VISUAL DIARY | Month 3 in Europe

I’m sitting in a cafe in a little town just outside Swansea, Wales. The sky is grey, The Temptations are playing and I’ve got a mozzarella, tomato and pesto panini on the way. I’m here visiting some Welsh friends. I met these guys in Thailand, ran into them in a cafe in Laos a couple of months later, partied with them in Melbourne, lent a car to them in Byron and lived close to them on the northern beaches in Sydney. I’d heard enough about Wales over the years, so naturally it was on the list for this Euro trip.

The beginning of the third month was spent in San Marino, the world’s oldest republic, situated on the top of a mountain overlooking Italy. I spent the evenings settling around a fireplace, reading books, drinking milk and tea, beside two European friends and their dog.

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We spent our days hiking mountains and eating from tables overflowing with carbs and red wine, on beaches playing cards and eating burgers.

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I picked up Polish and Nigerian hitchhikers, hiked in Switzerland and built a fire beside hidden army shacks in the mountains, making bread and cooking sausages and melting chocolate in the middle of bananas over hot coals. 

I drove up to Berlin, staying in Airbnbs and having long baths along the way. I dropped the car off and bussed to Rotterdam and ate Thai food in bed with an old friend. We rode bicycles and watched movies and sat in the park near the university I studied at.

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I bussed to London and hitched a ride with friends to Wales. We played cards on cliffs and cards in lounge rooms. We watched New Zealand films and ate Tony’s Chocalonely. We swam in the ocean and threw a ball on the sand. We ate Joe’s Icecream. 

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I booked a flight home, because the sky started turning grey and I had a time sensitive project to execute in Australia. I scheduled in catch ups with friends I’d met on the internet and friends from home and I packed my bags for my final week in London.

This short-lived trip went by in a flash, but what a time it was.

VISUAL DIARY | Month 2 in Europe

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.

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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. 

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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. 

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We had BBQs, heard stories and ran amuck with the kids who, despite the language barrier, communicated incredibly well with noises and animated faces.

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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. 

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~

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Until then,

Ruby x

VISUAL DIARY: Month 1 in Europe

25/7/18 - 25/8/18
Hamburg, Berlin, Gransee (Germany) | Basel (Switzerland) | Prague, Klatovy (Czech Republic) | Grenoble (France) | Herning (Denmark). 

I've been rolling around Europe for a month now, every day as unplanned as the one before it.

I've been sleeping in tents on the side of highways, nestled between bushes scattered with toilet paper and human faeces. Turns out, the more you wild camp and the more you skip showers, the more your budget can justify a two-star hotel here and there. 

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I’ve been climbing mountains and getting naked at the summit under thunder-fuelled skies. Driving up and over and round the mountains in the south of France, a hand on my knee. Eating fresh blueberries and chocolate biscuits in the rain. Scrunching snow beneath my hiking boots. 

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I’ve been driving. A lot. Thousands of kilometres across the continent topping speeds of 200km/h. I’ve teared up listening to M83’s Wait on a rainy drive through Denmark and grinned through Jonathan Boulet's "You're A Animal" on a drive through Germany. I’ve laughed at Dr. Karl and shaken my head at true crime podcasts and squinted my way through death metal with an eyebrow raised. 

I’ve been watching skydivers jump from planes in competitions, following the world cup series trail with a flying boy from home and a plastic cup of red wine in tow. 

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I’ve been riding bicycles and sleeping on buses and slouching on trains and putting my feet up on the dashboard of cars that become homes for my dirty washing and muddy boots. 

In the afternoon sun I’ve been rolling off jetties into lakes, watching river snakes and skies full of birds, floating down the Rhine, running in the pouring rain, enjoying picnics and eating homemade apricot pie in the countryside. I’ve been drawing faces in the dead hearts of sunflowers and eating a punnet of raspberries and a chocolate croissant as often as possible.

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In the evening's I've been drinking and dancing in small pubs and local clubs. Ring the bell and it’s a round of shots on you, the hangover is always worth it (is it?). I assure you there have been more nights curled up on sofas yarning to old friends, or beneath the sheets in a caravan giggling. 

I’ve pitched tents on runways and in campsites and hovered between a few hours of work and science fiction classics beside a river on the outskirts of Prague. I’ve become a fan of Asimov and read more of Czech literary master Kundera (one must, when in the Czech Republic). In his book Immortality he writes: “The purpose of the poetry is not to dazzle us with an astonishing thought, but to make one moment of existence unforgettable and worthy of unbearable nostalgia.” I liked that.

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In my spare moments I’ve been writing about Rick Ridgeway and Dr. Bob Brown. I’ve been writing about religion. And my hometown. And the takayna/Tarkine

I’ve questioned my purpose, both here and in the greater scheme of things, torn between a life on the road (selfish?) and the life in a suit (greedy?). My internet browser has a Canadian work visa application, a Stanford University scholarship application, a few jobs in Germany and a number of workaway families needing help on their off-the-grid properties minimised on my browser. I love the fact I haven’t locked anything in yet - no house, no partner, no children, no graduate study, no career. At the same time, the possibilities before me are so immense it’s overwhelming. What do I do now? What do I want? How can I impact the world and/or my community in a positive way? Who am I to say that I can? Is all this reflection just narcissistic bullshit and I need to lighten up, stop being so anal and just fucking live? Yikes. The wormhole. 

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I’m going to be back on my own for the latter half of September. I'm going to go and visit some old friends from my peach picking days. I'm looking forward to sitting around a wine in Italy and soaking up the lives that have been lived in the swirling current of time that has passed between us. 

Until the next rolls are developed,

Ruby x

Today I moved to Europe

I’m sitting in a plane 34,000 feet above Ahmedabad, India. I’m listening to “Lovesick in a Hotel Wildfire” by Korey Dane. There’s a little girl in the isle next to me who looks just like Boo from Monsters Inc. and she’s been trying to take a straw out of its plastic wrapper for the last 15 minutes. She keeps shaking the packet and looking up at her mum, who has fallen asleep in the chair beside her. 

I am on my way to Frankfurt, Germany with 30kgs of belongings, a tent and sleeping bag, a near-empty wallet and a desire to taste and love and breathe all that is Europe. I booked this trip just over a month ago during a brief but intense travel fling in Sri Lanka. It was the catalyst for something I had been flirting with for a while: to live somewhere else. I’m sure I could have satisfied that desire by moving to Hobart or Margaret River, but the allure of foreign languages seduced me. The last time I was in Europe I was a devout Christian in a committed relationship studying utopic fiction at Utrecht University in Holland. I no longer feel attached to that Ruby, so I’m excited to see the continent from a different perspective. 

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Naturally I will be writing about the experience. I struggle with treading the line between narcissism (who really gives a shit about my life, honestly?) and my love of words. I liken the act of publishing them on the internet to the way we used etch our initials into tree trunks and wooden tables as teenagers. This is me. I exist. My life is meaningful. Ruby was here. 

In part, it’s probably an attempt to justify my “unconventional” approach to stability. While I have recently reconciled my distaste of the word and adopted the belief that stability is different for everyone, insecurities remain. 

For me, a stable life is one which feeds my insatiable thirst for stories that make me feel more connected to humanity. At the moment, this usually looks like suitcases and tea-stained moleskine pages, red-eye flights and long blog posts. For my friends with babies in their bellies, rings on their fingers, 9-5 jobs and signed mortgages in filing cabinets, stability is the amalgam of these more “conventional” achievements. I relish and admire the strength required to commit to them, but only if they are happy doing so. If not, (and I can usually see it in their eyes after a few too many drinks in a dingy pub that’s calling for last drinks), I push and push and push. “Dive into the deep end! Come and tread water with me- you have more strength than you realise!” 

I don’t know what awaits me in Europe. I’m trying not to romanticise the possibilities too much (I have a tendency). I know I’ll write a lot and shoot a lot on my point-and-shoot camera. I know I’ll look for big baths with open windows for cold winter nights. I’ll look for expansive beaches on the warmer days and big green parks during those afternoons where cardigans are optional. I know there will be mundane days and grey skies, of late nights with homesick tears and hangovers that don’t deserve any written attention. Just a toilet bowl and some pain killers. 

Watch this space. I may last a week, I may last a month, I may last a few years. Who knows.

The Goo Goo Dolls have just shuffled their way onto my playlist and now I’m feeling wistful and nostalgic. Time for sleep I think. 6 hours to go.