Because though I’m clad with armour Im under attack from with in; causing gashes, causing a stream of bloody organs. An opening, an outburst of passion.
Blood lubricates that rusty steel. You can move now, you can breathe now. Those organs, tassels on a tango skirt, fly up and around in a twirl. Spinning, spinning- and soon you recognise the movement as your own. You become the dancer. And soon enough it becomes worth losing vital organs in order to witness such a performance, to create such beauty.
I instantly disliked interlaken. It was beautiful, and a kind white haired man helped me to the hostel and the air was fresh, the mountains perky, the water was icy and delicious…
This was perhaps the destination I was most looking forward to in Europe, and yet I arrived ready to leave.
Even before I got off the train I knew I was going to the wrong place. For some reason I was craving a city, history, museums, landmarks. Since when???
It honestly was beautiful, the train drove in from Basel beside the lake so looking out the window we appeared to be on the water. And how blue! How the mountains reflected off its’ surface and made it all the more glorious. The sun was beaming too, it was basically a perfect day.
“How do I go about cancelations?” I asked at my hostel. Which, by the way, was also incredibly cool. Balmers tent village, with its dorm style tents, a bar, hammocks, a spa and a pool… It was all very perfect. We even had a view of a glacier.
But I didn’t feel like it, so I moped around a bit and swam at the ridiculous lake, all calm and so bright in-your-face blue, and moped some more. I just kept telling myself “this isn’t where I’m supposed to be!” (So much for believing that life gives us exactly what we need… I’m working on it.)
The only thing I could say was an actual real negative about interlaken is the prices. Skydiving sounded fun, but not for $400. So I bought a box of cereal, along with nearly every other backpacker in Switzerland who is bawled over by the prices, and ate away at it, breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert- with different fruit for variety.
So there I sat, eating my cereal alone reason an article I found under the Google search: “Hostels are stressing me out.” And it was all a very sad image. I came to the point in the article “don’t sulk by yourself, go and talk to other guests!” And I thought, ‘well duh, everyone knows that, why am I reading this junk.’ And then I saw myself and what I was doing.
Up I got, feeling embarrassed about my google search and more so that I actually needed that advice. I met some people, and some more, and I found myself wound up in conversation until morning.
This basically brought a sense of peace. Sometimes that’s all That’s missing, a little company.
The next day the moping stopped.
I did what I have learnt to do very well: treat myself. I hate that I fall back on food to supply a bit of joy but I do, and it kind of works and it also, completely doesn’t. Regardless, I wandered into the cutesy, post card town that was interlaken for a coffee and a free tasting of Swiss chocolate.
I met up with friends and walked to the lake, getting stuck in someone’s yard and climbing a very wobbly fence along the way. I loved their company, it was very homely- they were fellow Aussies. Another factor that helps in bad times- homeliness.
This time I saw the lake to be what it was. Not insulting me, not in my face, not boasting. The three of us sat at its edge for ages, staring and marvelling. We swam and screamed at the rush of water freezing our very bones.
It was a very simple activity but I felt like interlaken and I finally connected, Town to traveler.
That night was the true beauty of interlaken. More new friends were made, and these friends came with waffles and chocolate (a sure proven way to make friends in a hostel is to share waffles and chocolate) which we cooked and burnt and it was almost like real camping. It started to rain and thunder so we jumped in the spa, happy to put it to use after the heat that the days held had only ever lead us to the pool. So we’re all full of chocolate and we’re looking up to this glacier in the background, surrounded by kind people and cool air.
“This is so luxurious.” I said, and everyone agreed. How did we ever fall into a situation like this?
The night wasn’t over, dry and warm we played cards until ‘quiet time’ (Switzerland has quiet time at 10pm apparently. “That’s why they’re so kind: Because they sleep!” My new Aussie companion decides.) at that point we ran down the road to the underground club where we stumbled upon what looked to be a fair part of the Swiss army, dancing and drinking in their full uniforms. The music was terrible but we danced for hours all the same.
I have had many nights at hostels like this now, where everything falls together and you do fun things with interesting people and traveling is the best thing ever invented and you never want to go home. Oh what an emotional ride traveling has been, always up and down.
That’s what I’ve experienced this year, extreme ups that are swiftly consumed by gaping troughs. And so it repeats, encouraging and then daunting. I am probably an overly dramatic traveler, if I had to describe my approach. Everything is the best or the worst. I am either never coming home or I’m booking my flight.
Maybe I’ll get a grip on that one day… Or maybe, more likely, the drama is half of the fun.
There is joy to be found in things like paragliding and there is joy in things like playing board games. Ive been finding joy in things of the everyday and also in the fact that I’m traveling through Europe. There is the big and noticable joys (the ones I’ll probably tell tales of over and over, annoying friends and family with my repetition) and there is the subtle joys (ones I’ll surely forget about.) So I thought I’d compile a little list, a little reminder to be grateful when I arrive home to consistently clean towels.
So, things that have made me happy recently:
Taking a self defence class in Germany taught by my friends father.
Arriving to a hostel I’d stayed at a few days earlier, walking through and waving at the bar tender, hanging out with another member of staff at the bar, feeling like I was walking into an old group of friends.
When I asked said bar tender to tell me about Costa Rica (where he’s from) he picked up a guitar and sung me a long song about the many elements of Costa Rican culture and what activities you can take part in there.
Staying up late talking with the hostel staff about interesting things: ashrams, why we choose a vegetarian diet (can’t justify killing since there are other alternatives, environmental reasons, because it stays in our system longer- from a yogic perspective. Some yogis also don’t eat garlic or onion for this reason.) , wether we should have children given the huge world population, revelations we’ve had… It was nice to dig a little past the typical “where are you from?” “What are you studying?” Etc.
Waking up to a rainy day and playing board games with hostel staff.
Free coffee, or days when I feel I’ve earned buying one.
Paragliding. When I allow myself a bit of time to stop thinking about my flight plan and look at the lake and trees gliding so far below me, I always end up smiling and laughing because it all seems too ridiculously incredible.
Watching my instructor run off a cliff with his parachute tied to his harness with some rope (he forgot the proper clips). Then watching him fly back and land in a field of cows next to the take off point.
Landing from paragliding exactly how I wanted to with out any instructions.
Driving around in the van with the other paragliders singing along to silly French tunes, all of us excited about flying.
Phone calls to friends and family back home. Their ability to pull me out of a rut. To remind me of all the love I have around me, all the way around the world.
Leaving Doussard. The little town I stayed in for the past week and a half, leaving felt like I was finally finished with all the negativity I encountered within myself in that time.
Eating home made soup that the bartender from Annecy offered me. Full of vegetables and beans. This probably also extends to all free food.
Laying in the sun on the shore of the lake with a father and daughter, who were in my paragliding course. I was in full conversation in French, snacking on typical French snacks, talking about boys with the daughter. It was nice to have a few hours of girly conversation.
Going by myself to get a beer at the paragliding landing point bar on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I chatted to my instructor who was there too, watched the paragliders- taking notes on their landings, and enjoyed the atmosphere there. There seems to be a really chill, fun paragliding community (even amongst the huge business side of it all at Annecy.) Equally enjoyed the fact that I can go out and drink beer on a Sunday if I want to, now that I’m 18. (Not that ANYONE has checked for ID yet!)
Finding what I’m looking for at the top of my backpack.
Making friends with my neighbour at Doussard, eating breakfast together by our front doors.
Going out to a bar with my neighbour to watch the final euro cup match- France vs Portugal (France lost.) Drinking wine together by the lake as the sun set and French people everywhere looked defeated.
Getting bought a drink by a French man who complimented my French.
Pretty much any time my French is complimented.
Having a clean towel! In place of my travel towel which I hate to use as a face washer because I so often have to hold my breath… I should wash it more.
Having an oven and a full kitchen at my disposal.
Thinking about the future. The people I might meet, the places I might see.
The fact that thinking about the future once again excites me rather than terrifies me, that makes me extremely happy.
Backpacking friendships seem to form quickly, lacking in time but making up for it with their intensity. Something that I love and hate about traveling, I have a lot of trouble with all the goodbyes.
My trip to Hawaiis big island lead to some great friends, including a guy called mike, in under a week. At the airport we said our goodbyes and agreed we’d all had a wonderful time exploring and that was the end.
Except then I came to Switzerland and met up with mike.
I am humbled and grateful when the world aligns for me so nicely. One of those times that the world feels quite small, totally in control, very manageable. (Of course this feeling never lasts long.)
Anyway, I arrived in Zurich, Switzerland, hopped in mikes mini and we drove to Lucerne, the roof down, the sun streaming in (except honestly we were mostly in tunnels- oh how the Swiss seem to love their tunnels!) and, of course, techno music playing.
At the lake I was introduced to his friends and off we went, into the boat, speeding into the middle of the lake. Techno music started up again and the wake surfing began! I was a bit nervous of failing completely (as I do with so many sports) but everyone was very kind and encouraging and I stood up! Multiple times! I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed the whole thing. It was a perfect day, with clear skies above us we ate bread and tomatoes and drank beers and they chatted, albeit mostly in German, occasionally they all broke into English for my benefit.
The sun slowly set around 10pm and we head to shore, the driver sped around in circles, throwing us all a pile of screams and laughter to one side of the boat.
Switzerland appears a fairytale set.
The next day we hiked. I was so exhausted and not ready to exert myself in any way. Alas, after a quick cable ride mike and I found ourselves on a steep climb, and ended up walking in the snow, me slipping around everywhere mike had to hold me most of the way. (with unprepared frozen feet in my Nike joggers!) The clouds covered most of the view from the summit at Risetenstock but there were still plenty of gems. Cows grazing in the fields, with a backdrop of green mountains, reassured me that we were indeed in Switzerland.
The next day was… More hiking! We went back the the area of Aescher cliff but took an entirely different route than I had taken with my parents the week before. The plan was to sleep at Meglisalp, a tiny little town up above Seealpsee lake. After a soup stop at Seealpse, we faced once again a very steep climb. The lake grew small below us and slowly we made it to cloud level. The cliffs we walked were straight drops, down into the valley. Cow bells were jingling- it amazes me how high up in the mountains they’re getting those cows.
Meglisalp was covered by clouds upon arrival, we got ciders and laughed at (and then mike helped) an old man yelling cusses at his cows when they wouldn’t go inside. It eventually cleared, revealing mountains reaching up even higher than us, Distinct grey and bright green.
A big Swiss dinner and a cozy bed before hiking down in the morning.
Today the cliffs were steeper and higher and the views beautiful in all directions, dramatic rock faces rising up as water tumbled down them with great force. I concentrated especially hard for many parts of this climb, because many parts of it completely terrified me!
On the drive to Zurich I tried to sleep to the techno music playing once again, we had a big night ahead- the Zurich festival was about to begin.
After we’d showered, washing off all the mountains had offered us as souvenirs- dirt, sweat- we went to mikes friends place. We were greated so kindly, “make your self at home!” And I was handed a gin and tonic. It was a mix of people from different places in Switzerland, Paris and now, Australia.
I felt welcomed, they accepted me so maturely and warmly into their group.
We caught the bus into town and partied in front of a church where a dj had set up and crowds gathered. We all did numerous shots and enjoyed the music, the perfect summer day that it was. Next we stopped at a tent equipped with disco balls, then had a final dance amidst a huge audience for a dj out in the open beside the lake.
Mike and I took the train home and wandered back with greasy food at 6am. We slept well, made spaghetti for lunch and slept some more before heading out again.
Tonight there were fireworks, they went off to a sound track including ‘let it go’ from frozen (in German). The whole display, over the lake, with parties all around playing all sorts of music (we had specifically sought out the best techno DJs.) with everyone gathered… My last night in Zurich was an event. I forgot about being homesick, because I felt comfortable with these new friends, like I was apart of something.
The sights I saw of Switzerland I never would have seen by myself- I wasn’t even planning to go to Zurich or Lucerne and I never would have gone back to ascher cliff.
The world is beautiful, I know. Full of things to do and people to meet. What’s going on in our minds overrules this beauty so easily sometimes- or at least in my experience. Even though I found this week particularly hard, with my constantly nagging desire to be home with my family, I was shown and given some of the most incredible things. In my very self centred outlook, it felt like the world was pulling from all its sources in an attempt to cheer me up.
“Look around Thalia. Look at how beautiful life can be!”
For me traveling this year has been so many wonderful things- and that’s why it seems a little crazy to want to stop. But it’s also been… At times… Hard.
So for about a week I had this weird sensation hanging over me. I had this ball of air caught in my throat ready to explode into heavy sobs at moments dispersed throughout the day, usually at the mere thought of travelling. 6 months lay before me and home, family, friends, my dog, Australian beaches… 6 months!
How on earth could I stay away another 6 months, what a monstrous amount of time to fill that is!
I started thinking of hostels as ridiculous, full of fake relationships too short to mean anything. New countries as good as any other country. Beautiful places just as nice as any place, except not as comforting as my home town.
Every typical ‘backpacker’ event that thrilled me so much at the start of my trip has become normalised, all the while familiarities became luxurious. To have a kitchen, to have clean clothes, to eat cooked vegetables, to have a routine.
I had lost desire to be solo on the road, lugging around my messy backpack, feeling like a little lost puppy drenched in self pity.
Of course when i was in the thick of this feeling my first reaction was to start looking for flights home. Right then and there balling my eyes out on my friends couch in Switzerland I made a plan: go home, get a job, be around my family.
Okay… Great. Not really inspiring though. And inspiring myself at the moment is a good enough reason for me to do anything.
I turned to friend for advice, she herself was well traveled and said “it was really hard at times. I suppose no one ever tells you about those times because they aren’t the ones you remember as much once you get back. I mean it’s a pretty crazy thing to just up root your entire life and suddenly be completely independent and have to motivate yourself to stick to it..
don’t pressure yourself to always feel like doing something exciting everyday.. No one can keep that up long term it’s too exhausting and emotionally draining.”
This was the perfect explanation. And it was also the first step in feeling better, the validation of what I was experiencing made me feel less guilty about it.
Looking back on this feeling from the sidelines, now that I’m feeling a LOT better, I realise itwas a lesson I so dearly needed.
“Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the one you need? Because this is the experience you’re having at the moment.” Eckhart Tolle.
I was struggling with feeling alone. I saw this in Hawaii, Nepal and definitely Paris. This huge discomfort with solitude, but why? There are so many activities I love to do alone: yoga, writing, reading, walking, cooking, eating, watching moves, singing, grocery shopping… And yet when I find myself alone I freak out. I’m a wreck, I spend hours online, I don’t get anything productive done, I associate it with unhappiness.
And this week life decided to put me in an apartment with 4 beds and no one but me to sleep in it, in a quiet, tiny town. And I freaked out. My mind is so blunt when we talk one on one. No holding back, no gentle nudging in the right direction. And no choice but to sit down and listen as it drones on and on.
So I was offered a good opportunity to listen to it with no distraction, and it wasn’t always fun.
But everyday I felt a little more at home by myself. I looked forward to making a nice dinner. To looking out my window over the lake, up to the paragliders. To renting a movie, reading a book, calling my mum and not having to worry about disturbing other people, showering (or not showering) whenever I wanted, washing my clothes and hanging my underwear all over the place, singing in the kitchen, doing downward dogs on my way from my bed to the shower, writing, thinking. And finally, sometimes, enjoying my own thoughts.
I am a harsh but great companion as it turns out.
It definitely helped that this week was the week of my paragliding course. I was busy from 8am till 6pm, I met a bunch of people, spent my mornings running off cliffs and my afternoons doing theory or practicing inflating my shoot on the ground. I was distracted and excited by all this of course, it replaced all my spare moping time with concentration and adrenaline.
Friday night I decided to go into town and stay at a hostel. It was great, I walked in with a renewed energy and wanted to talk to people. I started a conversation with one girl and as soon as people heard English they gravitated towards us until a nice group had formed and we went out to a bar. I talked a lot, I listened a lot, I learned a lot (one girl was studying international agriculture and food science- She had mounds of interesting things to discuss, I ate breakfast with a girl from Korea and learnt they have a ‘Korean age’ which is 2 years older than their ‘international age.’) And so I was reminding of my view on relationships when backpacking: that each encounter is an opportunity to practise and learn. Practice conversing and learn about anything I can. So my faith in backpacking was restored.
But now, after a few hours of solid socialising, I am lying by the lake, writing, swimming and I have a hired bike to ride around on, all by myself.
An important talent I believe, to be comfortable being alone. Taking in all those thoughts they surely expanded within me, showing me new horizons within myself, all the bumps I hold and some possibilities, where necessary, to flatten them out. I am far from mastering being alone- There’s a mum and daughter chatting beside me and I’m still looking at them a bit enviously. But I’m not scared or dreading being in a house by my self tonight (as I was last week.)
And that’s a good start.
(then again, life is funny sometimes. I arrived at my apartment and couldn’t open the door… My neighbour helped, invited me over for wine, to go kayaking, to go to the next town and watch the soccer. Just when I thought I had an idea of life’s motives, it surprises me again.)
I was counting down the days of their arrival. Literally, I have written in my journal: ‘two days left.’ As if I was awaiting Christmas or escape from a horrid life style.
It seems dramatic but it was as exciting as Christmas. And my longing for an escape from hostels and short friendships and backpacking in general had left me to believe my lifestyle was, at the time, quite horrid.
This excitement expanded within me and exploded upon my parents at their arrival in the form of stories and questions and photos and more stories still. I told them everything I’d wanted to share with everyone i had passed on the street that previous week. Told them of my past months adventures, of my revelations, ideas. And they listened so eagerly! Something I can’t confirm (nor deny, since I didn’t share ALL of this with strangers.) people on the streets of Paris would have done.
The stories eventually ran out (though at times they’d reemerge as I’d see a scene or image that matched a memory and it would spring forth in my mind, hurt: “how did you ever forget me?!”) and my parents company felt usual again. But into this normality fell experiences I’m honoured to own, ones that will surely slot themselves into my fondest memories.
We fled from Paris, leaving it’s grey colour pallet and ever raining skies (we were lucky enough to experience what our uber driver tells me is the worst flood in ten years!) We piled into our rental car and headed south east until arriving at Chamonix. A quaint, magical little mountainous town full of wooden cabins, steamy jacuzzis and trails to hike. And hike we did, to the enchanting Lac Verte, a lake so green it appeared an oversized emerald of the finest quality, how clear its water!
But this was a stop over not the destination and by the next day we reached Venice in which we loaded ourselves up with spaghetti like we wouldn’t see food for the next month. We visited a nice gallery and went on an awkward (in my opinion) gondola ride.
Following italy: Croatia! Our first stop was Pula, what a relaxing time we spent bathing in a sun I hadn’t seen in what felt like years. We lazed and read and snorkelled.
In Plitvice we stayed at a gorgeous house in lavender farms. I went for a run, partly because I felt like it, partly because my parents appeared to be fattening me up for the winter. We explored Plitvice lakes national parks, a truly magnificent display of natures beauty, but a good place to be a sheep in the herd all the same.
We arrived in split and just as soon we made a plan to leave- we all agreed it didn’t meet our desires for a small, cute, Croatian coastal beauty. So we jumped on a ferry and hopped off on an island!
My parents spontaneity impressed me greatly. Or, at least, it did impress me until it was nearing 9pm and we were still wandering with out accomodation, or lunch, or dinner by that time. We ended up at Sophia’s (drive up the main road till you come to large garbage bins and graffiti and you’ll find it, the tourist information employee instructed.) my dad later described the place as “crappy but nice.” Equipped with a bed each, a balcony and a funny, old lady to welcome us we were just fine.
The next night we stayed up, we had to make it to midnight to take the boat over to the island party. So we ate sushi, drank margaritas and later ate greasy Croatian pastries sitting on the wall of the quay, surrounded by yachts shining with wealth.
We made friends on the boat over, a crazy rowdy guy and his beautiful girlfriend. We did shots and attempted to stay at the lounges (where you can only sit providing you buy a very expensive bottle of something.) I danced with mum until guys took off their shirts and it all felt a bit weird. Dad and his new friend did ‘dad’ dance moves, intentionally embarrassing those associated with them (me.) Some Aussie guys came up and asked if they were my parents and followed with a sincere “that is so cool!” And I have to say, I agree.
Then the rain came and the whole island went into panic as they assured us a crazy storm was coming and we had to get off the island.
Back in hvar the Aussies invited me up to a party on their terrace which my mum agreed to coolly, without a flinch, only for me to come home in the morning and find dad awake and filled with worry.
Next was Dubrovnik where we took a game of thrones tour which went totally over our heads having never seen the show (though now, only 2 weeks later we’re all well into season 4…) We celebrated dads birthday with a picnic where King Joffreys wedding (and death) took place. We watched a live band and I sat as my parents danced along to ‘torn.’ Total dorks but truly happy I believe that night, and I think this because just watching them was enough to make me truly happy.
We headed back north, stopping at a town called Nin where we coated our selves with mud, apparently medicinal, solving many illnesses and increasing fertility, as my dad loved to warned me. It was a cold day, the mud smelt and felt like cow manure… And we had it all over us. We had read that we had to lay on the beach till it dried, normally this would be in the sun but not for us, being a cold, windy and overcast day. Even after a swim and a long, long bath, the smell lingered completely foul. A fun idea nonetheless, but perhaps not one i’d recommend.
Hintersee in Austria was among my favourite days. It was one that went so perfectly without any plans or expectations, a hike, a feeling of peace, good company, game of thrones before bed… Simple but entirely enjoyable.
Next was Switzerland, a hike to Aescher cliff. Something about huge, fried potato rosti after a hike sits delectably well with me. The view from the restaurant didn’t go astray either.
I turned 18 in Strasbourg, celebrating the Fête de la musique alongside my birthday.
The whole month was nearing an end and it was time to return to Paris. Thankfully it was not the rainy, horrid city I had left. The sun was out and we could relax and play cards in the park. We had no plans, just enjoy each other, enjoy Paris- the food, the bike riding (or rather, my dad enjoyed the bike riding as I complained… Even though in truth i did find a weird kind of thrill riding around one of those crazy Parisian roundabouts.)
We finished with a picnic, of course- our little Parisian tradition. A view of the Eiffel Tower, the streets bursting with football fans (the World Cup in full swing.) Champagne and bread and fruit… An elegant affair but a sad goodbye.
Their company was so necessary. I leave them in a lot better state than what they found me in. A bit of restoration, a lot of fattening up, enough hugs to last till Christmas.
We should never have fit 3 people and huge bags in the tiny old lift down to the hotel lobby on their last morning. But we all squeezed in somehow (even with all that European food in our stomachs!) and they took this as their chance: ‘there’s no escape!’ They said as I was smothered in hugs and kisses.
They left for Thailand while I was headed to Freiburg, I missed them already getting on my train. Now I find myself looking at families with such envy I want to grab the kids (who are usually fighting or looking grumpy) and yell “enjoy your parents!!!” Something about the honest friendship I have with my parents is a relationship I’m yet to find elsewhere, and one I’m so grateful for.