I’m home. After 50 weeks of lugging suitcases, learning how new stoves operate and making friends, I am back in Toronto — one year older and a whole lot of experience richer. And despite the romance and allure of the old country, I am grateful for 24-hour grocery stores and washing machines I understand.
The re-entry has been both amazing and overwhelming. My wife and I were greeted at the airport by four friends with a “Welcome Home” sign, Santa hats and a lot of hooting and hollering. And the past few days have been full of other friends and chosen family and Christmas and reintegrating into our city. It is fantastic to be home, but since we are not yet back into our own apartment, it still feels a bit like vacation — luxurious days spent in bed and a chance to walk around and see the sights. And of course, lots of time to reflect on the past year.
To mark the end of the epic adventure, here’s a “best of, worst of” roundup of 2009. Thanks for coming along on the adventure. Hope you liked it.
6am in Konstanz
You would think that in a small city known for its pastoral setting, proximity to Switzerland and smarts (in deterring the Allied forces in the Second World War from bombing it by leaving its lights on at night), there wouldn’t be a whole lot of trouble to get up to. And when we started out one night a friend’s apartment for an intimate dinner party, there was no way we could have known that we would be wandering the streets of the old city at dawn full of vodka-tabasco shots, good red wine and the belief that we had made friends for life.
Having never intended to go to Italy in the first place, finding myself on the rocky shores of southern Italy overlooking the Siren Islands was more than I could have imagined. The beauty of the backdrop mixed with the people we met and the food… oh the food… made it magical and memorable. Although you would have to pay me to return to Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast and the small towns of Positano and Nocelle are on my “must return to” list.
Nadine and John
People always play a large role in travel — well I guess in life really — and we were fortunate enough to make some good friends while we were gallivanting. Two of the stars of our Euro Tour were Nadine and John, a German-American couple who were our neighbours, our landlords (we were subletting Nadine’s apartment) and our “hang out and do nothing all afternoon” friends. They introduced me to the world of Rummy Tiles, good Polish vodka and the vulnerability that comes with being honest about how you dream your life to be.
The first time I was in Paris, in 2005, I was overwhelmed with it all. From the cobblestone streets of the Marais, to the futuristic design of La Defense, the city made sense to me. This past year I walked the city’s streets three times — February, June and December. I can think of worse places to spend a week, and each time I left I felt renewed, inspired and fortunate to be able to spend time in a city that is soaked in culture, art and history. Not to mention very attractive people that are super easy on the eyes.
After being together for 13 years, it is a miracle, although no surprise to us both, that we enjoy spending time together. Like all of our time. Like every minute if we could. Sappy I know, but after a year of 24-7, we are even more committed to finding a way to work together and increase our “face time.” For sure there were fights, although the blow-outs only numbered three and the little spats were few and far between. Knowing I can spend that much time with the person I’m committed to spending the rest of my life with is reassuring.
The city that is the birth of western civilization is best enjoyed by walking through the streets and wondering with awe at the artifacts and architecture that laid the foundations for how we live today. It is not so much enjoyed with $20 in your pocket and no command of the language of the people. Broke in a foreign land for a full 24 hours is the least enjoyable way to spend a day.
I hate to admit it, having thought myself a laid-back, easygoing person with not a care in the world, but I LOVE STRUCTURE. I like to know when I am going to do something. I like to have a plan. I like to have stability. I like being able to look ahead. Freelance is the exact opposite. You can plan all you want, but there is no guarantee that the person on the other end who is in complete control of your paycheque feels the same way or quite honestly even cares about your plan. And as much as the freelance life gives you the freedom to come and go as you please, it’s hard to go when you have no cash.
You would think that being away from friends and family for a year’s time would be relatively drama-free. Who would there be to fight with? Who could possibly take issue with you since really, you know no one? Who could try to hold you accountable for things since everyone is a stranger? Well, we found the one person who did. A friend of a friend contacted us through Facebook, and although I wish her no ill will, I do wish she would seek therapy. Her issue? We were not quick to respond to an email she had sent about hanging out in her town. Her action? To send a follow-up email telling us how we had really missed out on great people and that we could have been great friends but that clearly we weren’t worthy. I tend to agree since in no universe am I “worthy” of spending that kind of energy on, since it goes in one ear and out the other.
Since I have been home, people have said to me, “That trip was once in a lifetime, eh?” And my response, which I hope I can live up to is, “It’s only once in a lifetime if you only do it once.” South America here we come.