Paris : A Recollection.

In a quiet moment at the Musée D’Orsay, I sit on a bench and watch a painter make his peace with a replica of Latour’s La Nuit. In strokes he layers pastels over the soft concave and convex curves of her body, wraps her in a cloud of lavender and gray.
Patrons tread quietly on marble tiles, stand arrested by the colors of Cézanne, Degas, Delacroix, Klimt. They peer out the second story windows at a brilliant sky. By my eyes, the clouds are different here than anywhere else in the world, brilliant white cotton and silk spun mountainous over sacred monuments. And the sun shines bright across twinned balconies, long bedroom windows, blue rooftop after blue rooftop.
By no surprise I am in love here, and with here. I am unsure if it is the expected or unexpected that raptures me, the idea or the tangibility. As with art and life, romance and relationships, idealism and realism beg conversation.

So it is with memory – was I really there? I’m glad I wrote it down.

[Best friend returns from Paris tomorrow. Oh how I wish I could go back.]

Travel Memories : Life Goal Accomplished.

I stepped through the sliding doors of O’Hare and watched my fiancé drive away, willing myself not to chase him down and make him take me home. Three months traveling alone had suddenly lost its appeal. Despite my misgivings, I dragged my two gargantuan suitcases to the ticket counter before anyone could run over me with their own half-ton luggage.

Once my baggage was checked and sent off to board my flight, traveling alone felt slightly less daunting. My tickets in hand and with renewed determination in my steps, I found my way to my terminal. I had a phone call to make.

I had spent that summer living with my aunt and waitressing at a family diner in Janesville, Wisconsin. Howie, a 78-year-old retired GM assembly worker and one of my regular customers, came into the restaurant for breakfast and dinner every weekday. I’d flirt with him casually as I took his order [he had the specials memorized], listen to his latest encounter with Betty, the woman that he walked with at the shopping mall each morning. Every day Howie asked her out on a date, and every day Betty told him no. I’d tell him about my weekend and about my travel plans for the fall semester. He’d never been outside of the continental United States. At the end of the summer I promised him I’d send a postcard from each city I visited.

But when I arrived at the airport, I realized I had forgotten the receipt that had his address scrawled on the back. I called the diner, knowing that at eight in the morning he was probably still sitting in his corner booth finishing up his one pancake with peanut butter and a slice of ham.

Mimi, the manager, yelled to Howie that he had a phone call, and from across the restaurant his voice echoed through the receiver,

“For me? Are you kidding?”

“It’s Bethany,” she shouted back.

Several geriatric steps later, he picked up the phone, his breath heaving,

“Doll, is that you? You miss me already?”

“Yes, Howie! I realized I forgot your address.” I scrawled it on the back of my ticket envelope.

“Say, where are you anyway? Aren’t you supposed to be on a plane?”

I explained that I was waiting in the airport.

“You nervous?” he asked bluntly.

“A little,” I admitted. “Matt just dropped me off and it hit me: I can’t believe I’m doing this.”

“Listen, your old man Howie has never been anywhere in his life. All this nothin’ will be here when you get back. You wanted to do this all your life! Just take your ticket and go. Don’t forget to write me. You promised. And when you come back, you come out and see me and we’ll have a hot date and you’ll tell me all about it.”

“It’s a deal, Howie.” I replied. The wrinkle of worry across my forehead disappeared; a grin spread across my face. Who cared if anyone else in the terminal was watching.

“Alrighty. You take care a you and I’ll see you real soon,” he said, and hung up before I could really say goodbye.

Howie said what everyone had been telling me, yet hearing his voice as I sat in the airport solidified it at the right moment. It was too late to go hunting down my luggage and make a coward of myself. He was right. I was ready for this. And I was finally doing it.


After years of daydreaming and wondering if I’d ever be able to go, I was embarking on my greatest adventure, my biggest dream. And there were many moments when it felt surreal, when I stood at the edge of the Untersberg overlooking Salzburg, or stood atop the Eiffel Tower overlooking the winding web of Parisian city lights, or when I leaned my head against the window of the train and watched the tracks wind around the Alps, and thought:

Am I really here? Am I really doing this now?

I was afraid to shut my eyes, afraid I would miss it.  I luxuriated in each moment, each meal and city tour, anxious that I would gobble them up all at once and it would be over too soon. I journaled constantly, my hand glued to pen and paper, commemorating every memory to words so that on days like today, 3 years later, I wouldn’t forget.

And I wrote to Howie, careful to share as many details with him as I could fit in the tiny space on the back of each postcard. There was never enough room, so I almost always sent two postcards from every place I went. That’s the beauty of writing: it can vicariously transfer experiences, allow one person in one place to connect with another on the other side of the world.

versailles 2

And there were many moments when it felt scary, when I worried that leaving my home and my family was a mistake, when I went a whole week without hearing Matt’s voice, when I was utterly weary of trains and planes and dirty hostels. There were moments when being surrounded by the same group of friends every waking moment for 3 months couldn’t erase a certain isolation and loneliness that settled into me the longer we lingered there.

But. I did it. I achieved a life goal.

And the opportunity taught me that dreams, though they require sacrifice, are worth what you invest into them. I returned, changed and happy, satisfied and ready; whatever came next, I knew I was capable of doing it.

And when I slid into the booth across from Howie 3 months later, he grinned, his arthritic fingers wrapped around a thick stack of postcards.

Travel Memories : Exploring New Landscapes

There’s something deeply inspiring about removing oneself from the familiar. Like a fellow writer shared last week,
“Travel does so much for the soul.
It reassures a writer that the world is still a beautiful and endless space.” 
Sometimes, a change in scenery is all we need to remember that life is not as desolate, or boring, or mundane, or hopeless as we might have thought. And sometimes, the change in natural landscape offers new scope for the human experience because it offers different cultural, culinary, creative, political or social environments. Travel, the act of going to places that we’ve never been before, adds dimension to the way that we think.
Some people don’t yield to it, allowing new places and experiences to shape or inspire their thoughts and ideas. For me, the opportunity to travel is an opportunity to grow. I find it impossible to be indifferent to new landscapes, both literal and figurative. The more space I have physically, the more free I feel mentally.
Salzburg, the place I called home for three months, is nestled among the Alps. The air itself feels quieter and cleaner there. And like its natural environment, the culture of the city is quiet and contemplative, as though the people who live there are there to rest, to live as simply and happily as possible, to go for a bike ride or a hike, to sit on a park bench and whisper to each other in Deutsch.
It’s so different than the way I live my life here in Chicago, driving my battered minivan everywhere I “need” to go, jamming my schedule so full that the last thing on my mind would be to take time out of my day to meditate and reflect, the way that I used to when I lived in Salzburg.
berlin wall
Other places like Berlin, Munich, Rome, Prague, Paris, and Amsterdam presented opportunities, too, to examine the way that people live, the way that they process and commemorate historical events, the way they eat or enjoy nature, the way they entertain, the way that they get from one place to another.
The change of scenery renewed my creative spirit. The change of culture challenged my mind.
How do you navigate the terrain of a different way of life? 
It’s a question I haven’t stopped asking since.
1 : Ljubljana, Slovenia. October 2008.  | 2 : View from the Monchsberg. Salzburg, Austria. September 2008. | 3 : Amsterdam, Holland. November 2008. | 4. The East Side Gallery, the Berlin Wall. Berlin, Germany. October, 2008. 

Travel Memories : Exposure to Great Art.

When I signed up to study abroad in the fall 2008, I knew that it was going to change me. And I wanted it to. I think most people get to a certain point in life and get bored. College is a great excuse to travel because you can get credit for it, and because you can run run as fast as you can away from the third-year slog when you’re sick of the whole school routine, but not ready to graduate.
So there I was, bored out of my mind and ready for something different, something independent, and I’d been wanting to travel abroad for as long as I can remember. So I choose an awesome program through my university that offered optimal traveling opportunities – 3 days of school work, 4 days of traveling each week with a 10-day trip to the destination of my choice. It sounds expensive, and you’re right – it wasn’t cheap. However, it was the best deal out there. It was the cost of a regular semester of tuition plus the inter-continental airfare, a 3-month EuRail pass, a €150 per week stipend for travel costs, and room and board included in the charming Haus Wartenberg [est. 1694.] Yes my friends, it does exist, this beyond-perfect program. I traveled to a grand total of 24 cities in 15 countries in less than 3 months.
prague profile photo
But what does traveling abroad really do, aside from letting you escape your normal routine? Why and how did it change me, particularly as a writer and creative?
vatican statues
There are less touristy ways to explore a city, but to me, the museums are one of the best ways. This is the essence of culture and human thought distilled over centuries, passionately portrayed through painting and sculpture, writing, architecture, furniture, and personal artifacts. One of my fondest memories was an afternoon spent at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, which houses the most extensive collection of his pieces and personal items in the world. Then, of course, there is the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay in Paris, the Uffizzi and the Accademia in Florence, the Vatican Museum in Rome, the National Gallery and The Tate in London… I could go on.
vienna statue
The opportunity to see this kind of work gave me perspective on the scope of art’s emotional and cultural impact on humanity. Art matters. It is what remains of our legacy long after we are gone.
vienna statue 2
In that context, and at that time in my life, my perspective on my own writing and art shifted from being a source of anxiety to a source of identity, something to cultivate and be proud of. I still struggle with that concept, but I did come to understand that this is what God made me to do. The instinct to write when I was traveling became a source of solace and therapy, a way to commemorate my thoughts and experiences as I went, and to pay tribute to the artists that I deeply respect.
Have you traveled abroad? What are some of your favorite museums? Pieces of art?
1 : Me in Prague, Czech Republic. October 2008.  | 2 : Sculpture heads, the Vatican Museum, Rome. September 2008. | 3 : Fountain outside of the parliament building in Vienna, Austria. September 2008.
[All images were taken by me, Bethany Suckrow, except for my portrait, courtesy of Brenda Ronan.]