My Grand Gypsy Experiment

‘Our deeds still travel with us from afar, and what we have been makes us what we are.’ -George Eliot

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Ole Miss, Oxford MS

14 days. 13 cities. 8 states. 2400 miles. One giant travel-induced adrenaline high.

wedtrip10I saw two friends get married, spent several days with friends here and there and everywhere, slept in the back of my truck when I couldn’t crash on someone’s couch, and met new friends every day. I saw parts of the country I have never seen before: the Ozarks of Northern Arkansas, the reservoir outside Jackson, Mississippi, the riverfront murals in Vicksburg.

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Riverfront murals, Vicksburg MS

I called this crazy, incredible, whirlwind trip my ‘gypsy experiment’ because one of my dreams is to find a way to make travel sustainable. I know it’s possible (as shown by pioneers such as The Professional Hobo, and also by my own dear Bridget Ervin), but I also know that everyone has to find their own way in the world of full-time travel.

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Hiking in the Trail of Tears state park with Tori & Sarah, Cape Girardeau MO

The purpose of this trip, besides spending time with many wonderful people, was to test myself to see if I actually could travel cheaply, but still get the full experience of travelling that I have enjoyed in the past. Oftentimes, I feel I got more.

Now all I have to do (ha) is find a source of income (more on that in future posts) to balance my (hopefully minimal) cash flow out, and boom. Full-time travel.

Lord willing and the creek don’t rise.

But this summer is the period of experimentation. Travel opportunities/necessities are keeping me from holding a ‘normal’ full-time job, so I’m making do here and there, mostly working online and the occasional yard work and weeding, a delightful rest between trips.

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Kettler Wedding, Clinton MS

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Reynolds Wedding, Norman OK

A quick overview: Seward NE –> St. Peters MO –> St. Louis MO –> Uniontown MO –> Cape Girardeau MO –> Memphis TN –> Oxford MS –> Jackson MS –> Clinton MS –> Vicksburg MS –> Little Rock AR –> Tulsa OK –> Norman OK –> Seward NE.

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View of the Mississippi during our hike, Cape Girardeau MO

If you’re counting states and not coming up with eight: I spent quite some time driving in Louisiana and Kansas, though I never stayed the night in either (but have in the past). Sometimes I covered more than one city in a day, so I wasn’t in a different location every night (though I was close).

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Bass Pro Shops pyramid, Memphis TN

The trip as a whole was unforgettable: call me crazy, but I love driving for hours on the open road, calling friends if I want to, or just boppin along to some good tunes. For the purpose of this post, however, there were some moments were notable in themselves: sitting for an hour in a tree after the Kettler wedding in Clinton, feeling the breeze and watching the clouds roll by and not having a care in the world.

The moments when I’m not doing anything are the moments that tie everything else together.

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Sun Records, Memphis TN

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Elvis impersonator at the Rock ‘n Roll Café, Memphis TN

In Memphis I stayed in a campground directly across from Graceland, and fell asleep in the back of my pickup listening to ‘Maybe It Was Memphis’ and singing along softly until I fell asleep.

wedtrip20In Jackson I found a small pond on the deserted campus of Belhaven University where I lay down for a while in the sun after church on Sunday. I also had a tailgate picnic Saturday morning overlooking the Ross R. Barnett Reservoir before the wedding and soaked up some rays.

In Vicksburg I awoke early on Memorial Day and ran around the battlefield, even scaling the Confederates’ Fort Hill, the second-highest point between Memphis and New Orleans. It offered a breathtaking view of the Yazoo and Mississippi Rivers.

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Art Museum at Ole Miss

wedtrip14In Oxford I parked my truck, offloaded my bike from the bed, and spent all afternoon riding around the Ole Miss campus and exploring William Faulkner’s hometown.

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View from the Bass Pro Shops pyramid, Memphis TN

To save money, I slept in campgrounds whenever I didn’t have a friend in the area, and bought all the food I thought I would need for two weeks in advance, and kept it all in a box on the passenger seat and in a cooler below.

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The morning after a crazy storm, Little Rock AR

No trip is complete without a few hangups. One of those could have been the rain, but I spent about $25 at Walmart on my way out of Missouri (I planned on camping the next five nights) to pick up a tarp and a set of bungee cords for the bed of my truck. I stayed dry every night = success! I also bought a toothbrush and toothpaste outside St. Louis because I realized after the first night that I had forgotten mine. Oops.

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Vicksburg MS

In Jackson I pulled into the campground at 7pm, only to discover that they closed the gates at 8pm until 8am, and they did not have showers as promised online: and I had a wedding to attend the next day! I panicked for only an hour or two, and while talking to my parents that night, they suggested I find a gym with showers the next morning. Workout + showers = two birds with one stone!

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Vicksburg MS

I wish I could say I spent the whole trip purchasing only the necessities and controlling my excess spending. But I had a few splurges: I got a hotel room the night I stayed out late in Jackson, since the campground closed at 8 and all others were booked. I’m also a sucker for coffee shops: even though I don’t enjoy the taste of coffee, I love the atmosphere of the coffee shop. I noticed they were not as plentiful in the South as the Midwest and Northwest, but I was still able to root out a few to sip chai and use internet.

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William Faulkner’s house, Rowan Oaks, in Oxford MS

Anyway, the following night I wanted to see the Jackson nightlife after the wedding, but I was alone. I asked advice from a kind hotel bartender, and she pointed me to some safe spots. My heart was pounding as I said a prayer and entered Underground 119 alone, walked to the far end of the bar, and took the only open seat–which happened to be right next to a journalist from USAToday. He also was experiencing downtown on his last evening in Jackson, so we spent the evening talking travel and journalism, and I picked his brain for advice.

It was one of those moments when you know God is present. So many ‘coincidences’ had occurred all day, so many times I almost made a different decision that would have changed everything that day.

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View from the top of the pyramid. The floor was glass! Memphis TN

Another of those moments occurred when I was setting up camp in the rain in the growing dusk. I had found a headlamp in my truck box on my first night of camping (thanks Dad!), but it wasn’t working, and three out of four nights I camped I was able to set up in the daylight with no rain so I didn’t need it. On the fourth night, however, I did not roll into the campground in Little Rock until after dark, and the rain was less than a half hour away.

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The elevator inside the Bass Pro Shops pyramid is the world’s tallest free-standing elevator. Or course I went up! Memphis TN

I speedily began to set up my bungee-cord-and-tarp contraption in the bed of my truck in the dark, trying to hold my phone in one hand for light. As I opened my truck box, there was the headlamp lying in a corner, already turned on. I lifted a prayer and then strapped it on, beating the storm with literally seconds to spare. It was a small thing, but it certainly meant a lot to me that night!

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Memorial Day concert, Vicksburg MS

I learned a lot during my gypsy experiment: that cold ravioli is as good or better than the hot stuff; that I can set up camp in less than fifteen minutes when a storm is on the horizon; how to live hour-by-hour and accept and flourish in constantly changing plans (or no plans at all); that it’s less expensive to stay at a campground where the owner can’t speak English rather than at a KOA, even if there’s ‘not a square to spare’ of toilet paper; that travel can be cheap and still a lot of fun. I’m not sustainable yet but that’s the goal, and this is a start!

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Ross R. Barnett Reservoir, Jackson MS

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A City–Eternal?

‘I have breathed the air of a thousand Romans.’ -Unknown

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I spent last weekend in Rome for my birthday, and I realized a few things:

1. I did well in choosing Florence over Rome for my study abroad location. Rome is a bit too big for me, especially if I want to get to know the area well. Everything was bigger in Rome: not only the sheer size of the buildings, statues, churches, and piazzas, but even the very bricks from which they were made.

Mass in St. Peter’s on Sunday morning was mostly spent gaping at the ceilings so far above, and gazing at the biggest bronze statue in the world behind me, and smiling at the Koine Greek words around the top of the nave. The pipe organ played, and the monks chanted in Latin, and we worshipped God together in many tongues.rome1

Rome even astonishes in numbers: there are over 600 churches in the city, and over 2000 fountains. 1400 of the latter were present in the ancient days, and most are still in working condition. I love walking up to the stone faces on the side of buildings and taking a deep drink of the cool water, still brought in by ancient aqueducts.

2. I can officially travel on my own–a real confidence builder. I was wandering through this foreign city alone when I thought to myself, No one knows where I am. I had no roommate, no host mom making supper for me, I didn’t have to text anyone about my whereabouts. It was the most alone I have ever been, and not only did I survive–I thrived.rome2

Sunday afternoon was the height of my ‘lonely’ travels: I asked the hotel manager where the closest beach was, stole a towel from the room, and headed out to Ostia, an hour south of Rome proper. I took two different metro lines and a half-hour train ride with a bunch of wild, screaming Italian children who were going to the amusement park there, then paid a fortune for a an hour’s use of a lounge chair.

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I didn’t realize you had to pay to go to the beach in Europe. The Montanan in me thought, Isn’t nature supposed to be free? But I saw enough old men in speedos to last me a lifetime, so I guess I’m picky about freedom…because that shouldn’t be allowed.

Anyway, the beach was a nice change. I realized I hadn’t seen the ocean (except from an aircraft) since I went to the beaches of Normandy in northern France in 2011. I’ve always considered myself a mountain girl, but there is something fascinating about endless water.

3. No earthly thing is eternal. The ruins, especially in places such as the Area Sacra, sang softly of sadness: still and lifeless, they tell a story–a story of death. The Colosseum was still an impressive structure, but it, too, will pass.

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The forum has always been one of my favorite places in Rome. Unlike many of the other ancient structures, the forum is a picture of everyday life in ancient times. Small signs point out ‘the house of Caesar Augustus’ and other similar locations. There were gardens, still tended, and small fountains in courtyards.

I took off my shoes and allowed the dust to cover my feet and ankles. I thought of the days when Romans must have passed through these houses, kicking up the same dust.post 3.7

I wondered if they ever thought that their lives, then so well fortified by power and made secure by the sheer size of Rome, would someday become a city-wide museum. Did they consider their legacy?

What will I leave behind?

Dust?

Scuola – LdM ‘the Magnificent’

Lorenzo de’ Medici Institute was named for Lorenzo the Magnificent, a ruler of Florence from the famous Medici family during the Renaissance era; also one of my historical heroes. Besides being a wise and cunning ruler, Lorenzo was also a great patron of the arts, and belonged to a group of people referred to as ‘humanists’: those leaders of the time who supported the ‘rebirth’ and flowering of art, literature, philosophy, religion, science, etc. after the Dark Ages.

And, like most of my heroes, Lorenzo was a skilled with horses and a brave in war.

Marry me, please.

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I am moving into my second week of school, and as of my first glance, my classes are proving to be no less ‘Magnificent’ than their namesake.

History this semester is, not surprisingly, ‘The Rise and Fall of the Medici,’ following the family from the 15th to the 17th century. I’m stoked, to say the least. My professor, Romana Priessler, is tall and beautiful with a face of a carved marble Roman statue brought to life. She makes no expression while she speaks ever so slowly, except the faintest hint of a smile when she says:

‘My English is not so great, and you may correct me if you like. But I will correct you on Medici.’

(Italians draw out the first syllable: ‘MAY-de-chi.’)

My history class goes hand-in-hand with my art class, “The Built Environment of Florence.”

(Concordia said I need an art class to graduate anyway, so why not take it in Florence?)

Florence above

This class, taught by Elisabetta Morici, will mostly cover architecture during the Renaissance period, although our first introductory class was mostly a lecture about the beginnings of the city. It was founded by the Romans and was called ‘Florentia,’ and was built in the valley near the Arno River, where it is today. The native and peace-loving Etruscans were forced up into the hills and settled there.

Florentia can still be seen today: our professor pulled up a map of modern Florence, showed us which roads were Roman, and pointed out where the forum and the amphitheater once stood. The roads still exist, cutting right angles through a city mostly comprised of curving, winding, narrow, crazy-Italian-driver-infested streets. The forum is now the Piazza dell’ Repubblica; I pass near it on my way to school each day. And the remains of the amphitheater can be seen in the steeply slanted road I hike up to get to class; my feet are passing over hundreds of seats now covered by paved roads.

With a half hour left of class, Professor Morici was teaching about the Byzantine walls and towers (over the years, Florence had seven different layers of protective walls built; these were the second set, built just after the fall of the Roman Empire).

In one fluid motion she shut down the computer and grabbed her small leather bag.

‘Let’s go look at them,’ she said.

With wide eyes, all 25 students stood and followed her silently as she led us outside, around the San Lorenzo church, through the Piazza dell’ Repubblica, and down a narrow alleyway.

This is why I am studying abroad, I thought. I peeked at the syllabus: almost every class period in this course will include some type of walking tour or museum/church visit.

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Suddenly the street opened up to a small square where several couples were sitting down to lunch, and behind them stood the Torre della Pagliazza, now the Hotel Brunelleschi (rooms start at 950 euro per night–I checked).

There is a small museum in the basement of the original foundations of the tower, too small to take a class of 25. So I returned yesterday and went by myself.

Francecso Petrini is a character. (I’m giving their names mostly for my own benefit, I think–I love the way Italian names roll off my tongue…) Unlike Professor Priessler, Petrini moves his entire face, no, his entire body, when he lectures in class. His accent is quite thick, but it makes me pay attention. Between wild hand motions and the use of the chalkboard, I can usually figure out what he’s talking about.

He teaches my ‘Age of Heroes’ literature class, in which we will be studying Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, and a little of Virgil’s Aeneid. I’ve read the lattermost in its entirety, and loved it, though I am ashamed as a history major to say I have never completely read the other two. But I will soon!

All of my professors, but Professor Petrini in particular, stress that they are not Catholic. For so many years, my education has been specifically Christian, and I have caught myself on more than one occasion assuming that is true for all education.  I find it interesting that the professors still adhere to the religious principles of Catholicism, and Petrini even took a large chunk of our class period to make it clear he believed Jesus, whether God or not, was undoubtedly a historical figure. I suppose it is natural for the mind to seek some type of moral compass.

Ornella Pettini teaches my Italian Language class. After one week I can ask someone, ‘How do you say —– in Italian?’ And I can say ‘To be or not to be,’ mostly as a practice for Italian verbs. I don’t think Italians actually walk around saying that .

But I was proud of myself the other day when a random Alessandro sat down next to me outside the Tribunale while I was studying, and I was able to make minimal conversation  with him about the weather and the day of the week.

I can also say ‘vino.’ That’s important.