (http://www.ted.com/speakers/richard_wilkinson.html). Also, if there are large upper and lower classes and a small middle class, there could be an increase in greed. People could be more susceptible to take advantage of one another. This was seen in the years preceding the French Revolution when the upper class was continually taking advantage of the poor and increasing their poverty instead of helping them. Without a decent sized middle class to balance things out, there will be social discontent.

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About the Roman Catholic Church

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The word “catholic” means “universal” and that is what the Catholic Church is – a global community of Christ’s followers that has existed for nearly two thousand years. The church technically began with Jesus and his ministry, but it officially began when Peter became the first pope. Since then, the church has accrued over a billion followers, making it the largest branch of Christianity today.

This is all with a little help from good ole Emperor Constantine I. He is the man who made it legal to be a Christian with the Edict of Milan in 313 AD. Thanks to this document and some political savvy per Constantine, the Church and the Holy Roman Empire sort of merged. During this time Catholicism spread all over Europe and became the dominant religion. Because of Constantine’s influence, the Catholic Church became rather “Roman.” As the Romans of the time switched their religion from paganism to monotheism, they kept many of the same architectural and artistic styles that were seen in Roman paganism. Some Christian symbols have their roots in paganism because of this, giving Catholicism a little Roman flavor. Take a church like the Pantheon, for instance. This was originally constructed to be a Roman temple, but it was converted to a Catholic church later on as the religious climate of Rome changed.

The Roman side of Catholicism can also be seen in how many followers the Church has. As the Roman Empire stretched across the then-known world, the Catholic Church is truly global today. It has followers in every country and missionaries are constantly working to spread its message even farther. Yes, we truly are Roman Catholics.

Travel Writing: Journal # 2

Upon reading the excerpt from Twain’s Roughing It, I believe that he definitely shares the American mentality that the road is a sacred space. As the title suggests, the narrator’s journey is not exactly ideal; somehow, though, he remains very positive about the whole thing and still appreciates and loves the entire journey.

Part of what makes travelling so exhilarating is the anticipation of the unknown. The time it takes to trek from one place to the other leaves ample room for imagining one’s destination in the most poetic and ideal way. Excitement builds with every mile and it is this child-like feeling that can deaden the many discomforts that accompany every journey. This, I believe, is what Twain’s narrative exemplifies. The situations encountered by the narrator in Roughing It aren’t exactly ideal, but he remains thrilled with the very thought of leaving behind the familiar in exchange for the new and unknown.

The narrator’s journey begins with significantly sizing down his luggage. When he and his brother discovered that their trunks were overweight, they left behind much of their belongings and only kept what was “necessary.” This appeared to be symbolic of leaving behind past experiences and ties to home in exchange for the new experiences to be had along this journey.

On page 7, Twain’s narrator declares, “There was a freshness and breeziness, too, and an exhilarating sense of emancipation from all sorts of cares and responsibilities, that almost made us feel that the years we had spent in the close, hot city, toiling and slaving, had been wasted and thrown away.” The road seemed to make the narrator feel that any other way of spending his time was pointless unless he were journeying or discovering something new. It instilled in him a sort of “travel bug.” He wanted to see more of his country and felt that staying at home for as long as he did was a waste of time. Why stay there when one could easily spend time exploring a new place?

Throughout the story, nothing seems to faze the narrator. Even on a night of what sounds like extreme discomfort, he remains thrilled just to be on the road. He is completely enamored with the idea and sensation of travelling. On page 19, while describing a particularly bumpy night, he says, “The pistols and coin soon settled to the bottom, but the pipes, pipe stems, tobacco and canteens clattered and floundered after the Dictionary every time it made an assault on us, and aided and abetted the book by spilling tobacco in our eyes, and water down our backs. Still, all things considered, it was a very comfortable night.” This passage really brings to light how thrilling it was for the narrator to be on this journey. Although this narrative predates the interstate, it is obvious that the stigma attached to travel was alive and well then, too. The narrator shows the wide-eyed excitement through which a journey can help one to see the world.

Travel Writing: Journal #1

Gaudium et Spes is a document that tries to clarify and assert the Church’s place in the modern world. The church leaders were aware that as times changed rapidly, the role of religion changed as well. The Catholic Church needed to reclaim its position and remind the world of the values it stands for. Gaudium speaks about the need for global outreach and the importance of understanding as much about fellow mankind as we possibly can. At first, this does not seem like the type of document that relates to travel writing. Its focus is mainly God, Christianity, and how those two things fit into the modern world. However, upon closer examination, I realized that there are some aspects of the beginning of Gaudium that relate to travel and its value.

In the first paragraph of section three, Gaudium states, “Hence, giving witness and voice to the faith of the whole people of God gathered together by Christ, this council can provide no more eloquent proof of its solidarity with, as well as its respect and love for the entire human family with which it is bound up, than by engaging with it in conversation about these various problems.” The problems that this sentence refers to are, as previously mentioned in the paragraph, those of man’s place in the world and the role of humanity. These are incredibly difficult concepts to grasp for any person, and it is doubtful that anyone will ever truly find the answers. However, the Church aims to help people to discover the answers that they believe to be true and they want to share these truths with everyone. Christianity aims to better the world and help everyone reach heaven, and they do this through outreach and furthering their understanding of other people. This is something that traveling can do as well. Through first hand experience, you can really learn what other cultures believe and value and how to better interact with people from those cultures. Travelling can ultimately further one’s understanding of humanity, which is also a staple of Christianity. You cannot help others if you do not adequately understand their needs, and what better way to comprehend this than by experiencing their situations first-hand? Travelling gives us a way to see the world in the flesh; no camera lens or computer screen needed. Gaudium later states, “We must therefore recognize and understand the world in which we live, its explanations, its longings, and its often dramatic characteristics.” This is exactly what travelling can teach a person. By diving headfirst into a culture and stepping out of your comfort zone, you can experience humanity as it really is and better understand the people you share this planet with.

About Piazzas, Siesta, and More Italian/American Contrasts

When walking through Rome or looking at a map of the city, it seems like every street leads to a piazza. No matter where you go, you are bound to end up in at least three along the way. Piazzas are basically town squares and while Rome has them in abundance, each one manages to have unique features. Some are more extravagant while others are subtler. Sometimes I don’t even realize that I am walking through a piazza until I try to look for a street sign and glance up to discover that I have stumbled upon yet another Roman town square.

The sheer number of piazzas is a testament to the rich history of Rome and a sign of how many changes and face lifts the city has gone through. Different people have felt the need to create piazzas to commemorate one thing or another and over the years, and Rome has had a lot to commemorate. By visiting a piazza such as Piazza Navona, you can really feel some of the history and extravagance of Rome. Piazza Navona is home to the famous Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, or the Fountain of Four Rivers. It is a hallmark of Baroque architecture and one of Bernini’s most famous works. To accompany this large fountain are two others, both in the Baroque style. Surrounding the fountains are artists displaying their paintings and tourists taking that much-needed gelato break. Stopping in a piazza is an opportunity to appreciate a part of Rome while resting and taking a break from the taxing business of exploring the city. Piazzas give tourists a chance to see a site while relaxing – a staple of the Italian culture.

While Rome is a city that demands to be explored, it is also one that demands its rest. There is a constant flow of people walking the streets but the local shopping scene deadens between the hours of 1 and 4 as Romans take that time to be with their families and eat a relaxing afternoon meal. They say that Rome wasn’t built in a day – well, that’s probably because everyone took a three-hour siesta in the middle of the day. In America businesses view time as money. Every hour is another chance to further profits. Closing up shop in the afternoon is unheard of; after all, that is a prime shopping time. At home, the afternoon is when I am most productive: I shop, do homework, and run miscellaneous errands. Here, afternoons are viewed as a time for leisure and pleasure. Italians are a surprisingly laid-back society that places family time ahead of work. Of course, not all Italian businesses are like this and not all Italians have this mind-set. However, most of the little shops and natives I have observed seem to share this mentality.

By sitting in the famous Piazza Navona, I observed this. A lot of the restaurants and shops immediately surrounding the piazza were open during siesta to attract eager tourists with fat wallets, but by venturing a few streets away from the bustling area you would find more local, artisan shops that shut down during those hours. A walk through Termini would make this restful mentality seem like a myth, but a hunt for a local shop open between 1 and 4 proves that Italians place a high importance on leisure and relaxing. I appreciate rest as much as the next person, but I’m not sure I could ever become accustomed to that part of the Italian culture.

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