Do you know the feeling when you leave your routine behind and arrive to a new destination, when it feels like you have left a part of yourself behind and are ready to put on another you? That’s a huge part of the magic of traveling for me. It allows me to be whoever I want, a different version of myself than normally, because there are zero expectation from other people around on who you should be and how you should act. I always try to make the most of that feeling and hold on to the best fragments of that other me when I get back home as well. That’s part of how traveling makes you grow, I guess.
Another good thing about putting on a different role when traveling is that you can do things you wouldn’t normally do and the threshold to do it might seem a lot lower. Not because you’re not allowed to or don’t want to usually, but maybe because doing those things don’t even come to your mind when you’re caught up in the daily life, or because there’s so many other things that they seem uninteresting. Travel cuts out all the normal things you do and leaves all that space and time to be filled with with whatever you want, and that’s when you can make beautiful new discoveries.
I went to Brussels the first weekend of January. Mostly because I had never been to Belgium and wanted to see it a little bit instead of only hearing what the French have to say about it (quite like us Finns on Sweden or probably any country about their neighbours). Also, a weekend get-away has such a nice feel of luxury and is easy to achieve thanks to the wonderful Thalys train, linking Paris to Brussels in under one and a half hour.
I stayed at a hostel, and in my dorm there was a girl who had been in Brussels for a week already, so I asked her what she thinks I should visit if I have only two days. In addition to citing a whole bunch of museums, she told me that there was this small cinema, called Cinematek, that shows old, black and white and silent movies with a live piano accompaniment. I’m not a huge cinemaphile – not that I don’t like movies but I just don’t have a very extensive culture in matter of cinema. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I don’t think I had ever seen a silent movie from start to end before. I wasn’t so sure if I’d manage to keep focused the whole movie, but since the girl was so excited about it, I thought that was my chance to do something new and discover a thing I had never seen before.
So I went, and it was fabulous. The theater had only under 30 seats so the feel was very intimate, the pianist walked to his piano, started playing and the movie begun. It was Battleship Potemkin, a Soviet movie from 1925 about the ship crew rebelling against their officers in 1905. It’s definitely not the type of movie I would have imagined I’d like, but I watched the film and listened to the music, sometimes forgetting then realising again that the pianist was playing right next to me all the time. I was completely absorbed in it for the whole time, and it felt like for those 75 minutes, I was in a different world.
And somehow I probably was, I was out of my world. I felt somehow like a different person going to that small cinema that I didn’t know, too. When I get out of my comfort zone and do something unusual, I see myself from a distance. It’s not really me, because I don’t go to silent movies. It’s this girl, she could be a quiet, shy cinemaphile who escapes reality through old movies, or maybe some arts critic for an online magazine. She could be anyone in the eyes of others, and I let myself play with those thoughts. And I imagine the people around me as well. That guy next to me, maybe he’s a post-doc student in art history. The old couple behind me has come to this cinema for 20 years every Saturday night. The young couple in front of me had chosen this date spot because on Tinder they both said they like movies. It’s easier to dream, let your thoughts wander, when you break the routine.
After the movie, I was walking back to my hostel through an empty square, when the church bells started ringing. It wasn’t the normal count of hours, but the melody of “Silent night”, echoing all over the square beautifully in the quiet darkness. So I just stopped and listened, which I probably wouldn’t have done in a different context. Sometimes, you just happen to be at the right place at the right time and magic happens.
The lesson in all this? When traveling give a chance to something new that you wouldn’t do otherwise, you might be surprised.