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Looking out the window

Photo: Hans Veneman

My skin crawls beneath the chemical-stiff caress of new sheets as I lie in the creaky used bed I bought on Craigslist this afternoon. Next week I’m starting medical school, here in the odd city of Cleveland.

It only took me 12 hours to trundle my way here from Boston in a rickety U-Haul truck, and for all the similarities of these small, cold, snowy Northern cities, I expected to feel more at home here. But it’s the little details that raise the hair on the back of my neck: the moldering, bricked-in buildings, the sidewalks devoid of people, the absence of streetlights. Where the hell is everybody? I find myself wondering.

Yesterday in the checkout line at the Cleveland Heights Dave’s Supermarket, a wizened old lady crept up behind me and probed my face with her sharp, bright little eyes. I smiled, happy to meet one of my friendly, new Midwest neighbors.

“The Lord talked to me today, you know!” she thundered, yanking a yellow pamphlet from her purse and waving it in my face.

I smiled awkwardly as she ranted about her visions, scuttling out the door as soon as my groceries were paid for. Back in my empty apartment, I can still see her glassy eyes feverishly rolling in her head. I can’t imagine ever feeling at home in this place, with these people.

But as a traveler and writer, I’ve learned there’s a timeline to these things. Even though I feel alienated and disoriented now, I know the path to normalization. It’s similar to experiencing a breakup for the fourth or fifth time — though the feelings are still as poignant as ever, you know you’ll eventually return to clarity because you’ve gone through it so many times before. Sometimes you just need to hang on for the ride. There’s no way to push things forward; you just have to take a deep breath and experience those feelings until they pass. Until they do, you trust in the timeline and learn to make the best of what’s in front of you.

The wood floor creaks and echoes as my little cat, Beau, makes her hesitant way through my near-empty apartment. My paltry belongings are huddled in the corner of the cavernous living room with no hope of filling the space. Ominous, metallic scrabbling noises drift through the window, rising eerily over the whirring of the fan.

I creep to the window and peer out at the large, shuffling mass wriggling around in the dumpster. Raccoon. I shut the window.

I think back to all the places I used to call home — New York, Germany, Stockholm, Ethiopia. I remember the thrill of waking up in a brand new place, of seeing the world with fresh eyes. I feel nostalgic for the freedom, independence, and power I gained from those adventures. My present life feels small and washed out, boxed in by comparison. Was all of that adventure really building up to this — four years in some rotting glorified suburb?

On bitterly nostalgic nights like this one, I’ll often dust off an old journal, looking for a stronger fix of warm, glowing memories. This is when reality sets in.

I’ve been here for 17 days, and I keep waiting for my spirits to lift. (Stockholm, Sweden, 2006)

I’m constantly looking at my time here as some sort of ordeal or test of will or strength or something that I have to endure, and I’m not really even sure why. (Leipzig, Germany, 2009)

As I move through each journal, the picture gradually changes. Isolation and depression give way to wild escape fantasies, grudging acceptance of my fate, distraction with work, but eventually happiness and connectedness. Ultimately, I feel sadness when I leave. And then the cycle begins again.

The best thing about this awareness is that it points a way out of the dark. If you know the timeline, you know the things that catalyze movement along its path.

I remember drinking a cup of Earl Grey tea in my favorite chipped red-and-white mug, staring out the window into a gloomy Stockholm winter and feeling oddly cozy for the first time in a while. I remember the smell of my favorite old sweatshirt, rolled up in a ball next to me inside my tent in Ethiopia, comforting me as I drifted off to sleep. I remember reluctantly joining my classmates for a birthday party in Berlin — that weekend catalyzed the development of several hilarious, slightly manic friendships that ultimately made it so difficult to leave.

Happiness follows from establishing a framework of home that you’re able to recreate wherever you go. It’s intangible, something born of the right combination of a few constant, familiar things.

* * *

I’ve been in Cleveland for two weeks now. I’m sipping a steaming cup of Earl Grey at my desk; Beau is contently snuggled in my lap.

A few minutes ago, I noticed movement on the giant, leafy tree right outside my window. It was the raccoon again, shimmying down the tree trunk. This time, her three babies were with her — fat little fur balls clumsily dropping from branch to branch.

A moment later, the musty, electric smell of summer rain began to waft through my window. The soft pattering is growing louder now, thundering down on the rusted metal surface of my balcony. The sky is backlit, pearly grey in late afternoon, catching on the heavy spray of water as it flicks off green oval leaves on its way down. When I press my face close to the window screen, I feel as though I’m inside a tree myself, looking out through the dense, verdant canopy surrounding me on all sides. Safe, and starting to feel at home. From: How to turn ‘place’ into ‘home’ // http://ift.tt/1tNy94e

Bún bò Huế

A beef rice-vermicelli soup originating in Huế, bún bò Huế typically contains sliced beef shank, oxtails, and pig knuckles. The soup is customarily served with chili sauce and fresh vegetables and herbs (including lime, cilantro, green onion, banana blossoms, and more).
From: 20 Vietnamese dishes and drinks 

#MatadorN reader @stianmklo shot this amazing photo in Elgsnes, Northern Norway. Thanks for tagging #travelstoke! #Lofoten #Norway #northernlights #nightphotography #reflection

I’m a budgeter. I make a budget and I like to stick to it. I’m also open-minded, so when I’m planning travel I’m not always dead set on a particular destination.

When I heard about GeniusFlight, a site where you can search for flights based on your budget, I wanted to learn more about the project. Besides, I’ve always been curious about how flight comparison sites work. I ended up interviewing the founder, Gennie Freen, to find out more.

* * *

AJ: What is the main concept behind GeniusFlight?

GF: The main concept of GeniusFlight is the ability to search by price rather than destination. This comes at a crucial point for the travel industry, as recent studies show that most Internet users will check flight comparison sites in order to achieve the best deal.

What makes GeniusFlight stand out from other travel search engines? How did you feel about competing with them?

The sheer fact that you can search by price. You only have to enter your minimum and maximum budget, your preferred dates, your departure point, and GeniusFlight will show you tons of possibilities in no time. This inspires people to try new destinations by discovering that for the same price as a flight to Paris (from Amsterdam, for example), they could set off on an adventure to Marrakech as well.

The travel market is highly competitive and for us it is a challenge to compete with all the big brands in the travel-scene and become a big brand ourselves. Therefore we thought it’s critical to have a USP [unique selling point] that sets us apart from the others.

You launched your company at the end of May this year. What types of challenges have you faced so far? What is it like being the “new kid on the block?”

Challenges are something that we willingly set for ourselves, constantly trying to improve our services and include new ones. We are shortly going to add CarHire to the Genius network and it will be based on the same simple concept: searching by price. It’s cool being the “new kid on the block” and at the same time very exciting as there’s so much room to grow.

What sorts of measures have you taken in order to meet these challenges?

Mainly, working with exceptional partners such as Skyscanner and Booking.com and with qualified people and shareholders that can act fast if necessary.

What experience did you have prior to launching GeniusFlight? Was it relevant? Has launching GeniusFlight been easier or more difficult than you expected?

I’ve been very active in the couponing business for the past 17 years; in the Netherlands, we are working for big brands like Coca-Cola. This experience was very relevant because it made us realise that lots of consumers are triggered by price. We’ve also understood that products and services have to be simple. If they are not simple enough, then you lose the consumer even faster than you’ve reached him.

What sort of planning and research did you do before establishing GeniusFlight?

To tell you the truth, I did it on my own gut feeling. Some years ago, I experienced that it was very difficult or next to impossible to search for travel options based on budget, on exact dates; with most sites and apps that I was using, I was always having to fill in a destination or didn’t get what I wanted…I only wanted to go away for couple of days for €150 — and the destination was less important for me.

I spoke to about 100 people about my idea — friends, colleagues, family — and everyone was excited. Then I decided to develop it myself.

Looking back, do you think you did enough in the preparation stages before launching GeniusFlight?

When we decided to launch, we knew it was just the beginning, so of course we could have done things in different ways and have extra insights after launching. But other bigger companies continuously improve their products as well, and so do we!

What kind of support have you had in launching your company?

We’ve had tremendous support from qualified people such as developers, marketing people, and shareholders.

What can we expect from GeniusFlight in the coming months?

We are shortly going to be launching a CarHire service, which will be joining the Genius network of flights and hotels, also price based. We’re also preparing to launch an app for smartphones and we’re working to update the mobile version of the website. Finally, the desktop version is being enhanced, as we’re adding lots of new visuals. So we have plenty of things to do in the coming months.

What advice would you give someone who wants to open their own travel search engine?

If you start a travel search engine, don’t develop a “normal,” typical one, there are enough of those. Rather search for a niche that the competitors haven’t yet found

Biking at Dead Horse State Point, Utah

2000 feet above the canyon floor, the Intrepid Trail system at Dead Horse Point State Park has over 16 miles of singletrack riding for all abilities. And the scenery is unbelievable. It’s accessible from the visitor centre’s parking lot. Check out more adventure videos at Http://matadornetwork.com