25/8/18 - 25/9/18
Copenhagen (Denmark) | Berlin, Gransee (Germany) | Gembloux (Belgium) | Tours, Lyon, Mondragon, Mauguio, Cabrepsine, Vougeot, Oz (France) | Cantabria, Madrid (Spain) | Milan (Italy)
I haul myself out of my motel bed at 11:30. I was supposed to get up at 7 and drive 2 and a half hours to do a 7-hour hike, but I decided to wallow in bed instead. It’s the inevitable slump. It often arrives when you’re alone, some place new, without the comforts of home. I sink into it pretty badly when I’m travelling, spending hours of daylight in bed, frustrated that I have to leave to find food and vowing to stock up for next time.
I wander out of the motel unshowered and bare-foot and start hauling clothes from the boot of the car, all of which have been scattered from font to back, mixed with dirty t-shirts and muddy hiking boots. The pegs are falling out of the tent bag and my muesli has managed to sprinkle its way through everything as well. Goddamnit.
I look up and realise the french lady in the dark sun glasses with a phone pressed to her ear and a cigarette between her lips is looking at me with eyebrows raised. She probably thinks I’m going through a rough time, especially with the state of the car and my poor sense of personal hygiene. I revel in her assumptions. She has no idea I’ll write about her on the internet later and that someone else, way over in Australia, will probably read about it.
I drive into the city of Lyon in France. I stick up a sign on the back windscreen that says “Sorry for my driving, I’m Australian” after one too many beeps and hurried overtaking from frustrated Europeans.
It’s my second month in Europe. It began in Copenhagen, watching the flying boy from home compete in the World Championships in what will be my only experience of VIP ever. I drank booze and got to wear a yellow lanyard.
I swum in the river in Gransee and jumped out of a plane just above it, strapped to the flying boy who coaxed me through the process with a kind, reassuring voice. I tried to tell myself that this skydive would be different, that I wouldn’t feel like emptying my guts in the sky like the first time I did it, but my blue lips told a different story.
I spent a late night in a sheisha bar, trying to smoke rings, winning round upon round of backgammon until luck turned against me. On the final night in Berlin, I went to a karaoke bar with new friends and stumbled my way through Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor” on stage. Old men sung Bon Jovi. Boys in turtlenecks sung Black Eyed Peas and Beyonce. Fiery women with jet black bangs sang Florence and the Machine. Someone got naked in a karaoke booth that swirled with cigarette smoke. Sweat was dripping down everyone’s faces. It was glorious.
Then the drive from Berlin to Madrid happened. All the way down the continent. The first few nights were spent in Belgium seeing an old friend, who palmed beer after beer into every empty hand he saw. Flying boy and I spent the evenings curled up in the top of a renovated windmill overlooking the countryside, watching the fog roll over the farmland in the mornings.
We had BBQs, heard stories and ran amuck with the kids who, despite the language barrier, communicated incredibly well with noises and animated faces.
Then to France and on to Spain. Lots of red wine. Lots of baths. Most of the time, red wine in baths.
Coastal walks, expansive beaches, old buildings, amazing seafood food and litres of sangria. Spain was so good to us as I said a big, drunken goodbye to my travelling companion in a nice hotel, with red wine and high heels and lipstick. Sometimes, you should dress up as fancy as you can, just for the hell of it, and if you have no money, find the cheapest thing in the closest street and eat there. That’s exactly what we did.
Now alone, with my podcasts and playlists, I drove across Spain and up the east coast, sleeping in the car on the side of the highway while a thunderstorm commandeered the sky. I had to pull off because I couldn’t see the road anymore- the rain was so heavy, the lightning like a strobe light.
I drove up to the mountains in France and rented an Airbnb in a tiny town with no shops. I stayed there for 4 days, spread out my stuff, pranced around naked and wrote a lot of words. It was a little stoney cave with grapes growing over the awnings on the balcony just outside, where I sat and devoured an entire watermelon with a spoon.
I drove further north and found a secluded spot by a river in a small town and set up camp. In the morning I hopped over the pebbles to have a bath while early rising locals looked on from the other side of the river, somewhat confused.
I continued moving up the country. I sat in a cafe and drank fresh orange juice and met a couple and their 4-year-old son (who could speak 3 languages in 4-year-old proficiency) who had ridden their bicycles through Mongolia and South America for a year, living out of their tent and the odd motel. They bestowed their wisdom and their home address, offering their place by the sea as refuge from my increasingly dirty car. People who have roughed it on the road always know how to host.
The man said something interesting midway through our conversation, as we were talking about why some people can “up and go” and why others feel like they have to stay, burdened by responsibility, sitting on their phones late at night, scrolling through lives they want but feel they can never have, or can’t have “yet”. He said:
There are two different types of people in the world. People who write a list of things holding them back, and people who write a list of things they have to deal with in order to get to where they want to go. For the most part, both of them have the same things on their lists. Unless you’re a person with a disability, or you are in significant financial strife, or you are looking after a sick friend or family member or you have a bunch of kids, it’s usually the same things. Mortgage. Study. Partner. Car. Community…
Again, I moved further north, this time to have lunch with one of my mentors from home. She’s been my mentor since grade 10 (she took me in my first taxi and to my very first office where people wore suits), so it was wonderful to wine and dine with her family in France. Days later I received a confirmation email stating that I had been selected for the Chairman’s Committee for the Commonwealth Youth Council, a two-year commitment serving 1.2 billion young people around the world. This kick started a series of plans for 2019 which look equal parts challenging and rewarding.
And then I turned around. Went back down through France. Pulled over on the side of the road, climbed down to a river I’d been following. I stripped down, ate salad, washed my hair and read my book while the sound of highway cars wooshed by.
I continued driving, following the furthest road I could find on the map at the top of the French Alps. I camped nestled amongst blueberry bushes and rock cliffs, and read all night while the rain battered down on my tent. It sounded like a family was walking past in thongs.
Now I’m in Milan, Italy, lying in a hostel while a dirty load of washing gets soapy. I ran out of clean underwear a few days ago.
I have a number of friends I spent many sticky 45-degree Aussie days picking peaches with when I was freshly 18 living in San Marino, and so that is my next destination.