The Last Hurrah–Massachusetts, Manhattan, Milwaukee

Well, not my last hurrah, if I can help it. But the last for now.

Times Square

Times Square

Perhaps this was unwise, but I knew I would be pinching pennies toward the end of my time at home… so I planned ahead and bought these flights back in July to make sure I went on the trip.

Could I have used that money to think about putting in a deposit for an apartment in Seattle? Perhaps.

Would I have spent that money on something else between then and now? Most likely.

Besides, by ‘planning ahead’ I was able to get three one-way tickets for $400. I knew the flights would be the most expensive part of the trip, since I was staying with friends for two weeks, so I just tried to watch my costs for food and fun–and I was quite successful, I might add.

newsconsin7In Massachusetts my friend Randall lives just off Cape Cod in the small town of Wareham. His neighborhood was a couple blocks from a small rocky beach and backed up to a random forest, where pine trees grew thickly out of sandy hills. While Randall was at work I ran through the forest every morning and laid on the beach/waded in the water in the afternoons.

One evening we drove out to Plymouth, where Randall showed me around his childhood haunts as well as a few historical points of interest, old churches and courthouses, etc. There was the rock, of course, inscribed with ‘1620’ on the top. Mayflower II was docked nearby, a life-size replica of the original, although it was too late in the afternoon to go aboard.

newsconsin1We spent the weekend in the setting for books, the background for movies, the skyline burned in every mind: Manhattan. We splurged on a hotel just a few blocks away from Times Square, Pod 39. It had a on-the-move/thrifty-traveller/wired-millennial feel to it, somewhat like a hostel but still with private bedrooms and bathrooms. I loved it, and would definitely look into it again next time I’m in Manhattan.

Since we only had two days, we made the most of it, walking until we nearly had blisters on our feet each day, but seeing as much of the island as possible: the first day we headed south to climb the Empire State Building and take in the view of the city. I could see the Statue of Liberty from a distance, but tickets to go in sell out months in advance. Next time, Manhattan.

Ground Zero

Names engraved around fountains at Ground Zero

Further south was Ground Zero, a full hour-long walk from the ESB. The fountains in place of the foundations of the twin towers were beautifully designed, pulling the water away out of sight into the center of each memorial.

newsconsin5Sunday morning we strolled through Central Park. I was amazed at how deep into the park one must go in order to be free of the city sounds. It took even longer to be free of the crowds: the main roads going through the park were packed with runners and bicyclists, and some horse-drawn carriages. Nonetheless, I enjoyed exploring the smaller paths: I felt almost at home in the natural-growth landscapes. I was a little jealous of all the runners: next time I’ll stay long enough to go for a run.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art was extraordinary. I appreciated the local New York modern and historical art as well as the ancient collections. One room was dedicated to the rebuilding of an Egyptian temple that was taken piece by piece from the Aswan valley. When the Egyptian government built the Aswan dam, the US government donated money to the project, and as a token of thanks they allowed us to choose which of five temples we wanted to take, since all five would be under water once the dam was built.

newsconsin6We spent a lot of time in the rooms and rooms of paintings, and almost missed some classics: only as we were searching for the exit did we come upon Monet, Picasso, Manet, Cezanne, and Van Gogh.

Of course we didn’t make it to everything in the Met, and we never set foot in the Museum of Modern Art, but…next time.

I’ve just decided there’s always a next time. I’ll always see someone again, I’ll always go somewhere again, I’ll always travel again. Telling myself this keeps me on my toes, but also keeps me from bemoaning anything I might have missed the first time around. Although I never experience everything I would like to, I saw some things I didn’t expect, like a street dance performance or a Hispanic parade of all Latin American countries dancing and singing down 5th Avenue.newsconsin9

newsconsin10The second week of the trip was spent in Wisconsin, mostly in Oshkosh and Milwaukee. However I did have the chance to explore some of the other cities and towns, because for me, this was the ‘next time’: I spent a day in Green Bay, and an afternoon in Port Washington, Grafton and Cedarburg with Jacqui, a Concordia friend.

Anthony at his internship at the radio station

Anthony at his internship at the radio station

After I attended a wedding with my ongoing travel buddy Anthony, we stayed at the Tundra Lodge in Green Bay. He had scored a deal in both the stay and tickets to the indoor waterpark, of which we definitely took advantage! The lodge sported woodsy décor and flair, with animal heads staring down from every wall, and the structure reflected a classic log-home style.

Although I spent a lot of time seeing friends on this trip, I had some enjoyable alone-time. I found the Sand Pond behind Randall’s house in Wareham during one of my morning runs. I got lost in the Downtown Bookstore in Milwaukee and walked out with four “unnecessary”/but-clearly-necessary purchases. I found Riverside Park about three miles north of the Milwaukee city center, and I explored the paths by the water.newsconsin13

newsconsin12Near the park was the Urban Ecology Center. I originally walked in because I wanted to climb their tower to see the Milwaukee skyline. I figured it was a government building of some type. What I found, however, was a community center focused on educating the public on ecological awareness: they hold classes in some of their rooms, they have free coffee and wifi for anyone who wants to just sit and enjoy the atmosphere (as I did), and they have information posted all over the building about how their toilets flush solely on rainwater and the furniture is all made from local wood. They also host a plethora of activities that encourage people to spend more time out-of-doors. The volunteers working that day were overly kind and gracious, and gave me a short history lesson on how and why the center began. It was one of those moments that renewed my hope in humanity.

Kevin and I had lunch one afternoon in Milwaukee at Uncanny Soup. Russian borscht soup was their special of the day–fantastic! It brought back memories of my Italian host dad Rosario spending all afternoon making it for us in Florence. I think Rosario did it better, but Uncanny Soup was a close runner-up!

newsconsin14On the final day of the trip I returned to Milwaukee’s now-somewhat-familiar Third Ward to kill a few hours before my flights, and I spent some time in the Public Market, which reminded me of Florence’s Mercato Centrale in shape and atmosphere (although the Italian one is far larger). I was not expecting Milwaukee to provide so many nostalgic Florentine experiences!

After New York I have only 10 states left of 50. And now I have been to Boston in the fall (for those of you who know the song..?).

Now, off to Seattle.

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Rockin & Rollin & Coastin

I think I laughed more in those days than in all my life before.   -C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces

chicahio3People ask me how I travel so much, and honestly I don’t know: a couple months ago I was sitting in an ice cream shop in Nashville during a music festival (see previous post) and got a call from Elias asking if I wanted to go to Chicago after Haiti (see also) and visit my brother in Wisconsin and of course I couldn’t turn that down but didn’t know if I had the financial capabilities for such an adventure but then I discovered my parents were flying out to see my brother as well five days later so I just moved my flight upandflewfromOmahainsteadofMontana. (Now breathe.)

So that’s how I travel. (I still don’t know.)

Sometimes the pieces just fall into place.

One thing leading to another, networking, keeping in contact with friends, combining trips, living simply while on the road.

chicahio2Both halves of the trip encompassed museums, restaurants and general upper-Midwest-city exploration.

Chicago: Elias and I had three days to explore Chicago, and my brother Kevin and his girlfriend Megan joined us on the second and third days. The first night Elias and I stayed in the Wrigley Hostel, which I highly recommend: superb location near downtown, clean and spacious rooms, a plethora of bathrooms and reasonable prices. In the basement common area Elias and I made Dutch, Danish and Australian acquaintances over a pool table and a game of Jenga. The hostel was friendly, comfortable, and safe–I regret I only stayed one night!

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Sharks!

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Ugly-cute fish

Sites: We were hoping for the $8 entrance fee for the Shedd Aquarium which we saw online, but that only included the main floor. Granted, this area was expansive: exhibits showcased critters from all parts of the world. Those from the Amazon River were undoubtedly the ugliest (but, like, in a cute way. Mostly). However, the lower level housed whales, sharks, otters and a young dolphin. We also pet starfish and watched penguins play and swim. For a one-time event, the $35 ticket was worth it (student discounts were also offered).

We debated between the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art, but decided on the latter. The exhibits featured nine captivating videos by artist Keren Cytter which felt like rewatching old dreams; an interactive exhibit by Kris Martin in which we walked inside a tipped-over hot air balloon into another room; and my favorite, a handwritten lecture on music made almost entirely of questions, titled ‘Silence,’ and mounted on a wall page-by-page on yellow legal paper.

chicahio14Is it possible that I could go [on] monotonously asking questions forever? Would I have to know how many questions I was going to ask? Would I have to know how to count in order to ask questions? Do I have to know when to stop? Is this the one chance we have to be alive and ask a question? How long will we be able to be alive? Contemporary music is not the music of the future not the music of the past but simply music present with us: this moment, now. This now moment….That moment is always changing….We are thinking, I am talking and contemporary music is changing. Like life it changes. -Silence

chicahio9The four of us made our own art by capturing the moment ourselves, or sometimes capturing the moment of someone capturing the moment of someone capturing the moment of someone capturing the moment:

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Megan photographing the hot-air balloon; Kevin, her; Elias, Kevin’s ear; me, the whole hilarity.

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Back-of-the-head selfies are wildly popular right now. (We’re starting the trend.)

Of course we could not leave Chicago without spending some time on the lakefront with the Bean, which I recently learned is officially titled ‘Cloud Gate Sculpture.’ There was a symphony playing in Millennium Park, and a large crowd had gathered to listen, mostly lying on blankets on the lawn in front.

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Buckingham Fountain

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Cloud Gate at night

Friends: Anthony and his roadtripping buddies were passing through Chicago after a jaunt through Canada, and happened to be going to the Shedd Aquarium at the same time. My college roommate Hannah and her fiancé Joe were also passing through the city, so we chatted for a few minutes beneath the shadow of the Bean. The more I travel the more I cross paths with friends–and the more I realize this is probably setting the stage for more spontaneous encounters. (I travelled with both Anthony and Hannah when I went to Florida and Nashville in June.)

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Milwaukee City Hall

Milwaukee: Kevin lives north of Milwaukee, so Elias and I walked around downtown all day while he went to work. The Third Ward has plenty of coffee shops and boutiques to satisfy us college-students-ish. The paved lakefront sidewalk runs past the art museum and through a park with a statue of Gen. Douglas MacArthur. Apparently he was a third-generation Milwaukean.

Sites: Mainly food, for us on this trip at least. The Milwaukee Waterfront Deli delivers sandwiches to the second floor with a tiny open elevator which was fun to watch. Also the deli has great sandwiches, but of course that takes second place to a dumbwaiter that goes around corners. This was my first visit to a classy Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery, and it was well worth the visit.

chicahio17We also paid a visit to the British-style John Hawks Pub, but we opted to sit on the deck next to the river to enjoy the view instead of going inside. On our final night in Milwaukee, Kevin took us to Safe House, an espionage-themed restaurant that requires a ‘password’ to access through an alleyway door! It was originally the meeting location for the Milwaukee Press Club, so I enjoyed the journalism as well as the espionage décor.

Riding surreys and bikes

Riding surreys and bikes

Muskegon: The ferry across Lake Michigan saved several hours of driving around the south side of the lake. We took the earliest boat so we could have two days at our destination. We rented surreys (two-person side-by-side bicycle carts) from The Depot and rode six miles back to the lake at Pere Marquette beach. The path followed a main road, but we only had to cross traffic twice. The beach was lovely, far nicer than I expected. The gigantic waves apparently provide some of the best surfing opportunities in the country, as well as a prime location for sailing, kiteboarding and other watersports.

chicahio19Sites: Muskegon’s two World War II museums were different than most: one was located inside a landing craft used on D-Day at Omaha beach and also in Sicily, and the other was, in part, a tour through submarine USS Silversides! The former museum included memorabilia from all of WWII, and a vast amount from D-Day itself, while the latter museum focused mostly on the history and mechanics of submarine warfare.

Sandusky: Ohio held the crowning moment of the trip, the day for which Mom and I have waited…for five years…to conquer every roller coaster at Cedar Point, the ‘Roller Coaster Capital of the World’! After succumbing to wind last May, we were ready for action. We planned two days into our stay instead of one, which was a good idea since high winds which force the coasters to close are common on the narrow peninsula. We finally made it to Millennium Force, voted the world’s best roller coaster several years in a row. We also rode Top Thrill Dragster, one of two strata coasters in the world (height drop of more than 400 feet), which reaches 120mph in 3.8 seconds during ascent.chicahio26 chicahio27

Sites: Cedar Point itself was incredible. As a die-hard Disneyland family, we keep high standards: but Cedar Point met all those standards in hospitality (friendly, clean, safe) and fun (attention to detail, creativity, enough thrill rides of varying degrees to keep a family occupied for days).

Hotel Breakers on Cedar Point property provides simple, stress-free access to the park. Additionally, HB guests receive one-hour early entry to the rides and access to several restaurants and bars located inside the hotel, pools, kiddie pools, hot tubs, and a beautiful beach facing Lake Erie to the east. In the mornings we rode the coasters before the wind kicked up, and in the afternoons we spent time enjoying the other perks of HB. Some beach activities included jet skis and parasailing for extra cost: we took advantage of the latter.

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Beginning my 900-foot ascent

Cleveland: Our last stop. We were flying out the following morning, so we had an afternoon to visit the city.

Sites: The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is a must-see. We spent five hours in the six-floor museum, watching scores of great videos of hundreds of musicians from the 1950s to the present. A musician or band must have recorded a song at least 25 years before consideration for the Hall of Fame. Five or six groups have been selected each year since the museum’s opening in 1986. Besides the videos, there is also an array of famous garments, guitars and handwritten lyrics. The travelling exhibit was dedicated to rock photographer Herb Ritts, who took many of the famous portraits of rock stars used for magazines, etc.

The Rock Hall is a well-organized museum if you proceed the correct way: but I admit that wasn’t easy. From the beginning when we couldn’t find the entrance to the parking garage from the street, to passing through the science museum to get to the Hall of Fame, to circling the lower level of the museum right to left (it was designed to be viewed left to right), the Hall could have spent a little more time on proper signage.chicahio22

Our final activity was a Cleveland Indians game that night. They were playing the Milwaukee Brewers, but I rooted for the Indians because…well, I admit, I’m worse than a fair-weather fan–with all the travelling I do I find it hard to choose allegiance to one team or another, so I just root for the home team, whoever that may be! Indians won, and we had a great time. PS – Barrio, across the street, has great late-night tacos (and tequila), if the stadium hot dogs leave something to be desired.

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Bird & butterfly sanctuary north of Chicago downtown

It’s not a true Jarvis vacation if every day isn’t jam-packed full of fun!

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Chicago

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The Compromise of 2015

‘I just won’t sleep,’ I decided. There were so many other interesting things to do.         -Jack Kerouac, On the Road

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Sushi with the girls

‘Compromise’ carries a negative connotation, but it shouldn’t. Compromise is often thought of as losing something; as not winning the whole thing; as giving up a part of what you have or want.

But there is a beautiful side to compromise, too, which I recently spent two and a half weeks rediscovering.

flash2My last roadtrip was one of the pinnacles of independence so far in my life. It was not uncommon to receive texts or calls asking, ‘What state are you in?’ I ran my days by my own schedule, or no schedule, whichever I pleased. I drove when I wanted to drive, napped when I wanted to nap.

While there is nothing wrong with being on my own, we are created to be communal beings, and independence can go overboard. So I compromised the things to which I was accustomed in order to gain something I had not had before: companionship on the road.

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Egret…?

After three days in Pierce NE for my roommate’s wedding, I drove to Seward and joined four other young ladies–Hannah, Erika, Kristin, and Ellie–for the 27.5-hour trek to Indian Rocks Beach, Florida. Hannah’s grandparents gave us a week in their condo, a very kind gift. The drive down had a few hangups with varying routes on GPS’s, etc. We were driving through the night in two cars, trying to keep drivers awake, stopping more than usual and sometimes not in the best gas stations…

But as I said: if I have the privilege of driving through the night with friends, I have to learn to be patient with hour-long rest stops & refuelings.flash4

The condo made everything worth it. Five days on the beach, swimming multiple times each day and runs in the sand in the mornings. The condo itself was almost completely decorated in white, accentuating the feeling of renewal and cleanliness that matched my mental and emotional restoration taking place throughout the week. The spacious porch allowed us a delightful view of the sunset over the water (and sometimes dolphins jumping in the distance!) during supper. A few nights we grilled lobster and shrimp kabobs.

flash1Indian Rocks Beach, a quaint resort town, lies on a small island on the gulf side of the Tampa Bay peninsula. Sometimes in the afternoons we took walks to get ice cream or sushi. We also visited an outdoor mall to look around the tourist shops and participate in a ‘free’ wine tasting–but they convinced us to buy a few bottles, so was it really free… oh well.

The girls had to drive out Friday to make it back in time for work. My friend Anthony had flown in that morning. We stayed an extra day at the condo, and continued the trend of spending the majority of our time on the beach or in the ‘dolphy’ water (‘salty’ water just after a conversation about dolphins). I told Anthony he wouldn’t live that one down.

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One of my favorites of Dali’s works

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Lincoln/woman at a window, Dali

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Also a favorite, note the patterns & hidden faces, Dali

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Dali & da Vinci & me

Saturday began the three-day roadtrip to Nashville. In St. Petersburg on the peninsula, we visited the Salvador Dali museum. The only painting I knew of his was the ‘melting clocks’ piece, so I was astounded at the multiple floor-ceiling pieces containing hidden patterns and classical images and sculptures inside the paintings as a whole.

Dali’s mustache was a theme throughout the museum and the garden behind it, which contained a labyrinth.

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Bird with Dali stache

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Zoo Atlanta

In Atlanta and walked around downtown, paying a visit to World of Beer and people-watching while sitting at a table on the street outside. Father’s Day we walked around Zoo Atlanta through the scorching heat and oppressive humidity then went and saw ‘Love & Mercy’ at the movie theater to cool down. Just before sunset we took a ride on the SkyView Ferris wheel near Centennial Park, which is dedicated to the Olympics.

Don’t go to Birmingham on a Monday. Everything is closed.

Museums, theaters, hall of fame, even the churches. All closed on Mondays.

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Statue in Birmingham in Kelly Ingram Park

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16th Street Baptist Church, bombed in 1963, four girls killed

Also it was hot.

So we walked around the park and ate at Jim ‘n Nick’s. Definitely a thumbs up for that, at least.

Then seven days in Nashville TN. You might think of Nashville as a music city, and that aspect can’t be overstated. Everyone I met seemed to be in multiple bands, with past involvement in at least half a dozen others, and had the ability to play at least seven different instruments. At the same time. (Just kidding–but sometimes it felt that way!) Having so much talent condensed into such a small area was astonishing. The air radiated with a sheer love for making music.

Anthony and I were staying with his friends Dave and Jenny and their family, who were hosting the music festival. Dave’s daughter Charlotte passed away four years ago, and the family hosts ‘Charleyville’ each year to raise money for scholarships for music camps, free and reduced music lessons, and purchasing instruments for kids, as well as making a donation to the creative writing program at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, which Charlotte had been studying, learning to write lyrics. Every year Anthony and his friends from Oshkosh roadtrip down to Nashville to support Charleyville.

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Johnny Cash museum, Nashville TN

Charleyville lasted three nights, featuring 22 bands, a silent auction, a raffle, good food, and a lot a great people: the kind of great people with whom you want to stay up all night around a bonfire while they improvise on random instruments. I’m no musician but I lent my listening ears (those are needed too; at least I like to think so) and felt a part of the Nashville culture for a week, and it was beautiful.

During the day time before the music started, Anthony and I spent our time walking around the city as he showed me his favorite spots and we explored a few more. I hit up a few museums of course, including the TN State Museum across from the capitol building and the Johnny Cash museum which opened two years ago.

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…and the Nebraska jacket

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Modeling the Montana jacket….

We also met Manuel, a friend of Jenny’s, at his shop, where he designs and makes clothes for celebrities, including Elvis’ famous gold suit. Manuel let me try on some of his state jackets.

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Parthenon

Nashville has a to-scale Parthenon, left over from the 1897 Tennessee Centennial Exposition, complete with a statue of Athena inside which precisely follows the historical measurements of the statue which once stood in the original Parthenon in Athens.

Dave and Jenny lived about 15 minutes north of Nashville, which offered some great running territory in the mornings through forested lanes and around duck ponds and parks.

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Shy’s Hill

I hiked Shy’s Hill, where the decisive Battle of Nashville took place during the Civil War–Dave happened to be a history buff as well and directed me to all the right places. The hike up the hill only took about 10 minutes but it was a steep drop on all sides. I cannot fathom how the Union army fought its way up and took the hill, all but wiping out the western Confederate forces.

While independence is a handy tool to have around, there are some things you can’t have without compromise. Like friends, for instance.flash18

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

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.

photo

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.

hotel-brunelleschi

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.