Cierra Baumgartner, a 23-year-old entrepreneur, recently went on a quest to reinvigorate herself and her independently-owned graphic design business, Cierra Rose Design, based outside of Minneapolis, Minnesota. She was looking for a fresh perspective to infuse both her personal and professional lives. She traveled to France and surrounding European countries to become inspired. This was her first trip to Europe and her first excursion outside of the United States.
She had a few surprises about her approach to achieving inspiration and about herself as a woman. Readers and other entrepreneurs looking for inspiration can take Cierra’s approach without necessarily traveling to France.
Karen Cavalli interviewed Baumgartner when she returned on October 22, 2015. The two met in 2013 when Karen hired her to work on her website and cover design of her book, “Let Them In: 30 Years of Secret Experiences.” At 56, Cavalli is older than Baumgartner’s mother, yet the business relationship evolved into friendship and waters for the well of creativity.
From one woman entrepreneur to another, Cavalli and Baumgartner sat down to discuss the lessons and inspirations sparked from her travels.
Karen Cavalli (KC): How did you approach your goal of finding a new direction for your life and work while in Paris and surrounding areas? For example, did you choose a new direction based on your experiences or, instead, did you experiment, explore and sniff out new directions?
Cierra Baumgartner (CB): While I was in Paris I kept saying to myself, ‘where can I find inspiration?’ I tried to force the thought in my mind. At the same time I was very overwhelmed. I was experiencing so many new things, and I was out of my comfort zone. I wasn’t focusing on the inspiration I wanted to.
I ended up finding inspiration in so many ways. The architecture was one of my main inspirations. It’s giant. It’s elaborate. It’s 500 years old. That was amazing. Taking this trip certainly helped me find confidence. While I was in Paris I just had to do it–I learned how to navigate a metro system; I learned how to speak a little bit of French; I learned how to take the train and figure out bus fare. I traveled with my cousin, and I realized after managing all these new environments, we could conquer Chicago or New York. We did everything we’d have to do to navigate an unfamiliar city, and we did it all but in a different language. I thought, the United States will be a piece of cake.
I don’t have a passion to go to New York, but after being in Paris I‘m like, I can go. I took care of Paris; I can take care of New York.
I have the travel bug now. Now I’m like, what’s my next adventure? I’m thinking I can do something like this again in five years, ten years.
KC: Are you by nature cautious?
CB: Yes. I just know that the world is a very difficult place, and people don’t always have the right intentions. I’m very cautious of people. When I meet people randomly on the street I’m like, what are you going to do? So, yes, I’m very cautious by nature. I’m a very cautious person. I’m very smart about it. I don’t put myself in bad situations. You won’t see me out on the street late at night. I’m very practical about the world.
KC: Did your concern about what “people would think” shape your approach?
CB: Yes. I definitely was that way. I was more concerned about that before I went. I wanted to make sure I could fit in. I wanted to make sure I made the right fashion choices. I wanted to make sure I didn’t look like an American tourist. When I got to Paris I realized everyone had their own style. Once I got there everyone knew I was American as soon as I spoke.
My cousin and I wanted to respect the culture, so we were very quiet. If we talked in English, we would be very quiet and whisper. On the trains, there would be Americans talking up a storm; they were so loud. I could see why Europeans don’t like Americans sometimes because they are kind of rude. I was concerned about people being rude, but I didn’t meet many. I met pretty nice people.
I laid the groundwork. I didn’t say “Parlez-vous anglais?” all the time. Instead of saying do you speak English to people, if I, say, went into the grocery store, I’d say, “Mon français est très mauvais,” which means “My French is very bad.” I’d have these French people laughing and then they would be helpful. It was a really good ice breaker. Honestly, if you can make a French person laugh, they’ll help you.
KC: We talked about foot wear before you left on your trip and how Americans are often recognized by the shoes they wear. How did that work out?
CB: I brought two pairs of shoes and I only wore my Converse. Converse is very popular in Europe.
KC: Describe the top three visuals you were drawn to (or that called you) while there.
CB: One, I was obsessed with Claude Monet when I was there. I got to see his Impressionist work. He’s considered the father of Impressionism. I saw his water lily paintings, then I was able to go to his garden in Giverny and see the actual pond where he painted water lilies. I got to see his inspiration. Two, I really enjoyed the industrialism architecture – the Eiffel Tower and the Orsay Museum in particular. This is architecture built in the 1800 – 1900s. It uses a lot of steel and ornate detail. Those who built it had a beautiful approach to structure. The train stations are that way too. When my cousin and I went to the Eiffel tower on our last day why I liked the Eiffel Tower so much. It’s because I enjoy the industrialist structure and how amazing it is. Three, I also really enjoyed a lot of the other architecture. It was the baroque period of architecture. Another image would be the Palace of Versailles. It was gigantic. It was ridiculous. It had about 1500 acres of just manicured gardens. The Palace of Versailles was made in the 1600s. It’s just so beautiful.
I posted some pictures of it on my Facebook page. They are the ones that mostly inspired me. I have a couple of blog posts about these too.
KC: What kinds of realizations or new thinking did you have while there? Since you got back?
CB: My new realization – strangely, I found a sense of patriotism while I was there. I so appreciate living in America. I really enjoy America for the safety. Europe is very nice and a lot is close together. Everyone here speaks English, and I speak English. In Europe you don’t know what language someone speaks because the borders are so close together. On any given day I would hear people speaking Cantonese, French, German, and other languages. It can be a good thing. But I really enjoy the comfort of America.
Other realizations – I hate trains with a fiery passion. We traveled by train throughout Europe. I hated it. Here in the US it’s mostly point A to Point B. There it’s Point A to Point A1, to A2, then Point B. A train ride takes two hours because the train is always stopping to pick up people. I was on so many different trains – bullet trains, trains from the 1970s. If I see another train again, it’ll be too soon. Next time I go to Europe I’m going to go on a tour or rent a car. I am so done with trains.
Other realizations – Once I got back in the US I have really enjoyed seeing a poster or picture on a book featuring the Eiffel or some European castle and I think, I’ve been there; I’ve physically been there.
It was great to realize I’m experiencing all that I can now when I’m young. My cousin said to me the day after I got back, “You should do these big travel trips when you’re young.” He was being a little philosophical. And I had done just that. I feel I can conquer more travel plans. I can do a lot more things on my own. I think my confidence has improved. While I was there I just had to do it.
I’m not necessarily the person who experiences life the way people my age do. When I was in college, people always went on spring break; I was the exact opposite – I stayed home, saved money and tended to my responsibilities.
KC: Were there any realizations or feelings that shocked or surprised you?
CB: I was shocked by how big the architecture is in Europe. I just cannot believe that people created these giant buildings 500 years ago. It was a bit like an over-exuberant lifestyle. In Europe you have a small town, and in it is a giant cathedral the size of St. Paul [the city in Minnesota]. Architecture is on a giant scale. I wondered, 500 years ago how did they get the money to build these giant structures? How did they do this without modern technology? These big buildings were typically affiliated with religion. Even in Paris everything was on a huge scale. The Louvre is huge.
KC: What did you discover about yourself as a woman?
CB: I realized how much I missed everyone back home. I specifically missed Jared a lot [Cierra’s boyfriend]. I’m a realist when it comes to love. I really enjoy the respect of relationship and not so much the lovey-dovey stuff. While I was over there I was like, I miss Jared so much. A lot of the nights I got sad because I missed him so much.
I also discovered I can do a lot on my own. While I was there it was very common for us to walk over five miles a day. We were seeing and doing all this stuff. At the end of the day we were exhausted, and we got up the next day and did it all over again. I didn’t think I was capable of doing that much every day.
KC: Did you drink a lot of wine?
CB: Not so much. My cousin’s husband Marco is studying to become a chef at Le Cordon Bleu and he would make dinner for us. We went to the grocery store and bought ingredients for baguettes. We drank tap water instead of buying a bottle of pop for seven euros.
KC: What did you discover about yourself as a woman who experiments in matters of art? Of love?
CB: The art in European museums reflects a fascination of the feminine body. So you’d see a lot of images of naked women, mostly art from the Renaissance period and Impressionism and Cubism styles. You wouldn’t necessarily see the feminine body in Greek architecture. I think it was very interesting because it seemed like in art women are depicted as very passionate, sensual creatures. That’s very interesting. In Europe they consider women passionate and sensual. In America it seems like we want women to be more pure.
KC: Did you have a chance to go to the southwest part of Paris?
CB: Versailles is technically southwest, though outside of Paris. At first my cousin was the one who really wanted to go to the Versailles. I was like, I can take it or leave it. I’d heard it was a big pick-pocket place and overcrowded. I wasn’t expecting much. I wasn’t expecting it to be as amazing as it was. I think it was one of my favorite days in Paris.
The Palace of Versailles was originally a hunting lodge. King Louis XIV (grandfather of the King Louis Marie Antoinette was married to) turned the Palace of Versailles into a huge pleasure palace. The interesting thing is the whole entire palace is dedicated to the sun god Apollo. King Louis XIV’s nickname was the “Sun King.” That’s the inspiration for the Palace of Versailles – the sun and Greek gods.
KC: Was there anything you thought about doing but then didn’t because you thought you might get in trouble?
CB: I pretty much stayed out of trouble while I was there.
KC: Anything you were tempted to do?
CB: No, I didn’t get into too much trouble.
There was one thing I wanted to do but decided not to – I was totally planning on doing the Eiffel Tower with my cousin. Two days into our trip I realized that my cousin is afraid of heights. I was like, oh man! Shoot, I really want to do this. Is it not going to be a thing? Okay, I‘ll have to do it alone. The day we finally went – we didn’t go until about a week after we were there – we kept seeing it peek out over buildings – I had so much fun. I was concerned – everyone said there would be long lines, and to expect to be in line for three hours. But I got through the lines quickly, I climbed 200 stairs, my cousin just sat on the park bench.
I have pictures of her I took from high up in the Eiffel Tower. While I was waiting in line I watched the monitor that tells you how long you’ll be in line. It said the top level was currently closed. And then all of a sudden I had this sigh of relief in myself. That’s good, I thought; I don’t have to go to the way top; I was happy I couldn’t. I could enjoy the first two levels. The first level is high up; I made it to the second level – it’s high up, and there are gift shops and food. All of sudden they reopened the top and there was a big line. I thought I could wait in line, there was an opportunity, but my cousin and I had an agreement: if it starts to rain or if gets to 5 pm, she would go home on metro. But then I went back to my memory of having sigh of relief – I remembered that, and realized that meant I shouldn’t do it today. My thought process was, I’ll be back.
Something I did do I thought I might get in trouble for – there are these people who shove souvenirs in your face, small Eiffel Towers, umbrellas, and they walk with you, saying one euro, one euro. We were done at the Eiffel Tower, I thought, I want a statue. I put two euros in my pocket, and said to myself, I’m going to get a statue, and I’m only going to pay two euros. I went up to one of the guys selling souvenirs, and I pointed to one that was six inches high. He said, 10 euros, I said two. He said eight; I said two. He said six; I said two. I finally got him down to four euros. I offered two. He threw up his hands and turned away. I started walking away. The guy comes back with a smaller statue of the Eiffel Tower, like a medium size, and he said, “two euros?” I said, “two euros.”
KC: How has reentry into American culture gone for you?
CB: While I was in Europe I was so overwhelmed. Now that I’m back here in the States I get sad because I miss Europe so much. Some days are tougher than others. You just want to walk around and see the sights.
Karen Cavalli has published extensively online and in print magazines and books. Her fiction and non-fiction work has won awards. Her most recent publication appears in the September 2015 The Edge Magazine, a humor piece entitled “Why Can’t We Think About Aliens?” Contact: email firstname.lastname@example.org; visit karencavalli.com.