world and heart, explorer slender; tracing lines both true and tender

snapshot

Posted on July 7, 2014

My hands are bouncing as I type this, sitting on a business class bus bound for Budapest, Hungary. Business class means free water bottles and snacks, which is outrageously unheard of, and which I took immediate and enthusiastic advantage of, as evidenced by the crumbs covering my lap. My boots are tucked under my seat, the curtain is drawn over the window, I don’t smell awesome and I kind of have to pee. I am feeling tired, content, with hints of desperation. Welcome to backpacking.

The Czech Republic was lovely to me. I got lucky, as I so very often do. It’s so hard for me to tell if the places that I visit dictate my mood, or if my mood dictates my experience of the place. In any case, I have been feeling well and much more whole, thanks to this country or not. Prague is stunning, perhaps the most beautiful city I have yet to see in the world. It seems as though the Czechs’ taste for aesthetics is far reaching and spot on; it touches everything, even the mundane: streets, walls, ceilings, fixtures, paint jobs. Glittering flashes of gold wink from every other surface, laughing at the ages. Were I ever offered the opportunity to live there for good reason, I would accept without hesitation. The city’s spirit remains somewhat a mystery to me, but in a way that makes me want to sit down with it and drink coffee for a long time.

I had the good fortune of staying with a Czech man named Petr, to whom I owe a week of sincere wellbeing. More than his insatiable thoughtfulness and generosity, I loved making a friendship that traverses varying bounds of honesty, reflection, and laughter. For my part, at least, I have made my first friend since traveling that I would very simply like to keep for life.

I had been planning on doing a two week stint of three cities: Prague, Budapest, and Bucharest, as I made my way down to southern Bulgaria. But somehow the thought of repeated tourism, especially in urban areas, wore me down before I even started. Friday I spent almost an entire day inside, hunched over my computer to see if I couldn’t find a farm at which to volunteer on Sunday, and I did.

It’s called the Preserved Seed Farm, about 1.5 hours from Prague. It was beautiful, of course. They have sheep, goats, chickens, an apple orchard, a small vineyard, a homemade greenhouse, a huge garden, three horses, several trailers, two lodges, and two houses in a tiny village. Anywhere from 20 to 50 people live there at once, because as I found out a little late, the people there are part of a religious group called the Twelve Tribes. There is much one could say about them, but all I really have is a witness to their extreme sincerity and generosity. They seek to live a life of love, and that they do.

I spent one week doing more dishes than I could count, sitting and swaying amazingly high in a tree to pick (eat) gobs of cherries, learning how to make cheese, pruning tomato plants, and milking goats. I chopped dried herbs, I started fires for cooking, I hung laundry up to dry and then hung more. I gathered chicken eggs and brushed my teeth in rainwater. I slept in a humble trailer and took enormous pleasure in warm showers. I made faces at kids and held hands while dancing and I think I was full to exploding the entire week. Their food is to die for, that’s for sure. I think that every green growing thing had a different edible berry on it around every corner, and the farm attracted three wild cats, one orange, one black, one spotted, with whom they shared fresh, warm goat’s milk.

On the weekends they play volleyball and duck into the gigantic, neighboring forest to go swimming in a hidden lake. Every morning and every evening they gather together for fellowship, and I was soon accustomed to waking at six am. If something was offered to me, which was about every ten minutes, I rarely said no. I was unceasingly amazed to listen to their kids excitedly rush between Czech, German, and English, without missing a beat. They operate anywhere from candles, to solar panels, to regular electricity, depending on the building. If you get up early enough, the mist is still hovering over pale yellow and green fields like a spirit. I ate almost exclusively homemade bread, cheese, and fresh vegetables, and just as often drank roasted tea with local honey, and goat’s milk. Pretty much my idea of a fairytale.

Being around that many people for that long is a little trying to me, but it also kind of felt like bible camp that I went to when I was little. I seem to have developed a small sinus infection since the end of that week, but before I left, they pumped me full of freshly picked sage leaves, ripe red berries, herb tea with honey and drops of homemade echinacea, notes of encouragement included. I’m sort of terrified of getting sick while traveling, and I know I would be much worse off without their care.

I accomplished everything I wanted: slow down, save money, give back, help out, learn things, grow relationships. I’m on my way to Budapest to sit in the Hungarian pools and eat goulash for two days, and then I’m gone to Bulgaria for a handful of weeks, but I will certainly be farming again. Maybe in Greece, or Croatia, or Italy, who knows.

So, dear Czech Republic, here’s to you. Thanks for giving me stony, cool castles; gold plated halos; a walk in magical woods; a true friend; bridges and bridges over moat and memory; pretty money in the hundreds; an opera both quaint and elegant; expensive water and beer for a dollar; dropping me off in the middle of nowhere in the rain; a museum for communism; mild wine; quiet bookstores; a farm with a lot of soul; an expanded tummy and a thoughtful heart.

I spent my last Czech coins making a triumphant fool of myself at the estimable Czech post office, and on a new bar of European chocolate. I’m thinking about my spiritual enigma, and I still walk through crowded places and let myself imagine what I would do if your familiar face surfaced within the sea. Onward.

take two

Posted on June 22, 2014

Whew, okay. Got that last post out of my system. Sorry about that; that was pretty rough. I swear that I am not having a perpetual pity party all the time.

This is the third day in my travels so far, at least, that I have insisted on beginning rather wretchedly, and which has ended with some sort of miraculous turnaround, no thanks to me. I should take the pattern to heart and learn yet another lesson: it’s not over until the fat lady sings. Er, patience is a virtue. How about trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding?

My heart gets tired pretty easily, so I spend time by myself, or reading my bible, or mostly, by emailing and talking to you. After a while, I’ve noticed, I eventually rise out of it, stand up and jut my chin, determined again to start walking until I meet life face to face. And generally, it goes great.

Today I left my hostel in search of the tiny arts center on this tiny island, resolved to see something cool, and listen to music, gosh darn it. On the way, I noticed a man down on the rocks by the water, cutting fish on a plank. The sun was beginning to set, and it was all terribly picturesque. I made up my mind to go talk to him, and see what was what.

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Paddy greeted me warmly, and let me sit and watch him clean the fish he had caught earlier that day. He had taken out his kayak, a special one that you sit on top of, visited friends at the other island, and scored a dozen gorgeous fish. His knife work was quiet and exact, and we chatted about the specialness of the island, of the gold medals it had won for having the best practice of environmental management and community life in the world. He reluctantly submitted that he was the manager of the island, and proudly announced he would rather live no where else. He told me about the fish he caught, and how to clean them. He boasted of the stone masonry on the island, of all the people that come here to study it.

Basically, it was everything I could have ever wanted out of a trip to the Aran Islands. There, I did it. Something beautiful happened.

And then I went to the arts center and made friends with the woman there, and listened to music, and learned more about the culture here. After a walk and a sunset (and another of the world’s nicest horse), I went to the pub, got a Guinness, and was rescued from complete obscurity by an excellently wrinkled man with long hippie hair named Johnny. Johnny says the f word a lot, is both crude and gentlemanly, and plays the Irish drum like you wouldn’t believe. He kept cursing the other musicians who were playing in the group because they weren’t very good, and when, in an attempt for optimism, I asked him whether he’d rather play with poor musicians or not at all, he replied not at all. I was surprised, and then quickly realized that though I value positivity, I envied his passion. It’s like some sort of harsh purity, to love something so much that you’d prefer to abandon it than do it with mediocrity. I would like to feel this way about something. I’m not sure my modest life experiences thus far, and subsequently my philosophies have parameters for such extremes.

I read a book when I was a kid about a boy who adored chocolate. He loved it so much, that when some magical thing or another happened, he wished that he could eat chocolate all the time, and so it was. He tried to play the trumpet, but when he put it to his lips, it melted into dark brown oblivion. He became thirsty and drank from the water fountain, only to find syrup oozing down the drain. At the climax of the tale, a simple, well-intentioned kiss on the cheek turns his mother into a pillar of chocolate. I’m sure you can guess the moral. I could possibly be the biggest champion for moderation, but I am telling you in complete seriousness, I think I would find bliss if this story happened to me. I am convinced that any ailment of mine can and will be cured by chocolate, that happiness is found here, that chocolate brightens dark days and perfects already good ones.

I know that my questions will continue to follow me, and that I will continue to have dumpy days. But, I would like to say that I still know that what I’m doing is important, and that it is good. Be patient with me, because it has turned into something that none of us could have ever predicted. Something difficult and even more worthwhile. And duh, thanks forever, for being my squad.

Maybe it’s the Guinness, but if I didn’t have to, this might be the first place I would like to not leave so soon. I’m glad to feel this way, because that’s exactly the reason I came. I want to stand at the edge of the world and know that it is being held up, and that it is beautiful, beautiful.

q & pray

Posted on June 21, 2014

I’m sitting at a kitchen table, drinking Irish tea with Irish milk, on the smallest of the three Aran Islands, off the West coast of Ireland. It’s beautiful here. My pizza is almost done in the oven.

The people in Ireland never seem to shut their windows, no matter how they might complain about the weather. Also, I love how much people drink tea over here. And lattes are barely more expensive than coffee in Europe. However, instant coffee is all over the place for some reason. 

I’ve had a fun few days. I took two bus tours: one for the Ring of Kerry (a well worn circular route around one of the most beautiful counties in Ireland), and one for the Cliffs of Moher (huge, breathtaking cliffs, as seen in Princess Bride and Harry Potter). On the first, I befriended a hearty Australian guy, and I took the second with two lovely American girls that I met couch surfing. As much as I don’t like feeling like a sheep being herded around, I also like not having to think. 

I’ve been staying with a Brazilian girl for the last few days, and let me tell you, I can get down with Brazilian food. And Brazilians, for that matter, if they’re all as sweet as her. 

It is testament to my mental fatigue, I think, that I found so much relief being in the company of Americans. I felt my entire being relax, and I watched the worries of my mannerisms, pleasantries spoken or withheld, and vocabulary melt away. (Will someone understand what I mean when I say, “Bummer,” or should I quickly rephrase my sentence?) I think that I am overthinking.

I am in a perpetual state of debate with myself. For example, does my discontent and obvious searching serve a purpose that will eventually be fulfilled, or am I simply being a stubborn jerk and going about this all wrong? Does my complete aversion to being alone mean that I should work harder to be okay with it, or that humans, as I’ve thought for a long time, are not meant to live a solo existence? Why, for goodness sake, was I given this desire to catapult myself into the world if I’m simply going to be confused and vaguely upset the whole time? What am I doing wrong, and why? Why do I feel like I must be the only person in the world who is stricken with wanderlust and then completely disillusioned by the entire thing?

As I’ve mentioned, being with people are the best times. I have made lots of new friends, whether they last for an hour or a day or three. Even one that I feel I really connected with. I immediately give into the knowledge that I don’t have to think about my plight, or all my questions. I focus all my energy on simply being a companion. This is when I let go and enjoy the moment. 

However, I keep feeling this onward pressure. Even if I am offered the chance to stay longer with a new friend, I have turned it down on several occasions to continue the vague plans or inclinations I’ve developed. Even when I am enjoying company, there is something in me that says, No, it’s not here. This isn’t it yet. Keep moving. If you have any idea what the heck “it” is, something that I seem unable to give up looking for, I would be greatly obliged. 

And so, the debate continues. Is it good or normal or healthy to be looking for something? Should I continue to do this and will I see fruit from it, or should I take a freaking break and work to simply be content with what I am doing and where I am? 

I feel encapsulated by a huge what and an overwhelming why. I like making friends because they distract me from these things, but at the end of the day, that’s sort of all they feel like—a distraction. And this, possibly, makes me feel even worse. 

A good example of my baffling ways: I made three good friends in Galway these last few days. And, to my pleasant surprise, they were outspoken in their pleasure to be spending time with me. We were easy companions. I had been really wanting to go the Aran Islands, and all three of them threatened to come with me at one point, but none of them ended up doing so. I was invited to incredibly fun sounding events with each, but I turned them down in favor of traveling back in time to island life, even committing a whole night to it. I’ve been wandering around this gorgeous island all day, wondering when I would make a friend and never succeeding (yet). At some point, as I thought over my loneliness, I realize that this was entirely self inflicted. I had company, and events, and I chose to not only be alone, but I picked the smallest, least populated island of the three, in the hopes of finding something cultural and beautiful and unique. Now, for the first and probably last time on my whole trip, I have an entire hostel dorm room to myself. Certainly the night isn’t over yet, but, what gives, Tiffany? 

Anyway. Sorry to be such a sop. Can’t seem to help it though; I am daily plagued and wish that I wasn’t. 

I did have the best seafood chowder I have ever had, though. I think it might have been a bowl of butter, with enormous chunks of salmon and cod and clams in it. I even found a fish bone, so you know they’re doing it right. 

And today I climbed all over a real shipwreck. The entire thing was bright red from rust, including all the surrounding rocks. I like that there are still amazingly dangerous and cool places to see in the world and one is just left to one’s own devices in order to explore it, unlike in the States. I wriggled my way to the top of that dang ship to pretend I was a sailor, and the number of bad things that could have happened to me are somewhat staggering. And, how beautiful were the Cliffs of Moher without any fence blocking the view, or a tumble into the sea hundreds of feet below! 

I rode a bike all over tremendous terrain today. Bikes always make me feel like I am flying, and that’s why I like them so much. Oh, and I met the most friendly and beautiful horse, too.

I’m going to get a pint and listen to trad music and insert myself into people’s lives. I swear I’ll have better posts soon.

ground gain

Posted on June 18, 2014

When I was younger, I loved reading Choose Your Own Adventure books. Control or curiosity, for better or for worse, I would always read through every possible story until I knew all the endings. I suppose one could argue that it’s a waste of time, but I often like to play out in my head the possibilities of paths not taken (I imagine most people do). For me at least, I think it helps me figure out the path that I did, in fact, take. Where would I be if I had chosen to travel abroad the hundred other times I had talked about it? How glad I am that I didn’t stay with the Italian guy in Dublin, and met a girl who could possibly be my Asian twin when I stayed with the old Irish man instead. Or for example, I keep wondering (and have often wondered before) what my life would be like if I weren’t such things as a girl, or young, or white, or American, or relatively approachable looking. Things that haven’t even been a choice, just cards. 

Butterfly Effect, Multiverse, Choose Your Own Adventure. Whatever you want to call it, I think my curiosity is in hyperdrive. 

I realize that I am far, far from the first person to think so, but Ireland is pretty magical. Today I rode around in a bus for over ten hours, and I think I could safely estimate that 80% of what I saw was tumbling hillside and organic coast. How is there still a place left in the 21st century this beautiful, this uninterrupted save for fundamentals and modesty? Will such prime wholesomeness last? And that’s to say nothing of the complete and magical affability of the people who live in it. 

Those of you who know me best will find this unsurprising, but I think I could die for the dairy here. The milk, the butter, I could stick straws in it all. I’ve had ice cream twice today. So far.

Also, in recent months I’ve discovered that I have a pretty alarmingly awesome sense of smell. And, I happen to love it. Some people travel the world in pursuit of food or vistas, but I think I could just sniff my way around the globe.

It’s fascinating to me how often the topic of God has come up in my conversations with complete strangers, without any prompting on my part, even if I am always curious. Do Americans just avoid the subject (probably), or is there a reason for it (probably)? Belief or not, cynics seem to rule the world. However, it counts for nothing against my idealism except to make me say, “How interesting!”

 

 

Things:

  • I keep being told that I don’t have a strong accent, whatever that means.
  • I keep being told that I’ve packed extremely light for a trip with no definite end.
  • I keep being asked if I am traveling solo, and when I say yes, I keep being told I am “brave.” I wonder what this means to each person who uses that word.
  • People don’t seem to know much about America. But then again, I don’t feel like I do either.
  • A fact of constant wonderment: it doesn’t get dark here until at least ten thirty at night.
  • I forgot to tell you: all the Asians working in Paris at the Asian food take out places speak perfect French.
  • I wish I was more political.
  • Cork is much better than Dublin.
  • And, my metabolism has skyrocketed. 

Okay, I know I said boys are fun, but I really did mean it about girls and conversation. I’ve been hanging with a girl, previously mentioned, and we talk and talk. We joke and laugh and give insights. It’s gahr-geous, as the Irish would say. This is what I live for. Besides, boys are terribly predictable. Most of them have little windows in their foreheads. I like that traveling gives me the excuse to be talkative, to reach out boldly for friends or company (or forces me to, really). When you’re doing something you’ve never done before, you can kind of access a part of you that you’ve never been before. 

Last night I went to a pub with fireplaces on the first floor, and a homemade cinema on the second floor. I had a stout and watched Game of Thrones and we ordered a pizza to the pub. Oh and, when I was there, a guy walked in that I had met at a pub all the way in Dublin. We had only talked for a half hour maybe, but seeing him there, both foreigners, we greeted each other like old friends. Like we belonged to something, somehow.

One of the best things about experiencing all this is that I know I’ll be able to come here and tell you about it afterwards. Doing and seeing, solely for me, that would be okay, but somewhat hollow, I think. I am spurred by the thought of knowing you’ll be there to hear about it. If experience was dough, sharing with you would be the yeast that makes it rise. You turn something simply beneficial into something really full.

little victories

Posted on June 15, 2014

  • Realizing that my backpack is a greater weight on my mind than my shoulders, and sending home even two pounds of stuff is like floating.
  • Coming to settle on the notion that I do in fact really want something, and allowing myself small detours and splurges to go ahead and buy a dang chocolate bar. And then eat it voraciously and without care on the sidewalk while people do double takes at the little American.
  • Putting one foot in front of the other no matter how many new aches I am feeling in my feet, legs, back, and heart.
  • Writing! Blog, personal journal, postcards, emails; I like it all.
  • Standing resolutely in front of the subway map for a good ten minutes until I figure out once and for all where I need to go, gosh darn it.
  • Making plans. Doing them. Making small lists and crossing things off.
  • Sitting next to a girl at the airport for a while until I finally work up the courage to smile and say hi, even though it’s somewhat past the point where it wouldn’t have been awkward when I first sat down. My stomach may feel like lead for various reasons, but I know that talking to people, anyone, is the greatest relief to my distress, and I work hard to make this happen for myself instead of waiting for it happen to me.
  • Finding time to read my bible every day.
  • Washed out photos of a stunning coast is incredibly frustrating. So, I read my camera manual after an embarrassing number of years so that I can finally learn how to take better pictures, intentionally.
  • Exchanging life lessons with strangers. Such as: debating the merits of anger (or lack thereof) with a new friend over a beer. He is skeptical of my “buddhism.” He goes away with some thoughts of peace, perhaps, and I go away happily better equipped for socializing in the broad world.
  • Realizing I might have small things to give back, instead of just being a perpetual sponge.
  • Getting teased instead of being formal and polite, making real jokes and laughing the kind of familiar laugh with someone you connect with over a couch surfing dinner. Quick flashes of that sought after I-swear-I’ve-known-you-for-longer-than-ten-minutes thing.
  • Wearing lipstick, hello.
  • Coming to understand what I want. Maybe.
  • No longer being clumsy with anxiety. Feeling like Tiffany again.

growing pains

Posted on June 15, 2014

Finally! I think I might be getting the hang of things. I might feel the most stable I have felt so far. Hallelujah. Shaking eliminated? Check. Tight pains in chest? Sporadic. General attitude? Come what may. (I’m shooting for bring it on.)

Oh, so I went to the Louvre. Guess what. I was waiting in line and a woman who was leaving held her ticket out in front of her and waved it around like a blind person until she stopped on me. Save 12 euros on admission? I’ll take it.

Museums make me tired, though. Especially the labyrinth that is the Louvre. Maybe that’s what they should rename it. And the tagline should be, Go Here To Completely Drown In Culture! I don’t know if this is true, but I heard that if you spent one minute on every piece in the Louvre, you would be there for eight years. Bah humbug. It’s so extraordinary that the Texans I was in line with thought that I meant eight days. Get outta town, Texas.

Seeing beautiful things for hours is a nice way to spend a day, perhaps. And, oddly, witnessing extraordinary amounts of painted suffering can have a humbling effect of perspective on yours truly.

My last night in Paris was spent at the mercy of my host, who made some kind of authentic food involving a dark brown, thin crispy pancake ordeal, folded with goat cheese, tomatoes and prosciutto—arugula on the side. I would say these are some of my favorite things, but you should know that I have many, many favorite things.

Anyway, I’m in a small town northeast of Dublin now, called Sutton. Ireland’s great! Much better than Paris. I will probably never know until I revisit Paris if I just don’t like it, or if it simply had the ill fortune of being my first stop. I’m willing to give credit to the latter, but I’m leaning towards the former. I’ve found that when I go to new places, oftentimes I have a pretty immediate gut reaction, like some sort of vibey first impression for locales that tends to hold true (though of course not always). Paris just didn’t jive with me all that much. I’m crazy curious to check out southern France though.

In the Dublin airport I accidentally started harassing a lady at the phone store with questions about sim cards. An Australian backpacker swooped in to try to help me, until the phone lady politely told me off. But! When I got off the bus in the center of Dublin, there was the backpacker right on the corner! So, off we went around town. We got fish burgers and sat in a lovely park for hours. The Irish say lovely a lot.

Also, Irish women have taken to starting up very amicable conversations with me, practically chatting my ear off with their cute cadence. My favorite thing so far was the chestnut that one woman’s father always told her: as long as you have a tongue in your head, you will never get lost.

I had my best day so far, yesterday. I took a hike around this one piece of land that juts out into the Irish Sea called Howth (pronounced Hoat). The town is a little fishing village, where I ate fish and chips, of course. But, there happens to be these old tram roads that they’ve converted into hiking trails, and man. I got my first taste of why I knew I wanted to come to Ireland.

It’s very beautiful here, and wild. Ireland—the coast, at least—has a certain smell to it, a mixture of sea things like fish and salt, and earth things like flowers and herbs. It is both new and somehow familiar, and very Ireland. For the first time as I scampered up and down rocks and sand and hills and stairs, I might have faintly remembered why I wanted to do this. For the first time, I was a tiny bit triumphant. Each bend brought new size to my eyeballs.

And, I jumped off a cliff into the sea.

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The sun was actually out and it was warm and I had just been thinking, dang, I’d really go swimming in the ocean right now, when I came upon a part of cliff that had a rope going all the way down the side. You have to go down backwards and do that hoppy thing down, you know. There were a bunch of high school kids down there with their bathing suits on; some jumped, some didn’t. They told me about the seals and the dolphins, and said that I should jump soon because tide was going out. They said they would take a picture of me when I jumped. They yelled things about taking it in obscene places when I did. They congratulated me after. I hauled myself back up the cliff, commando, and felt really good.

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Rose, the Australian backpacker that I met at the airport, we talked for a long time in the park about traveling and what we think about it. She said that there was a difference between being alone and being by yourself. I would say that I have to agree, and we felt similarly about how one tends to feel more alone in cities. Out on the trails I barely passed anyone, but I was content to be by myself. I mean, apart from always, always wishing you could see this too.

I think of each of you often, for different reasons. Last week when that happened, it was like getting slashed across the chest with an electric current. My thoughts of you are dear, but too painful to focus on, so I would sadly and hurriedly push them away. I don’t think of you any less often, but it’s not quite as painful now. Travelers I have met and talked to along the way tell me that I will eventually stop missing home. I don’t doubt that I will grow out of feeling ill when I (frequently) become aware that you’re not here with me too, but I’m not sure that I will ever stop wishing that you were. Traveling alone bewilders me to no end. I barely understand it.

It’s helpful for me to zoom out in my brain. I pretend that my footsteps are tiny black dots on a map. If I pan out from the present situation, such as the throngs of tourists pushing me off the sidewalk on a street that doesn’t seem to exist on paper, or trying to distinguish the various aches in my body (bruised, pulled, or just sore?), or wondering what I’ll eat for dinner and how much I’m willing to pay for it—and think instead of my small existence on the East coast of an island in the Atlantic Ocean, I can wrap my head around what I’m doing a little better. It’s kind of like making a connection between the romantic ideals of traveling and what traveling is actually like. I repeatedly tell myself, Tiffany, you’re in Paris. You’re in Ireland. You just jumped into the sea. 

Today I walked around Dublin. If you haven’t already guessed, I don’t prefer cities. But, I ate Irish stew and bought a huge Toblerone at the dollar store and had my first Guinness. Highlights included the Chester Beatty Library, which is more like a museum for manuscripts, miniature paintings, prints, drawings, and rare books, including but not limited to Egyptian papyrus texts, illuminated copies of the Qur’an, the Bible, and European medieval and renaissance manuscripts. Basically everything I’m into—religion, paper, inks, books and binding. They had a tiny piece of the oldest surviving copy of the bible, the part where Jesus is on the cross and tells his mom and his disciple to take care of each other.

And then I accidentally took the longest walk ever to a recommended pub, which I stubbornly didn’t give up on, which is good cuz the Guinness was great and the pub was actually tiny and local and there was a bunch of people sitting around playing live traditional music. I chatted with a Brazilian and Argentinian. And now I’m on a couch and writing you the longest post ever. I have a feeling that’s not going to stop anytime soon.

I’ve got a good week of countryside planned. Slainte!

rolling

Posted on June 10, 2014

Woah. Today I felt both the worst and the best since the beginning of my trip.

The first half of the day was spent at the Musee d’Orsay, looking at all the Impressionist paintings I studied in high school, like Degas and Monet and Van Gogh and Renoir and Cezanne. There they are, a mere arms length away, hanging so casually! Like they are no big deal or anything. Hmph. Although to be honest, my favorite paintings were not the famous ones. Who decides which ones get all the acclaim, anyway?

I have two questions. First, does anyone still paint like the paintings I saw today? Grey beards so wiry and black eyes so shiny you have to lean in close to make sure it’s not a photograph. Or frames the size of a side of a house, crammed with arms and faces so dense and so real I just really can’t imagine it taking shorter than twenty years to finish. I hope that this kind of talent, passion, and patience are not lost forever. Second, did people really lay around without clothes all the time? For as frequently as there are naked people lounging in pools, parks, forests, mountains, rivers, etc., you get the idea that there were just piles of clothes laying around everywhere. Gee wiz.

I have a pretty bad habit of not eating as often as I should. I’ve really got to stop. But I’ve always been kind of lazy about my intake if there isn’t much of a real incentive for doing so. Like being free. Or being cereal. Don’t get me wrong, I adore food, but I will only invest in it and cherish it when I’m doing so with someone else. (Are you seeing a trend here?) Again, unless it’s cereal. And the milk in the refrigerators of my hosts is dubious, at best.

So, I let myself get reeeeeally hungry at the museum, because I was busy trying to figure out why everyone was naked, and then when I went to the cafe to get food, I was dismayed to find that the line would take about forty five minutes. Hungry Tiffany is never, ever a good thing.

Perhaps my blood sugar had plummeted, or perhaps day six was getting to me, but I didn’t stay too much longer after that. In alarmingly low spirits, let me assure you, I wandered to the Seine and sat down for a while. I was just kind of staring at it, depressed and thinking terrible thoughts, trying not to look at all the other people who were grouped happily together (lame, I know, but what can you do?), when a friendly, clear-eyed guy in workout clothes asked me in the worst French accent I’ve ever heard if I knew where the nearest bike station was. I just gave him a look and told him to speak in English. He said, “That bad, huh?” And when I whipped out my indispensable Paris book, maps all inclusive (thanks, Erin!), he recognized it as a Moleskin and there it went, two American English majors, out to conquer Paris. Or, at least wander around.

He was like a little puppy, literally greeting every single person we passed on the sidewalk, and not being able to enter a business without leaving it in hilarious multi-lingual uproars. Honestly, I liked hanging out with him just to see what he would do next. I kept telling myself to take a lesson from this guy. I think I might.

This is the second person I’ve met and talked to while in Paris that I’ve had conversations with at length, and both have evolved into very personal, meaningful discussions. The first was with a German guy at the party the other night. He was the only other non-French like me, and we both somewhat stink at the language, so we found common ground in English and spoke about our goals in life, philosophy, biking, traveling to outer space, computers you can control with your mind, and if there is a God (he says no, I say yes). It was lovely and made my whole day.

It was similar with Matthew tonight. He was being pretty goofy at first, staying lighthearted and kind of macho. But by the time we were halfway done with a beer, we were both exclaiming about how traveling is not what we expected, and being alone can really, really suck. (He is from Oregon, studies in Manhattan, and started backpacking solo two weeks ago.) He shared some crazy stories with me.

We parted ways and voila. I feel better than I have all week. I think slowly, so excruciatingly slowly, I might be wrapping my head around this whole thing.

One of many lessons learned: I have to start talking to people, no matter how much I feel like staying quiet. These are the best times, the only times I do not have a tight pain in my chest. But I mean really talking to people, not just the many, so where ya from? ones. I’m glad that these are happening. I was wondering if they would.

Can I tell you another thing? You have absolutely no idea how much your messages, large and small, mean to me. Thank you, thank you for being in touch with me, and for loving me like you do, in your own way.

phase 2 lockdown

Posted on June 10, 2014

Two things I know for sure: I am flying to Ireland in two days, and I will be hanging out at a summer house on the Black Sea on the coast of Bulgaria in July.

Not bad, eh?

These past two days I have taken it a little bit easier. Mostly I’ve been looking things up online to decide what the heck I would like to do next. Ireland, apparently. It will be my first experience with the ultra-budget, mucho infamous airline, Ryanair, where you can find flights within Europe anywhere from one dollar to fifty, or perhaps a little more, at the risk of getting slapped with tons of fees if you mess anything up. Fingers crossed.

I’ll probably couch surf for a little bit in Dublin when I first get there, and then take busses around the countryside and stay in hostels. I’m looking forward to not being in a city. It’s very convenient but I’m craving grass and trees and dirt. And, honestly, being able to understand the language better. My brain sort of feels like it’s on fire.

Last night my hosts had a party in their flat. I love the two boys I am staying with, they remind me of my brother or my goofy friends in Rochester. Their flat is messy and adorable and they said I could stay as long as I want. I have my own room. A whole bunch of people came over last night and literally sat around smoking, drinking wine, and eating bread. For a while I just sat there and ogled them as they lightning-spoke and joked. I could maybe understand one word out of twenty. Funny though, Charles said that if I stayed in France even one month, he thinks my French would be perfect. Parfait.

They’re all very cool, though. This particular group of friends reminds me a little of my friends, like if I lived here I could be in this group. They bike a lot and are all working to be professors. I fell asleep to them playing guitar and crooning Dolly Parton at two in the morning, not terribly unlike what happens at the end of our parties.

Oh, and, the girls really do kiss you on both cheeks. Slowly. Like, instead of a handshake. Before you’ve even stuttered your name. Nah, I can’t tell how I feel about that.

Perhaps the most unexpected downside to traveling alone, at least for me, is that I can never defer any decision-making to anyone else. If you pay close attention when you spend time with me, you will notice that I am excellent at making suggestions, managing logistical issues around given variables, even assisting others in finding out what it is they want. But it is much less common for me to be the one that feels any conviction over a particular activity or place or pastime. In fact, if you ask me to choose a record to listen to for the evening, you will see my eyes get wide and a slight shudder pass through my body and I will say, oh, you’re much better at choosing music. Partly this is because I deeply enjoy seeing other people happy, and partly because I take decision-making very seriously. It’s an over-the-top effort, even picking a burger off a menu, so, obviously, it is easier not to, especially when combined with seeing someone else gratified.

However, usually when I do decide on something, I decide on it with everything I can muster.

Priority list:

  1. Where do I want to go/sleep/eat next week?
  2. What do I want out of this trip?
  3. What do I want out of my life?
  4. What do I think about God and where does this fit in?

I think I’m coming to realize that I am much better when I am doing something. If I sit around for too long I start freaking out. I have to find some sort of balance between planning time and doing time. Whenever I am doing one, I feel pressure to do the other. I took a walk today around this suburban town that I’m in now to clear my head.

So, my mom is good friends with this younger woman from Bulgaria who went to Syracuse University. She’ll be back in her hometown between July and August, and she said she would love to have me on the Black Sea, and take me to the mountains and her grandparents’ house. I think this sounds incredibly lovely and it is perhaps the thing I am most looking forward to yet. Snejana is an absolute peach.

Though, this means I have about a month to get from Ireland to Bulgaria. Totally doable of course, but I’ll be covering a lot of ground in a short amount of time. I don’t feel too bad about it though, becase being in motion has always been good to me. I’m thinking Prague, Budapest, and Bucharest. After Bulgaria, Greece, then Italy. Then maybe I’ll meet up with my friend Sean in Croatia, or maybe my friend Dan in Turkey. Or who knows. Certainly not me.

Wish me luck.

high dive

Posted on June 7, 2014

Well, it’s been an almighty walkathon these past two days. I would be curious to do the math and see how many miles I’ve walked total. I believe my calves would say infinity. In part, I like going slow, but the other half is that I’ve acquired a pretty seriously resolute determination to spend as little money as possible. But then again, I’ve always had a hard time justifying money in my own name. 

However, I did eat three very grand things today: a smoked salmon sandwich with dill spread, a cafe au lait, and a freshly pureed juice of oranges, strawberries, raspberries, and cherries. Yikes. 

As promised, I went to Versailles yesterday with my new friends from the hostel. They insisted on giving me a nickname (Tiffy), didn’t know what I meant by “hoppy” beer, and schooled me on American sitcoms. Versailles is pretty crazy. Very big. And shiny for that matter. It was almost to the point of being uncomfortably hot, but nonetheless, the boys kept spirits by doing jumping pictures, photo bombing other people’s shots, and beat boxing on the metro. No offense ladies, but while I love your company for meaningful conversation, boys have being fun down to a science. What girl would instigate a game of “One Word” from Whose Line Is It Anyway when you’re exhausted and sticky from a long day?

I met up with my couch surfing host last night, and she took me to her favorite bar, which I would have never gone to because it was down a long, scary looking alley. But it was small and the walls were orange and covered in posters and they played Beatles vinyl. I have been determined to have a glass of wine, and I did just that. Turns out it’s very strong. Thick and punchy, if you will. Like drinking a black eye. In a good way, though. 

And, voila, today I saw the Eiffel Tower (finally) and sat in the grass for a while. Walked all the way to the “City Island,” managed to accidentally walk off the island and wonder why I wasn’t getting to the other side, and then walk back on in order to see Saint Chapelle, the market of flowers, and Notre Dame. It’s cool though cuz the neighborhood I got lost in was maybe my favorite so far. And that’s where I got juice! 

I keep thinking about my French teacher. I think she would be very happy to know that I was here, and that I am somewhat successfully using what she so thoroughly taught me. Sometimes when I use French words that I haven’t used in conversation a lot, like when I have to tell the subway attendant that she still has my pen (stylo), and may I please have it back? it almost comes as a pleasant surprise that it works. That she knew what I meant by stylo. Hey, this stuff is good for real life! Crazy. 

Can I tell you something though, dear beloved ones? The unfortunate lesson that I am having to learn is that this isn’t so easy for me as I thought. Traveling and doing and getting around and seeing is all well and good. I am fortunate enough to have an abnormally level head, so I think there is little as far as daily life goes that I wouldn’t be able to figure out eventually, you know? Travel (so far) is easy. But it’s always the best questions that are the hardest to answer. Such as, what the heck, Tiffany, are you doing here? And why the heck, if you please, are you alone? 

I miss you more than I thought I would. Not that you’re not deserving to be so missed, but because I am not used to the back of my face being an unmitigated wellspring. I usually have my proverbial shit together a bit better. I think it’s okay though; I am trying to remember that this was the whole point.

Imagine, if you will, as though people all start their lives on top of a big mountain, and happiness or purpose or meaning, etc. was at the bottom. Most people, if I could judge such a thing, take years, if not their whole life, figuring out the answer to what the heckThey move down the mountain slowly, methodically, pausing to go to school or get married or have babies. Maybe one of those things is the bottom for them. Some people don’t move around the mountain at all. Me? I feel as though I have, for some reason vaguely beyond me, hurtled myself off the mountain. I seem determined to get to the bottom of it (ha! that worked better than I was intending) and find out just what exactly is down there, gosh darn it. 

Well that’s cool. I’m sure once I’m down there I will feel terrifically grateful and perhaps I will even be able to see the mountain for what it is and say, oh! That’s what that’s all about. But for now, on day three, dear beloved ones, I’m pretty damn lonely and stupendously lost. 

But that is, I suppose, the point after all. I guess I just wasn’t expecting it to feel like free falling. In the meantime, send me some love? 

Pictures soon.

debut

Posted on June 5, 2014

I made it to Paris with little incident, though my sleeve has a lot more snot on it than I would care to admit. I am currently sitting in the colorful lobby of my hostel (Le Montclair Hostel, if you’re curious), which has very American radio playing and chalkboard walls. My feet hurt, in a good way. I marched up and down the cobblestoned streets of Montmartre today, saw Sacre Coeur and the Moulin Rouge (the former full of breathtaking hymn-singing, the latter being completely anticlimactic and somewhat lame). At the highest point in the city, I searched the skyline for the Tower, but to no avail.

687

I feel pleased that so many people approached me with questions that they didn’t hesitate to pose in French, assumably because I look… awesome? No, I’m not interested in your tour package, and no, I don’t know where the Post is. But I will undoubtedly give you a winning smile, and if you’re really nice, I might even just be friends with you. Imagine that. Lucky you. (Please let’s be friends?)

My French comes and goes. I stutter trying to tell a baby punk that I don’t have a cigarette, but I slide into transactions with the cashier at the grocery store like soap on skin. I can get the gist of, if not understand, most things. I imagine that I am taking for granted being able to grasp the language of a foreign country, which I am sure I will promptly snap out of in, say, Italy.

So far, this feels very, um. Normal? Regular? Now that I’m here, across an ocean, in another country, on another continent, it doesn’t feel like such a big deal. Like the hugest hurdle was getting on the plane. After that it’s been cake. Dare I even say boring? No, I wouldn’t go that far, but, I’m trying to decide if it’s just jet lag that’s keeping me from moonwalking, or if it’s something else. Like the fact that Paris (so far) is incredibly similar to New York City except the people dress better, smoke more, and talk in beautiful noises. At almost every other point in my life when I am somewhere foreign, I find great joy in being alone and deep awe in witnessing a new place gurgle in front of me, but I don’t feel either of those things now, really. I have greatly anticipated the novelty of traveling to wear off at some point, which is why I have made a point of being as open as my little brain is able to any and all experiences, opportunities, work, and challenges. I just didn’t expect that to be the case on day one. BUT. I’m perfectly willing to concede that perhaps it’s just because I had a Nutella crepe for dinner. (Or, more realistically, that I think cities are second best and gee wiz, I miss you.)

Thing I like the most so far: Kids. Speaking. French. It’s paralyzingly cute.

Thing I like the least so far: Being alone. I require a pretty significant amount of alone time in order to be a decent human, but right after I’ve gotten too much of it, weird things start happening. I’m looking forward to the point when I learn why traveling solo is such a good idea. In the meantime, I think I’m going to Versailles tomorrow with my four mechanical engineer student roommates, and then I’ve got a date to stay with a writer/teacher named Fanny – go figure – over the weekend. Sweet.

I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to ditch this Tourist Only title pretty quick. Lack of occupation doesn’t suit me.

And just so you know, I intentionally overpacked. Really. I’ll be home with the biggest legs you thought you could see on a chicken. In other news, heads up for a Tiffany Stuff care package, America.

I’m gonna go watch a movie and eat prunes. My room smells like summer camp.

I love you, I really do. Thanks for everything so far. Here we go.