After spending two days in Vienna, I was haunted by this feeling that I've been here before, that I've seen this city, and felt at home. It wasn't a sense of deja vu or a newly found appreciation for past lives, rather it was the sense of the familiar. Largely architectural in nature, it took me a while to realize I felt back in New York. Throw in the chic riverside bar with panoramic views and a trendy, no sign restaurant packed at 10pm on a Tuesday and the similarities were remarkable. Cementing the sense of comfort was a walk down a major shopping boulevard that had all the hallmark shops of Fifth Avenue and Soho.
The twist, was the overwhelming sense of class Vienna exudes. For example, the opera house has an exterior jumbotron so the less fortunate can also enjoy the opera. Not to mention the green belt of public buildings, with identical facing museums, various testaments to the Hapsburg's wealth, etc. The city is also saturated with cafes that serve as portals through time and space. While searching for an end of night espresso, we stumbled upon the Michele, a small cafe and pizzeria that our Italian friends testify to being straight out of Italy in the 1920's. The decor was antique (and most likely authentic) which helped create the sense that we were now part of Woody Allen's new movie (with a few minor substitutions). Claire's observation that Vienna could be the love child of Paris and New York couldn't have felt more true.
Having spent almost three months abroad only to feel like we were back in NYC however, began to paint a bigger picture: we never truly left our comfort zone. We had foreknowledge that a summer in Europe would be a step out of the zone before we leaped out of the zone (and into India), but in retrospect we barely put on our shoes. Well, maybe at least the socks...
With the exception of Zadar, we had visited places where we knew people and/or had an elementary language comprehension. I can speak a little German and a little Spanish, and we had friends in Berlin, Italy, and Ibiza. Even in Vienna, our friends from Italy now lived there. A convenience of timing, jobs, relationships and flight schedules. Perhaps more of a contrivance than a convenience, but to our benefit nonetheless.
Then we hit Malaga.
We were relieved to be back in warmer weather, but this time we were on our own. No friends, no phone and a barely passing ability to speak the local language. Unlike Ibiza, not a lot of English is spoken here. Best guesses, English words with Spanish accents, and hand gestures that hopefully won't be mistaken for insults would have to suffice. Despite these obstacles, we still felt, well, relaxed. The pace of the town and our experiences were not unlike our time in Zadar. Sit on the beach, eat seafood, explore the city, repeat. No hassles or feelings of discomfort here. "Una jarra de Cerveza con Esperato Sardinias" while starring off to the horizon would put anyone at ease.
Until you start thinking about the horizon.
Not the literal one, but the figurative one representing the "out there", or "just ahead". That, for us, is India. I've been joking along saying "India is going to punch our reality in the face" half believing it. Though after a day in Tangier, I fully believe it.
My personality skews towards "hope for the best, prepare for the worst". The problem is, I know ZERO about Morocco. It's hard to prepare for the worst when your not prepared at all. I'm not trying to say It's the shit hole 50% of the people you talk to say it is, but what I am saying is when you don't know where you are, don't speak the language, don't know the culture and stick out like a sore thumb, comfort takes a back seat to practical matters. Your priorities go from "let's get donuts from a street vendor" (which we later did anyway) to "don't let your wife out of your site" and so on.
We have left the comfort zone.
But we're soon heading back. We're only in Tangier for another day, followed by three days in Paris. Then we hit India. Which, hard to believe, might keep us in the zone. We did a ton of research, they're notorious English speakers, and at no point will we be on our own. Three weeks with a volunteer group followed by a week with a guided tour. Our expectations are reasonable: we know about the toilettes, customs, foods, etc to manage the experience as best we can and will just have to wing it from there. Compared to Tangier, we should be OK.
Then again, we're taking a 48 hour train ride from Delhi to Cochin... I really hate getting punched in the face.