Getting where?

Menu Close

Category: Solo (page 1 of 2)

The fine art of dating yourself

Last weekend was full-on in a way that can only mean August in Edinburgh is here and it’s therefore difficult to say no to events and shows and friends and the pub and all manner of great things which, when layered deep over three straight days, take the life out of you and mean you will be in recovery all week.

So this weekend I have spent largely alone, save for a few digital chats and the necessary social interactions required to buy things and exist in the world outside my flat. I’ve not had a proper, in-person conversation with a human being since Friday. Despite my previous post, this is perfectly fine.

I made a lame effort to include people in my cinema trip yesterday but no one was available, so it turned into the most wonderful and luxuriously indulgent of one of my favourite activities: going to the movies alone.

I took myself on a date and it was fucking glorious.

I didn’t limit this date to a film. Hell no. I know how to treat myself sometimes. I have plenty of that sort of energy to focus, and when you remove everyone else there is to try to take care of, you’re left with you, after all.

I eschewed the bus and took a long walk to the other side of town to listen to some podcasts. I sat in the Filmhouse Café Bar with a large glass of wine and a book for an hour and a half. Then I podcasted it up again on the walk home, bought a bad supermarket oven pizza (confirming once again my belief that chicken on pizza is and always will be wrong, just don’t keep trying it, Kate) drank more wine and watched the first episode of The Get Down on Netflix, which was hopeful and electrifying in the way only something about music can be.

But this did all orbit around my own plan to see Maggie’s Plan. It’s been two months since I’ve been to the cinema, and even longer since I’ve been alone, and that’s too long. Because here’s the wonderful thing about going to see a movie by yourself: there are absolutely no distractions or demands on your time or emotions except the thing in front of you. You turn off your phone, you sit in the dark, and you are captive. You can work through your own shit in your head in relation to what’s on the screen in front of you. You don’t have to share your snacks or the booze you snuck in. You can stay as long as you want through the credits or not at all. And you don’t have to talk about any of it right away.

I love going to the movies with friends as well, but it takes me a long time to process things I’ve just seen, and I find it difficult and intimidating to have a meaningful conversation about a movie that just ended 5 minutes ago. I am also remarkably oblivious to symbolism and subtext to an almost embarrassing degree for someone who made it her undergraduate business to read and respond to literature. In post-film-watching discussion, someone will casually refer to a detail of a plotline and I’ll be embarrassed for myself for not having noticed such a glaringly obvious feature of the story without a few hours of reflection.

I am a bad critic and I am less observant than people give me credit for. Perhaps this is related to my inability to recognize people in the street. But it makes the dissection of something I’ve just watched, film or theatre, into an anxiety-inducing prospect. So August in Edinburgh is, for me, simultaneously wonderful and internally terrifying. I usually just feel like an idiot who walked into the wrong classroom. Thank god there’s beer in just about every one.

I read a review for Maggie’s Plan a few weeks ago in The Skinny and it sounded like it fit nicely into the broader subjects dominating my life at the moment, so I needed to see it. It wasn’t a great film, but it wasn’t bad. It was predictable but some of the writing was so perfect it made up for its larger flaws. Julianne Moore’s character was such a badass. I love Greta Gerwig since seeing Frances Ha (and I wanted all her shoes in this film). And it’s impossible to dislike Maya Rudolph and Bill Hader. So in general, it was an appreciated and much-needed diversion.

I forget the specific phrasing, but there’s a bit where Maggie is talking to John about always talking his ex wife down from her meltdowns, and says, you’ve got me to talk you down from yours, but what about when I meltdown? And he says don’t worry, obviously you’ll talk yourself down. So she says something like, ‘So just because everyone thinks I have it all together, I don’t deserve any attention?!’ And it was like someone ripped the dialogue from my deepest-seeded insecurities.

realpersonI liked Frances Ha because of the illustration of how it feels to be completely scattered among people who seem to have it together in ways you feel you never will, and maybe don’t even need to (and also: ‘Unnnnn-datable’). But aside from a few tiny details, I’m nothing like Frances. I’m much, much more like control-freak Maggie. With the undying compulsion to take care of everyone and impose a ‘things organized neatly’ frame on everything I touch, often to the detriment of my personal sanity. I enjoy it, but it would be the death of me if I didn’t work on reining it in all the time.

Maggie later says, tearful and breaking-point overwhelmed from failing to fix everything just-so, and in a more funny than depressing way, ‘I’m just so tired of being… ME.’ To which, my inner dialogue said, ‘Oh, I FEEL YOU, SISTER.’ This is some exhausting shit and it is no one’s fault but my own.

Sometimes you need this sort of comedy to laugh at how ridiculous you know you are.

The Atomic Hypothesis

Because I am a weirdo and I have a compulsion to keep my gmail inbox down to a tightly-curated one-page group of things that constitutes an extended and occasionally aspirational to-do-list-slash-personal-guilt-trip, I have, since September of 2012, kept this – one of my favourite quotes – as the standing last message in my box.

If, in some cataclysm*, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generation of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis that all things are made of atoms — little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied.

– Richard Feynman

I emailed it to myself back then as a bookend, both for a period of my life and a little reminder I could conveniently run into every time I did a filing job on my digital everything. It’s positive and beautiful and embodies everything I love about Feynman and creativity and science and life. Of course it takes on a different meaning every time I read it.

I ran into it again last night. This time it socked me in the gut.

As a long-single, unapologetically feminist, bossy, independent woman of the world, people don’t really expect you to announce publicly that this also often equates to a lot of loneliness.

I’m quite happy with my ability to be on my own and do whatever the fuck I want, whenever I want, and make questionable financial and adventure and position-of-bedtime decisions along the way. However, I am a grown-ass woman among a sea of very good friends in committed, supportive relationships. I am overjoyed for them, because it makes me happy to see people I love happy and lucky in love. But it’s an immensely frustrating spot to be in, particularly when many of them have not been in that spot for a very, very long time, and certainly not At This Age.

This has come to the surface increasingly often lately, perhaps bizarrely because I’m living my life more the way I want to than I ever have before, which is rewardingly difficult but also makes it into something I want to share even more.

At the end of the day, I have a pen and a keyboard to talk to about the problems that come with steering your life where you want it rather than an intelligent, engaged human being. The longer this goes on, the more I fear I’m losing the ability to communicate properly with that human being who will hopefully be there at some point in the future. Sort of in the way that living on my own for 5 years has already made me much worse at being a flatmate.

A page does not have useful, informed opinions to engage with. And I can apply as much imagination and thinking and editing and consideration to written words. Not so much to realtime human interaction.

I am smart enough to know that having a partner does not solve your problems. I also have lots of very good friends (single AND partnered) who help me pick apart my often over-anxious, too-hard-on-myself brain addled with modern life problems. But the best of friends is still not the same as a partner in plenty of significant ways.

I’m not saying this to whine about being single. I’m saying this because it’s not often addressed and that makes it feel whiney to admit in real life, and that seems unfair.

To the extent that it’s a problem at all, singledom is not a problem you can solve like most others, so it’s easy to get moody when you can’t seem to work that shit out. Especially when you’re able to work out most of your other worldly problems by applying the aforementioned imagination and thinking.

All the creativity and logic in the world cannot bring you the serendipity of being in the right place at the right time, both mentally and physically, to meet someone you click with who, quite importantly, is ALSO in that right place.

I read a lot of books and listen to a lot of smart people’s takes on this. Comfortingly, the general consensus is that finding a partner these days is REALLY FUCKING HARD WORK. Like harder than ever before. Thank you, internet. Thank you, phone life. Thank you, paralysingly endless choice. Thank you, increasingly disconnected human beings. This also makes the work of a relationship itself harder, and I fully acknowledge that. But at least if you’re in one you’re over that one massive hurdle.

And yes I have tried online dating and it is not something I look down on, but it has done nothing but make me feel like a horrible, undesirable commodity. (If you want to understand a little bit about that, listen to this episode of The Allusionist. Being yourself in the world of online dating gets you absolutely nowhere. Which funnily enough, we know because of science!)

Self-care and common sense dictates that I avoid things that make me feel like garbage, so I’m chugging along the old fashioned way, trying to live my life and let it happen.

My friends go home to their partners. I go home alone. Occasionally this doesn’t matter. Occasionally it’s even awesome. Most of the time though, it’s a sharp reminder at the end of the night. When I subsequently also have to remind myself I am in perpetual motion just like everyone else, and tomorrow will be different. And the next day. And the next day.

 

*Let us, for a moment, step aside and acknowledge what a fucking stellar word ‘cataclysm’ is. This at LEAST 10% of the reason I love this quote.

When does solo equal stupid?

In my neverending consumption of solo-travel-related media, last weekend while trawling Netflix for something to occupy me, I stumbled on Maidentrip, about Laura Dekker‘s solo sailing trip around the world. She was 14 when she started and 16 when she finished, and now holds the record for youngest person to sail around the world alone. Before she left, she had to endure a 10 month court battle with the Dutch government, who were trying to decide if it was necessary to remove her from her father and not allow her to make the trip.

After some Googling, I found a few things that said Laura wasn’t a great fan of the way the movie portrays her trip (or at least, she initially wasn’t), and although I do think the film is actually pretty good, I can understand why she’d feel that way even without knowing exactly what happened. She was clearly irritated at the presence of the media whenever they popped up as she just wanted to get on with it. Even without the high profile court case to begin with, I’m sure the attention would have been unwelcome.

There’s a scene in the film where she’s being interviewed by a journalist that I think was meant to be sort of following the trip, and Laura spends most of it trying to get the journalist to stop asking questions she doesn’t like. And to be fair, the questions ARE ridiculous. Also, she’s 15 at that point – at that age, if I’d spent most of the last year on my own running my own life and a whole boat as I pleased, I’d be pretty peeved at the stuff that woman was asking as well.

In any case, it’s pretty clear that the trip wasn’t so much about the world record for her, but more about seeing if she could do it. I get that. But a lot of people still believe it’s stupid to let a 14 year old attempt to sail around the world on her own. You have to wonder what being completely by yourself in the middle of the ocean can do to your mind when you don’t have the experience of time and age. I mean, in one way, 14-16 is THE BEST time for a teenage girl to be hanging out on her own piloting a boat, because I know I was quite happy to tell the world to piss off most of the time at that point in my life. And what a treat to focus on sailing and what’s going on inside your own head instead of the horrors of growing up in the age of Facebook and crappy mass-media. But then you also miss the part where you learn to deal with the fact that the world is still there even when you’d LIKE for it to fuck right off. And that is a necessary life skill.

I don’t think most 14-year-olds are at a stage where they’re ready to take their life in their own hands like that. But I do think that after 10 months of battling the state, it’s pretty apparent that it wasn’t some fleeting thought Laura Dekker had, to sail around the world. She had a ton of experience and more or less grew up on the water. And her father obviously cares a lot about her and knows his shit when it comes to boats, so there’s no way a parent would give their kid the go-ahead to do such a trip if they didn’t have complete faith in the kid’s capability. Sure, she didn’t know much in terms of Life In The World, but then plenty of adults are complete morons regardless of the fact they’ve had more time on the planet, so, case-by-case basis, I say.

Last weekend just before watching Maidentrip I also finished Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer’s book about Chris McCandless‘s ill-fated attempt to live off the land in Alaska, and how he got to that point. I was talking about the intersection of these two of these things to my friend Chris in the pub the other night because we’ve talked about this book before and I know he thinks that this motivation to go off and do extreme things on one’s own is a mostly male phenomenon. I still think that opinion comes from the fact that women are stopped more often than men from any personal quests that don’t sit well with society’s perception of what normal human beings SHOULD do, and that when they aren’t stopped, you don’t often hear about them.

It doesn’t mean he’s wrong though. Societal conditioning or whatever it is, it may still be a fact. I don’t think women lack the same motivation, I think men just have a lot more to spur them on. And some kind of ideal masculine mythology to aspire to – which may also cause an extra blind sort of stupidity in itself. On top of all that, I think McCandless had a borderline dangerous idealistic view of his own life fueled in part by the kind of impressionable undergraduate experience of Reading Lots Of Things And Fiercely Believing Them that I am incredibly familiar with.

Anyway, Chris thinks it’s stupid to have let Laura Dekker go sail around the world alone. Partially because she’s young and you know nothing about anything when you’re young. Which, true, particularly the fact that you don’t even know how you YOURSELF work in relation to the world. So fair enough. I just don’t know if that’s a good enough reason for it to be stupid.

Then he said, ‘What if she had died?’ Well. Chris McCandless died and he was nearly a decade older. A lot of people think he was an idiot for doing what he did. It seems to me he was pretty aware of what he was getting himself into. Overconfident and overoptimistic, possibly, but also mostly just unlucky. And anyone can be unlucky in any situation. I nearly got rammed by an asshole in a car when I was on my bike in a roundabout the other day. I could have died and I was just going about my normal life.

Chris McCandless died doing something he felt some unstoppable need to do. He wasn’t NOT going to do it. Laura Dekker was also not going to be stopped. If the state had managed to stop her at 14 she’d have just waited til she was legally an adult and done it anyway. And what if she did die? Well. It would really suck, but also, she’d have been doing what she wanted. Maybe that’s stupid. Maybe it’s not. If it is, it may only be so because of the pain it causes other people rather than how it affects the person doing the doing.

Not letting someone stop you doing something a bit out of the ordinary is a brand of determination that not many people have the guts to carry off. That alone can’t get you through the perils of a solo sailing trip around the world, but I don’t think you could begin to even consider such an undertaking without it.

I have some gumption but I can’t claim to have the kind of hard edge McCandless had and Dekker has. In Into the Wild, there’s a whole section where Jon Krakauer relates his own story of climbing a mountain on his own when he nearly died about 3 separate times. He kept going back at it every single time. And I think THAT’S pretty stupid.

That is about ten levels up from the kind of determination I posses. I mean, the term ‘risk assessment’ is pretty much a joke to me due to my current corporate employers, but there comes a point when you have to read the situation for what it really is. Krakauer himself admits that it was relatively ridiculous, even if only for the fact that conquering that mountain without dying did not change his life in the way he imagined it would as a younger man. No one really cared in the way he hoped they would. No one ever really does in these situations. They only care enough to rip you apart if you happen to fail.

The only reason we’re even talking about Chris McCandless is because he died. Laura Dekker did not die, and I bet she wishes we weren’t talking about her.

Maybe some of the ten levels up determination comes from preferring death to being pilloried, but there’s two different solo motivations at work here, and I think they often work in tandem even if you bring only one of them to the fore. There’s proving it to yourself and proving it to the world.  If proving it to the world is something you’re concerned about, it doesn’t typically end well. But even proving something to yourself isn’t always the life balm you think it’s going to be. And both are selfish. It’s good to be a little selfish sometimes. It’s also sometimes a little stupid.

I’m not doing anything I think is all that crazy, and the reason I’m traveling alone is because the lack of a companion isn’t something I’ll let stop me doing and seeing what I want. For Laura Dekker, being alone was most of the point. But there is something in the root of her attitude that I hope is related to the root of mine: the scrappy, fuck-it-I’ll-do-what-I-want foundation. And as stupid as I think Krakauer was for throwing himself back at that mountain multiple times, that foundation is there too, and I get it. I’m astonished it can go that far, but I do get it.

I think what Laura Dekker did is awesome. Not because of a record or her age, but because it was fucking hard and it would have been so easy to give up. At any point. And she didn’t. And then she reached her goal and STILL didn’t stop. She was lucky a few times when she could have been unlucky, but luck or lack of luck isn’t what drives that kind of experience, it just happens to have terminal possibilities. There are a few people that can stare that down. There are more people who can admire them for it, on at least some level. Then there’s everyone else.

My favourite bit of Maidentrip is what is presumably Christmas day, or close to it, when Laura is at sea in tropical weather blasting a punk cover of a Christmas song and dancing all over the deck of the boat in a Santa hat. People always seem to be so concerned about me (or anyone) spending Christmas alone in a far away place. But it’s just a day. And in that moment, she is loving it.

Laura Dekker on Guppy

Laura Dekker on Guppy

Wild

I went back and forth on whether I should watch Wild on a plane at all. I was tired and kind of broody and very much looking forward to home. I pretty much knew it was going to make me emotional, and I didn’t know if I was prepared to be emotional in a very full A380.

But I really wanted to see it, so I charged on. I nearly passed out when she ripped her toenail off in the first scene, and I’m pretty sure I got a little verklempt about 5 minutes later and teetered there for the rest of the film.

It’s been at least 2 years since I read the book. My sister gave it to me after she’d read it with a glowing recommendation, but I already knew about it after having stumbled across Cheryl Strayed’s formerly anonymous advice column Dear Sugar in a period of pretty severe personal angst and depression.

So I already wanted to read it. I wanted to love it despite always feeling slightly ill-at-ease with Strayed’s advice writing style. It’s bare and clear and at sometimes beautiful. It’s also at times almost TOO eloquent, perfectly-formed, and inspirational for my style – which I might label eternal optimism perpetually tinged with realistic-yet-humourous bile – but it’s often very good advice nonetheless.

Her writing style persisted in Wild, and while I did enjoy it and was immensely appreciative of the story she was telling, I still felt a little off about it. I’ve been trying to figure out why this is for a long time, and I think part of it has something to do with the fact that she had so many tangible, terrible things to run away from or deal with and I just… don’t. My parents are still together and my family has all sorts of normal problems and drama, but nothing on the horrendous end of the scale. I was not abused or neglected by anyone. The hardest drug I’ve done is pot, which I don’t even like, and I feel a bit naughty when I have my one cigarette a year. I’m sure I could go into other horrible things I have not experienced, but suffice to say I’m lucky and privileged and relatively well-adjusted. And I am  very much aware of this.

This doesn’t make my problems less problematic by any means – everyone’s got valid issues in the context of their life. It also doesn’t make me less likely to want to get away from things. Because clearly I’ve gone right the hell away from where I came from, and I know for me it was an excellent decision, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to tell you why. And I know I want to leave everything behind again, just for a few months, but I’m not running from anything. I’m probably looking for something. As was Cheryl Strayed. As are most people who read and think too much.

The other part of my unease may lie somewhere in Strayed’s ability to make everything sound so well-considered. Almost as though it was all just waiting to be a lesson. This sounds a lot harsher than I mean it to be, because she’s a really good writer and deserves that acclaim. But occasionally I just feel like everything there has the polish of hindsight, and I need things a little rougher around the edges when it comes to reflection.

Anyway, I always feel like I should have liked the book more than I did. I certainly love the intent behind it and I don’t need a matching motivation to understand a shared outcome. But I think I liked the movie more than the book because the story was filtered through screenwriting and cinematography and music that I never felt were too… whatever it is that rubs me the wrong way about the writing sometimes. Of course the darker elements of her story are still there, but the focus is much more on the trip, both for its own struggles and as a vehicle for working shit out. And it’s so nicely done.

There’s a lot there that you don’t see on film enough, like some of the challenges of being a woman on a solo trip of any kind – particularly in the way that most people are NOT a threat, but you sometimes have to interact with them as though they are to protect yourself (which I realise men have to do too, just in very different ways, and not as often). The various states of being alone are captured in such honest and intimate ways; Sometimes you’re scared shitless and you just have to ride it out. Sometimes you figure stuff out on your own and it doesn’t matter that no one’s around to congratulate you – hell, in some cases, it’s better. Sometimes you feel completely ridiculous. Sometimes you ARE completely ridiculous.

It may be this film’s fault that I got no sleep on the flight because it set my brain into overdrive thinking about travel and home and what I want to do and why stuff is the way it is. But I will forgive it. It’s pretty great, as is Reese Witherspoon. And her massive backpack (another in-built lesson to us all, perhaps).

And if that weren’t enough, it ends with this absolutely brilliant First Aid Kit cover of Walk Unafraid, which is one of those film closing music choices that is so spot-on you almost feel things have gone the other way and the movie was written to lead into the song.

 

PS I also have to point out that Art Alexakis pops up for all of 3 minutes in this movie, which mostly no one else will care about but was HIGHLY unexpected and incredibly amusing to a former completely devoted Everclear fan. I nearly audibly said ‘NO WAY!’ and threw my airline dinner bread roll at the screen.

PPS If you liked Wild, here’s my review of Tracks, which I truly, truly love, writing and all. The film is good. The book is stellar.

On your own

I was talking recently to someone I work with about the Trans-Siberian and how it’s the seed my solo trip is growing out of.

He said, ‘I have a friend who did it once but I don’t see the point.’

To which I asked, ‘of doing the Trans-Siberian or doing it on your own?’

And he said, ‘both.’

Then I tried to explain myself, but I’m not sure it made much difference.

I totally get that sitting on a train staring at a frozen landscape for the better part of a week is not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. I like trains. But what’s more I like seeing the planet, because it’s pretty amazing. I’ll be more than entertained watching the Siberian wilderness chug by because who gets to do that every day?

Plus, being confined to a space where I can do little more than read, write, eat, and talk to people is like a creative mission. It’s like life editing – putting constraints on a situation forces you to get much better things out the other end. And with what I imagine will be zero mobile or data reception plus low hope of recharging any kind of electrical devices, I’ll be left to what I’ve got in my head and on paper. Which is precisely what I want.

So, not for everyone, but that’s the appeal to me.

As for the doing it on my own bit – that’s trickier. Ten years ago when I was like ‘YES, this Trans-Siberian Railway? THIS I MUST DO.’ I wasn’t thinking, ‘This I must do. ALONE.’ No. Never. In fact, nearly none of the traveling I want to do is conceived as something I want to do by myself. It’s more a matter of I don’t have much choice.

Everyone’s got partners and babies and careers and commitments and other priorities, especially the older I get. It’s ridiculous to expect anyone else to drop their life in favour of accompanying me on a trip of my own mad design. If I had some fantastic boyfriend who magically had the same travel wishlist as I did (applications open, *ahem*) or a friend whose holiday allowances and budget and circumstances aligned perfectly with my own, hell yes I’d be going on this trip WITH THEM. But these things are a tall order.

I could wait another ten years to find a plus one, or I can just get on with it.

When I got home the night of this particular conversation, as if the universe knew I needed more writing fodder, a link to this article popped up in my Facebook feed: IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Traveled The World Alone And It Sucked

I think it’s totally important to have this point of view available online, that you can go do something like take a massive trip alone and decide you kind of hate it and that’s absolutely fine. You don’t have to love everything you try, and a solo trip around the world is difficult stuff. But she put all this crazy pressure on herself and her trip. I’m going to be brave because I feel like I HAVE to. I’m going to find my own artsy subculture clique and become the next Kerouac (which, ugh, why does everyone want to be THAT ASSHAT, but whatever).

No one lives in a novel or a movie. Meeting people takes time. Coming out of your shell takes adjustment and work. More of this for some than others, but it doesn’t just HAPPEN. I don’t remember being particularly scared before I went backpacking when I was 20. I think knowing less about the world meant I didn’t think about all the crap I think about now. But it was hard and lonely at some points, and I didn’t really hit my stride with the being alone and figuring out how to talk to other people thing until about 2 weeks in when my trip was nearly over. I had a lot of nights in, reading alone in bed or in the hostel bar.

But I also didn’t have the expectation that I was going to waltz into Europe and make all the friends and have all the stories to tell. If you’re not doing that shit in your normal life, like hell you’re going to suddenly do it in multiple foreign environments where you have to spend a lot of energy on basic things you barely give a second thought to at home.

So. Less pressure on yourself helps. And perhaps being good at being alone to begin with before you go do it in the big bad world.

This trip is going to be a lot like the rest of my life, just condensed and sometimes slightly more confusing. It takes me a pretty long time to adjust to new situations. But in the confines of an existence focused on travel, that timeline will shrink a little. I will force myself to make awkward and uncomfortable steps a little earlier than I normally would because what the hell else are you gonna do when you’re sitting in a train compartment across from a Russian lady who’s gonna be your roomie for the next 2 nights?

I’ll get used to it. Sometimes I’ll be restless with loneliness and that will suck just as much as when it happens at home. Other times I’ll meet some awesome new person who is bizarrely easy to talk to and it will rock just as much as when it happens at home.

It’s not for everyone. But maybe you can see the point.

Paris, part two (I am so very full)

A bit of our dinner at Le Dauphin.

A bit of our dinner at Le Dauphin.

So, go back out last night I did, and I ended up at Le Dauphin. This place was amazing. It’s apparently the tapas-y offshoot of a much fancier, more expensive restaurant a few doors down. It was a little pricey, but seriously worth every Euro penny of it. Plus we shared everything so I got to try ALL THE THINGS. And I basically just let Elisabeth and Noura pick what we got, right down to the wine, so I got traditional French stuff as well as good twists on various meats. They did something MAGICAL to fresh mackerel. And the French original that a deviled egg is modeled on is a thing of pure transcendent joy, I’m telling you.

I never imagined in a billion years I’d end up in a place like that, so, that’s why it’s good to know locals.

It was a late night, ending with Japanese whisky, a metro home, and battling with the wifi to try to get some images on the last post then ultimately giving up and passing out from exhaustion and drink. I stayed in bed til about 9.45 this morning and popped out to grab some breakfasty things (including more pastry) before having a coffee with my lovely airbnb host Mathilde and going out to face another day of walking. This time in my trainers, which was such a good plan.

Today my wandering was accompanied by Dramophone on loop in my head. Perhaps slightly more appropriate than Alan Cumming (considering Cabaret is based in Berlin). Caravan Palace ARE French after all. And Thursday is usually Lindy Hop day.

On various recommendations, I went over to the 19th and 20th (‘the Leith of Paris’) and wandered through Parc des Buttes Chaumont, down through Belleville. I got an amazing sandwich from a boulangerie just across from the park in Belleville where they totally upsold me to the best meal deal I think I’ve ever freaking had. Basically, they were like, if you buy a sandwich, you can pick ANY OF THESE AMAZING LOOKING DESSERTS for sometime like 50 cents or so less than they usually are. And I was like, UM, YES, WHO SAYS NO TO THAT?! I got a massive slice of vanilla rhubarb custard tart with my cheese, walnut, honey and rocket sammitch. Then I sat outside in the park and ate the sandwich incredibly slowly because I was still kind of full from the night before, not joking.

THIS SANDWICH THOUGH.

THIS SANDWICH THOUGH.

After struggling to finish my lunch (I saved the tart for later), it was on to Cimetière du Père-Lachaise where all the famous folk are buried. I’m not terribly interested in most famous people, and least of all Jim Morrison, who most visitors seem to be after if the graffiti in the ladies toilets is anything to go by, but I did seek out Oscar Wilde’s grave. Because: Oscar Wilde! I don’t know if Jim Morrison’s is glassed off because I didn’t see it, but I was kind of disappointed that people had treated Wilde’s so badly they felt the need to seal it up. I love the choice of poetry snippet on the back from The Ballad of Reading Gaol. It’s also incredibly bizarre that this has popped up again just now because another passage from it is mentioned in Alan Turing’s biography as the way he broke off his engagement with Joan Clarke (I am STILL reading it, it’s a slog but worth it) and I just read that particular bit on the plane the other day. Coincidences!

P1010505

The back of Oscar Wilde’s grave.

The cemetery was a nice place to wander around. The columbarium in particular was lovely. My grandfather is in the one in Arlington which is all very military and uniform, so I’d never seen one that had such creative and varied markers. I don’t have pictures because I feel weird taking pictures of that stuff, but people obviously put a lot of love and thought into the small square they got as a marker.

I then metroed to Bastille and did some window shopping and wandering round a Paris department store. The kitchen floor! They had a whole AISLE full of CHEESE TOOLS. And the stationery and art supply floor! Eeee. Man oh man, I have no idea how I managed to NOT buy anything. Some kind of mad self-control.

I nipped back to home base to regroup and eat some bread before heading back out post-sunset to see the Eiffel Tower. I have to say, I am so, so happy to live in a city where I am not obliged to ride an public transportation at rush hour. The sardine-like nature of the Paris metro is almost unbearable. The only thing that makes it survivable is knowing I don’t have to do it more than a few times. Yeesh. It’s almost worse than London too, because you don’t get the orderly, queue-obsessed Britishness of MOVING DOWN THE CAR.

Sparkly.

Sparkly.

But I digress. Eiffel Tower! I managed to round the corner from the Trocadero metro JUST as they were lighting it up at 7, which was pretty awesome. It goes all sparkly for 5 minutes every hour. I opted not to go up in it because it’s expensive and the queue was massive, but that was fine, because looking at it from outside is great. If I had the energy I would have maybe done the walk-up-stairs ticket just to see the construction of it all from the inside. But my feet are pretty dead from two full days of tromping about, so I just admired it from many angles. Then I wandered away along the river to get the metro back for an early night. One thing I did notice when staring back was that the spotlights at the top of the tower are actually 4 different lights timed to look like one rotating light shooting out from both sides. For some reason this fascinated me, probably because I bet most people don’t pay attention long enough to notice it.

I could have stared at this for hours.

I could have stared at this for hours.

I’ve had an early night tonight to regroup and rest my feet and stomach (bread, cheese and tomatoes for dinner – couldn’t handle much more). Tomorrow I’ve decided I will indeed hit the Louvre before jetting back to London. It seems wrong not to.

Paris, part one (and being a wimp)

Morning walk on the Seine.

Morning walk on the Seine.

I’ve been here just over 24 hours and I have already been reminded over and over again how long it takes me to get the nerve up to do anything. AGES. When I went out for my first wander last night and realised everything was still actually open after 5pm, I decided I needed a pastry. And then proceeded to walk past every damn patisserie I saw because I was trying to work up to asking for something in French. I am not joking, I walked for nearly an hour until I got so fed up with myself I had to say, ‘OK KATE, THAT’S IT, YOU ARE WALKING INTO THE NEXT PLACE YOU SEE WITH BREAD PRODUCTS AND BUYING SOMETHING, ANYTHING. DO IT. DO IT NOW.’

So I did. I got a wee brioche. It was pretty good. I managed to mess up two short French phrases but still ended up with what I asked for. So. Hurdle one.

Sometimes I’m good at being on my own, but sometimes I’m really, really not. I am incredibly shy, and I’m also for some reason intimidated a lot more by French than most other languages. There’s no logic behind this so I can’t really explain it. And it has nothing to do with the people, who I’ve never found to be anything but lovely and friendly. I don’t know where this stereotype of French people being rude came from because I’ve never had an example. They’ve been nothing but accommodating and helpful regardless of the fact that I butcher their language every chance I get. But I still find it really hard to get past my standard hesitation to get out of my comfort bubble.

PHENOMENAL.

PHENOMENAL.

Anyway, I did a bit of shopping after that. Bread (went for the ‘Tradition’ over the ‘Baguette’ on my friend Yann’s advice, which was SOUND), butter, yoghurt, wine, chocolate. You know. The essentials. And dropped that all back at my lovely airbnb before heading back out for dinner at the place my host recommended nearby. La Souris Verte, who squeezed me in even though they were busy and served me my first ever steak tartare with some amazing fried potatoes.

I then took a walk up to the Sacré-Cœur to take in the view (and walk off my raw, bloody, tasty meat). I didn’t stay for too long because some dude tried to ‘make friends with me’ and get me to follow him to the Moulin Rouge or something. Pain in the ass. I never felt unsafe (there are police with big guns EVERYWHERE at the moment too), but it’s just annoying to feel like a target just because you’re a single chick. So I headed home to drink more wine and plan my next day’s wandering.

Second coffee and pastry of the day in Marais.

Second coffee and pastry of the day in Marais.

Today I spent most of the day walking. I took the metro down to the river and walked along trying to find coffee. Pro tip: there’s not an awful lot of coffee going on directly on the river. At least not between Invalides and Notre Dame. So I turned away from the river and went into the first ok place I saw (it was now 10.30, needs must) which was fine, but the better stuff came later when I had coffee and a pistachio raspberry pastry at a patisserie on the other side of the river in Marais.

GARGOYLES!

GARGOYLES!

In between, I popped into Notre Dame, because I felt like I should probably do a tourist thing. Also it’s pretty impressive of course. I love the gargoyles. And there are all sorts of crazy details like these faces on some of the joints in the ceiling.

This is waaaaay up on the ceiling. Thank you, zoom lens, for performing fairly well in low light.

This is waaaaay up on the ceiling. Thank you, zoom lens, for performing fairly well in low light.

After that it was more wandering, all the way up to the canal, at which point it was nearing 2pm and I was hungry, so the same overcoming-my-immense-shyness-so-I-can-actually-eat-lunch process started again. I ended up in a nice place on a corner, Le Valmy, where I had some super nice duck leg in mushroom sauce with green beans and peppers, TWO glasses of wine, and a chapter of H is for Hawk in between people watching.

This is when I should have metroed it home, but I just went ‘meh!’ and walked in that general direction with the intention of getting some other cake or pastry on my way. Which I did, but it took ages and the inner-crazy went into full gear fueled by exhaustion and the need for a food coma.

So I am wandering around Paris half-cooked on food and wine and this is what is playing in my head: Alan Cumming. Singing Cabaret. On a loop. Don’t ask me why.

And then, from some small corner of my brain, a voice mischievously suggests:

ELI GOLD IN A CORSET!

And I snigger involuntarily while I wonder what on earth possessed me to walk around in THESE BOOTS. Which may well make me look less of a tourist, but they were not really made for walkin’ straight through the day. Ooft.

This is what it’s like when I spend a lot of time alone in a foreign country. (And even at home really.)

ANYWAY.

By the time I got back I was so shattered I took an hour nap. Paris has seriously taken it out of me. I’m still incredibly tired but I’m going out in a bit to meet the girls who stayed in my flat while I was in Finland in the summer. This is good, because they’ll make local decisions for me, and I don’t think I have the energy left to do that tonight. But I’m sure I’ll get my second wind.

Tomorrow I will make way more use of the metro. The weather is really gorgeous but I don’t think I can manage another full day of walking AND stuffing myself. And I haven’t even had cheese yet!

I really like this city, but I have to say I probably would rather come back with another person. Mostly because of my (largely language-barrier-based) shyness, but another person also means you get to try twice as much different food.

Post-lunch canal strolling.

Post-lunch canal strolling.

Tracks by Robyn Davidson

Rick Smolan’s photo of Robyn Davidson on the cover of the May 1978 issue of National Geographic.

A few months ago I wrote about various stories of solo female travel and mentioned I’d seen the film version of Robyn Davidson’s memoir Tracks. I’ve finally got round to reading the book now, and it’s even better than I hoped it would be.

This book feels more honest than almost any other personal story I’ve ever read. It has a line, but there are also moments of stream-of-consciousness wandering from that line that remind me of my own frantic scribbles in my notebook trying to capture moments and knowing that no bit of writing really can.

Davidson herself says that her own journal of the trip is made of of letters never sent and random bits of fact sprinkled among longer passages, sometimes thick and fast, and sometimes lacking entries for over a month. It’s the first time I’ve felt like I was getting a true view not only of the bits of an experience someone could remember properly enough, but of a realistic writing process. You don’t get the sense anything’s being hidden here. She doesn’t care what you think, and at times she barely knows what she herself thinks, which she’s straight about every time she notices it happening.

There’s a lot in the book about being so far from humans and societal norms that it’s shocking how fast the need for those conventions fades, and how difficult it then is to grasp when you need to reinstate them. She did a lot of walking around the desert naked and talking only to camels and her dog for ages at a time. She talks about how refreshing it was to not have to worry a lick about being pretty or attractive or anything else typically associated with being a woman because none of that mattered. But regardless of that, once she was back in a city, she realised she couldn’t function in society as though she was in the desert, and it’s kind of crazy to try.

In the afterward in the edition I read, written in 2012 presumably right as they were working on the film, Davidson says she doesn’t recognise the person in the book. That after writing the story and releasing all of it into the world, the memories started to fade and she can only hold on to bits and pieces of something that was so long ago and so far removed from most everyday experiences. I find this to be true of just about every experience I ever have, whether or not I write about it.

The difficulty in writing a travel blog for me is that I don’t ever think it will communicate my actual experience of a trip or a time or anything. What it’s really like is so tied up in the myriad of things that have happened to me before and the current personal dramas and demons running through my head while I’m in a place that what the experience of a trip does to me or means to me is just not something that comes out in words. (I mean, why do you think I write so much about food? At least that’s a thing that everyone can experience tangibly.)

This website is part exercise in self-discipline (it is incredibly difficult to stick to a self-imposed writing schedule, but it’s also good for me), part learning experience, part personal record, and part ongoing motivation to take the first step. As Davidson says, that first step really is the hardest part of anything. It’s so easy to talk myself out of things when I live most of my life inside my own head. I am reasonably strong-willed when I want to be, but writing about all this and telling everyone I know about my plans is probably the main thing that prevents me chickening out.

I was talking to someone I’m only newly friends with in the pub the other night and when it was time for a subject change, he said ‘So, is your trip planned yet?’ which caught me way off guard because I’ve been waffling about what I want lately. But this is why it’s one of the first things I ever told him about, and why it’s something every one of my friends knows I’m thinking about. Because that kind of question is what keeps me straight. It takes the whole thing out of my own head and makes it real. It gets everyone pushing me through the first step.

As for Tracks, I really needed the mental push it’s given me. I needed reminding that I can do something for myself that may turn out completely differently than I picture it, but life will still go on on the other side of it. I highly, highly recommend reading it. (And if you’re not completely in love with camels by the time you’re through, you’ve probably got a heart made of concrete.)

Here’s a few images from the real trip and the film on National Geographic’s website, and some of Rick Smolan’s chat about photographing the trip. Worth a look.

Val on solo travel

This is the first in (hopefully!) a series of long-form conversations/interviews with people I know on their experiences traveling solo. It took a long time to put this together (and a lot of figuring out how to record interweb calls) but it was really good fun and I’m looking forward to picking other people’s brains on the subject.

My guinea pig for this endeavour was my college friend Val (aka Victoria). Val is one of the sharpest, funniest people I know. She has done all sorts of amazing things from learning how to make cheese on a goat farm in France (more on which below) to being a proper badass jouster in Renaissance Faires. She also has one of the best email addresses I’ve ever seen AND the most adorable, hilarious dog, who I hope I get to meet in person one day.

Val on the very windy pier in St Andrews when she was visiting on her first WWOOFing trip

Val on the very windy pier in St Andrews when she was visiting on her first WWOOFing trip

Kate: Who are you? What are you up to these days?

Val: Right now, I’m a student at Yale Divinity School and I’m earning a Master of Sacred Theology degree, which is like MDiv +1!

I would like to be a pastor and my timing was a little weird, so I could have either waited for a job or got an extra year’s study in. So I’m getting to study stuff I didn’t know a  lot about but I’m very interested in, so it’s really good. I was incredibly doubtful about whether it was a good decision because school’s expensive! But it’s been really good and I’ve learned a lot and I feel like I have a lot more clarity on what I want to do as a pastor because of this year, so who’d’ve thunk it!

What’s your favourite cheese?

I spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about this! Broadly speaking, blue cheese is my favourite kind of cheese. I love blue cheese with red wine it’s SO good. But I have fond memories of very specific cheeses.

I was traveling in northern Italy, and we stopped at the cheesemonger in San Remo which was a magical place. I found this gorgonzola dolce which was made like a cake – not like a cheesecake, but a cake made of cheese. So there were these two hunks of gorgonzola and in the middle was this layer of mascarpone, and it was coated in walnuts. I got a chunk of it and I ate the WHOLE THING on the train ride back. That is my favourite cheese. And It’s one I don’t think I’ll ever get to find again. Which almost makes it even more special.

Can you give a bit of a summary of the traveling you’ve done, particularly on your own?

So I started traveling when I was in college. I studied abroad in Ireland for a semester and then the next semester I spent in Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. So that was really good and got me stuck with the travel bug.

Family of meerkats, South Africa 2006

Family of meerkats, South Africa 2006

When I was in South Africa I also spent some time in Lesotho, which was amazingly gorgeous. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

Then I came back and got my undergraduate degree in drama and humanities and spent the next few years doing professional acting. I would do summer stock jobs and not find much to do in the winter. The first winter I did a bilingual production of a Moliere play with a national children’s touring theatre company, so I’ve seen a lot of the States but only very briefly.

After that I went WWOOFing (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms), so the next free block of time I had I went to Provence in France and worked on a goat farm for 6 weeks. This is the site of the cheese adventures! It was an excellent, excellent time. Then I went to Spain to work on a farm that bred Andalusian horses – which, as a girl who loved My Little Ponies, it was like my lifetime dream – and was supposed to be there for 2 months but the hosts and I did not mesh well.

The Cordoba Mosque, Spain 2008

The Cordoba Mosque, Spain 2008

One of the things I learned is that the relationships you form when traveling are really important, especially when you’re traveling alone because you have no other relationships to bank on. So I left that farm and ended up just hopping around different farms in Spain and visiting friends, including you!

Then I went back to France for two weeks and went to Normandy to work on a farm with a lot of different things going on. Then I went to Ireland and ended up on 3 different farms there. I worked at a place with bees because I was really curious to learn about bees. And the week that I spent on that farm cured me of that.

That 5 month span was really good: so good that I decided to do it again the next year. I went to Italy. It was not the same though, so instead of spending another 5 months, I came back after 5 weeks.

Then I went to Seminary and got poor, which put the kibosh on the traveling for a little while. But I was saving my money throughout Seminary because I really wanted to take this travel seminar to Israel, Palestine and Jordan, which I did this time last year. And that’s the last piece of travel I’ve done.

Camel in Petra, Jordan, 2014 (I love this picture SO MUCH -K)

Camel in Petra, Jordan, 2014 (I love this picture SO MUCH -K)

You’ve been everywhere!

No, I’m missing entire continents!

When I was in South Africa, it’s the only place I’ve ever really felt kind of unsafe. Not in a way that would turn me off going there, I just felt I had to have my guard up much more than any place I’ve ever been. Did you feel that?

A little, maybe not as much as I should have. I think the transition between Ireland and South Africa was pretty drastic. Ireland was very safe, for example, it’s the only place I’ve ever tried hitchhiking. It’s just a place you feel safe. And South Africa is not that way. I’d never hitchhike in South Africa.

I remember there was this one day I was walking down the street in Grahamstown. I think I had a backpack on, and I heard this voice behind me going, ‘Excuse me. EXCUSE ME!’ And I turned around and this woman was like, ‘That guy just tried to steal your bag, you need to pay more attention!’ It was a good Samaritan thing, but I felt like it was kind of a bitch-slap of a good Samaritan thing, like, pay attention!

When did you first think traveling on your own sounded like a pretty good plan? Did anything in particular lead to that decision?

I think it just sounded like a good idea at the time? I remember looking for colleges that had good study abroad programmes, because I knew it was something I wanted to do. I’m not quite sure where the longing came from.

I worked really hard to make sure I could do it my Junior year. I wanted to go to Ireland the whole year, but I could only do a semester so I decided to go to a completely different place, so I was deciding between Hong Kong, Australia and South Africa. I think I had this sense of wanting to know what other cultures were like and wanting to take myself out of my comfort zone. And the study abroad thing was my way into that.

Were you worried about anything in relation to being on your own? Particularly being on your own as a woman?

Not as much as I should have been probably? I had that whole invincible thing going on, which I think was good and actually worked for me. I’d like to say I was sensible at all times and always took good precautions but that would not be a true statement. I think it was a combination of luck and SOME common sense, and also just, unfortunately, privilege – I don’t look… vulnerable.

I guess I had the same thing where when I was younger and backpacking the first time. I’d have moments where I was like, ‘oh maybe I shouldn’t have just done that’, or ‘maybe I should have paid more attention’. Whereas now I think about it a lot more and if I’m alone I’m like, ‘what do I need to be aware of here?’ I didn’t really do that in college, and maybe I should have, but maybe it was also a confidence benefit, when people are looking at you and thinking, well, she’s not one to mess with because she clearly knows what she’s doing.

Yeah, that wouldn’t work for everyone and I wouldn’t recommend it, but that’s kind of how it happens.

I also have a memory of walking in Ireland. I lived in a safe part of the city of Cork and walked down to this pub. If you’re ever in Cork you should visit! It’s called An Spailpin Fanach and they do Irish trad music every night. So I was there and I decided to walk back home by myself, it was like 11 at night. It’s Cork, it’s Ireland, it’s safe, and it’s well-lit. So I didn’t feel any qualms about walking back by myself. Which I should have! And there was a guy who started a very polite conversation with me walking on the opposite side of the street and eventually crossed over because he was like, ‘I have sisters, I can’t let you walk home alone!’ which was like, but you’re the kind of person I should look out for if I was being overly cautious! So he walked me to my door and then left. But that kind of thing just happens in Ireland. And it was the kind of thing where this guy just saw what I was not in a frame of mind to see at that point in my life.

A (very safe) Irish donkey on Inis Meain, from Ireland 2005

A (very safe) Irish donkey on Inis Meain, from Ireland 2005

I remember you said you wore a wedding band to ward off unwelcome male attention. Did it work? Would you recommend it?

I have this ring that looks like an engagement ring, so I wore that on my left ring finger to help undercut unwanted attention. I’m not sure it worked. It’s hard to say. I do remember that one of the run-ins I had that made me most deeply uncomfortable was with a married man, so clearly the ring was just like… not working in that situation.

I definitely disagree with the statement that you shouldn’t travel alone as a single woman, that’s just not true. But it does come with it’s own unique set of baggage, and one of the very large pieces of carry-on with that luggage set is the unwanted male attention. And I would love to say that it works to just say ‘no’, but it doesn’t. So you need to be able to be able to say ‘no’ a number of different ways and be able to gauge the situation and know which ‘no’ to use, and when you need to solicit outside help.

I err on the side of soft ‘no’s to start with, ‘no’s that don’t necessarily work right away. ‘I can’t.’ ‘I’m busy.’ ‘I’m meeting somebody else.’ ‘I need to go.’ Stuff like that. And if the guy doesn’t take the hint, what I find often works is turning on the bitch face. And being like ‘NO. No.’ And when you raise your voice and make those sentences very flat and pointed, I think it often scares them. So that has worked. Not all the time – and it’s at that point that you just need to find a way to extricate.

Oh, it’s so annoying! It’s not fair you have to think about it more. Especially when so many dudes are just decent friendly people. Like the guys I met in the pub in Manchester. I was on my own and we had a great chat and a few beers and they were really lovely about making sure I safely got a taxi at the end of the night.

And it’s too bad that women have to have their guard way up, because not everyone is a threat, but it’s so hard to tell sometimes. Because you can get the occasional creeper who acts lovely and then turns it around and takes advantage of the situation. But it would be too bad to never open yourself up to people at all because then you’d never have really nice things happen.

Ugh. It’s really difficult.

It’s such a bitch.

Looking back on it, I can now identify this as the most dangerous situation I was in. I didn’t see it at the time. I had a guy who I thought was that kind of guy, who was being really nice, striking up a friendship kind of relationship. And I didn’t realise until he was actually IN my hostel room that that was NOT what he was there for. And I was really lucky in that he listened to me when I said ‘leave’, and he did, and it was fine. But I could have been really unfortunate in that situation. And oh God, it’s just like, you really have to be able to make good judgement calls, and you have to be lucky when you don’t.

Was there anything that happened to you while traveling that really made you wish you had someone with you? (Good or bad!)

The reason I ended up cutting the Italy trip short is because I felt so intensely lonely. The year before, I could speak French well enough that I could make friends and build relationships. And in Spain I was with a lot of English expats – there’s a surprising number of them at Spanish farms – so the language barrier was nonexistent.

View from my room at the farm where I worked near Terra del Sole, Italy, 2009

View from my room at the farm where I worked near Terra del Sole, Italy, 2009

I thought that the French would be enough to get me by in Italy. It was not. So it was a very isolating experience because I couldn’t speak and make myself understood, and I couldn’t understand people. It was then that I wished really intensely that I had a traveling companion. There was a lot of REALLY cool stuff happening, and I didn’t necessarily appreciate or enjoy it as much as I could have because I was combating that loneliness.

I feel like my best memories from that set of travels was the 6 weeks in France on the goat farm, and that was because I had friends I made while I was there, and I had people to share the experiences with, and it was just so good. It made it so much better.

Cheese stand at a French festival in Valbonne, 2008

Cheese stand at a French festival in Valbonne, 2008

So I don’t think you need to travel with somebody but you definitely need to be open to the relationships you encounter.

It’s a two-edged sword: you can either bring a travel companion and have that companionship all the time and not worry about it, or you can not, and increase your chances of having a really amazing experience because of the people you meet that you’ll just be more open to.

Was there anything that happened or that you did when you were actually actively happy you were on your own?

Yes! Any time I needed to leave a farm early, I was really grateful I had the flexibility and the freedom to do that and I didn’t have to worry about someone else and their feelings. There’s this really wonderful freedom in being able to chart your own course and decide what you want to see and what you’re interested in. And to really be able to pursue that in a way you… well, you CAN do with a companion, but you have to focus on the compromise and the group dynamic.

Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth, 2014

Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth, 2014

I noticed that a little when I was doing the Israel, Palestine, Jordan trip. I was grateful to be in a group, I saw a lot more that I would have been able to see on my own, but for me as a traveler one of the things I really enjoy doing is slowing down and getting to know one place well and getting to meet people there. And I wasn’t able to do that because I was part of a group.

So you stopped traveling the second time because you were lonely. Was there anything else keeping you from staying away longer? Or was that the main reason?

That was the main thing. I had a relationship at home I was really into at the time, and that put harder edges on the isolation, because it was like, I can sit here in Italy struggling with being lonely for a long time, or I can go back to this great relationship! And my nephew had just been born, and he was really cute, and my family was all in one place for once, so I felt like I was missing a lot at home. So that’s something else to contend with.

Is there anywhere you’d worry about going on your own, or wouldn’t even consider?

I would be hesitant to go anywhere I couldn’t speak the language, because as I mentioned, the relationship part is important to me. So I’d want to either be there with someone who can speak the language or figure out some other way past that. I need to figure that out actually because I’d like to go to Asia and South America and I speak no Asian languages or any Spanish. SO I need to figure out a way to bridge that.

I think there are places where I’d make different decisions in terms of my travel arrangements. Like in Europe I’d be fine staying in a hostel because I’ve done it and it’s so common, but I don’t know if I’d be willing to do that in South America because I don’t know the social expectations. I also just look different from most people in Asia and South America, so, that will draw attention.

What’s your next trip? (alone or accompanied!)

I have a couple things in the works. Nothing solid yet. My best friend Janine and I are turning 30 this year. We’ve been friends for over 20 years and looove traveling together. And one of my favourite trips I’ve taken is a bike trip with her and (our college friend) Mike during the summer of my sophomore year. Colum McCann had just come to campus to talk about biking across the country for a year without health insurance, and that sounded really appealing at the time, especially since we were all still on our parents insurance.

So we started at my house in Southern Chester County PA, and biked up to Delaware Water Gap, and it took about 6 or 7 days. And it was the BEST time. We would knock on people’s doors and ask if we could pitch our tents in their backyards, and I can’t believe that worked! It was sort of a trip that restored my faith in humanity because people let us sleep in their back gardens just because we asked! People are so great! I love Mike and I’m really glad he was on that trip and I think he enjoyed it, but Janine and I asked him because both of our mothers said we couldn’t do this trip unless we had a man with us.

Ha! Did that annoy you?!

No, I understood where they were coming from, and this sounds mean to Mike, but both Janine and I look scarier than him, so. I think it was the compromise. But it was just a good time and Mike has a great sense of humour so, of course he made the trip better.

SO, Janine and I did that together and it was great. And she did a bike trip in Maine on her own a few years later and had a great time.

So we’re going to do another trip this year because we’re turning 30, and I think it might take that shape again because we’re both sort of poor right now. She’s also the person who told me about the Camino de Santiago which is now one of my dreams – I REALLY want to go hike the Camino de Santiago one day.

Also because I’m Lutheran and studying to be a pastor and I’m kind of a church nerd, the anniversary of the Reformation is 2017, I think. That will be the 500 year anniversary of Martin Luther nailing the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenburg. So Germany is going to be one big happy German Lutheran fest, and I’d really like to go see that. So that’s maybe on the radar.


 

Val blogs about all sorts of things, but these days Lutheran stuff especially, at Lutheran Moxie.

Paris plans

It’s time for me to start gathering bits and pieces to connect my 3 days of wandering in Paris. Here’s one of my favourite things I’ve read on the matter in the past few years (and the thing that made me go ‘right, time to get yourself to Paris NOW’).

Eleven Days Alone in Paris

Can I just say that I may be more excited about breakfast than I am about anything else? Even wine. Seriously. Bread and pastries and all the cafe au lait I can handle.

Things I am worried about:

I’m rubbish at French pronunciation. So, SO BAD. I’m generally bad at accenting things properly in any foreign language, but because there are so many silent letters in French, I really just can’t get my head around it, ever. Also, my brain will inevitably default to the tiny bit of Spanish I know when I panic. It’s embarrassing. It will happen.

Eating so much before going to buy this bridesmaid’s dress I need that I will eff up the fitting. In fact, I really need new jeans but I’m thinking it will be way better if I just wait it out til this trip is well past over, because let’s be honest, I may well try every last bit of cheese in Paris.

Things I am not worried about:

Being hungry.