“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” A friend wrote this on my wall the other day after offering up some advice for our upcoming trip to Europe. I know I’ve heard that before but the line seems suddenly new and especially relevant; we’ve got so many interesting and exciting things planned in the next few weeks we can barely harness our anticipation. We leave tonight and will be spending the next 3 weeks in London, Paris, and Amsterdam- with a few day trips to smaller places in between.
Whenever a new destination is upon us I get particularly reflective on past trips we’ve taken. I feel like each new place leaves such a mark on me; no matter where we go I am a little bit changed when we get back. This past week I got to thinking about our very first trip together, as well as our most recent one.
The pic above is of Oak Alley Plantation; my husband and I visited the historic site during our first vacation together in New Orleans. (Isn’t it hauntingly beautiful? So much beauty and so much ugliness all at once). I definitely can’t say that I love everywhere we’ve ever traveled but we hit the nail on the head on the first try with New Orleans. Whenever we plan a new trip, we never want to “waste” it on someplace we’ve already been, but the Big Easy is definitely an exception. My heart actually aches a bit when I think of it; I cannot wait to go back there.
The second our taxi ventured into the French Quarter I started to get tingly all over; I could feel the rich history of the city and immediately knew our days would be full of exploration. Our first day we wandered around for hours in the Quarter and really got the feeling we had been transported back in time.
The next day we started to venture out into other neighborhoods; we knew from our brief research that there was a great deal more to New Orleans than Bourbon St. (Side note: I get hugely annoyed with anyone who claims they can’t stand NYC but spends their entire trip in Midtown…New Yorker’s avoid Times Square like the plague–you should too!). That day we jumped on and off streetcars and walked miles and miles in every direction. The pic below was taken in Lafayette Cemetery, which we stumbled upon in the picturesque Garden District.
Actually, funny story…as I said, that day we had been wandering around for hours. We eventually found our way over to the Garden District for a restaurant reservation we had booked for that night. Being in a new place, finding our way around was decidedly more difficult as the sun went down. Eventually it was DARK and we finally had to admit to each other, we were lost. We got turned around and suddenly,the only things the meager lights in this largely residential neighborhood were glimmering upon were black iron gates, stone walls, and you guessed it, tombstones. You know what’s scarier than getting lost in the dark around a cemetery? Getting lost in the dark around a cemetery with above ground graves.
I’m not ashamed to admit- there may have been a slight scream (more of a yelp really) that came from me as every single sound–including the wind blowing through the tree branches, came into question. Coming from the city, we weren’t used to being in such a quiet and desolate area. Once we were quite sure Googlemaps had us headed in the right direction, I insisted we run until the cemetery was out of sight. When we finally made it to the restaurant we were out of breath like 12 year olds stumbling back into the house after having narrowly escaped the enemy in a game of capture the flag.
Although spooked by those iron gates and stone walls, we were also intrigued. We decided to go back the next day and have a look around in the daylight. We ended up taking a guided tour which was great cause it provided us with so much more insight into the history than we would have been able to pick up on ourselves. We learned that the above ground tombs which exist all over cemeteries in New Orleans are the result of both Spanish influence and of necessity. The city’s high water table means that graves dug underground quickly become soggy and waterlogged with even a small amount of rain. Even the above ground tombs were not exempt from destruction during the flooding of Hurricane Katrina (floating bodies…eek!).
We also learned that many of these large tombs housed multiple family members; with the most recently deceased in the actual coffin and the others “stored” (lord knows I have no idea what word to use there) in special burial bags toward the rear of the tomb. It seemed many of the people we were touring with seemed to find this comforting–that is being buried with all their family members. I on the other hand found it creepy–cremation all the way baby!
The highlight of our trip to New Orleans (and let’s be real the focus of most of our trips) was definitely the food. I’ve decided we must go back there soon so I can dish out a proper culinary writeup; there is no way I can do the town justice with the brevity necessary to keep this post at a reasonable length. After all, there is so much more to the Nola food scene than beignets–although I did find it necessary to indulge in the fried dough EVERY SINGLE DAY we were there.
The most recent trip we’ve taken was to Washington, D.C. at the end of March. I thought it right to juxtapose it with our first trip to New Orleans and our next trip to Europe to illustrate how much great stuff you can squeeze in to just a short amount of time and without going far away.
If you have followed me on facebook or twitter at all, you probably know that my husband and I are basketball JUNKIES. In the late fall, winter, and spring we are pretty much glued to the tube for both college and pro games. Every year, in addition to seeing Michigan (Go Blue!) play at the Barclay’s in Brooklyn, we usually travel to go see at least one NBA game. It’s a tradition that was born out of my husband’s affinity for floor seats and our inability to pay upwards of $10,000 for them at Madison Square Garden. Instead, we started planning long weekends in Philly centered around Knick’s games; prices at the Wells Fargo center are much more reasonable.
This past year however, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to spend money on our home team (ugh, the Knicks, that’s DEFINITELY a whole other post!). Instead, we decided to head to Washington and watch the Wizards take on the Grizzlies. I was super excited since I’d never been to D.C., and cause I really wanted to walk around the Washington Memorial and say to my husband, “I’m glad we were here together in our nation’s capital,” in my very best Forrest voice.
I absolutely loved D.C. There was that same richness of history that New Orleans had but in a much more straight edged, buttoned up, and manicured atmosphere. Since I had never been there and we only had a couple of days, we went full-on typical tourist mode. While on some trips we try and steer away from this–sometimes it just makes sense. After all, most of the popular attractions are popular for a reason–there’s something to see there!
Below is a pic I snapped in the gift shop attached to the Petersen House–the home that President Lincoln was carried to and eventually died in after he was shot across the street at Ford’s Theatre. All of the books in the photo are written about Lincoln–pretty crazy right?
It was so exciting for us to stand in the spots where so many important people have stood and so many important events have taken place. That’s a big thing for me, standing in the “spots”. Whenever we journey to a significant place I always try to keep my feet grounded there for as long as I can; I guess I feel like I’m taking in a stronger dose of life when standing somewhere that has seen so much action.
Probably the most moving and significant part of our trip for me was our visit to the Holocaust Museum. I don’t have any photos to share; as we walked around in solemn contemplation it seemed almost disrespectful to whip out a cellphone or a camera. I couldn’t help but feel those snapping photos were missing something; I wondered if they’d even know what they were looking at when they went through their camera roll later on.
You know what I had forgotten until we visited this museum? Its that President Eisenhower insisted on photographing and filming the atrocities of the Holocaust at the end of World War II. I was amazed by his foresight; he knew that there would be sick and evil people who would try to deny some of the most shameful acts in human history. He even placed himself in as many of the photos as possible to ensure there would be irrefutable proof of the crime and brutality. Glancing upon the photos, I could not help but be inspired by Eisenhower. I am always inspired by people who do the thing that is harder or more uncomfortable; who make choices based on what they believe is right rather than always relying on the majority’s view. The decision he made was imperative to history.
Now although this was my first visit to the Holocaust Museum, I had heard things about it over the years. Despite this, the permanent exhibition of over 4,000 pairs of victim’s shoes stunned me. The exhibition is closer to the end of the museum. You unknowingly turn a corner and are met with a sight and a smell that puts you at a loss for words. If I had steadied my emotions at other points of our tour, I completely lost them here as I stared at the overwhelming pile of leather; there were so many shoes for little feet. The smell made me want to cover my nose, but I didn’t. Again, it seemed disrespectful. You walk through this place and you start to feel an obligation to the memory of all these people–to look even though its painful, to smell even though it turns your stomach. I think it right I don’t have a picture of the shoes to share with you, they really deserve to be viewed in person. Writing this I can easily access the picture in my head; it will be with me forever.
I was so grateful that the last part of the museum featured a Hall of Remembrance; it only felt right to end the visit in quiet reflection. There were a few kids running around and a few adults talking loudly and the security guard immediately asked them to be quiet or leave. That was another thing that impressed me about the museum; the staff was extremely helpful, engaged, and seemed to hold a certain amount of reverence for the facility. They know that it is an important place.
All I could do in those last minutes we spent in the Hall of Remembrance was quietly utter the words “I’m sorry”. It might sound strange to think that “I’m sorry” were the only words to come to mind. After all, I obviously had nothing to do with the horror inflicted upon these people. But still, I’m sorry seemed right. I think lacking direct responsibility does not shed the necessity to acknowledge past wrongs and also concede that a group of people have been debilitated in a way that forever alters their history. Admittedly I may be speaking less of Jewish people now, so I’ll move on.
As you can see any sort of trip or outing has a huge effect on the way I think and see things; there is so much to discover– the more I see, the more I want to see.
We are so excited for our trip; I can’t wait to come back with some unique stories to share. I’d love for you to read something and say to yourself- ” I want to go there.” I’m not sure yet whether I’ll be posting from abroad or waiting till we get back; I want to keep things fresh here but also stay present there, so we will see how things go. In the meantime…enjoy your adventures, let’s compare notes in a few weeks! x