The end of December seems like a perfect time to reflect further on all the people I’ve had the good fortune to spend 2013 with.
To bring you up to speed, I left my last blog post at late February in Cologne. After celebrating Karneval, I returned to Freiburg to complete my 6 week language course.
Once my German course finished, I headed to Berlin for my sixth time. I stayed with Kate, an old friend (the friendship is going on 15 years), who took me out dancing, to markets, cafes that would feel at home in Fitzroy, and to a fucking weird play that to my understanding was about gypsies in various states of undress chasing one other around in a shipping container. Anyway, I have always felt lucky to be friends with Kate – she is strong, super smart, hard-working, and loyal, even if not particularly sporty.
I also spent a few nights staying with the gorgeous Rob and Liss in their stunning apartment in Kreuzberg, the Mission Distric equivalent of Berlin, which was nevertheless pretty lifeless in the winter. They had a never-ending pot of ginger and lemon tea brewing on the stove, which was great to curl up with while listening to Rob practicing vibraphone in the next room. Liss attended yoga teacher training in Rishikesh in 2012 and recommended that course to me, so I followed in her footsteps.
After Berlin I took a train to Poznan, Poland. I stayed one night with my clever and beautiful friend Weronika, who I had met in Amarante, Portugal, at a volunteer camp in 2010. She welcomed me into her apartment, and took me bar hopping amongst the twinkling lights and multi-coloured facades of Poznan’s old town square, starting with a traditional Polish pub where we had bar snacks and shooters for ridiculously small sums of zlotys, and then we made our way to the younger bars in town. We ended the night by making a snowman (and by “we”, I mean that her boyfriend made a snowman and I stood nearby and took poor quality photos).
I left Poznan for Warsaw, a city of less conventional beauty, but so much history and culture, and all those other cliches that circulate about cities like Warsaw, Berlin, and Melbourne. While there, I stayed with Joanna, who had been a wonderful friend to me in Vienna in 2010. She offered me her fold-out mattress, cooked for me, and made lots of inspiring philosophical conversation. We went exploring together with her equally warm and intelligent boyfriend, Filip. Joanna also allowed me to have lots of time and space to myself, which can be scant while travelling. Memorably, she accidentally locked me into her apartment before she left for work on my last day in Poland, and I almost missed my train(s) to Belgium. I entertained myself by playing her piano and taking embarrassing selfies while I waited for her sister to travel across town to save me.
I did manage to get to Bruges, Belgium at about 6 am after a ridiculously long commute. I arrived at my hostel and tried to order a juice, but was handed a beer branded “Geueze”, and decided I may as well start drinking anyway.
At this hostel I met James and CJ, two American guys with a mission to see Sigur Ros perform live; and with a peculiar contented, yet somehow ambitious sense of aimlessness that I could relate to. We chatted about travel, music, and our countries’ crazy culture of overwork and burn-out over a dinner. A group of Belgian students nearby stopped to feign interest in my poor effort to play my ukulele. They then coyly asked to have a go and I offered to teach them a few chords, only to find that they were closet musical geniuses.
They invited us to a little gathering at one of their student apartments, where we had a jam, drank beer (so much beer that day!), and played this amazing Belgian board game where you have to sing, dance, act, or in some other creative way describe the abstract painting on the card you receive, while the other players guess which card you are portraying. On the way back to our hostel, CJ, whose hobby is light photography, took awesome photos of us walking/dancing down the quiet cobblestone streets dissected at all angles by canals.
As if the universe had not already offered me enough benevolence, in Aix on Provence I “couchsurfed” with the very generous Max and stayed, not on his hard rubbish couch like one expects when couchsurfing, but in my own private wing in his (surprise!) mansion. As you do. [More in this blog post.]
Next up, I met my parents in Madrid, who of course deserve a whole book about all the wonderful things they’ve done for me, but I’ll have to do that another time. We stayed with family friends, Leah and Carlos, in their spectacular top floor apartment, all smooth wooden surfaces, dark furniture and chandeliers, and complete with a killer audiovisual set-up, situated near the Puerta de Alcala. Naturally they spoiled us with the best Madrid has to offer – tapas, sangria, and Flamenco.
We stopped in a few small towns in Spain and Portugal before arriving in Lisbon, where my gorgeous friend Catarina, who was a neighbour of mine in Vienna, an architect with a lovely, infectious smile (are you sensing a common thread here? Somehow all of these people are intelligent, interesting, and beautiful), met us and fed us amazing Portuguese tarts and took us to hear authentic, beautiful Fado music.
In April, I travelled to Rishikesh, India, via Delhi. During my yoga teacher training in Rishikesh, I met Andrea, a young chef from Chile with a beautiful, yet unfortunately underused singing voice, who performed Reiki on me while I was feeling sick, and whose invitation to visit I will take up as soon as I absolutely can (and I’ll visit my other gorgeous South American friends who I met in Freiburg while I’m there).
I also met Lauren, nurse/yogini/Miss Vermont 2012/talented writer/hilarious person, who had recently moved to the tiny, American-owned western Pacific island of Saipan. Mel, an Aussie school teacher who lives in Brisbane, also comes to mind. She and Lauren both supplied priceless antibiotics, painkillers, and food on a few days of debilitating Delhi belly. Mel also incidentally became my biggest (read: the only) fan of my singing, making me promise I would sing at her wedding. She is too sweet.
Unfortunately I’ll just have to gesture quickly, and in no particular order, to some of the other beautiful people I got to know through the course. Katy, Rosie, Andrea, Stevie, Katie, Cara, Ellen, Yoshimi, John, Tutku, Darius, Sami, Sabrina, Rakhi, Paul, Rebecca, Zane, Kirstin, Krystal, Yasmin, Brittany, Sarah, Meghan, Crystal, Stephanie, Judith and everyone else who I may not have had as much time to talk to – so sorry if I forgot anyone!
Another person I met in India was Dev, with whom I had a pretty distant link: he is a friend of a friend of an ex-colleague from Australia. Dev met me at the ashram and took me on his motorbike, without any protective equipment and with only flip flops on my feet, to the other side of Rishikesh, where we picked up his car, and then he drove me up into the Himalayas. We talked about his time living in Boston, and his love of Western culture. Meanwhile, I was quietly freaking out about the poor structure of the tiny roads lining the mountainsides, no protective railing, and a long drop down to the Ganges. We survived unharmed, thank goodness.
That takes us to May. To be continued…