To entertain myself and another member of our class during our trip, I began looking up words in other languages that don’t translate directly into English. Some of my findings, such as kummerspeck, a German word that literally translates to “grief bacon” but means something more like “eating one’s feelings,” cracked us up. Another German word, waldeinsamkeit, or the feeling of contented solitude that comes from being alone in the woods, made us wonder why such words do not exist in our native tongue. One particular word stuck with me, though, in relation to our class conversations: dépaysement (French), the feeling of not being in one’s home country, often described as a “fish out of water” feeling. This word got me thinking about whether this feeling of discomfort is universal. Does the seasoned traveler become immune to this feeling, or does it always smack you in the face, if not just for a second, when traveling in another country? There is also the connotation of the word to consider. The feeling of not being in one’s home country can be enlightening, lonely, joyous, overwhelming, etc., but this word specifically deals with the uneasy feeling of being in a foreign space. This lack of comfort can make us search for the familiar, to draw inward. In our class, we engaged in extensive discussions about what it means to be a traveler or a tourist. We talked about whether you can view these roles as a spectrum, whether the length of the trip
After over 18 hours of travel from Finksburg, Maryland to Normandy, France, I was ready to just collapse from exhaustion by the time we arrived at the hotel in Bayeux. I almost didn’t even feel like eating dinner because I thought I might fall asleep at the table. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, but after an incredible French dinner and the most delicious chocolate mousse dessert I had ever eaten, I was definitely finally ready for bed. The 16 of us shuffled into the hotel lobby in a daze (a mixture of our recent food induced coma and our extreme need for real sleep). We were all ready to catch some much needed Z’s when Josh mentioned he was going to take a stroll through town before bed and anyone who was interested could tag along. My first night in Europe and I was already being tested. Sleep or go for a walk through a little town in Normandy at night? In that moment all I can remember are my dad’s words running through my head. Before I left he told me, “You only get to do this once. It doesn’t matter how tired you are…experience everything you can.” And so, I chose to take the walk. I am so glad that I did. I don’t know if it was because I was delirious from sleep deprivation, if it was the fact that it was my first real glimpse of Europe EVER, or if the town was just that amazing, but Bayeux was magical. One step outside and the cold air stole away any remnants of tiredness I had. It was like we had stepped back through time to the Medieval Ages. The hotel was surrounded on all sides by beautiful stone and timber frame buildings. Each one marked by an antique sign naming the kind of place that it was (pharmacy, cinema, restaurant, etc.). Every window ledge was protected by a miniature wrought-iron fence. The streets were just as beautiful as the buildings—cobblestoned and barely wide enough for one car to fit through. As we were walking along, it was hard to differentiate between the actual road and the sidewalk. For a 10 p.m. on a Saturday night, I was surprised how quiet the town was. It didn’t even seem real at one point. It was like the whole town was surrounded by a bubble. The only noise I could hear was the clack of feet and the chatter of the rest of the group in front of me. Other than that there was complete silence in the air. I could have walked around Bayeux forever, getting lost in the dreamlike state of it all.
Everyone has seen that person: camera strapped around his neck, sensible tennis shoes, and fanny-pack in tow. This is the tourist, which we as travelers, strive not to be. We all want to do “not-touristy” things and see those “underground” sites that no one knows about. I’ll admit, I’ve had this attitude for a long time and I’ve never thought twice about it. It wasn’t until Gabi Szigethy, professor at McDaniel Europe and our tour guide around Vienna, made us think about the definition of “authenticity” and what it really takes to understand life in another country. Before we headed out of our hostel in Vienna for a tour of the city, we all sat around and discussed the readings we had done, while professor Gabi gave us her own insight. We talked about the meaning of travel and what we wanted to get out of our time in the city. Most of us claimed that we wanted to see the “real” Vienna and avoid the tourist traps where we would run into our fellow U.S. travelers with “American” stamped on their foreheads. Professor Gabi, who has done quite a bit of traveling herself, made us think about embracing our inner tourist and accepting everything as an authentic experience, even if it is going to the most well-known café in the city. We were only students, spending two days in a country—there was no way to understand the city like a local. She encouraged us to take the fact that we are tourists and use it to learn and to observe life in another country. She said that every experience is authentic to ourselves and to the trip that we are on. We need to pay attention to these experiences in order to attempt to understand the people of that country. And it was with those words that I went about the rest of my trip; stopping to take a picture of the Viennese streets and walking around without worrying about my obvious appearance as an American tourist. It was relieving and I was able to take in more of the scenery and really immerse myself into the experience.
My most memorable moment from today? Easy. Except, instead of a single moment, it was an hour and forty-five minutes long! I was giddy (my mouth breaking into smiles, my body shaking with anticipation, even my eyes welling up with tears) when Audrey led us into the abbey at Mont-Saint Michel in Bayeux, France. As a proud, lifelong Catholic, not only was I thrilled to be able to attend this mass in general, but we also visited on a Sunday…which fulfilled my weekly mass obligation to boot! It was also the Epiphany, the feast day where the three wise men follow the star to find the baby Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem. Usually I’m not picky when it comes to where I sit at mass, but today, I specifically requested an aisle seat so that I could see more of the service. I took a candle (which was an unusual addition, since parishioners don’t typically hold them throughout American Catholic masses) and I held it nervously after the nun lit it before mass began. Even though I harbor a deep hatred for lighted candles, I was glad to have this one because it provided a bit of warmth since the abbey had NO HEAT. As I opened my mouth in attempts to sing or participate in saying the creeds, I could see my breath! Obviously, the mass was in French, but I didn’t mind. The combination of the simple yet talented choir of nuns, the powerful, melodic organ music, and the strong, rich incense gave me a feeling of wonder and contentment. Even in a foreign language, I could follow what part of the mass was taking place due to the tradition of Catholic masses worldwide. The sense of community was most powerful when, during the sign of peace, the nuns and priests came down from the altar in order to shake hands with the members of the congregation. No matter where in the world I am, I will almost always have a “home” and “family” within the Catholic church, even if I’m 4,000 miles from my hometown!
The day was pretty good on January 13, but the night was even better! We started out by having class at the beautiful Budapest campus that I have heard so much wonderful things about. Not only did we have a good class about the readings that we read over the course of the trip, we also got to meet some students that attend McDaniel Budapest. The students come from all over the world. The span ranged from South America to Asia, even though we only met a small group of students. The students could not have been nicer! They were very inviting and friendly. The students even gave us a personal tour of the city. We got to see a beautiful little castle next to an ice skating rink, the Budapest “square,” and all of the statues! Oh I almost forgot to mention the beautiful and tasty bakery that we went to named “Sugar.” After that, I was able to do what I was waiting for the entire trip! I got to swim in the THERMAL HOT BATHS! The 4,100 forints was definitely worth it. The warm temperature out in the cold, the steam swirling off the water, and the jets in the baths felt amazing after walking. There was even a whirlpool in the middle of one of the baths that had such force that it kept you afloat while spinning. This was probably my favorite night of the trip. It was so peaceful and relaxing! Once you go in the hot baths, you never want to come back out!
Filled with French breakfast goodies like croissants with Nutella and hot cocoa, we board our charted coach bus at 8. It seats way more than 16 people plus a guide and a driver, but even though we’re legally obligated to keep our seat belts buckled, the extra space gives us the chance to all have window seats and a little freedom to move around if we need to. Our driver, Patrick, takes us along a scenic route as we venture to Mont-Saint Michel, our first of a couple destinations of the day. Instead of driving exclusively along the highway, we sneak through small towns and the French countryside. The sun is still rising even though it’s 8:30. Not an early bird by nature, this was a rare treat for me. After staring at this chameleon sky, changing from dark blue to a light blood orange to pink and blue and yellow and light purple, I sneak across the aisle of our coach, knowing that my relatively basic DSLR camera will not be able to fully capture the stunning combination of yellow and purple, which paint the sky with impressionistic brush strokes, exactly as my eyes see it. I snap away anyway as we approach small villages probably not often visited by buses on our way to the medieval structure that drawing on Edgar Allan Poe, I later label as a kingdom by the sea. That afternoon, after touring Mont-Saint Michel, we have the chance to attend Epiphany mass in Mont-Saint Michel’s abbey. A monk uses his whole body to ring a magnificent bell. We sit on simple wooden benches and watch the breath leave our mouths as we listen to more than a dozen nuns, monks, and priests sing hymns, unaccompanied by the organ that begins the ceremony, in French, a language I do not need to be able to understand to appreciate the beauty of their voices. But in spite of the privilege of seeing such a sacred ritual made accessible to me through music, it is the watercolor sunrise and snaking through the countryside that keep coming back to me. The little French towns don’t seem so different from the little German towns I got to wander three summers prior. And strangely–to me–yet magnificently, silhouetted by the color-changing sky, the leafless trees that periodically grace the farms remind me of my own hometown surroundings in southeastern Pennsylvania. The sun will rise wherever I go, and in France, in spite of my language barrier, can–for a little while–make me feel as if I were at home.