Tag Archives: Europe

Settling in/moving on

You know you’ve been away for a long time when you begin to feel nostalgic for earlier days of a trip that is not yet over. Throughout these past few weeks there have been moments when I’ve caught myself looking back over the past six months, missing and reminiscing. The cosy stone villa high up in the Umbrian hills, with its view out over endless olive groves and and villages below. Morning coffee on my brother’s London rooftop, the white terrace houses of Finsbury Park that reminded me so much of home. Staying up late through the endless twilight of Scandinavian summer; settling in to bed early with a pot of sweet Ceylon tea and a book in my cottage in the Sri Lankan hill country.

In these moments, I think a part of me wished I was back in Europe. But then I came to Chiang Mai.

I’ve been here almost two weeks – longer than I’ve spent in any single place since I left Melbourne over six months ago. And, were it not for work starting on Thursday, I think it’s the kind of place I could get stuck.

Today passed like most days. I woke up late, and had a scratch breakfast in my guesthouse room- rye bread, hunted down in a supermarket outside town, and tiny, sweet bananas, bought in a giant bunch from a roadside stall for less than 50c. I caught up on some emails and IFSA work in the bustling common area downstairs, then headed out for a morning coffee at Bird’s Nest Cafe – freshly ground and spiced with cloves, cinnamon and star anise.

I stumbled across this beautiful little cafe on one of my afternoon wanders, and it has become a favourite. On Saturday morning I treated myself to one of their epic vegetarian breakfasts, and passed the rest of the day curled up with a book, chatting to fellow travellers who passed through. Today I took my coffee upstairs to the mezzanine of low wooden tables, cushions on the ground, and a sole hammock, which I took over for the next few hours, finishing Breath by Tim Winton, which I had picked up second hand only yesterday afternoon.

Alexis, an American girl I met in my hostel in Granada, had just arrived in Chiang Mai to begin work as an English teacher. She came and met me for lunch and we swapped travel stories, marvelling at how two people can meet and make a connection while travelling, then, due to the wonders of Facebook, cross paths again months later on the other side of the world.

If it seems like my time in Chiang Mai has revolved around food, that’s not far from the truth. Of all the many countries I’ve travelled through, Thailand has the best food of any by far (particularly for vegetarians), and of everywhere I’ve been in Thailand, Chiang Mai tops the lot. From $1 plates of pad thai or fiery papaya salad, served on plastic plates and eaten while perched on plastic stools by a tiny street stall, to feasts of curries, brown rice, or tofu salads from one of the many organic vegetarian cafes.

To balance all that food, I’ve been relishing in the ability to walk here – being able to wander the relatively quiet streets without fear of being mown down by a bus or tuk tuk hurtling past. I’ve been doing yoga – hatha flow, with a wonderful French instructor called Pierre, in the peaceful Namo Studio in the north east of the Old Town. And, apart from a night or two out with fellow backpackers, I’ve been having early nights, trying to get into a regular sleep pattern in preparation for work on Thursday.

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I started this post yesterday – Thursday is now tomorrow, my time in Chiang Mai is quickly coming to an end. Tomorrow I drive up to Chiang Rai province with my boss, to take over the last few days of a project. So today is a rush of tying up loose ends, familiarising myself with student names and project details, hunting down a stationary shop for discussion materials, and sorting out my visa run flights. Ticking off my to do list!

Still, when I can do half of this while curled up with a coffee on a cushion in a little cafe, it’s not too bad.

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Changing seasons/transition time

September came and went, and with it, the four month marker of me being away. Four months since I handed in my thesis, packed up my room, and left Melbourne to commence this epic trip of mine.

On the one hand, that date – the 23rd of May – when I got on a plane with my parents and sister and, 30 hours later, got off in Rome to begin our two week family holiday, seems like only yesterday. Time flies hey? But on the other hand, it really does feel like four (plus) months have passed. It’s a long time to be on the road, living out of a backpack, constantly changing cities and figuring out bus timetables and getting up at the crack of dawn for red eye flights with Ryan Air.

Over these months in Europe, I have seen summer come and go. I have caught up with old friends who I never knew if I would see again, and I have met so many amazing new people. I have been overwhelmed by peoples’ hospitality, friends and family who have given me a room/bed/couch/floor to crash on for a night or two, sometimes many more, and who have taken time out of their busy lives to show me around their cities, take me out for drinks or dinner, introduce me to their friends, and generally take me into their lives for just a short time.

And yet, as I have alluded to in past posts, this constant moving, and constantly being around people, has been tiring. As I felt the seasons turning, and watched the leaves around me changing colour and the German skies becoming more and more grey, I was beginning to feel a sense of travel fatigue.

But I had one stop left in Europe. Originally my plan was to fly out from Rome, but I decided to end my trip in the city that still feels, after all these years, almost as my second home: Copenhagen.

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I left Dresden in the pouring rain, but almost as soon as we boarded the ferry the clouds seemed to clear, and there was nothing but (albeit still cold) sunshine and blue skies ahead. When my bus finally arrived in Copenhagen that night, I was met by Mikkel, and we made our way back to his apartment where I would again be staying for the next ten days.

When I left Denmark after my exchange in 2009, it felt like really saying goodbye Рwhen would I ever possibly be back, when would I see all these friends again? In fact I was back only the following year with my then (Danish) boyfriend, and although it was an amazing month, it was a completely different experience. Roskilde festival, camping with his friends; staying outside of Copenhagen with his family; a few crazy days and nights partying in town.

This time, this visit, seems almost like my entire collection of experiences, friends, histories in this city, blurred into one.

I caught up with two old exchange friends – Jamie, who I’d met up with a few times in London and who was visiting Copenhagen for the weekend, and James, a fellow Australian, who had moved to Copenhagen a few years ago and was about to embark on another huge move, to Aarhus to study (in Danish!).

I partied through the night at KB18, an old favourite from when I lived there, and at PB43, a new space right near where I was staying on Amager.

I drank coffee and Baileys with my old friend Christopher, who is the reason I have such a great group of Danish friends to begin with, and stayed up late drinking beer in Eiffel bar in Christianshavn, another regular hangout of ours.

I went out to a party in nordvest with Christopher, the birthday and housewarming of someone I vaguely knew. And I walked in the door to come face to face with so many familiar faces, friends old and new, and ended up staying until I was one of the last three stragglers reluctant to admit that the party was over.

I spent many a day/evening/night on the couch at Signe and Joakim’s (and now, their beautiful son John’s), having their post-wedding celebrations, going to the zoo, watching stupid movies, and staying up late talking and playing card games in their old caravan out the back of their house.

I went for coffee all over Vesterbro, my original neighbourhood, rediscovering old favourites and being introduced to the new.

And I finally did what was missing from my last two visits – I found a bike, and rode (and rode and rode) around town, over the bridges, along the canal, criss crossing from one side of the city to another. You haven’t experienced Copenhagen until you’ve experienced it by bike.

The ten days passed so quickly, but in the end I was ready to leave, and begin the next chapter of this adventure: Sri Lanka, and south east Asia. Even though I was sad to say goodbye to Copenhagen, and all my friends again, I now know it won’t be the last time I go back, and that my friendships won’t disappear in my absence.

So Europe, this was not goodbye, but rather ci vediamo/hasta luego/vi ses…until next time.