Time between travels…

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Photos by Erika Kochanski.

I said to a friend the other day, for a moment I thought I’d been back home for a year, but then realised in the past 12 months (from this moment) I’ve actually spent about a third of that year abroad. Again, somehow, as if by accident? We all know it’s no accident of course because I have an addiction that I pander to (quite happily I might add). But it doesn’t surprise me that the several months I spent in Australia this year felt more numerous than they were. A lot has happened in these past 12 months and it definitely feels like I managed to slow down time a little. Great personal achievements, difficult trials and tribulations, but through it all I have found so much love for faces new and old (not old in years of course, haha).

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However, here we are again, sitting in the time between travels. I have many projects in motion, budgets and plans to make dreams happen, and a huge posse of supporters worldwide for this eclectic journey I am on. Knowing that by this time next year it is extremely likely I will be living abroad again “who-knows-where” (let’s face it, I have ideas), I have begun to realise it’s time for me to see this corner of the world as a tourist. So few of us take the time to do this, hop on a bus at home the way you do when backpacking, staying in local hostels, enjoying local whatevers through fresh eyes.

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I realised how much I needed to do this during the two nights I spent in Brisbane when I arrived back in Australia. Rather than fighting the jetlag and coming home on buses with heavy bags in the middle of the night, I used my frequent flyer points on a hotel in the city. The idea came to me when I booked tickets to a concert for the night after my return, and rather than deal with public transport and/or taxi’s, it made more sense to just stay in the city. I could sleep when I wanted to sleep — hopefully not during the show — and enjoy the conveniences of being in the city.

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What I discovered was while I knew I had changed so much in my years travelling, so had my “hometown”. Brisbane became just like any other place I’d travelled to over the past few years: somewhere exciting to explore. So during these last few months of hard study I have ahead of me, I need to explore this corner of the globe more appreciatively. I must remember though, while my plans are to stay put in Australia during these last long months of my Masters, that was also my plan this past year and we saw how that turned out. Who knows, maybe I stumble on another travel deal of the century, or maybe I do just see local places through new eyes. Either way, 2019 I’m ready for you.

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The magic of discovery…

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I spent a good deal of last night writing a blog entry about magic, it’s intangible and inexplicable air of possibility, and how I have spent the past three and a half years trying to understand the particular brand I find of it here in the Balkans. Looking over my words I have yet again not been able to capture it, yet I continue to jump across magical moments here as though they were stepping stones. I’ve built bridges between places and people but also enjoyed settling for long periods of time in this town of Kotor that I have singled out so particularly. I move around within its stone walls as if it were my home and I wasn’t some strange Australian girl who had weasled her way in and disrupted their lives repeatedly.

I keep collecting intangible moments here, wondering if it’s possible to continue sampling this place indefinitely or if my luck will eventually run out, but as I look around at these smiling faces, hearing their hearty laughter, I know the memories of their magic will last within me. I know this because I have been back here only a few nights and it feels like a fortunate lifetime.

If there is one paragraph I can rescue from my scrapped blog post from last night it is this one: Can I take these people with me? As I watch them all I love them even more and no photo or video could capture them as they are in this moment, in this place, at this very point in time. Their magic is in the faces they pull at each other in jest, their booming voices, and the way they somehow let me be part of all this in a way that seems like an exception to the rule. I am a foreigner but somehow I also belong to their family. They call me an honorary Montenegrin, although I will never know how I earned this title.

The music is always better when Vlado plays it. The company is always better with my Montenegrin girl gang around. The night is always better when a song, a person, or a passing hug in an empty street reminds you of why it is you keep coming back. Travellers all ponder whether to extend their stay here without being able to put their finger on why, but I know why. This place is something to be felt, not abstractly described. These people are to be enjoyed, not analysed.

That point applies to every aspect of this entire country though. I spent an entire day on 360 Monte Travel Agency’s Great Montenegro Tour just two days ago and I have been trying and failing to capture its essence in words. Though I have wonderful photos (as you can see), the truth is they don’t demonstrate the feeling that this didn’t really feel like a tour to me rather than a day out with friends. Slavko was a wonderful host, leading us around this beautiful country and making us laugh. It was a social day as much as it was informative and interesting, and while we were all tired by the end noone seemed to be in a rush to get back to town either as we enjoyed one final stop for coffee and cake.

I know I have to start planning my exit strategy, but I am glad I can take my time doing it at a snail’s pace, and as I do so I will soak it all in. This town. These people. While I know I will be once again overwhelmed when it is time to leave I will never take the unique magic of this place for granted. It may be a long time until I feel its embrace again, because I don’t know what the universe has in store for me from here, but as always I hope this is just one more incredible window in time and not the last.

Home is a lighthouse.

I am writing this on an overnight bus from Kosovo to Montenegro, where I will be reunited with Kotor, but this post is not about how wonderful Kosovo was (and it really was) or about the home I am going back to, it is about the home I just came from.

Skopje. Let’s not forget where this Balkan love affair began all those years ago. I know it’s hard for the travellers I meet to wrap their heads around why I have been back to this eccentric city 4 times (5 by the end of this trip). While drinking rakia and talking to travellers in the garden of my friends’ new hostel (Lighthouse Hostel Skopje, you have to stay here, seriously) I realised, I had been away for nearly 3 years but these people were still as exceptional as I had remembered.

I have been back in the Balkans for a week, and it has taken me this long to piece together my feelings and settle back into my happiness. The jetlag has been put behind me, but even in those tired weary days I was filled with the usual warmth that being in this part of the world brings, and it has nothing to do with the weather.

I didn’t realise how much I had missed Skopje. I did not take anything for granted, not even watching the sparrows fly around the rose bushes while drinking a strong cup of Turkish coffee, and certainly not the people whose company I have always enjoyed and who always make me feel as if I have always been there even when years have passed us by and so much has changed.

And so my bus pulls into Kotor after a long and arduous journey from beautiful Kosovo, and I am glad to be here but I am also glad that when those tear stained final days appear I will be going back to Skopje where it all began as if that’s the way it always was supposed to be since the beginning.

Be not afraid of where you are going, of who you are, or what might take you by surprise. The best moments are not to be anticipated, only lived.

Under the Irish sun…

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Photography by Erika Kochanski.

I have been in Ireland for 9 weeks now and Ireland is wonderful. When I got here it was all about the frost (and we even had a little snow), and now it’s all about the daffodils. I have certainly been through some ups and downs whilst staying here but also I am incredibly proud of myself at confronting a few of my fears that I had been avoiding for a very long time. It’s just proof that you need to occasionally put yourself out of the box to challenge your comfort zone and build on top of the greatness you already have inside. Not that I’m calling myself great, but I can see my potential now and that’s a fine thing.

In just shy of 4 weeks I will find myself in Liverpool, and by then I hope to have completed my transition into veganism. From all I have read it is a good place to be a vegan, as is where I am headed in Wales after that. That has what this year so far has been about: learning about myself and trying to figure out why I’ve been so unhappy. When I reconnected with vegetarianism a month ago I rediscovered myself. I had spent so long ignoring my core principles and feeling guilty for them that in the face of everything I know it was eating me up inside. Then I learned more, and it was the first time in a long time that I had found a passion for something again and I knew what I had to do to take it further.

I am not going to preach veganism here, that is not what this blog is for, but I do encourage you all to look within yourselves and ask yourself if your eyes are open or closed to the world around you. Ask yourself what you really know about what you eat, who you compromise your ethics for, and how much you know about the political environment of this planet we call home. Your core principles are your own, but if you are unhappy try and find a way to align what you practice with what you preach. None of us is perfect, and it isn’t about perfection. This world is flawed, but it won’t get better unless we do something!

I have travel plans booked up until the end of June, but I still am deciding where I want my journey to take me after that. Luckily I have plenty of time, and plenty of options. The important thing is I know the vibe I want my journey to take, and I am generating ideas all along the way of all kinds. Useful ideas that I can see bettering my life for the foreseeable future. Business ideas, book ideas, and I am happier and more confident that ever before.

There is no wrong way to see Japan…

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Photography by Erika Kochanski.

“But it’s not just another day, is it? Another coffee; another sunrise. It’s not just another bus ride or plane trip: it’s saying goodbye to a dream you just fulfilled, a new home you found on this earth, and new friends you discovered in your heart.”

I wrote this on the morning of my departure back to Australia after spending over a month backpacking through Japan. If it was sensible to say an entire country could be your soulmate, I believe I would declare Japan as mine and I was full of melancholy about leaving it behind.

There are lists upon lists of things one should attempt to do in Japan. The “must-see’s” and the “must-do’s” of experiencing the country. It can become overwhelming, and the one thing I found while talking to other travellers and residents was this: there really is nothing you can do wrong! When it comes to your own personal journey of exploration here the Japanese have created an environment where even a wrong turn leads to something magical. No journey compares to another. So long as you are willing to see and experience what comes your way you will not be disappointed.

I have been wanting to write an appropriate post on Japan since I arrived, but nothing has been poetic enough and the task of selecting a photos from the plethora of moments I have captured along the way is seemingly impossible. I have come to the conclusion that the spirit of Japan cannot be captured, and that the cultural experience contained there has to be absorbed rather than defined or described. Japan gave me earthquakes, sakura, autumn leaves and snow.

Japan I miss your flavours.

Japan here I come…

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Photography by Erika Kochanski.

This little piece of metal and plastic. I bought it over a decade-and-a-half ago, around the time I used to steal travelogues on Japan. You know, before they handed them out freely and used to keep them hidden behind counters at travel agencies for serious clients who had serious potential for purchasing tickets, not young teens with sticky fingers.
 
This little piece of plastic and metal sat in a drawer for years before it got its first use: flying to the U.S. to spend time with my then boyfriend and meet his family. I was thankful that it was finally useful, even though in my heart I still pined for it to be used in Japan. When I told him this, we started planning to go. I bought [more] books and excitedly wrote [more] lists of things we could see, but this dream slipped away yet again when I realised it was never going to happen, that we weren’t meant to be, and so I stuck this little gadget back inside a box in a drawer and there it has stayed ever since.
 
It has travelled in that box to every place I have ever rented and lived, and now it sits back in the same drawer it was first put in all those years ago (although that drawer has been stylishly painted and refurbished since then). I had travelled to 23 countries outside of my own in that time, seen the world in so many different forms, and yet I still continued to deny myself the one place I desired to see the most. A denial for good reason perhaps – a certain stigma had been created around it through various events – and so I didn’t find myself worthy of ever bringing this dream to fruition. Until now.
 
On Monday I was tired of dreaming. I threw aside all my other plans and research, the half-a-dozen other countries I was mistakenly putting ahead of it on my list as if purposely keeping true dreams on the back-burner, and started reconnecting with old ideas again. Over time they had become less tainted by the past, and so a new excitement grew inside stemming from the old.
 
On Tuesday I bought a ticket to Japan.
 
On Wednesday I took this little piece of plastic and metal out of its box and smiled while looking at it for the first time in a long time. Out of all the things I have donated to charity to downsize my belongings while travelling abroad, this I was never able to let go of and now after all this time it will finally be able to realise its potential (as do I).

What a way to see out 2016 – an emotional roller-coaster of a year already – and get me ready for my 2017 life teaching English abroad. It is crazy wonderful how time moves our desires around in circles until we reach the places and maturity levels needed to go after them properly. I don’t think I would ever have been able to fully appreciate the opportunities presented me these next 12 months at the level I currently am if it wasn’t for the pain, hardship and sacrifice of my past. It has made all of this that much sweeter.

How to fashion a travel itinerary…

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A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.” – Tim Cahill.
 
Traveling tends to magnify all human emotions.” — Peter Hoeg.
 
The life you have led doesn’t need to be the only life you have.” – Anna Quindlen.
I’m sitting here searching for flights, deciding what I still want to cram into this amazing year that I’ve had, and asking myself, “Where does your heart want to take you?” I think my heart is following a new path, not one of ticking off boxes, but one of embracing people, places and moments that have made me experience something bigger than what I am. I have warmed up, calmed down, gone crazy, and enjoyed everything that has come my way. I have cried, but I have learned it’s actually quite a wonderful thing when you ugly cry in front of people and realise that no matter how insane they think you are they’ll still love you. I may have done a lot of solo-travel in my life thus far, but I have rarely been alone. What I have done is met a ridiculous amount of good people, made a few great new friends, done some hilarious things and often found myself in hysterics for sometimes days or weeks on end. I am a serious girl when left to my own devices, and I have taken very little time to be serious about anything for a good portion of this year, and it’s been the best thing I’ve ever done. It’s not as childish as it sounds, it’s actually been incredibly liberating and necessary. There will be more bumps along the way I’m sure, but my path is getting clearer everyday and my priorities are getting more focused and stable.
World 2016

Cocoons and changing leaves.

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If Kotor was my rollercoaster, Skopje is my carousel. That one’s for you, Jake. The Balkans is one hell of a themepark and I would love to stay here forever and never have to say goodbye. I don’t feel done with this part of the world, I want to keep exploring it, living it, but I know this has to end at some point, even if this particular themepark never closes. I leave on Saturday, but I’m glad that farewell doesn’t have to be forever. I can always return, and I absolutely intend to.

It’s been six months since this ship set sail, since I left Australian soil in search of myself, and I think what I have found is that I’m the best me I can be only when I’m hunting. That’s not to say I haven’t been crushed along the way – I don’t think anyone has seen me cry as much as Kaitlin – but in order to truly feel the great heights one must embrace the pits that sometimes form inside. Use them for comparison so when you’re looking down inside you feel dizzy and nauseous. If you’re barely holding on to your insides, you know you’re doing it right.

The number of times I’ve been called crazy for not fitting the “travel mould” really is insane, and kind of amusing when you think of what I’ve been through. Some people don’t get that there is no prescribed way to do this. I travel to unravel, not to check things off of some kind of bucket list, although there is nothing wrong with having one. Someone once referred to what was happening to me as emerging from my cocoon, and he was right: it has to be slow and in your own time. I don’t think I would have come this far if all I was doing was jumping puddles instead of exploring oceans.

I will enjoy these days while they last, and when the dust settles after I leave the Balkans and return to Germany, I will evaluate my position and what I want to achieve in the next three months while I am still in Europe. Where to go, who to see, how to spend my time… there are no wrong answers, only worlds of wanting amidst all of the emotional upheaval. I crave the potential to expand beyond what I have been because this is what the traveller’s heart is born for.

Let the leaves change, the snow fall, and the sun emerge when it’s ready to melt my heart once more. This is only one awakening, but it has been my favourite one.

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Consumed.

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Consumed. My new friend Kaitlin has used this word on multiple occasions about her stay here in Kotor, and the longer I am here the more I understand what she means. Kotor is consuming me, us, and when the time comes for us to leave I am sure to feel further consumed by the overwhelming sadness that will follow.

Tonight marks 3 weeks for me here at Old Town Hostel, and double that for Kaitlin. When you stay so long in one place you develop this strange cycle of attachment, and my addictive personality is warring hard against my usual Vulcan logic at the moment. I know I must leave and I know where I am going is wonderful, but my heart is so torn about moving on.

This is where I became a person. This is where I finally stripped my heart raw and let my head run wild.

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Sarajevo.

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“Wherever you fall to sleep in your secure existence, never forget that wherever there is war there was once peace, wherever there is death there was once life, and wherever there is danger there was once safety. You cannot predict change, with the exception of the changes you have the power to make on your own accord, so remember this and ask yourself: What would you expect from the world if your circumstances suddenly violently shifted sideways?” – Erika Kochanski.

War is a common theme lately in both my travels around the Balkans as well as everytime I give attention to the news. It’s something I grew up aware of coming from a German family in Australia, being called a Nazi by ignorant school children who knew nothing of what they were talking about. I see a lot of that on social media now on a bigger scale, it saddens me and it’s a shame.

But I don’t want to talk about war today, no matter how topical it may or may not be. I want to show you Sarajevo as a beautiful city which is constantly rebuilding itself. I think the best way for me to do that is in pictures. As much as I am aware that there is a wartime undertone to anything associated with this city, I want you to see the beauty that it is now, and in some cases, once was before the horrors that it endured.

 

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