Vagabonding: travel diaries part two: Europe
In part one of my 50 destinations in 105 days: travel diaries, I shared the stats of my four-month adventure, and some of the wonderful things I experienced in Asia along the way. Here is a little recap of the stats:
Over 1.5 million steps, 105 days, 50 different destinations (cities/villages), 46 beds, 20 flights, 16 countries, 10 boat trips, 7 country boarders by foot, 5 intrepid tours, 3 festivals, 2 sleeper trains, 4092 photos on my SLR and 268 videos on my iPhone.
Now a couple of months downs the track I want to share the last part of my journey, however with some time to reflect, I really realise the benefits of pushing myself towards the uncomfortable, of questioning the path that society steers us down and of being that little bit selfish.
I enjoyed the life of a vagabond, wandering from place to place without a fixed home or job. It rather suited me. Originally, to end my adventure I had planned to travel through Europe to visit family and friends. I thought I would be tiring from all the travelling and need the familiar, however I was not tired at all, I was reinvigorated. What travelling through Europe actually allowed me to do was really compare and appreciate what I had and what I had previously forgotten to see.
From Asia to Europe.
The really beautiful thing about travelling through Asia and especially Nepal (I think you have gathered that I totally fell in love with Nepal!), was the people and their absolute appreciation of everything they have. Even when they have so little, they are willing to share what little they have and are still so grateful to have the opportunity to share it with you. The big difference, that really stood out when talking to locals, was their lack of comprehension for western society’s measurement of success. They just don’t understand how western society focuses so much on materialistic successes, monetary goals or for things that we do not have or need, rather than focusing on what we already have such as our family, the food on our plates and the opportunity for education.
It made me think hard about what success really meant to me. In my workings towards ‘success’ I had made myself incredibly time poor, I was spending minimal time with my family and friends and then squandered my earnings on experiences to make up for what I felt I was missing out, due to my drive for success. How does this make any kind of sense?
It doesn't mean that I am now going to travel the world and just have fun, we all do have an innate sense of purpose. It has however made me look at success differently, and want to find the right balance between appreciating things around me, working with people that inspire me, following my passions for travel and new experiences, and somehow making a difference to those in need. I have also promised myself that I am going to be a lot more considered with my time and not compromise my physical and mental wellbeing in the pursuit of unnecessary things or activities. I start with very positive intentions.
So with that in mind, I reflect on the last month of my travels and what I experienced but mostly what I appreciate from each encounter and hope that I make you have a little think about what success really means to you and the wonderful things you already have in your life.
30 April - 10 May: Ireland family fun
From the foodie scene in Dublin to quality family time in Castleblayney, Ireland was time to recuperate and reflect on the amazing, and challenging encounters I had experienced in Asia. I spent time with my family, appreciating all the simple and mundane things of everyday life. Things such as safe tap water, baking in my own kitchen, warm showers and an insect free and sanitised toilet. Visiting developing countries really does give you a newfound love for everyday comforts that we take for granted.
I adored listening to my friend’s passion for food as she showed me the latest and greatest of Dublin, my sisters-in-laws as they talked with such passion about each other and how they made time to do something special with me. I yet again witnessed my husband’s parents’ unconditional love (despite the fact that I moved their boy to the other side of the earth) and my husband’s boundless love for his son despite the sadness being away brings. I am definitely one lucky girl and I was for the first time really, really appreciating it.
11 – 17 May: the Netherlands: back to the motherland
No epic trip to Europe can exclude Holland, my family’s homeland. From Amsterdam, Loenen, to Utrecht City, Ijsselstein, Wassenaar, Den Haag and Schiedam, I ate all the cheese, chips and mayonnaise I could stomach (which grew proportionally!). What I love most about going back are the picturesque canaled cities with cobbled streets, beautiful architecture and flat, green fields dotted with farm animals and of course, my crazy family that are always ready to flood me with hugs and kisses. I spent the seven days with different cousins, aunties and uncles and just love the energy I gain from being around such passionate, always brutally honest, and to the point family.
18 – 21 May: Munich: the new experience
I had loved the architecture, eclectic art and music scene of Berlin when I visited in my twenties so was curious about visiting Munich and digging deeper into its chequered history. From the modern art galleries (Pinakothek galleries) and nightclubs (apparently the original home of disco – my favourite), medieval churches, dynastic palaces, riverside cafés, Eis Bach river surfing, a Michael Jackson shrine and the dichotomy of their historic theatres to Dachau concentration camp; it was an emotional rollercoaster. There are definitely two sides to Munich. From the modern metropolis, with pioneering businesses such as BMW, interior design and fashion stores to the very traditional cobbled streets, decorated buildings, medieval markets and old bierkellers (beer halls) that overflow during Oktoberfest.
It is also a place for palaces. I visited the Residenz, or royal palace, walking through the ornate rooms, ogling the opulent horse drawn carriages, exploring the wonderful gardens and fountains. I also did a day trip to the base of the snow-capped Bavarian Alps, where I visited Linderhof, which was the decadent home of eccentric King Ludwig II, complete with mirrored rooms and elevating tables. Lots to see and I was lucky to be taken around by my newly resident cousins, giving me an insight into the everyday life of a local, and some delicious home cooked meals.
22 – 24 May: Ljubljana: say that five times quickly
I have pretty much wanted to visit Slovenia for over 10 years and the thought of Ljubljana (took me a while to learn how to pronounce it – lyoo-BLYAH-nah) even more so. The old towns and castles were rumoured to be beautiful and well preserved, comparable to Prague and Budapest 15 years ago. I caught the train from Munich, which was really easy and breathtaking dissecting the Austrian Alps. It was everything I had imagined.
The old town with the Roman influence and historic architecture, quaint streets, traditional town square, baroque churches, with musicians echoing through the narrow streets and the castle overlooking the town. You really felt you were in Eastern Europe with the graffiti, peeling walls and the juxtaposition of traditional and modern, each trying to find their voice. With the bridges across the canal joining old and new and the dragons guarding the main bridge into town, Ljubljana really had a fairy-tale mystique.
In Ljubljana a really good friend of mine from London joined me. We met in our gorgeous and perfectly positioned Airbnb apartment in the middle of the old town and picked up from where we had left off 3 years prior. I had forgotten how much I missed how she challenged every rule, political stance and well, everything. Travelling with a companion really offers a perspective that you sometimes miss when flying solo and it makes it much more fun when you can have a good laugh while you are at it.
25 May: Lake Bled
I had heard of a lake in the Julian Alps, 35 kilometers from Ljubljana in northwestern Slovenia that was meant to be one of the most picturesque in the world. We wanted to capitalise on this view and had booked a room overlooking this stunning lake at Hotel Kompas, and boy was it an amazing view. We had allocated a day to walk around the lake, visiting the cathedrals and castle. What I had not realised was that this used to be the holiday destination for many of the neighbouring countries and was also a hub of restaurants and lakeside activities. After rowing on a boat to the island on the lake I had one of the most delicious black truffle pasta of my life. We also managed to fit some time in the hot tub to rest our forever wandering legs. I wish I had planned more time in this gem of a place because there was a lot more to do and appreciate. I would definitely recommend staying a couple of nights.
26 May: Venice: living like a local for a day
Now it was time to catch the train to Venice. After a terrible experience in Venice over 10 years ago, fearing for my life and sleeping at the train station, I was determined to give myself a new fond memory of this deliciously charming city of romance.
With less than 24 hours in Venice we searched for an authentic and unique Venetian experience; we found a traditional canal home on Airbnb with patios and Juliette balconies and its own boat access to the canal, conveniently located in an area close to all the tourist attractions including the Rialto Bridge and markets. I would highly recommend it to everyone.
We spend the day on the canals soaking up the stunning architecture and getting lost in the maze of endless streets and bridges. It was aperitivo time in the afternoon, followed by an evening feast, devouring as much Italian food and gelato as we could. I am now in love and will be back again soon, to stay longer and live like a local.
27 May – 1 June: Barcelona and Primavera Sound Festival
With one night in Barcelona before the Primavera Sound festival, it was time to soak up the Catalonian hospitality and atmosphere, catching some of the smaller warm-up gigs that were happening around town. We arrived in our Hotel Pulitzer and made our way to our hotel’s rooftop where we listened to our first band over a glass of cava, knowing it was going to be a wonderful week and way to end my epic escapades.
For the festival we stayed in Poblenou where our days were a mix of time on the beach, devouring tapas and hunting out unique graffiti scattered throughout the neighbouring streets. The evenings took us on an outdoor musical adventure. With an artistic line up of pop, rock and underground dance music, this was 3 days of heaven on a massive site by the beach. In Barcelona since 2001, it is an event that I would recommend to anyone who has a love of music and enjoys watching the sun go down over 80,000 people and some seriously talented artists strumming their tunes on 12 stages. This is a festival like no other as the passion for music oozed from the festivalgoers and the love for food was catered for to no end. I will be back and this time I will take a big group to share the experience with me. My love for music and being able to dance the night away was definitely a fantastically fun way to end a holiday.
2- 4 June: getting home and an overnight in Abu Dhabi
From Barcelona to Rome, Abu Dhabi to Sydney, my journey home, of course, also had to be an adventure. After food poisoning and being escorted of the plane (causing my aircraft 2 hours of delays waiting for a medic) in Abu Dhabi, I was relieved to get on a flight 24 hours later and arrive on Australian soil. Thank you Etihad for your care and for the hotel accommodation that gave me a night to recover. I absolutely understand why you would not let me continue on the flight (despite my flowing tears and cries of wanting to go back to my husband) with symptoms of Ebola.
6 – 9 June: Wombarra retreat: the last hurrah
My final long weekend was spent in full appreciation of the Sydney coastline in Wombarra. I spent the days walking the coastline from Sea Cliff Bridge to Austinmer, visited the Bulli Foragers Market, had coffees at the coffee shops in Thirroul and watching the early winter sunsets of the southern hemisphere. It was lovely to be back.
Now home after a couple of months of reflecting, I feel so lucky to have had such a rare and unique experience. After so many epic adventures, moments that challenged, conversations that opened my eyes and experiences that saddened me; I feel more balanced, bubbling with ideas and a new philanthropic purpose. I hope to maintain this momentum and encourage people to travel, help the less fortunate and challenge themselves to find something they are passionate about and make it their world.
Don't put off what you really want to do. Time wealth is so much more valuable than anything else you will ever accumulate. Some very wise words from the Dalai Lama on the Art of Happiness:
If we are lucky enough to be living a good life then we should recognise that gift and do something for those people who have less.
I am so excited for my next phase and hope that with Hills and West I can do some good for those less fortunate than I am. Cause one thing I do know.... I am one lucky lady.
I want to thank you for your part in my journey.