Senses of a Wanderer
Do you know how you can sometimes wear perfume, and by the time you reach your destination you can no longer smell it on you, even though others pick up the scent quite clearly? That's because the sense of smell, after accommodation, loses its qualities; you just stop smelling things even though they're out there as vivid as ever!
Deceivingly, your mind constantly plays a similar trick on you! After a while of adapting to your surroundings, your brain stops picking up on its beauty because everything simply glides from 'new' to 'ordinary'.
That's unless you willingly awaken your senses to all the marvels that day after day go unnoticed. And that seems to clearly happen when you travel.
Get me on a Plane
Around a month ago, I packed my bag and alone, for the first time ever flew out of Egypt, and out of Africa. With no previous encounters to compare to, I had everything to expect. My trip being planned for 9 days during which I would roam 3 cities in 3 different countries, I knew I had no time to lose. Never before do I recall my senses being so heightened, nor myself being constantly alert. I had to make the most out of every given moment!
I remember seeing the 2 am flickering city lights growing smaller into yellow dots, and as we hovered over one city after the other, I sighed and thought of all those people getting some rest to endure yet another regular day, while I was too excited to sleep as I made my way to my by far biggest adventure!
As I boarded the plane that would take me to my first stop, Warsaw, the thought had finally started to sink in that I was far away from home, and very few things ever felt that good. My senses craved immersing themselves in every new experience, and nothing could obviously keep them from doing so. Where to start? The delicious food off the First Class à la carte menu? The cup of cappuccino to follow alongside a book about universal love, spirituality, and Sufism? How the terrain gradually changed from bare deserts infiltrated with bright turquoise streams of water, to the green fields of Europe?
It makes me sigh every time I recall seeing that much greenery through the clouds.
After a long tense wait at the passport control where they made sure to make us feel unprivileged for being non-EU citizens, I was greeted with different forms of love. My pen friend’s family came to pick me up at the airport, and after not seeing them for 7 years, I can assure you the hugs where overwhelmingly emotional. But that wasn't the only kind of love I was greeted with. The weather was perfect; blue skies, fat white clouds that make the skies pretty rather than gloomy, and European summer warmth cooled down by a little chilly breeze. Now here's a little thing about me, I've always interpreted perfect weather as the universe's means of expressing love.
If I would choose one element that was most prominent to my senses in Warsaw, I would certainly choose the greenery. It was everywhere; on the streets, between the buildings, growing on the buildings, in the little balconies, obviously in the parks which were amazingly designed, and those put together into roof gardens (the one I visited was on top of the Warsaw University Library). Even though the later cities did have a lot of greenery as well, I preferred Warsaw's greenery because it seemed more tamed, unlike Hamburg (and the road from Berlin to Hamburg) which gave off the feeling that it's a forest with accidental streets and buildings in between. Paris was a whole different story; there was a lot more beauty to distract me from that of the greenery.
Due to WWII leaving Warsaw in complete and utter wreckage, architecture is all quite modern, with the oldest buildings being 70 years old at most. Nevertheless, there's this touristy spot, the Old Town, which was renovated in the exact same way it looked like before the war. Even though the colorful buildings and narrow alleys of that part are quite delightful, I was more amused by the constant street performances taking place there almost every night.
Delighted Taste Buds
The Old Town was not merely about pretty colorful buildings and street art. The vendors there offer a wide array of flavors across the spectrum of foods and drinks. Let me tell you about the ones I've tried. Usually when someone suggests having hot chocolate, I equate it to cacao. I have learned that this may apply, unless we're having hot chocolate at E. Wedel, which I was told is one of the oldest chocolate stores in Poland. There, hot chocolate literally means molten chocolate in a cup! For a person who doesn't have a sweet tooth, it was really enjoyable for the first two sips, after that it was pure agonizing torture.
The other thing which dominates the alleys of the Old Town are ice cream and waffles vendors. Out of the ice cream I've tried in all 3 cities, Warsaw's was the best. It's offers the kind of flavors you instantly realize you haven't tried before, and they just click upon the first lick. I'm no food critic, so putting food into words isn't quite my strength point. But you get it, it was darn good!
Good food also spread beyond the Old Town. On my third and last day in Warsaw, my pen friend's family took us to this Polish cuisine restaurant, Halka. It was a feast for the eye before I could even lay eyes on the menu. Such a warm place decorated most vividly in the traditional Polish flower, china plates, and colorful ribbons everywhere. It was not surprising to find that they present the food in a manner no less artistic than how the restaurant is decorated. Needless to say, the food did taste as good as it looked.
After a really long suspense packed night of commuting from Warsaw to Hamburg, I finally made it to my second stop. Now that my eyes were a bit more accustomed to the cleanliness and the wide spread greenery of European cities, I was no longer in awe, but I was still happy nevertheless.
Hamburg may not have been a thrilling experience, but it offered something else as worthy, serenity.
Mind and Senses at Ease
This state was mainly aroused by two aspects, the robotic systematic surroundings, and the scenery.
Having been born and raised in a country where chaos runs pretty much everything, it was relieving to experience what it's like to be surrounded by people who follow the rules. It was nice not to wonder whether I was going to reach the other side of the street alive.
And when it comes to the scenery, Hamburg raised the bar of visual delight with its various lakes. Even though greenery and lakes are found in several districts, the experience was tinted differently according to the neighborhoods.
Here's one of the instances, which as unremarkable as it may seem, was very special to me. I have this habit of always carrying a music player in my bag to keep me company wherever I go. As I sat down in a quite ordinary park waiting for a friend, I took out a book to enjoy under the morning sun, and as I reached for the music player, I paused for a second to think of what I would possibly want to shut out with my headphones. All I could hear was cheerful tweets and rustling leaves.
A Performance to Remember
Hamburg is not different from many European cities where life seems to abandon the streets as soon as the sun sets out to set. Yet unlike Warsaw, Hamburg conceals a lot of life behind bars' doors. It just takes a zealous enthusiast to spot the many worthy performances taking place.
Among the few core points on this trip's checklist was "attending a live Jazz performance in a European city", a goal I was more than happy to tick in Hamburg. That night as my friend and I swept through the internet, we came across several very interesting performances, among which we chose to go to Cotton Club, a bar famous since the 60's for its exceptional Jazz performances. The thrill that took over my senses that night as my soul swayed to the New Orleans Jazzy songs cannot be elaborately explained unless you see the sparkle in my eyes (as my friends put it) when I recall the music.
As I wrapped up my 3 days stay in Hamburg, little did I know that the city I was about to fall head over heals in love with was 13 hours away...
The funny thing is that I was least excited about Paris. I've always been repulsed by anything mainstream, or anything which everybody seems to desire. Paris clearly fell under that category. It seemed cheesy on a multitude of scales, beginning with its fluffy nickname, 'The City of Love'. Eww!
It did not take Paris very long to prove me dead wrong, for what I found in Paris was much more than love. I found passion around each corner.
The Public Right to Enjoy Arts
Let me tell you how the city greeted me. The first stop on my cousin's sightseeing tour was Jardin du Luxembourg. Before I could even lay eyes on the visual delicacies of the garden, I was swept away by the most soothing tunes. It took me a few more steps to see that there was an orchestra in a booth right before the garden's entrance surrounded with chairs for whomever desires to indulge their senses in the fine sounds that resonated through the trees.
Apart from the liberating tranquility of the music, what was more refreshing was seeing how diverse the people were. It was out there, public and available for all by-passers. No tickets required or formal attire; just an ear that appreciates music.
A City Built to Impress
For 6 previous days, my eyes had marveled at various forms of beauty, but scarcely did I come across minute details executed with phenomenal talent worthy of studying as time seems to stand still. Now, Paris offered me plenty of that.
Beauty, that's something Parisians seem to know a lot about, and they took pride in showing it off whenever possible. The people dress in minimalist elegance. The shops' window displays are arranged in colors and patterns that had a similar influence on me as that which light has on moth. Beauty in architecture was not exclusive to churches, museums, and mansions, but the entire city rather felt like a huge museum worth losing yourself into. And lose myself into Paris I did!
It is said that "beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder." As cliché as it is to mindlessly play words of wisdom on repeat, there always comes a time when they make perfect sense. More than ever, Egyptians are craving boarding a plane and going anywhere, not for the sake of appreciating difference and diversity, but rather to escape what mostly everyone refers to as a shit hole.
But here's the thing, the people living in the cities which rendered me speechless in awe were dissatisfied and bored. The very same people saw their vacations in a country like Egypt memorable and very dear to their hearts. A place they can never get enough of.
Beauty surrounds us wherever we go, but it's up to us to either choose to hush life as we appreciate its beauty, or just follow the herd of zombies wasting their lives away in pursuit of wealth and quenching their thirst for consumerism.
The reason we find places we travel to so beautiful is because we want them to be beautiful. We invest a lot of money and time in an experience that we hope to be remarkable. Now that's worth evoking a positive outlook, don't you think?
But life is constantly worth evoking a positive outlook. Life, even in a shit hole, has plenty of beauty to offer. It's you who needs to open up your eyes and seek it out. To wander, you don't have to travel. Live each "regular" day through the senses of a wanderer, and I promise you it won't feel regular anymore.