Why travel – part 1

I believe we all have different reasons for travel.  Some use it to run away from something, others see it as a way of running towards. One travels for the destination, other for the journey. There are many reasons why I have to travel. HAVE TO. Not “want to” or “like”. Even the “need” seems too insignificant. Have you ever felt that itch underneath your skin that regardless how much you scratch it just won’t go away because it’s in too deep? That’s what this “have to” feels like. But I never really allowed myself to wonder why it’s there.

Travel always had a certain romantic appeal to me. Maybe it’s because of the literature – books and poems always glorify the journey. Use it as a metaphor of change, transformation, time when by connecting with the new world around, you somehow reconnect with yourself on some deeper level. I’ve seen myself changing with each trip I made. Every step towards the unknown brought me a step closer to discovering myself. Journey outside was a journey within.

Life between travels felt flat. Mundane. Boring. We live in a world where nobody stops to admire something. We have no time to just go for a walk and explore the world. We spend our lives on an auto-pilot stuck on the “efficient” mode. And in that rush, with the illusion of self-importance, we run towards death. We lost the art of living.

But all this disappears when you go away. Suddenly time stops galloping and you allow yourself to really feel the world, connect with something greater than yourself. You let yourself be you. The REAL you. You forgot to pack your “learnt” self.  Congratulations, your life FINALLY started.

One of the most painful things about every day reality is how “every day” it is. We follow the same habits, do meaningless things convincing ourselves that they are absolutely crucial. We do what’s practical, necessary, useful, effortless. For what?

They call me perfectionist. They tell me not to expect so much from life. They tell me to be reasonable, down to earth. They convinced the whole society that this is how we should be. Maybe they convinced even you! Someone’s birthday? Get them a joined present that you pick up on the way to the club. Anniversary? Bunch of flowers will do. It worked last year after all. Christmas? No thank you, this year we’re too tired to do anything fancy. Since when did we stop celebrating life? There’s a reason why human beings developed traditions, rituals, even religion. We need those magical moments of contemplation, of appreciation, of saying “this IS a big deal”. We need this to stay human.

Maybe I am a hopeless romantic. Maybe it’s not healthy. Maybe I’m bound to get disappointed. But as long as I have travel I have my magic. I’ve got my journey within and celebration of life. And I get those random little moments when time just stops and everything  falls in the right place and for those few seconds you understand why you’re on this planet. For few seconds you really connect with the universe. Driving motorbikes to the beach in Thailand to watch the sunset, eating kangaroo tail by the fire in the Australian outback, smoking nargile by the Bosphorus. This is my humanity. This is my celebration of life.  And I hope it never stops.

Sunset in Sydney - one of those perfect moments

Sunset in Sydney – one of those perfect moments

The one.

He was my kind of a person. Full of surprises and excitement. I fell in love with him at thirteen and never got over. He didn’t always treat me right. There were times I cursed him in my mind, regretting I followed him all the way here. I promised to leave him and I even managed to stay away for a while, but he was my first love and one never really gets over that. Those first quickened heartbeats. The thrill of the unknown. He was too irresistible.

I know, love at first sight, what a cliché, right? But I truly did know that he was the one for me the first time we met. Our affair has been toxic at times, suffocating even.Left me exhausted and bitter on too many occasions. And yet I could never quit him for good. Nobody ever came close. There was something about him that no one else had.

He made me gasp in awe whenever I would start to get bored with life. Challenged my views and opinions, helping me become the person I am today. One moment he would be exciting, dangerous, always on the go, only to suddenly show me his deep, peaceful side. He promised me the world and kept on tantalizing my senses, taking me on journeys across the globe.

Underneath his thirst for life, hunger for all things new and odd, was a posh little brat. Private-school-son-of-a-bitch who knew how much he mattered. And then he would give me one of those damn sunny smiles of his and I forgave him everything.

He accepts me the way I am. No pressure, no labels, no bullshit. Dancing salsa and bachata. Secret cinemas, art exhibitions, rooftop yogas and silent discos. We have it all. His name is London and no city could ever replace him.

Cheese rolls and marzipan cakes

Following few painfully boring weeks without travel, last Saturday I decided enough was enough and took the opportunity to visit my family in Hamburg. It was just a quick trip, my easyjet flight took off from London Luton at an ungodly morning hour and I was back in the capital in time for Sunday dinner.

Despite the shortness of my stay in Germany’s second largest city, getting away was totally worth it. Hamburg is a meeting point for water, nature and German efficiency. Surrounded by forests and parks you will find there perfect little neighbourhoods where each house is completely unique. By the steel-coloured water of the inner Alster lake you will see thousands of financially-happy Hamburgers strolling down Neuer Wall and Jungfernstieg, city’s main shopping arteries. The city feels modern and at first glance looks like the kind of place that promises a comfortable life. I could see myself driving through the city’s wide streets in one of the beautiful cars I saw parked in the centre, picking up kids from a great kindergarden and going back to my mini-villa in the suburbs. Everyday life with a hint of travel in the air – something this port city with two international airports always carries around.

Of course not everything is straight from Astrid Lindgren’s childrenbooks. Hamburg is like a highly competent CEO of a multi-national concern. He build something that functions effectively resulting in content and well-off employees who see no point in leaving because they know that life doesn’t get much better than this. But Hamburg still struggles with a few bad apples in his economic empire. Although the city looks after its citizens much better than many other places in the world, there are still socio-economic problems that result in frustrated youth living in grey blocks of flats with life centering around a kebab or a sausage-selling place. I remember passing through a parking lot in the centre when I was little, my mum anxiously clenching my tiny fist as we walked passed groups of drug addicts. Outside the main train station, Hauptbahnhoff, you call still see dozens of homeless while at night you can meet a prostitute at the sinful Reeperbahn (Rope Walk) of St Pauli, city’s famous red-light district and entertainment hub.

There are loads of things to do when you visit this place. You can go to Tierpark Hagenbeck, a unique zoo where animals are not trapped in cages, or admire peace and serenity of the Planten and Blomen Japanese garden. For the history enthusiasts St.Michaeli’s and St.Nicholas churches as well as the city hall will be a must-see. If the weather is nice try a walk around the harbour or the beach. Next to St.Pauli-Elbtunnel, a hundread year old underwater tunnel, you will find Rickmer-Rickmers, a restored ship with a museum and restaurant. From there you can go to the peculiar Harry’s Hamburg Bazaar, Fish Market and U-Boat Museum (if you haven’t got tired of the multitude of the city’s museums by then).

I usually like to start my stay with coffee or one of the amazing flavoured Chai Lattes that you can find in some of the cafes by Alster. My caffeine rush is usually accompanied by an apfelstrudel or a delicious käsebrötchen (it may seem like a simple cheese roll but trust me, no one mixes bread and cheese the way Germans do!).

Try to plan your stay when the Hamburger Dom Fair is coming to town. If candy floss, chocolate covered fruit on a stick and 3 km of funfair are your thing, this is a place you don’t want to miss. I used to go there as a child and remember running ecstatically from one attraction to the other, cheerfully dizzy from the array of lights, colours and sounds.

If you happen to stay in Hamburg for longer make sure you go to Lübeck, a small town just outside the city which is famous for Marzipan. The best place to try it is Cafe Niederegger. Their Marzipan Torte is an absolute heaven! Add to this a walk on the beach in the nearby Travemünde and you got yourself a perfect Sunday in Germany!

Whatever you decide to see or do during your visit, keep your eyes wide open and get the most out of this interesting city. Breathe in the port aroma, take in its maritime stories, its multi-kulti vibe with its resulting tensions. Appreciate the efficiency and feel genuine happiness noticing great quality of life that many of its citizens are privileged to. Absorb this place through all your senses and let yourself discover your own Hamburg. Enjoy.

Photo by O-Young Kwon

Photo by O-Young Kwon http://www.aboutideas.net