My Favorite Travel Movies

My Favorite Travel Movies

I don’t own a television, at home, or abroad.  I haven’t watched television in the last 10 years (I never watched it much as a child either) unless at someone’s home or a bar or restaurant that has one playing.  I rarely go to a movie theatre (I mostly read) but every now and then I will cue up a movie on my laptop or when I am in the states usually watch a movie when I am visiting my friend Teri.  I tend to be drawn to movies that feed my wanderlust or foodie movies.  I haven’t been able to come up with a topic for my next blog post, so I decided to do my favorite travel movies.  I usually choose movies that are in places I have visited or places I want to visit.  Some I have watched a dozen times, some only once, but all have somehow resonated with me.  In no specific order with a short synopsis and my thoughts, the following are my five favorite travel movies.  Sure, there are others I really like but after much consideration, this is my list.

Some of you may be surprised that “Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amelie Poulain didn’t make the list, especially since I have seen it easily a dozen times.   I just consider it a fun “French” movie, not so much a travel film.  You might also argue that Midnight in Paris is just a movie set in Paris, but trust me, it may just get to your wanderlust and make you want to visit the City of Light.  I am also linking the movies’ trailers to the film title just in case you want to check any of them out.

Some may argue that when I started on my journey almost 8 years ago (WOW, how is that possible?)     that I was on my own Eat, Pray, Love pilgrimage.  While not entirely true, I did feel a connection to Liz Gilbert.  Based on a true story, Liz Gilbert (played by Julia Roberts) thought she had it all: a home, a husband, and a successful career.  Newly divorced and facing a turning point, she finds she is confused about what is important to her.  I was ending a 27-year relationship and was hating a job I used to love.  Stepping out of her comfort zone, she takes off on a quest of self-discovery that over the course of a year takes her to Italy, India, and Bali, Indonesia.  Although self-discovery was and continues to be a big part of my journey, it wasn’t my goal.  I basically just wanted to run away from my life.  I enrolled in some online language courses through the University of Miami Florida and received my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Certification.  I found a job, packed a suitcase, and moved to Paris, France.  While things didn’t go quite as planned, I did discover this was the life I wanted.  I briefly returned to the states and made another plan.  This time I headed to China for 6 months, which turned into 4 years.  China led me to a short stint in Bali and now here I am in Poland still discovering many things about myself and life in general.  As a side note that has nothing to do with this post, as much as I love to read, I tried 3 times to read the book, “Eat, Pray, Love” and just couldn’t get into it.  Thank goodness for the movie.

My first love…Paris!  Yes, Paris stole my heart even before my first visit.  I also love to write, so when Midnight in Paris came out it was a must-see.  In my humble opinion, the opening montage alone will make you want to visit.  Gil Pender (played by Owen Wilson) is a screenwriter and aspiring novelist.  Although vacationing in Paris with his fiancée, he finds himself walking the city at night, alone.  One night at the stroke of midnight, Gil encounters a group of revelers who are strange yet familiar.  Soon he finds himself in Paris, in the ’20s, with the era’s icons of art and literature.  The more time he spends with these people in the past, the more disenchanted he becomes with the present.   While partying with these characters, there is a scene that shows a carousel with bicycles that you pedal to make it move.  It can reach speeds of 60 kph.  This scene takes place at Musée des Arts Forains.  This is a museum of fairground art, carnival games, and rides.  It is one of my favorite places to share with visitors in Paris.  My favorite line from the movie is, “actually, Paris is most beautiful in the rain”.  I believe Paris is most beautiful in the rain.  This is one of those movies I never tire of watching.

If there is one movie that best explains the feelings, the experiences, the ups and downs of the last 7+ years of my life, it is A Map for SaturdayAlthough I am not a young backpacker, on the road for a year, or staying in hostels (I have but not usually my first choice), it does do a great job of showing all the feels.  I have mostly had a home base in some country or another over my journey, but I have also traveled extensively during this time.  Those first hours of being alone in a new destination, meeting people over the course of your stay, and knowing when you leave it really is “goodbye”.  Most of the time it isn’t see you later because deep down you know you probably will never see these people again.  The movie’s filmmaker, Brook Silva Braga, quits his lucrative job as a producer with HBO Sports and documents his 11 months of backpacking around the world. During those 11 months, he spent time on four continents, Australia, Asia, Europe, and South America.  The title of the film comes from the fact that when you are on long-term travel with no obligations, every day feels like Saturday.  When I eventually return to the states (yes, someday but no idea when), I would love to talk to young people.  Their parents will probably hate me, but I want to tell them to take that “gap year”.  A foreign concept to most Americans but it is embraced by other cultures.  What you can learn when you move out of your comfort zone and embrace the chaos of Asia, or the mindset of Europe is not something you will learn in the classroom.  I agree that lifestyle, even for a year, or my lifestyle which has been even more long-term isn’t for everyone.  But I can’t repeat it enough if you have even the smallest desire…GO!  Even if you aren’t a young person who hasn’t settled into a 9 to 5 life, if you are someone unhappy with a job, or just want to experience living a different culture from your own, even if it is for 1 month, 3 months, 6 months…GO!  If you want to understand my lifestyle because it is something so hard to put into words, watch this movie.  If I recommend one movie on this list for people who have a desire for long-term travel watch “A Map for Saturday”.

Can a person be happy living abroad, alone?  I often get asked if I get homesick, feel lonely, or unhappy.  I can honestly say I have never been homesick.  I truly feel at home anywhere in the world.  Lonely?  No…I consider myself a loner and solitude (which I don’t think is the same as loneliness) is something I need.  I will admit there have been times I have seen or experienced something amazing, and I wish there was someone there to share it – at that moment instead of sharing it with them via social media or text message, or a phone call.  But that feeling doesn’t last because when I do share on social media friends are happy to share that experience with me in that way.  FOMO – fear of missing out – not really, after all, in the world of video chats I don’t have to miss out on much if I just make the effort.  Now, do I ever feel unhappy?  If I said no, that would be a giant lie.  No one, even me who tries to be positive all the time, can go through life without feeling unhappy every now and again.  Usually, that unhappiness is short-lived.  Maybe my roommate doesn’t shut the freezer tight, and I walk into a puddle on the floor at 2 am….definitely unhappy.  Or I walk to the tram stop (10 minutes), catch a tram across the river (15 minutes) walk to a museum or shop or restaurant (10 minutes), and discover I should have maybe checked to see if they are open because I just came all this way to find out they are closed….big unhappy!  Truthfully, I am happy most of the time.

I often scan the internet for books/movies on travel.  Somehow I came across Hector and the Search for Happiness.  Hector is a psychiatrist.  He lives a very organized life.  One day, he confesses to his girlfriend, Claire, that he feels like a fraud because he gives recommendations to his patients who never seem to improve or get any happier.  On a whim, he finds some courage to break out of his lackluster routine and embark on an international journey to find the formula for joy and happiness.  As he globe-trots, Hector captures in his journal his notes on happiness and things that spoil happiness based on his encounters.  One of these notes says, “Happiness is doing a job you love”.  Bingo…I knew I needed to move on when I started hating a job I used to love.  “Happiness is to be loved for exactly who you are”.  Nowhere or at no time is this more apparent than when you are traveling alone in a foreign place.  No one knows your history, what you looked like (yep, how you would take that body back when you thought you were fat at 21), nothing…they know nothing about you yet like you for who you are right at that moment.  “Making comparisons can spoil your happiness”.  Don’t compare yesterday to today.  His list goes on and it’s a good list.  I could write about everything on it, but one more… “Happiness is knowing how to celebrate”.  Celebrate even the small things.  When I first got to China, I had a two-week training period with a bunch of kids on their gap year.  They celebrated everything from learning how to write something in Chinese characters to finally mastering chopsticks.  This is the number 2 movie after “A Map for Saturday” I would recommend.

Who doesn’t love Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman?  Together in a movie … a no-brainer.  In my life, I have ticked many things off my so-called Bucket ListBillionaire Edward Cole (played by Jack Nicholson) and car mechanic Carter Chambers (played by Morgan Freeman) are complete strangers until fate lands them in the same hospital room.  The need to discover who they are and what they have done with their lives leaves them with a desire to complete a list of things they want to see and do before they die. Spoiler alert – One of the things on the bucket list is “laugh until you cry”.  This is satisfied when Carter reveals to Edward the origin of the “most expensive coffee in the world” (Kopi Luwak) that he obsesses over.  Of course, I got a good laugh from this because I have sometimes been on the receiving end of laughter when I would drink Kopi Luwak.  Some of the other items on their bucket list were see something truly majestic, kiss the most beautiful girl in the world (his granddaughter), drive a motorcycle on the Great Wall of China, skydive, see the Taj Mahal, drive a Shelby Mustang, sit on the Great Pyramids, and get a tattoo.  Some of these I have ticked (well I didn’t drive a motorcycle on the Great Wall, but…) and I still have the Taj Mahal on my bucket list.  The greatest thing in the movie for me is Carter explains the Egyptian myth:  When Egyptians die, the gods would be waiting at the gate of heaven to ask them two questions before allowing them to enter:  1. Have you found joy in your life?  2. Has your life brought joy to others?

I hope whoever is reading this has found joy in their life.  I know I have.  As I am winding this down, I happened to glance at the calendar on my desk, January 9, 2022.  It reminds me that 2 years ago today, January 9, 2020, my heart was overflowing with joy.  It was the grand re-opening of the Robins Theatre brought to fruition by my brother and sister-in-law.  My “little brother”, I witnessed that night something truly majestic and how his life brought joy to so many.  I hope my life brings joy to others also.

As a postscript, the next five on my list.  I had to end the main text at 5 or this post would have been a small book.  I will however link trailers to the titles.

Paths of Souls  a documentary of eleven Tibetans who prostrate themselves every few steps during a 1,200-mile pilgrimage that lasts for seven months.

Paris Je T’Aime  a collection of 18 vignettes set in Paris.

Under the Tuscan Sun  Frances Mayes, a 35-year-old San Francisco writer gets a divorce that leaves her with terminal writer’s block and depression.  Later, she decides to buy a house in Tuscany to change her life.

Mamma Mia  As Sophie and her family are busy preparing for her wedding, she secretly invites three men, who were her mother’s lovers in the past, with the hope that one of them is her father.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel  A decrepit hotel hosts seven British tourists who come to Jaipur on a holiday. Each one has a past and a new ambition.  Their lives intertwine with their host, who is also trying to get a grip on life.

Happy viewing!

2021- My Year in Review

2021- My Year in Review

Here I sit on a frigid morning with a steaming cup of joe staring at a blank page.  It is a mere five days until 2022 and 23 months of living abroad during a global pandemic.  Like last year, I am again struggling with this post.  I wrote about 2020 based on the theme of duality, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, taken from Dicken’s A Tale of Two Cities.  While some may say 2021 was still the best and worst of times, for me, it was a very good year.  I struggle to say that as I know so many were/are still struggling with the fall-out from Covid 19.  I am sure I stepped on some toes and angered people when I wrote about why I was thankful for a global pandemic. In the beginning, I felt guilty about all the fun things I was doing.  Then I reminded myself that these opportunities don’t always come around twice, and life really is short.

I read a quote from Diane Ackerman, “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I just lived the length of it.  I want to have lived the width as well.”  That summed it up for me.  I couldn’t control the state of other people’s happiness or unhappiness for that matter.  Once you realize you can’t go about your life living it to please others, you can stop feeling guilty about enjoying yours.  I am where I am because I made a choice to be here.  I won’t feel guilty for living and enjoying my reality.  Is my life perfect?  Fuck no, but I am going to make the best of every opportunity that comes my way.  2021 ticked a few bucket list items and saw some dreams come true.  I as begin my year in review, know firstly, I write for myself.  It’s what I enjoy, and I love reliving moments of my life.  Secondly, I write to hopefully give anyone interested some insight into other people, cultures, and another view on life.  As I roll back to January 2021, remember, this is my reality, my perception of my life in 2021.  We all choose our own realities.  I just happen to choose to make the best of times….

After spending Christmas in the Tatra Mountains and the southern Polish city of Zakopane, I rang in the New Year at home with my flatmates and friends.  We represented Poland, the USA, India, and Belarus.  I made pork and sauerkraut, played Auld Lang Syne, did long-distance shots with friends in the states, and was overwhelmed with new year wishes from friends around the globe.  January was a mostly quiet month in the +48 (country code for Poland) and we had an arctic blast hit us mid-month. The beauty of it is the way Poles embrace the weather.  I found myself in Old Town on a snowy Sunday enjoying mulled wine and hot cherry vodka outside in a blizzard.  I learned the Polish word for winter which is Zima.  I love this word as it was also a favorite beverage back in the day.   By the end of the month, the world was entertaining themselves with “Bernie’s mittens”.

I spent the last snowy Saturday of January at the Warsaw Zoo popping a selfie with the rhinoceros.

February marked one year I had been living in Poland.  It continued to be a winter wonderland in Warsaw.  Not going out much I had plenty of time to read and did find a coffee festival going on early in the month.  In Poland, we celebrate Tłusty Czwartek or Fat Thursday (not to be confused with Fat Tuesday).  This year it fell on February 11th.  Tłusty Czwartek is also called pączek day as everyone buys pączek or filled doughnuts, so I had to go out to buy mine.  My favorite has a rose filling.  The weather finally broke near the end of the month, and I went to the Palace of Culture and Science to a spider and scorpion exhibition. The Palace of Culture and Science is one of the most recognizable buildings in Warsaw.

It is also a source of controversy as it, on the initiative of Joseph Stalin, was a “gift of the Soviet people for the Poles”. This month I also tried my hand at making nalewka which is made by macerating fruits and sugar in vodka and letting them age.  It was also at the end of this month I was contacted by English Wizards to see if I was interested in spending seven weeks on the Black Sea in Bulgaria at a youth language camp.  This was especially interesting to me as I had hosted a Bulgarian student in my home 18 years ago.

After a slow start to March, I interviewed and accepted the summer job at Z Camp, the youth language and sports camp on the coast of the Black Sea in Bulgaria.  I would get to check off country #38 and hopefully catch up with a couple of the “kids” I met 18 years ago.  My flatmate from India moved out and a couple from Vietnam moved in.  Lucky me, Ben made homemade Pho Bo Tai for us one weekend.

I learned that in Poland for the Vernal Equinox primary school children make a doll called Marzanna.  Marzanna is the Polish incarnation of the old Slavic goddess of winter, plague, and death.  Marzanna is then set on fire and thrown in the river to ensure the timely arrival of spring.  March ended rainy and chilly and me with a head cold.

On to April…with April came Easter and my first trip out of Warsaw since Christmas.  I had learned through my students of people making a pilgrimage to the city of Częstochowa to Jasna Góra Monastery which is home to the famous Our Lady of Częstochowa painting also known as the Black Madonna.

I arrived at the monastery in time for Good Friday mass, but I had to return the next day to see the Black Madonna as it is only available for viewing during certain hours.  I spent about an hour in the chapel with my thoughts and then lit a candle in memory of all those gone before me.  Back in Warsaw, I also registered and received my “trusted profile” which basically just makes it easier for all things government-related in Poland.  The first 3 weeks of the month being rainy and cool had me thinking I was back in NE Ohio, but finally, it felt like spring by the end of the month.

If you follow me on Facebook, you probably have noticed I love the Warsaw Trams.  The first weekend in May brought out a vintage tram (circa 1959) which would run on line 36 (tourist route) during the spring and summer months.  Despite being a rainy day, I was determined to ride the first run of the season.  May also found me at “The Art of Banksy Without Limits”  exhibition in the Praga district of Warsaw.  The warmer weather just had me out exploring the city the rest of the month.

With the beautiful weather the first weekend in June, I traveled by train to Krakow, Poland.  Krakow is home to the headquarters of English Wizards, the company I work for. In 1978 the historic center of Krakow was the first site in Poland to be recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  Arriving late afternoon, I started my weekend by locating the EW office, and the next thing I knew I was on a pub crawl around the Kazimierz district of the city.  Today trendy and hipster with vintage shops, indie galleries, and quirky bars, Kazimierz was once the historic center of Jewish life in Krakow.

About 75 km west of Krakow is the Polish city that was known as Oświęcim before WWII.  Today, it is best known for Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Nazi concentration/extermination camps.  My day trip here was a chilling experience I will never forget.  According to the UNESCO World Heritage Site: “At the center of a huge landscape of human exploitation and suffering, the remains of the two camps of Auschwitz I and Auschwitz II-Birkenau were inscribed on the World Heritage List as evidence of this inhumane, cruel and methodical effort to deny human dignity to groups considered inferior, leading to their systematic murder.”  It was recognized in 1979.

The following morning I took a bus to the 3rd UNESCO Heritage Site I would visit this weekend; Wieliczka Salt Mine.  Recognized as a UNESCO Site in 1978, the salt mine produced table salt continuously from the 13th century until 2007.  I spent the afternoon walking around Wawel Castle and the Jewish Quarter of Krakow, the Kazimierz District.

I spent the rest of the month wandering Warsaw…the night market, evenings at the Vistula River, and trying to wrap things up before leaving the beginning of July for 2 months on the Bulgarian Coast.  But, before the month ended, I made a spontaneous decision to go to Cairo Egypt when the camp was over and booked a one-way ticket, because who knows what else I might want to do.

July 2, 2021, I added country 38 to my list.  I arrived in Burgas, Bulgaria and a driver took me to Kiten the location of Z Camp.  The first three weeks of camp were a whirlwind, and I wasn’t sure I would survive.  After a year and a half teaching Business English to adults, working all day with kids (8-15) in hot humid weather was exhausting.  I fell into bed at night drained.  As the days passed, I found my rhythm and had a great summer.  I am headed back this year to do it all over again. Before month-end, I had decided to piggyback on my trip to Cairo and fly to Morocco.

Hello August!  The last three weeks of camp seemed to fly by at warp speed and before I knew it it was time to bid everyone goodbye.  I did have a few days before my flight from Sofia, Bulgaria to Cairo.  I took the opportunity to go to Veliko Tarnovo to stay with Hristian, one of those “kids” I mentioned earlier.  He showed me around his city, we made a side trip to Gabrovo his hometown.  We met up with Tony, another one of those “kids”, visited his mom and his grandma.  After a couple days, he put me on a bus for Sofia where I would spend the night before flying out to Cairo the next day.

Cairo – colorful, crazy, and chaotic.  I was staying in Giza at the Giza Plateau.  My room overlooked the Great Pyramids and the Sphinx.   It was a big tick on my bucket list, country 39 and a first on the African continent.  It was mindboggling.  It was surreal.  It was a dream come true and more.  I did many things around Cairo and took a side trip to Alexandria, but nothing can describe sitting on my rooftop each evening and gazing at the oldest and only remaining wonder of the ancient world.


On the first of September, I left Cairo and flew to Casablanca, Morocco adding country number 40.  Even though I know Rick’s Café in the movie Casablanca was just a set made in Hollywood, how could I go to Casablanca and not go to Ricks? I also went to the Hassan II Mosque which is the second-largest functioning mosque in Africa and the 7th largest in the world.  2 days in Casablanca was plenty and from there I took the train to Marrakech where I had booked a Riad (guesthouse) in the heart of the Medina.  Normally, the great square Jemaa el-Fnaa is filled with thousands of people watching magicians and snake charmers, eating, shopping, listening to storytellers and bands, or getting henna tattoos, it was virtually empty due to the pandemic.  But that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm.  Marrakech was as exotic and exciting as I expected even without the tourist crowds. The highlight was my Moroccan Hammam experience.  I took a day trip to the Ourika Valley which is a valley in the Moroccan High Atlas along the Ourika River. It is located around 30 km from Marrakech and is essentially populated by Berber people speaking Shilha.  The next day I was scheduled to fly back to Poland but got word my flight had been canceled and they couldn’t get me out for three days.  Happily, my Riad was able to accommodate me, and I enjoyed 3 more days in Marrakech.  One of those days I took a day trip to Essaouira which is a coastal city on the north coast of Africa and dined on fresh grilled lobster.

I arrived back in Warsaw in mid-September and jumped right back into teaching my English classes.  Luckily, most didn’t start until October when the new semester was scheduled.  Between bi-weekly (I’m never sure if this is every two weeks or twice a week, but every other week in this case) massages, eating a lot of pho, wandering Old Town, and teaching, October brought the Van Gogh Immersive Experience to Warsaw which I saw on its opening day.

I also received my Karta Pobytu or temporary residence card for Poland making me a resident until 2024.  A new food hall opened 2 blocks from my flat in a restored facility, Fabryka Norblina, that was once a silver-plating factory.

Most exciting for me was my 15 minutes of fame, when my hometown newspaper, The Tribune Chronicle, ran a front-page story on my travels/life as a teacher.  All in all a very good month.

Somehow November arrived and the last two months of the year were a whirlwind.  November 1st in Poland is Wszystkich Świętych or All Saints Day.  People from all over Poland travel to their home cities to lay flowers (mostly chrysanthemums) and light candles at the graves of their loved ones.  Going to the cemetery after dark is a sight to behold with thousands of glowing candles.

November 11th is Narodowe Święto Niepodległości or National Independence Day. After ceasing to exist for 123 years, it commemorates the anniversary of the restoration of Poland’s sovereignty as the Second Polish Republic in 1918 from the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Russian Empires. In Warsaw, it is celebrated with an Independence March which I attended with my friend Tamara and over 100,000 of our closest friends.  The march which starts near the Palace of Culture and ends at the National Stadium was a sea of people decked in white and red, carrying the flag, lighting flares, and celebrating their freedom. I also discovered a restaurant that served Chinese food that was as close to anything I had in China.

I need to jump back to 2006 for the next part of the story.  Tom and I were on a cruise that was a full transit of the Panama Canal.  Prior to the cruise, I started chatting on a cruise site with another woman who would be on the same cruise with her husband.  During the cruise, we met up and for the past 15 years, although not seeing each other in person, have kept up correspondence through social media.  I have also “met” some of her family and friends through Facebook.

Well Barb and Danny (from the Panama Cruise), her sister Kay and friends Diana, Dawn, and Randy were coming to Europe for a Viking River Cruise highlighting European Christmas Markets.  The cruise was originating in Amsterdam.  Well, she didn’t need to ask me twice and I flew to Amsterdam to hang out with them for a few days.  After 15 years, we met again and had a blast and I got to meet my Facebook friends live and in person.  What a great way to roll into December.

I can honestly say that December made my year truly complete.  The first weekend, Warsaw lit up in all the seasons finest.  I strolled through Old Town, watched the ice skaters, sipped mulled wine, and then walked the Royal Route past the castle and the Presidential Palace and up Nowy Świat to home.

Remember those friends in Amsterdam?  Well, their cruise ended in Basel Switzerland and then they took the train to Paris for a few days.  Well, they twisted my arm, no really, they did…so I flew to Paris for a whirlwind weekend with them.  Returning from Paris, the spirit of the season really kicked in.

I had long video chats with friends back in the states, my students excitedly shared their Christmas traditions with me and I learned all about Wiglia (Christmas Eve Dinner).  Christmas Eve was spent with Tamara as we wandered Old Town enjoying hot cherry vodka, listening to buskers, and feeling the Christmas Spirit as light snow fell on the city.  After Christmas, Laura, one of my co-workers from Z-Camp came to Warsaw and we spent a mad evening at the bar at the Vodka Museum, Koneser Bar ¾.  I ended the year at the Tapas Bar next to my flat sipping champagne and watching the sky light up with fireworks.

If you stuck with me this far, thank you!  I started this a week ago, finally finished.  You are all an important part of my journey.  It was a year to remember.  Peace…Love…Light and Lots of Laughter in 2022.