Cooking is cathartic for me, and – as I’ve been traveling a lot – my homesickness is not necessarily for my house, but for my kitchen. I love being able to experiment, especially in the fall, and roaming around from restaurant to restaurant isn’t cutting it for me. So when I finally made it back to my home-away-from-home in Germany, my first three hours were spent in the kitchen, making soup, applesauce, and lemon cheesecake bites. Not a bad welcome home party for myself, eh?
This Creamy Butternut Squash Soup was everything I was missing – fall ingredients and a warm, cozy dinner on chilly October evenings. Plus, it’s not half bad for you. It’s dairy and gluten-free, and could be made vegan if you opted for vegetable stock instead of chicken broth. If you aren’t following any sort of diet regimen and just want a damn good soup, add some crispy prosciutto and freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top and serve with homemade bread (or, in Germany, pretzel bread). Enjoy!
1 large butternut squash
2-3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 peeled carrots
1 stalk celery
1 chopped onion
3 large potatoes, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup coconut cream
5 cups chicken broth
(NOTE: Homemade chicken broth is SO good in this recipe. Use it if you have it!)
1 tsp. ground white pepper
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. sage
Salt to taste
Clean and quarter butternut squash. Place on sheet pan and drizzle with olive oil. Roast at 350˚F/175˚C until squash is soft. In a food processor (or with an immersion blender), combine coconut cream and butternut squash.
In a large pot, heat up chicken broth until just simmering. Add in chopped carrots, celery, onion, and potatoes and cover. Cook until vegetables are completely tender. Use the immersion blender to puree all of the vegetables into the broth. Add in all spices.
Add in the squash mixture and blend with the broth mixture. Soup should be moderately thick. Simmer for 5-10 minutes so the flavors can meld, and salt to taste. Serve immediately (although, it’s pretty great the next day, too).
I’ve now gotten a lot of practice in mapping out a city and seeing exactly what I want to see in the amount of time I have to see it. We spent just one full day in Barcelona, Prague, and Vienna, and I’m about to head to a full day in Amsterdam.
With cities that have so much historical value and so many sights, one day might not seem feasible. But, if you’re willing to strategize, I promise you – you can fit it all in.
The first trick to conquering a new city in a short amount of time is be willing to walk. Thankfully, I’ve been with some fellow walkers along my trip, because let me tell you: you will begin to stumble upon things that you A) didn’t even know were in that city and B) were trying to eventually find but forgot you wanted them on the list. In Paris, we stumbled on so many landmarks just because we were trying to walk ourselves to another side of the city. Walking is totally worth it.
Next, Google Maps will be your best, best friend. Before each city (usually, the night before exploring), I look up the things in each city that are worth seeing. There are usually a couple of lists (at least for major cities) that’ll get you started on things that people have recommended taking a look at – and, things that other travelers have deemed as overrated or not worth the price of admission.
Make a list of those places that you want to go, and then set your Airbnb or hotel location as your “home.” Open directions in Google Maps, and set “home” as your starting and ending spots. On walking mode (once you hit directions, click the walking man next to the car and bus symbols) you can tap the three dots next to your location and “add stop.” Add in all of the places that you’ve listed as your top destinations. Then, you can drag and drop the places. Create a circle out of your list. This way, you’re not doubling back on any places that you’ve missed, and you’re creating an efficient walking path to see everything. It’s an awesome trick. You can also download an offline map of the city that you’re going to so that you aren’t using so much data while you’re mapping.
You also want to pay attention to the day of the week that you’re visiting the city. Sometimes, sights and locations are closed on Sundays or Mondays. You don’t want to walk a kilometer to a spot on your list only to find out that it’s not open to the public. Do a little research beforehand so that you can avoid any surprises (and cut out any unnecessary trudging) while you’re exploring.
But, as I mentioned, the absolute best part of walking around a city is finding the places that you didn’t even know you wanted to see. In Paris, this was an incredible botanical garden that was free to the public that we happened to find. Take a little time to explore these hidden gems, because the big stuff isn’t always where the best memories are made. If you see a church that looks interesting, stop. Go up the hill for a view of the city. Sit in the park for a few minutes. Absorbing the culture of a new place is much more authentic when you step aside for the smaller stuff.
When it comes to food, research any special dishes or treats that the area is famous for, and make that a priority. Although pasta in France is fun, it’s not pasta in Italy. And, although Germans love their bread, it doesn’t compare to a Parisian croissant. Stop for these special items when you find them or when you see them on a menu, and supplement any expensive meals with cheap (and delicious) street food, like döner (gyros).
It doesn’t have to be hard, and it doesn’t have to be expensive. Heck, you don’t even have to use public transportation (we skipped it in Prague, Florence, and Rome). Just take thirty minutes to plan the day before, and maximize your time. I promise, it’ll be totally worth it as you’re hitting all the Colosseums and Eiffel Towers and ruins that you wanted to see and stumbling upon incredible murals along the way.
This may sound a little dark, but I’ve been sitting in a lot of cemeteries lately.
I’m fascinated by how people have chosen to commemorate themselves (and, often, how others have chosen to commemorate them). There are headstones that reach fifteen feet into the air, with marble columns and a clay bust of the deceased. There are mausoleums and gardens. And, there are old, broken headstones on which you can barely read the name and date.
The cemetery almost feels busy, like you’re standing in the middle of a big crowd of people. It also feels like you’re intruding, in a way, to very private moments of someone’s life and legacy.
In graveyards, I am continually reminded that no matter how huge or opulent the headstone, all of these people are gone. They’re dead. These people could have had all the money in the world, with their massive graves and bundles of fresh flowers, but – at the end of the day – they’re in the ground.
So, let my sitting on a bench in a cemetery in Vienna remind you that we only have one short life to live. And, every day is important to that short life.
I bet each and every one of the people behind these gravestones – and their families – wish they had another 24 hours to just be with each other.
So, be present with the people you’re around, and love everyone fully. Don’t waste time living to your happiest, fullest potential, because I imagine all the headstones in the cemetery would rush to tell you the same thing.
It’s fun to roam around and explore a new city, but it also can be the source of some anxiety. If you’re in an unfamiliar place and don’t know where things are (or, how to get there), it can be incredibly stressful to navigate. I’m speaking from personal experience, of course. It’s also difficult if you don’t speak the language; there’s a third obstacle to add to the list. So, when you get that wave of fear or a moment of loneliness, here are a few small things that I’ve noticed help keep me grounded.
Smiling at a stranger and having them smile back at you This tends to work best with middle-aged moms. Young people don’t have time for you and older people tend to frown back because, I think, they’re not used to having young people smile at them.
Finding food that reminds you of your childhood For me, this is a falafel joint or any kind of Mediterranean spot that serves hummus and/or baklava. Sometimes a little taste of something that spurs nostalgia can warm your heart if you’re feeling isolated.
Honestly, it’s just really comforting to stop and take a minute to appreciate what’s around you. Smelling flowers grounds me because A) it’s comforting to realize that these little guys can bloom in the place they’re at, so you can too and B) it brings self-awareness. I recognize the senses I’m using to smell the flowers and my focus is brought to the nature around me.
Finding a view that makes you forget how hard it was to get up there in the first place I know Miley was all about the climb, but sometimes that climb is tough and sweaty (physically and emotionally). It’s encouraging to get to the top of a hill or mountain and look out over the city or place you’re in. Then, you’re seeing how beautiful the view is, or how small everything looks, or how far the river runs – instead of focusing on fear.
Touching the bark of a really old tree
Similar to smelling flowers, this connection to nature is surprisingly relaxing. I like to stare up into old trees and run my hands along the rough bark, trying to think about how old the tree is or what it has seen. They’ve been standing peacefully for a long time with the earth under their feet.
Seeing a dog playing in the park
This may be more geared towards pet lovers, but nothing brings joy to my heart like seeing a pup loving their life. It makes me so happy to see them playing, or jumping, or licking their owners, or wagging their tails. We get to be responsible for some of these beautiful creatures. And, it also reminds me of my own sweet dog who loves unconditionally.
Stepping on a crunchy fall leaf
Nothing grounds me more than a physical reminder that all of life comes in seasons, both literally, with our four seasons, and metaphorically, with chapters in our own stories. Sometimes the moment it takes to bring your anxiety down is to feel and hear that sensation of autumn, reminding us that this, too, is just another season. And, you can manage it.
Watching people from a park bench I am a big fan of pausing and sitting, especially in some of the incredible green spaces that you’ll find in bigger cities. Watching people can be fun, but it is also grounding to remember that we as humans all want the same things, and our goals are similar. We want love, dignity, respect, and protection for ourselves and our families. It doesn’t matter who you are or what language you speak – these core values connect us to people wherever we are. It’s also encouraging to think about the goodness in these people; it has been proven to me time and time again while I’ve been traveling that people are willing to help. People are inherently good.
Doing something in your normal routine
Traveling is a whirlwind of new things, so sometimes the thing that helps out an anxious soul is to do something that you know. Go for a run, read your favorite book, have a cup of tea, or lay in the grass. You are not losing yourself in this moment of being lost or fearful; you have the capacity to do whatever you’d like to do.
Do you have something that you’d like to add to this list? I’d love to expand it to help fellow travelers. Tweet me @abbiwilt with your suggestions!