Monthly Archives: November 2013

home is in your head

I didn’t go to the Rijksmuseum when I was in Amsterdam. I also didn’t go on a canal cruise, or to the Van Gogh Museum, or the Anne Frank House. And I didn’t smoke weed or visit a sex shop.

Instead, I found myself in the Oude Kerk—the oldest building in Amsterdam—at a traveling collection from the Museum of Broken Relationships. And surprisingly, reading the stories of others’ heartaches made my heart ache a bit less. I needed the reminder that sadness and loneliness and betrayal and insecurity are universal feelings—but so are love and passion and excitement.

We are all the same, and I think the international assortment of first cherished and then discarded objects is proof. And me? Maybe this trip is the perfect time for me to think through my collection of old teddy bears and mix CDs and oversized clothing and words, so many words. Given that my pack maxes out at about 15 kilos, I don’t think I have room for all this baggage to keep weighing me down anymore.

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temporary existence

I’ve spent the last week and a half in Scotland, staying with a friend I met on the Camino, and feeling like I’m in a home for the first time in months.

I haven’t done much. The weather is colder than I would like, my friend is working typical business hours, and his hometown is quaint (I think that’s the nice way of saying small). But it is luxurious to have my own room, wake up late in a double bed, be treated to fancy family dinners, and be introduced to ready-made friends. Traveling is more stressful than I could’ve imagined, and I am grateful for the temporary return to “normal” life—where we go to movies and eat Chinese take-out and have a big Sunday brunch.

We spent the weekend in the Scottish countryside with his friends from university, and it was lovely. But their chat about jobs and goals and relationships and engagements was also a stinging reminder of everything I’ve given up, and as I repack my bag to head to another cold city alone, I find myself seriously questioning the value of my trade-off for the first time since I left.

What happens if I don’t find what I’m looking for? Right now, my trip still feels like just an extended vacation, and I think this lack of direction is weighing on me. I am making friends, but the time we share is so fleeting that it’s hard to imagine many of them lasting, and the ones that do will feel the strain of thousands of miles. Same with locations—I am becoming less enthused with city-hopping and starting to look into longer-stay options where I can really dig my feet in to a culture.

But really, my fear is in the terrible thought that haunts me every time I finally start to temporarily feel comfortable somewhere: what happens if I get too wrapped up and stay too long, so that by the time I finally get tired of this life, there is nowhere left that I belong and nothing left for me to go back to anymore?

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colder weather

“One of the reasons why we crave love, and seek it so desperately, is that love is the only cure for loneliness, and shame, and sorrow. But some feelings sink so deep into the heart that only loneliness can help you find them again…”

I’m not lonely often. Really, I’m not, which is exactly what I told my parents when I finally called them yesterday. But tonight I have a room to myself for the first time in more than two months—a 10-bed dorm room that is eerily empty in Lisbon’s off-season.

Yesterday I said goodbye to a friend visiting me from Norway, and while at first I wasn’t completely sold on traveling with him vacation-style, I gave in to semi-luxury pretty quickly. And so we drank beers and walked beaches and explored palaces and managed to spend too much money, while reminiscing about when we met five years ago in Singapore—and how that semester abroad and my oblivious skipping out on a summer backpacking through Southeast Asia actually set the stage for my trip now.

But now I’m back to roughing it alone, five days from my next country, and I’m starting to worry that all of Portugal will be this empty. (And cold—what else do you do in Portugal besides go to the beach?)

So it’s Sunday night, the worst time to feel alone, because it’s really the only time when I know the six-hour time difference doesn’t matter, and I could and should and am itching to call certain people back home that I know I won’t.

And while I should be suppressing my loneliness (and enhancing my Portuguese experience) by going to a fado bar, I kind of just want to embrace it, curl up here and drink another free café con leche that reminds me of the Camino and keep listening to the “epic country” playlist from a friend that reminds me of home and read the book that reminds me of why I was so set on getting to India this year.

I guess for the moment I’m okay being stuck halfway between the past and the future (which is surprisingly far from the present)… even if it is unsurprisingly lonely.

Little victories

I purposely made my way down a few slightly sketchy streets to some popular local bars after abandoning plans to visit a church that I got lost getting to. This was fine, though, because I was starving and I’d already seen a bunch of churches anyway.

…Except it was 7:30, and I forgot that no one here would be eating yet. (Sometimes I miss America.)

Plus, as I walked down the street, I remembered the potential problem with all local places: I am an American idiot who doesn’t speak the local language, and therefore may also be unable to read the local menu. Also, sometimes when I am randomly exploring I accidentally happen into really expensive local restaurants.

And so instead, I walked straight past, chastising myself in my head for being so wimpy.

Maybe I could go to McDonalds first, I thought, and then go back for a beer. Or maybe I should just go back to the hostel…

And just like that, I turned around, found my way back, and sat down outside one of the bars—where people were now finally eating, and where the waiter who approached me with two menus looked just as uncomfortable as I felt as he tried to figure out whether to give me the English or Portuguese one.

I smiled, reached for the English menu, and ordered the best fish I ever had.

Traveling is making me stronger every day.

———-

I don’t particularly like Portugal yet. Even after being here a week, I still couldn’t tell you exactly what Portuguese culture is—I keep trying to find an important historical figure to latch on to, or a specific must-see location to find, or even a certain food to associate with the country, but instead Portugal seems kind of like the youngest child who picks up some attributes from his older siblings but is mostly just ignored. I mean, I think English is so commonly spoken here because even the Portuguese understand that there’s really no reason for most people to learn their language.

I keep taking the cities and countries that I’ve visited and categorizing them into potential future honeymoon spots, potential future family vacations, or potential future places to live… and I’m not quite sure if I’d put Lisbon in any of them.

But there’s still time and more things to see and different cities to explore, so I guess we’ll see. Travel is full of surprises.

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