What excites me most about traveling is the actual survival skills and fortitude one can acquire through an adventure. Whether you are familiar in taking trips to new places or new to traveling, the universe will still show you how to develop the necessary behaviors in order to make it home or to a safe place every night. You can plan your heart out and still be confronted with unknown variables. Play it up to the simple mistakes you might make when interpreting pedestrian or tourist directions meanwhile the adventure of self-exploration is more valuable than the trip itself. Can you travel to unknown territory and still come out of a situation alive? Can you venture into the streets of an unknown town and still have a good experience? Can you visit a new city where you know no one and still have a memorable conversation with someone? I can respond affirmatively on all accounts.
What I’ve learned the most from my recent excursion to Des Moines, Iowa is that you usually reap what you have sown, no matter where you travel. If you explore as if there are no rules to follow, you might find yourself surprised at how well others keep those rules. No, you can’t park here, even though you are a tourist. Sure you can take a jog around a pedestrian friendly neighborhood and not be seen as a stranger (Iowa has plenty of walking trails to follow). It’s possible to visit an art gallery and fall in love with an artist you have never heard of before while acquiring some exotic fabric jewelry art of your own.
My purpose for taking this trip was simply to explore and spend time alone so I could rededicate my time back to what I love the most: writing & travel. It was only befitting for me to hit the road two hours away and stay at a bed & breakfast (thanks to AirBnB.com). I really enjoyed this visit because of the peaceful room and board and the courteous service I got from every clerk or stranger. The most memorable event was the discovery of Nick Cave, a multidisciplinary movement artist who knew how to marry his love of dance with visual art and fabric. I fell in love with his creation of “Soundsuits,” but if you are curious about this man you can watch a video and learn more.
All of these were unexpected experiences I encountered having no agenda but simply an ambition to explore. I would also argue that these are a few ways to investigate the people of a town through mere observations. If you really want to study a people, travel thru the city as they do – in cars, by walking or bike. It will give you a true taste of how those people interact and what the town is known for the most despite what the media might say.
In just two days, I stumbled upon every day activities that I may find in other cities, yet they are unique to this specific trip simply because of the experiences and events surrounding them. For example, after I visited the Des Moines Art Center, I drove downtown on I-235 E during a Tuesday afternoon to find deserted sidewalks and construction sites. I soon found out that the infamous Iowa State Fair was happening and that this is probably where the entire non-daytime working and/or vacationing population would be.
On my random exploration of downtown, I Googled “downtown Des Moines bookstore” which led me to a hidden treasure (thanks to reviews on Yelp, which I found to be truthful examinations) literally called “The Book Store.” I found two cheap books and the entire experience reminded me of my favorite bookstore back in Omaha called Jackson Street Books (the best whirlwind of wonderland books you will ever find in Omaha!). It’s no surprise that the owner knew of the same cherished shelves when I told him I was from Omaha. The journey to that bookstore was serendipitous and reminiscent all at once.
When I left, I soon learned how a simple trip to the bookstore could become just as familiar as your typical downtown experience. I will have to mail $30 to the City of Iowa simply because I was too busy to read the parking meter – “No parking after 4p.”
On a positive note, Des Moines is well equipped for an influx of tourists at any moment with its handy resource guides to explore downtown, the music scene, public art, food and historic tours. For a city with a lower in population compared to my hometown, I found quite a lot to do as reflected during my experiences the next day. They’ve got very minimal parking downtown but the majority of its attractions are located there. This makes even more sense why bikes are a respected form of transportation throughout the whole city and suburbs. However, I could imagine that if I were here for a week I might not run out of things to do because this city will tempt you with as many diverse activities as a Midwest town can offer during any season.