“I am having enjoyment. And I made a promise to myself that I would not consider enjoyment a sin. I take a pleasure into inquiring into things. I’ve never been content to pass a stone without looking under it. And it is a black disappointment to me that I can never see the far side of the moon” – john.steinbeck
I have not truly experienced a city until I have become lost in its parks and consumed by its cups of coffee.
I am not used to having the freedom to choose how to spend all of my hours. I suppose I always knew that there were twenty-four hours in a day, one hundred and sixty eight in a week, but I am used to feeling as though an unspoken hour is a rarity that I must make the absolute most of. I am used to filling any gaps in my schedule with lunches and dinners and coffees and drinks. Because most of my hours tend to be filled with commitments, I feel like I have to make those that aren’t count even more. I am good at fitting a lot in.
But, when you take away work and the other monotonies of daily life (a commute, laundry, grocery shopping, etc.) there are so many hours in the day. I am not sure who has been hiding this fact from me for twenty-four years. Where have all of these hours been?
Having a lot of hours available for filling is exhilarating, but it is also an exercise in restraint. Over the past two weeks for twelve or more hours a day, I have been filling each hour as if it is the only one available. And then I have done the same thing with each of the remaining hours. It is incredible how much you can do in a day at this pace.
Today I slept in late; I didn’t leave my hostel until at least 1:00. I went to three cafes and two parks and two bars. I walked 30,000 steps. I saw three different major monuments; I went to a museum and to a palace and to a temple. I saw several different neighborhoods. I got lost a couple of times. I lingered outside of a Starbucks to use their wifi for a moment. I sat for a while in a few different spots. I read quite a few chapters of my book. I called my mom. I wrote this post. I had decided that today I was just going to be a relaxed day and compared to some of my others so far, it was.
Although there is so much I want to do and see while I am traveling, I am working on reminding myself that I do not need to spend my hours as if I am running out of them. Just as it gets hard to incorporate vacation and fun into real life, it can be difficult to incorporate simply existing into travel life. Being in vacation mode all of the time is not sustainable, so now that the frenzy of the first two weeks and first few locations has passed and I am starting to get my footing, I am working on settling into myself.
I am reminded that no matter where I am in the world or in my life, certain habits remain the same. There is some type of internal auto-pilot that kicks in whether I am in Boston or London or a brand new city. I am never more at peace than when I am sitting in a park, reading a book. I never feel more connected to a city than when I am scavenging for its coffee shops and gaping at its architecture. So while I want to see all of the best museums and restaurants and monuments and more, I am also trying to dedicate days to getting lost, to having no destination, to losing track of time, to sitting somewhere nice. This is the closest thing I have to a resting state. When I do this, I am not trying to be or accomplish anything in particular.
I am just being.
Sometimes, I catch myself scolding myself. Am I really traveling around the world just to spend the day sitting in a park, drinking a cup of coffee, reading a book?
I remind myself that the answer is Yes. I am.
It is a new park, and in it are unfamiliar fountains and monuments and sculptures. And on my way to the park I took a detour and I discovered a museum I hadn’t previously known about. And when I ordered my coffee, I had to think about the way they make coffee here and carefully count out the correct coins from my wallet and remember how to say thank you. And as I sit in the park, I get to see the group of friends who are taking a selfie, and the family having a picnic, and the woman throwing the ball for her dog. I get to listen to the music being played on the corner, and to smell the food being sold across the path, and to watch the bikes go by in the distance. There is something reassuring and hopeful about realizing that anywhere you go, existing in the park is both exactly the same and entirely different.
I get to see the all of the bustling and vibrant and layered life of whichever city I am in and I get to see all of that life pausing to take a moment to exist in the park.
And I get to exist in the park alongside it.