Canal of Venice

What I Miss Most About Europe

 

Me enjoying the Shore of Naples at night

Ever since I’ve come back from Europe, I constantly get questions about Europe. I expected this, but it’s still challenging to keep both myself and my friends amused, especially because my most important stories are.. well.. the same every time I tell them. I get bored telling the same thing over and over again, even though my memory keeps me on my toes by leaving some things out every time.

Here’s the SparkNotes version:

I did hang-gliding. I surfed. I stayed out all night and found bars with new friends where we met even newer friends. I danced the night away in Sevilla (and Lisbon… Lagos, Chamonix, Naples, and Florence). I galloped across the sun-soaked hills of Emilia-Romagna on a little horse that I thought I almost killed. I ate real mozzarella di bufala (food memories are plenty). I learned a little bit of Italian, forgot a little bit of Spanish, and basked in the glory of German polyglots. I was terrified of Naples, and then I was in love with Naples. I never really liked Valencia, except for the agua de valencia, which is a certifiably quick way to get drunky-pants in the morning.

But when people ask me, “isn’t it a bummer to be back?” I have to say no. It’s fantastic to be back. I missed my family, my friends, yadda yadda yadda. I missed them with my whole everything when I was away, and I learned to treasure their company while away. And yet of course I miss Europe now that I’m back. This is what is problematic about traveling;

you want to be everywhere, and when you’re everywhere you want to be home.

Cupola of the Duomo, Florence

I soaked in as much as I could in Europe, and frankly, I was impressed. Sure they have a ton of unemployment and their toilets could use some work, but people there seem much more composed. Maybe this is coming from a 1 1/2 generation immigrant kid with resurgent anxiety issues, but even the young Europeans seem to be okay with not having shit figured out. Maybe it’s because they can’t thanks to the economy (ie. good luck getting a job in any field, nevermind in the one you studied for), but they aren’t overextending themselves. They work a lot. Everyone works a lot. And it’s been said a million times that Europeans “work to live, not live to work”, as opposed to North Americans, but there is something to be said about shooting a few ducks down instead of wasting all your bullets.

I can’t even begin to explain to you why that was the metaphor I went with, but it’s true. Being jobless this past month and a half at home, recuperating from the constant travel, dealing with my new bum knee, reconnecting with people, I realized that I totally changed my perspective on work while in Europe. When I was in university, come every September, I would pile on a job, a writing gig, a full course load and some internship on my plate. I was so eager. I still am eager. It’s the same problem I felt when I had to pick a university program – Why can’t I just take a little from each? I want to take some of everything. I want to try everything and do everything and my mind races about all the things I can’t possibly do in 5 lifetimes. I’ve already packed in a boatload, and still, I see people around me doing more more more more more!

But when I look back on all that time I spent cramming things into half-hour time slots, I don’t recall enjoying a whole lot of it. I remember reminding myself constantly that “this is all for the future, this is all for future success”, and it very well could be (I like to remind myself that 24 is not yet exactly THE FUTURE). But. It could all be for naught. My biggest regret (despite the very liberal notion of not believing in regrets) about university is not interacting more meaningfully with my campus and with my friends. I focused so much on school and on future worklife success that I missed what could have been happening. I tried to do too many things, and yes, my life is still great and I don’t regret working hard.

Looking down from the Cupola of the Duomo, Florence

I believe it is humbleness when you expect to work for your greatness. I am smart, and committed, and talented, but I am not perfect. I want teachers, mentors, and supportive friends, and most importantly, I want to give them my love and my attention. I want theirs, of course, but I want meaningful engagement with my small society. I also want to be good. Really good, but at a few things, not all of them. Even now, hanging out, playing Sims 4 and exploring the magic of Spotify at home while my family rushes off to jobs, to school, to the multitude of after-school lessons that my sister attends, I feel like I’m trying to do too much.

Let me explain. Before I moved out of my house (I am now back), I didn’t do a whole lot to help out around the house. I was a lazy asshole, basically. Now, I’m doing the dishes, I’m cooking, I’m cleaning – all without anybody nagging me around the clock. I’m doing it because it’s now important to me to add value/ take away strain from the household. Along with that, I’m writing, I’ve agreed to help out the social media for a fantastic artistic event in Markham, researching a business venture, getting heavily into healthier eating & yoga, seeing friends, and applying for jobs. Oh, and it’s September, so I’m going to be starting knitting soon.

It feels like too much. Social media. Writing. Digital marketing. Health. Food. Yoga. Rumi. Jobs. Volunteering. Communications. Knitting. I know these are all different realms of my life, but I wish I could just focus on like, JOB, HOBBY, HEALTH. And yet I’d probably be bored, especially because this crazy clusterf*** is how I grew up and grew into greatness.

So what I miss about Europe is having my little tablet with me, with a ton of unread books (they’re still unread because now I’ve also borrowed books from the library… sigh), and a journal and hours upon hours of free time. To wander. To write. To read. To watch life happen. Simple, simple, simple.

Maybe life is supposed to be this complicated so that it feels full. Maybe I’m just having a hard time readjusting. But maybe I need to trim some of these fledgling branches. I won’t have time for everything, and doing everything (see: writing) half-assed is not something I want to keep doing forever. I’ve got to invest – diversify, yes, but invest.

Grow what is important. Learn what is exciting. Nurture what is good.

 

Oxtongue Falls

Why August is Where It’s At

I had planned on blogging all through my European adventure before I left. I wanted to regale you with the trip too-many-times-taken by eager and lost 20-somethings and put a fresh, Arinaish spin on it.

Lesson # 427: I want lots of things that probably, in the grand scheme of everything that I want to do, aren’t good for me.

(Also on this list? Nachos. Beer. Dancing all night. Sleeping for longer than I will ever have to work.)

Why did this slip as a priority while I was traveling? Simply said, I’m not a travel blogger. In fact, I have no idea how they do it so seamlessly, (especially my fave, Candice Does the World.) It’s like birds flying, mosquitos getting stuck in your tent, and ice melting; they just do. But not only was this not meant to be a travel blogging experience, but I realized quite early on that I didn’t want to turn it into one.

I feel that one of my weaknesses as a writer is my secrecy and inability to share my most meaningful writing with the world in meaningful ways. But I wanted to really dig into my thoughts, my feelings, and my preconceptions about the world on this trip, and even though I only had a half-baked point-and-shoot with me, I want to share all sorts of beauty with you that isn’t just blurry shots from my phone camera.

Time to form my impressions and better photo quality is why my posts stalled only a few weeks into my trip. What I’m hoping to provide from now on is some kick ass posts about Europe, waxing poetic and prosaic once I’ve had some time to mull.

Since returning, I still haven’t spent one consecutive week at home – which, at this point, is a couch in a tiny box-like-room in my parents house that my cat arbitrarily uses as his litter box. It’s excellent. I’ve made more headway into Ontario’s cottage country this August than I have in my entire life, however, and I’ve been trying to appreciate and live in the moment.  This has made it difficult to find a moment, though now I should be more focused. I’ve been getting a lot of clean air in my lungs, first at a cottage with my entire family for a week, and then camping with friends.

My parents burst out laughing (and wouldn’t stop, frustratingly) when I told them I was going camping for the first time, probably because they know how much of a princess I can be about certain things. Well bully for them, because I enjoyed my time camping without any reservations – I even think I’d like to do it again some day. A day far in the future, but a day nonetheless. I think it’s probably my European trip that made me less sensitive to certain comforts that I would gladly indulge in, had I the money to do so. I’ve found that I can live on meagre means and be plenty happy, as long as  am fed and in good company.

That being said, my trip to Europe probably changed my life. How has yet to be seen and dissected by myself, but I know it has. What now? I’m not sure. 11 weeks travelling has kind of wiped out my energy but provided me with an intense network of new friends spread all over the world. I’ve added more places to my “to visit” list in the past couple of months than I have in my entire life – I think it’s fair to say I’m officially a lifelong traveller, but I’m tired of planes, trains, and automobiles *for now*.

I need to regroup, refocus, and earn some more moola so I can make my way into the wilds of my friends couches. I’m looking forward to exploring Canada and the States more in the next few years, and definitely making a foray to China/Japan. Travel becomes much more focused once you’ve cut “a place to sleep” out of your expenses. I say focused because usually my thought process goes “I WANT TO GO EVERYWHERE”. If you have a couch somewhere specific? Yeah, let’s go there for now.

I think what I’m trying to get across is a few things. I’m focusing on writing. I’m focusing on my health. I’m focusing on my family. And I’m focusing on becoming more financially independent. WOO CRAZY LIFE GOALS THAT LITERALLY EVERYONE IN THE WORLD HAS.

But they’re goals. They’re good ones. And they’re mad achievable. So let’s get cracking, shall we?

Granada & Valencia, Mass Intelligentsia

I really wanted to rhyme Valencia with something, OK? But it kind of works anyway because these two cities & their tours and outings dropped some serious knowledge on me.

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Granada Inn Hostel

Granada was chilly when I first arrived, and had sagged under the weight of the clouds overhead. I wasn’t much looking forward to shivering through my tours and waking up in the early mornings to stand in long lines. In the cold. In Spain. Un-bloody-heard-of and I wasn’t going to stand for it. I’m assuming my utter refusal to partake in cold weather is the single most important contribution to the weather actually warming up in subsequent days. Because clearly I am a goddess with weather powers. Weather superpowers, you might say, if you were so inclined.

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Garden in Albaycin.

I ended up extending my stay in Granada in a night and pushing Valencia back because sometimes when you’re booking as you go you don’t make all the calculations about train times and check out times and time correctly. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t have been able to hit up the Alhambra, which is a huge reason to go to Granada in the first place. I’m sure Cordoba is nice, but all the people I had spoken to on the way vouched for Granada over Cordoba, so there I went. Talking to people, travelers, here is like Facebook… But in real life! Weird how that works.

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Part of the Alhambra - women's quarters.

I took 2 tours with my hostel – 1 to the Albaycin neighborhood, and 1 to the Caves. I kinda wished I had had time to go to the waterfalls in the Sierra Nevada mountains, but I only have so much time. The Albaycin tour was amazing. The neighbourhood is so charming, with its gardens and pomegranate trees and tiny streets with people and motorbikes crowding through. There are so many stunning viewpoints of Granada and the Alhambra because it is on the opposing hill. Its history is, of course, intertwined with that of Moorish, Arabic, Catholic and Jewish kings and people. One would build, the other buy. One would marry, the other abdicate. And so the story goes. The fountains here spout pure drinking water. And the guide told stories about its history using Game of Thrones and other TV shows as stand-ins, so.. That was hilarious and so worthwhile.

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Overlooking Albaycin.

Granada is where a huge part of Isabella of Castille and Ferdinand of Aragon played out: one of my favorite, twisted historical stories of two kingdoms and betrayal and cousin-marrying. And Alhambra is where they lived! Going through those rooms after standing in line for 2 hours at 6am was so… Surreal. Isabella walked through these rooms. Moorish law clerks, and princes and sultans walked on these stones. In one of the rooms, it was said that an entire royal family was slaughtered (of course I can’t remember because audio guides don’t get into my brain as they should).

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Lion fountain in the middle of Alhambra

The final thing I saw in Granada was the caves up above Albaycin. These are free caves in which people live for free. I’m stressing free because while they don’t pay rent, they also don’t have running water, electricity or toilets. And they have to bring all their food and water up a huge mountain. Its insane and so cool. There are some caves in better states than others, but it all looks pretty hippy to me. You would sometimes see these “alternative” looking dudes walking around town with no shoes, dreadlocks, piercings and tattoos, and parts of their heads shaved. They were stunningly beautiful. I could barely look away, and not because of the remnants of my teenage rebellion against “typical” looking people (really against my dads ideas), but just because they were. They had an aura around them that was very hard to resist. And while their abodes were incredibly humble, they were also somewhat satisfying in their simplicity. I don’t know if I could ever live in a place like that in the side of a mountain (a house, maybe, which to be truthful, people in Russia do all the time: the compost toilet, the handmade, gravity shower, the lighting by candlelight), but only because I’d be scared of it caving in. I’d probably do it for a story though! Offer is on the table, newspapers!

The best thing about Granada, by far, is the fact that you get free tapas with a purchase of alcoholic drink in the pubs and cervecerias. Yum and weight-gain and yum.

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The less known beach in Valencia

After Granada, I finally made my way to Valencia, which in many ways was my relaxation city. I read in the Park Turia (it used to be a river that they rerouted and is now a 10km stretch of parks and gardens and community areas), walked it, and finally, on my last day, biked through it and the Ciudad des Artes y Ciencias to get to an out of the way beach, which isn’t as great as the main beach, apparently. But oh well. I got a short tan on my legs from that ride, which I thought would never happen. My legs don’t tan! They are usually not those sort of legs, but Spain has made them into such things.

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Paella Valenciana

In Valencia I also ate a lot of tapas and I tried paella Valenciana, because it is said that paella originated there. It was worth every bite. A few new friends and I also tried Agua De Valencia, which is kind of like a punched up mimosa with fresh OJ (using Valencia oranges) and adding some vodka and gin to the champagne already in there. It makes for a tasty, and deceptively strong, drink.

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My face not reacting well to the sun on top of a cathedral overlooking Valencia

While I liked Valencia, I wasn’t in love with it. I found that the architecture lacked in comparison to Seville and now that I’m in Madrid, the feel of the city is lacking as well. Madrid has a vibrancy that Valencia lacks. I understand that they’re very different cities, but I guess I just didn’t like the feel of that one as much.

In short: Granada, yes. Sevilla, yes. Madrid, yes! Valencia, eh.