Sneakers, Coffee and a Dream: 10 things I learned from my month in Europe
Before heading out on tour with Postmodern Jukebox for a month, I finally dragged my butt to the running store and invested in a serious pair of running shoes. You know the drill…they analyze your gate, form the inserts to fit your arch, you spend a fortune on the ‘best’ shoe…blah blah blah. I wasn’t convinced it would really make that much of a difference for my poor body. Running just hurts. Period. But after a month of successfully maneuvering down ancient cobble stone streets, up endless hills and through crowds of locals and tourists (to the new Beyonce album on repeat)…I thank God I got the shoes!!! It’s the best investment I could have possibly made. What initially began as an effort to keep my workouts up and the pounds down while traveling in Europe and no doubt eating everything in sight, quickly turned into the best possible way to see as much of each city as I could in a short amount of time!
We usually had between 4-6 hours in each city, depending on when I could roll my butt out of bed. Before arrival each day I researched the top coffee shops and what was highly recommended to do and see via trip advisor or lonely planet or usually and preferably personal blogs. I would make a list of the top 3-5 ‘treasures’ I hoped to experience and prayed they were all within a reasonable distance of each other. In the morning I’d bundle up, coffee up, head out and run. Run into town, run past art and churches, run through famous parks and by statues, run through neighborhoods, run by rivers and over bridges, run in the rain, run in the hail, run in the cold, run in the sun…27 days, 21 cities, 21 shows, probably 75 some cups of coffee and well over 60 miles run…and here are the top 10 things I learned (in no particular order):
1. I can live with less: I’m an only child who has never really had to share her space. Not only that…but I like stuff. I like ointments and salves and potions and lotions and oils and tools. I like tools for my hair, my face, my voice, for sleeping, for writing…I like clothes and accessories and I generally like to wear something different every day. So when I’m told to bring only ONE suitcase for a whole month of travel and when I’m shown my small twin sized bunk with a low overhead in a shared space and THEN I see that in some cities all 4 ladies are sharing one small and dimly lit mirror and two outlets in a dressing room clearly only meant for ONE person, and THEEEN I realize that 17 of us are sharing ONE bathroom and THHHEEEEEEEEN I see that if I want to access the things in my overweight suitcase everyday that I’M the one who has to dig it out of the jenga/tetris mess that is luggage storage on the bus and lug it up and down flights of stairs (sometimes spiral and narrow)??? I literally didn’t know how I would survive. I need my things! All of my THINGS!!! Needless to say I learned VERY quickly how to live without all of my things. I learned to live with less. MUCH less. Now these are HARDLY 3rd world conditions, I’m aware. But for me…this was an adjustment, an education, and a victory!!
2. Dryers and showers are completely underrated: Europe has a LOT on the U.S. A LOT. From food, to history, to technology, to environmental consiousness, to multi-linguists…I could go on and on. I’m a fan. I’m in love, I LOVE you Europe!!!! However…we in the states are SPOILED ROTTEN with speedy, powerful and efficient clothing dryers and large, clean showers where the water doesn’t spill out onto the floor of the bathroom. These are two things I missed terribly while on tour. If you saw some of the showers I used…you would think twice about ever using the adjective ‘diva’ to describe me. (I have video footage as proof.) Furthermore, the fact that a load of my laundry took over an hour in a dryer in Vienna and then subsequently 27 more hours to hang dry over the dressing room, the bus and then finally a heater in a hotel room will have me hugging my own dryer back home and wildly appreciating every completely dry load that emerges after a mere 40 minutes. If you plan to do laundry in Europe, be advised: give yourself at least 3-4 hours, safely. Now I understand why there are so many clothing lines strung from windows outside!
3. Other people look up: One thing I noticed consistently in every single city was how infrequently I saw people on their cell phones. They don’t have loud conversations in public places, they don’t take selfies to commemorate the experiences they aren’t having by taking the selfie, they don’t sit at cafe tables and text, hell, their phones aren’t even on the table!! Phones are not the axis around which they spin and they are indeed more present in their lives because of it. I know…I could take a lesson.
4. No wind, no rain, no winters cold:… could stop me from running. Or singing! If you had told me the conditions in which I would live, sleep, shower, eat, run, sing…I would have told you I wouldn’t be able to do it without getting sick or losing my voice (or my mind), or hurting my body. And yet, I did it. It was a great reminder that our MIND is usually the only thing that stops us. We are so much stronger, healthier and more resilient than we think we are!!! It proves the fact that if you want to see or do or achieve something badly enough, no conditions can stop you or slow you down.
5. My life is so SMALL: All of the things I worry about and stress about and break my back to achieve are basically inconsequential when you see how big the world is and how differently life is lived in other places. Our lives are actually not the only thing going on at any given time!!! Crazy right??? Even as big and important as our lives can be, they are still a very, very small part of the grand scheme and the whole picture. That may sound sad in a way…but to me it was a great relief! I needed that perspective check to take myself and what I do WAY less seriously.
6. Adventures should be found at home too: I probably now know more about and have seen more of certain European cities than my own cities back home. NYC, LA, Portland, Olympia…I’m sure I’ve barely scraped the surface of the cities in which I’ve lived for years!! I’m busy, I’m working, I fall into patterns… instead of consciously seeking out new I just revisit the old. I found myself marveling along with my fellow tour mates at parks and lifestyles and cafes overseas and I realized…it isn’t that it’s more special than where we live…(ok in some cases it is, but…) WE have treasures too!!! It’s just we don’t take the time or MAKE the time back home to seek and find and explore because, yes we are busy, but (and I speak for myself here) I take my own cities for granted. From now on I vow to seek out the best coffee shops at home too and check out new parks and historic sites and take adventures and be able to answer questions about my city’s history the way I’ve expected others to answer questions about theirs (and they can).
7. School is wasted on the young: I never cared about HALF the stuff they taught me in school until WAAYYYY later in life. Now I wish I’d not only paid attention in history class, but that I’d retained even a tiny bit of what I forced myself to learn in order to pass the class! Because NOW I want to know everything about everything and every place I visited I was thirsty for and fascinated by the stories, the history and the culture. If given the choice between experiencing history or seeing the newest modern architectural marvel or museum…I would choose the old over the new 100% of the time. They should delay kindergarten starting age to at least 10.
8. Follow your gut: I like to subscribe to this philosophy in my life in general anyway, but when traveling, it certainly works wonders! One of my favorite things to do in each city was set a loose plan…and then get lost. I’d just start turning corners and choosing streets based on a feeling, and magically every single time it led me to discovering something special. A hidden treasure, a shop, a neighborhood, a piece of art…it just further solidified my already staunch belief that your gut (if you know how to listen and what it’s voice actually sounds like) will never lead you astray.
9. No pooping on the tour bus: Also no toilet paper in the toilet. This is a real thing. That is all.
10. Music is the universal language: 21 cities, 10 countries, 10 different languages…and I could only get by in Madrid and Barcelona with a little conversational Spanish I actually managed to retain from high school. Wonder of wonders. Everywhere else was a struggle and I spoke as minimally as possible, attempting to use at least a word or two in their language to show some amount of respect (mostly ‘coffee’, ‘water’ and ‘thank you’). But music…music transcends language barriers. Music is the reason I get to travel the world, music is the reason that strangers become friends, music is what had 5 Americans and 3 Portuguese girls who couldn’t even have a conversation in a common language sing “We Are the Champions” together while descending 533 steps of the Dome Cathedral in Cologne, Germany. And what brought hundreds and hundreds of people together each night for two plus hours, sweaty, packed in like sardines, dancing, clapping and singing along?? Music did that!! We may not all speak the same words, we may not have a lot of things in common…but we all know how music makes us feel. Healed, powerful, inspired, free, sexy, strong, joyful, less alone…I am SO grateful to be a messenger, to be able to experience it’s power, to be able to communicate in a language that we ALL understand, and to be able to do it alongside some pretty fuckin’ awesome people.
*11. Fun fact: No matter where you go in the world … .you will always find Shwarma and Pizza.