My Biggest Baddest Bucket List Entry – My Destination is Nashville

Nashville is the home of America’s music and so much more. For My Destination’s Biggest Baddest Bucket List, I take you around Music City, USA in just a day’s time and show you the landmarks, the local favorites and flavor, and why I love it all. Hopefully, you’ll fall in love as well and send me packing. Thanks for watching!

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My Blog Entry for the Contest:
The Experience That Shaped How & Why I Travel

In 2006, my best friend who had moved to teach in St. Petersburg, Russia invited me to visit over the winter holidays. For a month, I’d have a free place to stay in the heart of the city with a friend to translate. I’d get to experience “real” Russia.

Upon arriving, St. Petersburg was electrifying to a boy who grew up in Mississippi. Not simply in that it was a foreign city–I had been to other places in Europe before–but here I felt I was seeing with a new lens. I felt vulnerable and awake. I was curious, not just in the sights, but in the people. Like how, on the streets, they could be so distant and their demeanor seem to match the winter’s chill, but the moment you connected, they warmed and treated you like family. There was little sarcasm, and pleasantness was never worn as a mask.

I became fast mates with a few of my friend’s students at the university where he taught. We’d grab a drink at night, cook dinner together and bat questions to each other in our own little cultural exchange. I wanted to know everything.

I felt the strongest connection to Anton, a fun-loving, soft-spoken, kind and curious computer science student by day and prize boxer by night.

One evening we were outside of the city in the Soviet blocks where Anton took us to a massive billiards hall. It was a few days before Christmas, and I had thought of a new question–a funny, little question that I thought might connect us further. I asked, “Hey Anton, when I was a kid, I used to have these little toy planes. One side was the U.S. and the other side, the U.S.S.R., and I’d stage battles with the F16’s and Migs…Did you…Did you do the same?”

Anton, quietly yet intently, told me a story: “One Christmas, my mother gave my brother and me a pineapple and some bananas, and we were really happy because tropical fruit was hard to get.”

My heart sank. I was ashamed.

He didn’t say anything else, but graciously changed the subject and bought me a beer.

I forgot there were a million different experiences that shaped and separated us. I forgot he had been conscripted into the military at 18. I forgot he fought with his hands each week to pay for school. I forgot that the transition from the Soviet Union to modern Russia was a costly one on families like his.

Mark Twain famously wrote that, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness…Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

Recognizing our disconnect was not a discouragement, but rather it galvanized my understanding of the necessity of travel. I realized the only way to get to know the world and yourself is to vulnerably step into it with your whole heart and open eyes. So here I am.

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About matthewryanward

Cultural cataloguer of unoriginal thoughts – a magpie learner & reassembler, champion idealist, localist, recovering and struggling elitist, student of grace, procrastinator extraordinaire, debtor, polemical aggravator, wannabe adventurer based in Music City's eastside. ----------------------------------- ----------- "There were no formerly heroic times, and there was no formerly pure generation. There is no one here but us chickens, and so it has always been: a people busy and powerful, knowledgeable, ambivalent, important, fearful and self-aware; a people who scheme, promote, deceive and conquer; who pray for their loved ones, and long to flee misery and skip death. It is a weakening and discoloring idea that rustic people knew God personally once upon a time — or even knew selflessness or courage or literature — but that it is too late for us. In fact, the absolute is available to everyone in every age. There never was a more holy age than ours, and never a less." - Annie Dillard
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