2017 Travel Reflections

I think most people would agree that 2017 was kind of a weird year, but hey- at least it turned out to be a pretty good travel year for me.

I must admit the first half of the year felt kind of like repeatedly stubbing your toe into a coffee table, but the second half of my year I was able to get back to my true self and was free to start traveling again.

So, I went to Bolivia, Spain, Nepal, and Mexico- an eclectic combo across four continents.(You, dear readers, came with- a MILLION thanks for that!)

Looking back, one of the questions I’ve gotten a lot (second to, “wtf Pauline, how?”) is, “well, what’s your favorite place you’ve been this year.”

Truth is, I can’t really pick one. Each of those places was spectacular in it’s own way and I found joy everywhere I went.

I found joy in zipping into a boiler suit, strapping on a helmet and exploring the mines of Potosi in Bolivia.

I found joy in putting on a pair of heels, slipping on a minidress and staying out until the sunrise in Barcelona.

I found joy in lacing up my hiking boots, powering through some nasty blisters, and hiking to the Annapurna Basecamp in Nepal.

And then, I found joy in taking it all off and diving into the ocean in La Ventana, Mexico.

They were all different, and they were all wonderful in their own way.

And that is exactly what I’m looking for in 2018.

Different.

I’m fascinated by the Middle East. I’m craving South Asia. I’m dreaming of Patagonia…

Should I just start throwing darts at a map?

Although I don’t know where I’m going next, I do know one thing for sure- I have a shiny new passport that needs a bit of weathering.

Cheers to 2018 and all the places we have yet to see!

 

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IMG_7810.JPGphoto by Christian Heeb

On Traveling Alone

I’ve come across many people who are in absolute awe that I, as a young, fairly small, blonde female, travel alone. “How very brave!” they say. Or, “aren’t you afraid?” they ask. I don’t really get it. I don’t think traveling alone is particularly brave, and I don’t really see why I should be afraid. 

I want to go places. Sometimes there is no one else to go with. So I go solo.

 That’s all there is to it. 

I don’t find traveling alone daunting or because I am very comfortable with myself. Also, I find it easy to connect with others along the way, and my language capabilities combined with my solid sense of direction make me feel very safe in new cities.

I traveled Italy alone for ten days, I sign up for races alone, I take myself out to eat. I happen to think that spending time alone, really just means that you’re spending time with yourself. 

Besides, if you can’t keep yourself company, what makes you think you’re good company to anyone else?

It’s not always easy, to be honest; I’m not superwoman. Sometimes I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing and sometimes I get anxious when I have to take selfies for lack of a cameraman, or when I’m eating alone. But then, I either get over it or I find a solution. 

See, even when you’re traveling solo, you don’t have to be alone all the time. I have always met people along the way. Even the other day, here in Vienna, I spent the morning with a friend from Chicago who happened to be vacationing here with her parents.

Then in the evening, I met up with an Austrian girl, Lena, whom I met on couchsurfing.com and asked out to dinner. It’s fun to reach out to locals, and also have someone to eat with. Lena was super sweet, and entertained all my questions about Vienna and being Austrian, and we chatted about our travels and tales of creepy men. 

I’m not saying one is better than the other; I have enjoyed both traveling solo and traveling with friends and family. But, the beauty of traveling alone is that you get to set your own pace, do whatever you want and meet cool people while you’re doing it.

Now, please, go do something alone. 

Thanks, Lena!

Wedding Belles

One of my best girlfriends, Kasia, is getting married this Saturday in Kraków, in one of Poland’s most historic and beautiful churches in what is essentially the wedding that fairy-tales, and Pinterest dreams alike, are made of.

The bridal party has spent the first half of the week strolling Warsaw, Poland’s capital, shopping, relaxing and fine dining. The fabulous bride and her lovely family have absolutely spoiled the bridesmaids, showing us the best that Poland has to offer, including private evening concerts from opera singers and tours of Warsaw’s royal gardens. I may actually be ruined after this trip because Mondays without kiwi-basil lemonades and delighting in freshly prepared beef tartar after a day at the spa are not Mondays I want to go back to.

Now, everyone is hanging out in Kraków, in the gorgeous old town square. Being back in the motherland is quite exciting and strange for me. I would spend every summer here, growing up, but it’s been two years since my last visit. It’s changed a little, but for the better. Poland is one of Europe’s most rapidly developing countries, and you can tell; there are more businesses, the infrastructure has improved, and the technology has advanced.

I’m slowly adjusting from speaking Spanish everyday, to speaking Polish. However, the easiest adjustment to make was the currency. Poland, although part of the European Union, still hasn’t adopted the Euro. One dollar is about four zloty, so basically I can live like a king for the next month. Okay, maybe not a king, but some kind of non-peasant.

I don’t know how long I’ll stay in Poland; maybe the entire month, maybe not. In the mean time, I have a Polish wedding to go to!

Please pray for my liver.

Off to Kraków with a few of the bridesmaids and the beautiful bride!

Off to Kraków with a few of the bridesmaids and the beautiful bride!

Sevilla and Bull

Here I am in Seville, marveling at the Moor influenced architecture, hopping from one tapas bar to the next and touring the city by horse drawn carriage, with a glass of white wine in my hand.

My adventure seems to be never ending, which is a good thing, of course, because the idea of leaving Spain is quite daunting. I’m at the point where I prefer speaking Spanish over English, eating dinner any time before 10 p.m. seems odd and “vale,” the Spanish equivalent of “okay,” has become an integrated part of my vocabulary. I’m making the most of the time I have left in the land of red wine and siestas and exploring the rest of this spectacular country.

Sevilla is a special kind of city; it beats with passion, and breathes fire.

The former because it pulses with the sensual movements of flamenco, the strum of a Spanish guitar and the valor of a bullfighter. The latter, because it’s hot.

Real hot.

Today was about 106 degrees. That’s 41 degrees for any of my friends who don’t live in the five countries in this world that use Fahrenheit.

Regardless, my companions and I visited Plaza de Toro today, the oldest bullfighting ring in the world, where I discovered  the fascinating world of bullfighting.

Although controversial, bullfighting is an art form, as well as a magnificent display of Spanish culture.

Hemingway, my main man, once said, “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour.”

You see, a bullfighter enters the ring fully knowing that they may die that day. They put their lives in the hand of fate and say a quick prayer, which I assume goes a little like, “Dear God, please just not a major artery today.”

All jokes aside, fear is a fascinating topic. Are these bullfighters fearless, or are they fully afraid? 

To be fully afraid and to go in the direction of your fear is a very brave thing to do. I believe that being fearless is easy; when we acknowledge our fears and charge towards them like a matador against a bull, that’s the moment we discover our true courage.

Maybe we should all be a little more like bullfighters.  

Colors of Sevilla, beautifully reflected in the ring

 

Not Ours to Keep

I’ve made a lot of close friends on the Camino, which called for some hard goodbyes. It all seemed rather unfair, to be blessed with wonderful new friends, yet have to part with them after only a few weeks, fulling knowing some of us may never see each other again. But, truth is, that’s life and there is a lesson in that.

People will pass through our lives. Some linger for a moment like a neighbor dropping in for tea, some weave in and out like race cars through traffic, and some are always there quietly in the background like music in a cafe. The form their presence takes does not matter. The important thing is that they are in our lives in the precise moment they are suppose to be.

I’ve spent the last three weeks of the Camino being an adopted daughter to a retired Swiss man, who never had a child of his own, and confiding in a new big sister, an Australian yogi who sold all her things to travel the world. These were just two, among the many incredible people, who touched my life during the Camino, and for whom I will forever be grateful for.

There are certain things that simply aren’t ours to decide. Our mothers and fathers will pass on one day, our brothers and sisters may move away and our friends may become distant, engrossed in the direction of their own lives.

The people we love are here in this moment; they are not ours to keep. With that said, the best we can do is love the shit out of them right now.

Barcelona, Mexico, Australia, Germany, Switzerland and USA!

Day 16: Freefalling

My days on the Camino are filled with stories. That’s really what I do all day, I walk and I listen. I’ve listened to people grieve for the loved ones they have lost, teach me songs in French, tell me folktales from their home countries. I learn new things every day and, of course, I share a thing or two along the way. But most importantly, I have become a better listener than ever before. 

During an intense discussion on the road today, my dear friend Mundo, from Mexico, compared life to skydiving and it’s a thought I really wanted to share. 

Imagine you’re going skydiving. 

You’re in the airplane high above beautiful fields. The door opens and you feel the power of the wind as you stand at edge, ready to jump. 

You teeter for a moment, swaying in and out, until you finally decide to go for it and jump. 

You’re falling through the air, picking up speed, slightly terrified but absolutely exhilarated. The adrenaline is rushing through your body and you are free. You are happy. 

You’re nearing the ground and it’s time to pull open your parachute. You pull and you pull. 

Your parachute doesn’t open. 

You keep falling, terrified. But then you remember you have an emergency parachute. So you pull on the emergency parachute. 

It doesn’t open either. 

And there you are, falling. You are falling, and nothing will save you. 

You have a choice now. 
Do you spend your last moments kicking and screaming, blaming God and being angry? 

Or do you smile as enjoy the ride?

Either way the choice is yours. 
 

Somewhere in the woods along the Way

 

Day 2: Hippie Commune or Camino?

I started my day out at 5:40 and walked a little over 25 kilometers, about a mile less than yesterday.

I walked alone for the most part, and stopped for lunch with Clara, from the Canary Islands, and Juan, from Murcia, when Juan offered me his day old bread and some wine in a water bottle. Needless to say, after so much walking, it tasted divine. 

I arrived at my final town quite early, around 2 pm, and my tribe starting piling in. 

An international group of about 15 of us, settled on the grass in the albergue lawn and a French man, Jey, began playing guitar and singing. Everyone was a few beers in, so we all began singing, myself included. I don’t sing, but boy did I bring it during Hotel California. 

Between our hippie lawn jam and practicing cartwheels, a Barcelonian man, Ivan, noticed my massive blister and by popular consensus we decided to pop it. It’s human nature to be fascinated by the grotesque, so I had a circle of 12 onlookers as Susanna, a German, peeled off my synthetic skin bandaid, and Mundo, from Mexico, gathered his first aid kit, and pulled a needle and thread through my blister. Ivan talked to me the whole time to distract me from my oozing toe. 

It was an overwhelming moment, not because of my injury, but because I was the newest addition to the cohort and already everyone took care of me as if I were family. 

Afterwards, because apparently no one lost their appetite, we had dinner and about a bottle of wine each, singing to Jey guitar playing until the albergue owner told us it was curfew. 

Every single person at our table had arrived on the Camino alone, and we had quite the international bunch. Together we represented the USA, Spain, Australia, the UK, Italy, Brazil, Mexico, Germany and France. 

I have found my tribe in this eclectic group of kind and beautiful people, and I’m starting to realize that the Camino isn’t just about yourself, but every person who helps you find your Way.