Night train

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Night train adventure.

There are few experiences that define my haphazard years living abroad more than taking a night train. 5-hour border-delays, accidentally missing my stop, waking up to discover there is someone new in my compartment, and making friends in the bar car at 2am all mark my experiences of this well-worn traveler’s adventure.

This past November my partner and I took a trip to Poland and Czechia to visit my old stomping grounds. I studied for a semester at Charles University in Prague in 2009, and in the summers of 2008-2011 I was in Piekary, a village along the Visula river 15 km outside of Kraków, working as an English teacher at summer camps for Polish high school students. In 2010 & 2011, I lived about 9 months in Kraków, teaching and writing.

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Piekary, Poland. The Tyniec monastery is in the distance.

While living in Kraków, I often crossed the border to visit a good friend living in Lviv, Ukraine. One of my most spontaneous night-train trips occurred with her. It was about 5pm and she texted me to say they were having a party for a friend the next day. She had to go to the border that night to meet a friend. “If you can get to the Przemyśl train station by midnight, we can walk across the border together,” she said.

20 minutes later, I was on my way to the Kraków Glowny train station. And, walk across the border at midnight we did.

Other times, I took night trains in Ukraine from Lviv to Odessa, and Kyiv, and from Kraków to Prague several times. In Spain, I traveled via night train from Valencia to Granada, and in Bolivia, from the salt flats in Uyuni to Oruro.

Often, my travel plans were made on the fly, or with just a day in advance. There was one particularly haphazard experience from Prague to Kraków where I’d bought the wrong ticket, and had to take one slow inter-city train to Bohumín, then transfer to a basic international train. I remember finding an empty compartment around 3am and using my jean jacket as a pillow as I stretched out on a bench.

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A border-stop between Kraków & Prague. Also, a similar name to my Czech grandfather, Bohumil.

So, it was an absolute joy to take a proper sleeper with my partner, Patrick, on our trip. I bought tickets in advance on Polrail – undoubtedly more expensive than would be at the station, but it was nice to be prepared. The compartment had 2 bunk beds, sturdy locks on the doors, and a working sink. They supplied a toothbrush and, delightfully, Polish slippers. In the morning, we were brought coffee and breakfast.

Typical of my past night train journeys, we bought cheese and crackers and booze for the journey. We boarded around 10pm, and had a high time rolling through dark sleepy villages in our secret little compartment. Though we didn’t sleep much, the experience was a pleasure and it made me laugh when Patrick, who has traveled extensively yet never taken a night train, asked when I had taken my first.

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Train snacks.

I wracked my brain for a moment. It would have been the summer of 2008, my first year at the English summer camps. Before the program began, another volunteer and went to Ukraine. Our train from Lviv to Odessa was leaving around midnight and we’d spent the evening drinking beer outside in the Plosha Rynok in Lviv. I remember with horror arriving at the train station to find only squat toilets, that you had to pay for. After jumping onto the train, we both passed out in a 4-person compartment, each on a top bunk. In the morning, I noticed there was additional luggage on the floor.

I peeked over my bunk to the bed below. A middle-aged Russian man peered up at me. I was so startled I quickly jerked my head back to my pillow.

“Good Morning” his voice boomed.

Surprise!

Thankfully, this train only had rooms for 2, and we drifted into morning undisturbed through the misty Polish countryside.

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Rynek Glowny, Krakow around 7am.

A bucket-list check-off complete, we spent the morning strolling sunny Kraków, content in the soft Polish light.

Heart-open to the beating earth

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How about a little horse-themed poetry to end 2019? I’d like to blow up this photo/poem and put it on my wall. Because if there is one memory from the year I know I’ll never forget, it’s galloping through Cuba.

photo with poem final

When I feel ready —
the hooves begin.
Battering across the grassy pasture of my mind
I perch atop her, with a brown mane and a glossy
Coat, as we, strong and wild
Begin anew.

Galloping into the abyss —
Through the soft pastures of Nebraska, and the bright
Cuban coffee fields,
Heart-open to the beating earth.

We trust the sticky leaves,
And in my vivid slumber 

I tighten my grip and faster we sail
Wider, genteler through the field,
and wonder of worlds unseen.

“We were here before”

Her heart says to me,
and I know that she can hear the earth, and I know that she knows my name. 

Embraced in the oblivion
I feel
all there ever was or is
together in four hooves, six legs,
our brown hair kissing the wind.

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Thailand Revisited

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img_2205I loved writing this story about the dear friends I made in a sleepy Thai fishing village during a trip in 2016. Here’s how it begins: 

I stood waist-deep in the crystalline sea, my finger-tips slowly moving through the water. Across the horizon to my left and to my right, the soft curves of Ao Manao Bay’s rocky hills wrapped me in a gentle paradise.

In the piece, I chronicle my first scooter-driving attempt (during which I get lost at night in the rain,) my exploration of breath-taking caves, temples and beaches, and the thrill of being present in every moment of newness and delight.

You can read the whole blog here: Prachuap Khiri Khan – Thailand

Adventures in Cuba!

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Havana balcony

I took a week-long trip to Cuba last month! It was a fantastic adventure, which I posted in the fabulous travel-writer Charish Badzinski’s blog, The Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications.

Here’s the link to my full piece:

Cuba, 2019: Adventures in communism & vulnerability 

Here’s an excerpt:

I jolted awake in the passenger seat of a 1953 Chevrolet speeding past farmers in horses-drawn carriages. Our driver texted while blasting music, steering the seatbelt-less American antique to Havana. I glanced at the rear-view mirror. My friend was passed out cold.

That morning, we’d awakened before 5 a.m. to walk the star-lit road into the town of Viñales to meet our guide, who was to take us up a nearby mountain so that we could watch the sunrise.

We climbed the mountain, Los Acuáticos, with flashlights on the muddy trail. Our guide told us all about the land and the families who live on the mountain, which can only be accessed on foot. After 45 minutes, we reached the peak, where a simple house stands, and watched the misty mountains host the arrival of dawn.  

It is moments like these in my travels abroad, that are the most striking in my memories, and that stay with me throughout the years, when other memories fade.

Read the full blog here!

Listen to the outsiders

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The Pope & Bishops are in the news a lot this week. So lets bring it back to the survivors & outsiders. Their courage brought systemic abuse into the light.

My follow-up piece to Roy Bourgeois’ profile was published yesterday on the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration blog, MJB. Read the full piece, here:

Outsiders help the church grow

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“Roy was silenced. His voice was not welcome because it threatened the power of the all-male clergy, challenged the dominant narrative, and suggested that women could help heal the church. And for many of his previous supporters, this was enough to ignore him. The Vatican legitimized his ostracism, and if you personally benefit from the institutional church, then it removed the burden of having to bother with women’s inequality anymore.”

This is written for ya’ll who’ve been benefiting from the decrepit institution, that has been wreaking havoc on the rest of us.

And it is dedicated to the survivors.

“As the discussion of systemic abuse continues this week at the Vatican, let’s pray for outsiders, for whom we are all indebted. It is through their courageous lives and the grace of God that institutional culture changes. Let’s pray for their strength to turn pain and betrayal into action. For it is only through action that they, too, can be free.”

My interview with Roy Bourgeois

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It’s always a good day when you get to interview one of your heroes! Roy Bourgeois has devoted his life to fighting injustice, and ultimately, it got him excommunicated from the Catholic Church. It only made him more interesting.

Check out my interview with Roy published on Patheos blog Sick Pilgrim!: Advocacy and Exile: Roy Bourgeois and the Fight for Women’s Ordination

& Check out this feature comic by artist Aubrey Inman, which illustrates an actual anecdote from Roy. He was only able to convince fellow priests to publicly support women’s ordination by writing into their wills that they would wear “Ordain Women” pins after death in their coffins. That kind of absurdity demands illustration.

Ordain Women Funeral Comic

Chris Hedges’ prophetic voice

My take on why everyone should read Chris Hedges and get enough sleep at night:

Chris Hedges’ prophetic voice has been profoundly influential in the way I view the world. His work aims to affirm the dignity of all living things, shine light on illusions and carry the glow of love through unimaginable terror. His well-informed voice ought to be the most powerful in the land but, like most prophets and truth-tellers in their times, he is pushed to the margins, relegated to speak where he is able.

Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? 

Read the full piece here!

Thanks, Sister Julia, for inviting me to be a contributor to your blog!

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Choosing Creativity over the Church

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Today, the Patheos blog Sick Pilgrim published a piece I’ve been working on this fall, about how much life is found while following the spirit of creativity, and letting go of decaying institutions.  Here is an excerpt:

This creative energy led me to confidently understand: It is a positive and life-giving choice for me to let go of the burden of the institutional Church. Another way of saying this would be: Not my circus, not my monkeys.

Its incredibly empowering to be publishing an essay under my own name, outside of an organization, and speaking for myself again, after years of writing talking points for others.

Read my full piece here!!: Choosing Creativity over the Church

ABC’s Around the World

I made this fun little book in the Spring of 2017 for my two darling nephews with photos I took from my travels around the world.

Here are a few of my favorite pages:

Cover

This first photo is of my stuffed bear, Little Bear, at Machu Picchu. I had a lot of fun posing him there, when I visited that magical place in 2012. Little Bear went on many trips abroad with me, and was accidentally left behind twice: once in Prague, and once in a rural village in Poland. Nevertheless, he managed to find his way home every time and kept on traveling with me.

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In 2010, I couchsurfed in Trakai, Lithuania with a friend. We swam in this beautiful lake with our hosts, who also used it as a bath.

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I just couldn’t believe it when I saw this woman walking in front of the lovely street art in Uyuni, Bolivia. I stayed in this town one night, during a trip to see the salt flats.

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I have had a LOT of encounters with monkeys around the world.  The monkeys in this picture were nice, but another day in Thailand, one jumped on me, stole a beaded bracelet off my hand, then proceeded to eat the beads.

Ao Manao Beach, where this photo was taken, is an incredibly tranquil beach off the equally tranquil fishing village, Prachuap Khiri Khan, where I spent 5 lovely days in 2016, driving scooters on the left side of the road and hanging out with the delightful Thai hostel owners.

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This will always be one of my all-time favorite photos. It is of my friend Maria’s grandmother and her friend Puri. I stayed with Maria in the summer of 2009 in a village called Gamonal in central Spain, and I spent a lot of time walking around the beautiful countryside with these ladies.

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Piekary, Poland, my favorite place.

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Boda-boda taxis in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. I took this out the window of a pick-up when I was working there in 2010.

View all of the pages of my ABC Book here.

 

 

Beirut Returns

And so have I.

It is pure magic that I heard their new, perfectly nostalgic song, Gallipoli, on the same day I also got news that an essay I submitted to Patheos will be published. Do you know what these to things have in common? Phil Collins! (He plays drums on the album and inspires interpretative dance in my essay.)

I also revived an old twitter account (@SophieVodvarka) from 2010. Good thing I learned how to tweet during my long absence from the world of blogging.

My oh my though, how good it feels to go back to the roots. And back to enjoying the creative freedom of writing unencumbered.

We tell tales to be known.