Scotland: Real Life is Where the Magic Happens

traveling

Traveling and Wanderlust

Traveling. A word that conjures up thoughts of climbing mountains in Asia, snorkeling in Australia, eating a baguette under the Eiffel Tower, and riding on the back of your lovers Vespa through Rome. In our more modern times we call it “wanderlust.”

By the time I was old enough to read and obsessed with traveling, I would check out Lonely Planet books from the local library in my very small town. I would sit on my front porch planning dream trips to Paris and wondering if life would ever really take me there. I once told my parents I would sleep on a park bench in Paris just to be able to stay there. The view of the Arc de Triomphe was all the luxury I needed.

traveling

Immense Freedom

Fast forward to the present day and it was this memory that came to mind while I was sitting on an airplane, on my way to Scotland for the second time. I looked out the window and felt this immense sense of freedom come over me when I noticed we were above the clouds, surrounded by blue sky for miles.

After touching down in Edinburgh and realizing it was pouring rain, I wasn’t looking forward to my subsequent bus rides. I hopped on the Airlink 100 that would take me to the city center. It was easy enough, and a double-decker bus as well. I lose my cool traveler facade whenever I get to ride on one of those.

traveling

However, after reaching the center I still needed to find the stop for the X95 bus that would take me to my destination, Hawick. I looked out over the Waverley Bridge and took in the very Scottish sights before me. Hot guy in a kilt playing the bag pipes? Check. 10 Whiskey bars within walking distance? Check. Torrential, down pouring rain and 25 km/hr wind? Also check. Unfortunately. From what I read on Google Maps, my bus stop was on top of the very tall North Bridge. Though I could see it in the distance, getting up there proved to be very tricky, especially since I got hit in the face with rain every time I looked up.

traveling

A Very Scottish View

After walking around aimlessly for 15 minutes, I asked hot guy in a kilt if he knew how to get up to the top of the bridge. “Oh, a bit lost are you, love?” he said. He then pointed me in the direction of a very large hill covered in cobblestones that had quite the river of water pouring down from the top. I tried to convince him to ditch the bag pipes and carry my bag up for me but my feminine ways don’t work when I look like a wet, stray cat. This cobblestone hill proved to be my Everest.

traveling

By the time I got up to the North Bridge I spent 2 hours trying to figure out where my bus stop was, still in the pouring rain. The handle came off my umbrella and it proceeded to fly up and over the side of the bridge. This would have been funny if it wasn’t so tragic. By the time I found my bus stop I had to wait another hour. I stopped in a nearby Boots and bought myself a face mask for later, to lift my spirits. After getting on the bus, and a 2 hour ride to Hawick I took the longest, hottest shower of my life. It’s these kinds of travel days that I can look back on and laugh about or use as a good story over drinks at a pub, at least after my sneakers have fully dried.

traveling

Playing Tourist

The next day I found myself back in Edinburgh to see the city, and this time it was thankfully sunny and warm. I took lots of pictures, saw the old town in all its touristy glory, and enjoyed a nice stroll through the Princes Street Gardens. I even played tourist and got my picture in front of a red telephone booth (tip: Don’t open the doors to those, they smell like pee.)

traveling

traveling

traveling

I also spent a day in Jedburgh, a cute town with lots of gift shops. An owner of one of these shops insulted poor Hawick, calling it a town full of charity shops. I did find a lovely antique store with quite eccentric owners, and bought a vintage purse for 6 pounds.

traveling

traveling

Most of my time in Hawick was spent loading up on 1 pound books from these charity shops that the Jedburgh citizens were not so fond of. I did manage to find a fancy, little dress shop where I bought a navy blue summer dress. It was so beautiful that if it had produced a ring, I might have dumped my fiance and run off with it into the sunset.

traveling

Little Moments of Misery

One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from traveling in this “wanderlust” age is that it’s not always about perfect, Instagram-worthy shots (most of those are fake to some extent anyways.) It’s not even about the big picture, adventurous times. Traveling is about those little moments of misery that you would never post on social media. Yes, you read that correctly.

traveling

Walking through the pouring rain in Edinburgh, loaded up with my wet belongings, completely lost, wasn’t my finest moment (I almost had a temper tantrum in public.) But, moments like that have taught me how smart and resilient I am. Those moments have taught me that I can do anything on my own when I really need to.

Here is the most important thing I have learned between the time I dreamed of traveling and now, as a seasoned traveler: You don’t always want to show people the tough, unglamorous times, but that is where the real magic happens.

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Spontaneous Travel in Life and Switzerland

Spontaneous Travel

Spontaneous Travel: Avoid the Planning

Have you ever taken a trip that was the exact opposite of spontaneous travel, where you planned every little thing? Hotels, restaurants, toilets, and even, God forbid, gone on a tour? Now, tell me this. How much time did you spend on your trip feeling anxiety over the schedule and what you were supposed to do next? Maybe you worried so much about the next activity or location that you didn’t even take time to be present and enjoy where you were actually doing!

Spontaneous Travel

The Best Meal Ever

Here is the great thing about spontaneous travel: Everything is so surprising and unexpected that you can’t help but pay attention. The greatest meal I have ever had was at a restaurant near my hotel in Italy. I was tired and had been traveling all day so I went there because it was close by.

The owner loved the U.S. and had all kinds of American paraphernalia on the walls. He brought the most mouth watering pasta I’d ever tasted. He called it carbonara but it looked more like tortellini stuffed with cheese and bacon and cooked in oil and cloves. Of course the noodles were homemade (not like those touristy restaurants in Rome that tell you they’re serving homemade noodles and then you see 10 boxes of Barilla stacked up in the kitchen.) He told me it was his mothers recipe as he put his hand over his heart and looked to the sky. For dessert I ate tiramisu that must be what clouds taste like. At the end of the meal he gave me limoncello and a free bottle of wine on which he signed “to my USA friends.” These are not the kinds of memories you acquire through picking your restaurant 5 weeks in advance.

Spontaneous Travel

Plans Don’t Work Out Anyways

The same can be said for life. You can be so busy planning for the future that you forget to pay attention to all those unexpected little moments that can only be enjoyed in the present. At 25 I still have no idea how my life will turn out and I’m okay with that. There really is no point in planning every little thing in life because most plans don’t work out at all or not how you expected.

Spontaneous Travel

A good example of this is when I started traveling through Europe for the second time (sorry, that will be my only travel snobby line in this article, I swear.) It was New Years Day 2015, and I made a decision that would change the trajectory of my entire life.

I dumped my emotionally abusive ex-boyfriend and left all my possessions in Ecuador where I was living at the time. I had no plan, no job, and no specific location to call home. It was one of the most unplanned times in my life and yet it also lead to one of the best years of my life.

Spontaneous Travel

Spontaneous Travel

Take a Chance on Fate

You don’t need to have everything planned in order to live your life. Take a chance on fate and be surprised where it leads you. You could have a fabulous Italian meal, meet your future husband, or find your real passion.

So, coming to the present. My fiance asked me to go on a quick road trip with him to Switzerland and I almost fainted with happiness as I had really been craving some travel. We left that weekend after he picked me up from work. The first night we were very tired from driving and I quickly picked a hotel 10 minutes away from us on booking.com before Jan’s phone battery died.

Spontaneous Travel

We woke up the next morning to a spectacular view over Lake Gruyere and thanked our lucky stars we had paid the extra 13 Euros for a room with a view. The first spontaneous decision of our trip had been a success.
We had just one full day in the Swiss Alps and we were determined to make the most of it. We first put Grindelwald in our GPS and set it to “avoid highways.” We drove through mountains that looked like postcards right in front of our eyes and we didn’t see another car for the first half hour.

Spontaneous Travel

After spending about 20 minutes in Grindelwald and realizing how touristy it was we decided to change course. We sat at a cafe and Jan looked on Google Maps for the smallest, most remote road he could find that you could still drive on and we set out for it. Being in a flat country like Netherlands, he’s pretty enthusiastic about mountain roads. Driving on this very steep dirt road lead us to a view over Lake Brienz that was so blue nobody would believe I hadn’t saturated the hell out of the pictures.

Spontaneous Travel

Spontaneous Travel

A Surprise River

Eventually, we parked our car and walked down to a river coming down front the snowy part of the mountain. Clearly remote, and not often touched, we walked down by the rocks like giddy school children. The spray from the water brought with it the chill of winter and ice. It was so loud you couldn’t even hear yourself speak and we felt the full force of nature.

Spontaneous Travel

Spontaneous Travel

None of this would have been accomplished by looking at Trip Advisor let alone sitting on a tour bus. It is true that human beings love order and plans; we like to know what is coming next and we like to be comfortable. But, it’s also true that we crave excitement, and new experiences. We love the feeling of adrenaline in our veins and unexpected surprises.

Next time you’re on a trip, “avoid highways” and enjoy the slower, but unknown scenic route. And if you can, try to do this in life a little more as well.

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I Moved to Quito, Ecuador

I Moved to Quito, Ecuador

Landing in Quito, Ecuador

Maybe there was a part of me that was on autopilot. Not only was I numb to the fear of such a foreign place, but it hadn’t yet hit me that I wasn’t going to university next year like all my friends. No, I was doing something better, I was going on an adventure; the world was Peter Pan and I was Wendy. I was still just a teenager floating around, apathetic. I still surprise myself at how quickly I adjusted to life in Ecuador, how normal it became. Yet, I had just entered a country that would later feel like a prison to me.

I Moved to Quito, Ecuador

I remember the first thing that freaked me out. It was the middle of the night when our plane touched down on the runway at the airport in Quito, Ecuador. As we were landing I looked out the window and saw houses right next to the runway. Not only that, but they all went upward towards the sky. They were stacked on top of each other with light coming out of the windows that made them look like a UFO hovering in the air.

After handing my passport to a customs official with the mustache of Saddam Hussein and the smile of Vladimir Putin, I walked into the baggage claim area. Everything was brown and clearly this place had not been updated since the 1970’s. I waited in line at a small podium to get a luggage cart, but where was the woman behind it? She was out retrieving them from all over the airport to give us for 1$ each. This airport in Ecuador clearly didn’t depend on technology to get them through the day and would still continue to function in spite of an impending apocalypse.

I Moved to Quito, Ecuador

I begrudgingly grabbed my suitcase from a pile in the corner. Apparently suitcases had to be moved quickly since there were so many flights and only 2 carousels. With my parents, I walked through the doors towards the arrivals area. On the left, hundreds of people were all lined up waiting for their loved ones and to the right were dozens of men sticking their heads out of various windows offering every type of taxi and tour service. They yelled at us, desperately trying to get our attention like paparazzi.

It was loud and chaotic, much like Ecuador itself, and everything was moving quickly around me. In a movie, this would be the scene where the room is spinning around me and I look on with a bewildered expression on my face, except I didn’t have that lovely Hollywood editing. Where was Colin Firth to welcome me?

I Moved to Quito, Ecuador

 

White People are a Hot Commodity

I heard loud voices meshing together with the intensity and sound of an oncoming freight train. We walked outside to a row of white vans that gave no indication as to what they were for. I looked at my parents and saw them both frantically looking around with wide eyes. It’s never comforting to see that, even after you’ve grown up and realized your parents don’t actually have their shit together any more than you do.

Three men came up to us all yelling, “taxi, taxi!” Clearly white people where a hot commodity here. In South America it’s assumed that we all have fat wallets and make it rain wherever we go. We put our suitcases in the back of one of the white vans, (don’t they tell children to stay away from those?) and slowly and loudly told the driver “Hotel Quito” like we were the kind of assholes who talk to immigrants in the U.S. like they are idiots. As in, “Welcome to our country!”

 

I Moved to Quito, Ecuador

We took off at warp speed, driving up winding hills that were so foggy you couldn’t see the city below. I was relieved when we finally arrived to our hotel, which was thankfully fairly Western looking. However, the actual rooms were very basic and my mom almost had a nervous breakdown when she realized there was no coffee pot in the room, and no Starbucks in the entire country of Ecuador. I believe this was the epiphany it took for her to realize we were no longer in the states.

I knew so little about South America or traveling in general, that it never occurred to me they wouldn’t have all my favorite foods like pop tarts and Wonka candy; had I known this I would have stocked up. In the years to come, I would frequently stock up on my favorite American candy whenever we visited the U.S. I even had 9 boxes of my candy stolen from my suitcase from baggage handlers when they used a pen to put a hole through the material in the pocket. They didn’t even steal my jewelry!

I Moved to Quito, Ecuador

Guapalo

On our first day in Quito I got a map from the front desk and we made our way down to an area called “Guapalo” where my dad had seen an apartment online before we left the U.S. The place was 500$ a month (now that I look back on this I realize we were being conned big time. Places like this I learned, normally went for about 100$ a month.) The directions down there were laughable. There were no numbers or street signs, just directions like “take a right at the red house.” Was I supposed to know the difference between 3 houses, all in differing shades of maroon?

When we finally found the apartment, an old woman took us down some very steep stairs leading to the edge of a ledge. The apartment was built so it was attached to the side of the mountain. It was very long with a couple of bedrooms and a basic kitchen, however living there would have felt more like camping. “Rustic” would have been the most polite term for it.

I Moved to Quito, Ecuador

We left immediately, and consulted a realtor who then took us to the most expensive area of the city. We rented an apartment there and ended up staying for exactly two months before we found a place that was actually at a standard rental price for the country.

So, after handing envelopes of cash literally under the table (seriously, they actually stick their hand under the table to collect it) to the corrupt government officials who would give us our visas, we were settled in for the moment.

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Geneva, Switzerland: Romantic Strolling

Geneva

Expensive Ducks in Geneva

As we drove through the tunnels, I serenaded my boyfriend with one of those really sad Adele songs; he loved it, I swear. We were on our way to Geneva after having stayed the night in Mulhouse, France. Do I sound like a travel snob? I was really looking forward to going back to Switzerland, after stopping in Lucerne and Basel on our way to Tuscany last year. There’s your travel snobbery. Once we got to the other side of the mountains the sun suddenly came out from behind the clouds, and chose to bestow upon us the powers of Vitamin D (in Netherlands we don’t get a lot of this.)

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