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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

RTW: Inspired Settings

Road Trip Wednesday is a blog carnival, where YA Highway’s contributors and readers post a weekly writing- or reading-related question and answer it on our own blogs. You can hop from destination to destination and get everybody’s take on the topic.

This week’s prompt was: What is the most inspiring setting you’ve ever visited in real life?

Okay, for starters, I think any setting can be inspiring if you look at it the right way. But I know that’s not what this question is about. It’s about a place that reaches inside you, clenches your heart with its wiry fingers, and never lets it go.

And, well, I can’t pick just one. In real life, I’m straight-edged. (As opposed to my fantasy life online where Danger is my first name.) So I won’t cheat by telling you about twenty places I’ve been that were all sorts of inspiring. I’ll only minorly cheat and go with two.

I was going to write about Paris, but then—it’s Paris. Of course it’s inspiring. If it went to high school, it’d be voted Most Inspiring (along with Best Looking and Most Romantic). So I won’t write about it even though I love that city and everything in it.

The two most inspiring places I’ve been to are Prague and New Zealand.* And I’ll explain why, but I just want to say that I think what makes a place so inspiring is how it becomes a part of you. Take away these places (really, any of the places I’ve been) and I would lose something of myself. When we visit a place it sticks with us the way a setting should stick with us after closing a great book.

Prague is one of those cities that sneaks up on you. Everyone knows Paris is gorgeous, and everyone pretty much expects it when they visit. But Prague? I visited knowing very little about it, and it kind of knocked my socks off. (Not that I was wearing socks in the middle of August in the sweltering heat, mind you.)

You can look at all of these pretty pictures here and say, yes, Prague is beautiful. But none of them explain what it’s like to be there. Just like there’s a certain feel to New York or Paris or Rome, there’s one for Prague. The city is small, with winding roads that seem deserted at times. When walking down a deserted street, old, ornate buildings rising up on either side, my friends and I felt like we had slipped into a fairy tale.

Later, when we were strolling around after dark, we reached the Charles Bridge. Below us the river shimmered and in front of us the Prague Castle loomed. And then we knew we were some place magical.

One night, we met up with some other travelers in a large town square. Hundreds of people gathered with beer, wine, or some kind of Czech liquor, talking, making plans for the night, strolling around,  playing music. We sat on the ground, like everyone else, and stared up at the night sky. There’s something strangely peaceful about sitting around with a bunch of strangers doing absolutely nothing but being.

The feeling I got in New Zealand was so different from what I felt in Prague, and not just because my fondest memories of the country happened outside the cities. I visited Prague for three days. I lived in New Zealand for six months. If there were ever a country that could be a character in my life, it’d be New Zealand.

I went into the place mostly hating outdoor activities, aside from the beach of course. (As a typical girly girl, I thought: Ew, bugs!) I was also a wuss, swearing to my mom that she had nothing to worry about with all of those adventure activities the country’s known for. In no way, shape, or form was I going to throw myself off a ledge, over a waterfall, or out of a plane.

And I think that’s what makes New Zealand so inspiring. Because I embraced the adventure activities like I was born 15,000 feet in the air. I bungee jumped (okay, so I don’t recommend this and don’t plan on doing it ever again), rappelled down canyons, dove backwards over waterfalls, and sky dived. In fact, I loved sky diving so much I considered a career as a sky diving instructor.

I fiercely loved every aspect of nature I encountered and still do. I hiked mountains, climbed glaciers, boated through a cave of glow worms, rolled down a giant hill in a glorified hamster ball, “surfed” down a mountain of a sand dune, visited hot springs, scuba dived…AND! it was all fun.

On a road trip across the South Island, my friends and I stopped along a deserted road. To our right, bright-green hills spotted white with hundreds of sheep rolled on as far as we could see. To our left, the mountain we’d been descending dropped off, revealing an aqua lake below. We were the only people around for miles, and so we stayed there. I got the same feeling I always felt when I was looking at the landscape or another amazing natural landmark: Longing, like I’d already left the country, and then pure joy that somewhere in the world something exists that’s so beautiful.

What’s the most inspiring setting you’ve visited?

*None of these photos are from my trip. When I went to each place I shot on film. (It’s this stuff people put in their cameras in the olden days.) Imagine me in all of these pictures with a giant grin on my face, mkay?

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