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.

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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.

Fly the coop.

wpid-dsc_03852.jpg.jpegThe overwhelming (yet extremely rewarding) challenge that is travelling. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, among other things. I’ve got just over three months of backpacking ahead of me and, while I trust my ability to organise and prepare, I do feel very much like this time I’m winging it. I have no doubts that I’ll find my feet, and be able to jump any hurdle along the way, but after three decades of being the extreme planner, I’ve become one of those girls who simply just wants to know I at least will have a roof over my head and let the rest figure itself out. Years of making future plans that fall apart, all the travelling that I have done (to renew myself after potentially crippling moments), and I’ve finally gotten to the point where I can live in the now more than the what was and what could be.

After all, now is all we’ve got, nothing else is as assured.

So, I’m sitting here sorting through my things, deciding what is worth taking and what isn’t, and realising that it doesn’t really matter what I pack. It doesn’t matter how much I prepare. I’ve never been to any of these countries that I’ll be visiting, and I don’t know another soul who has been to any of them either, so really, as long as I have a hostel bed waiting somewhere for me at my destinations and something to write on, I’ve got everything I need and the rest is just icing on the cake. I mean, every place has coffee right? That’s the real essence of life right there, and I have enough solo-travel behind me to make it through some potentially pretty amazing experiences.

Let’s fly the coop. In this context, the coop is not a physical place, it’s a mental state.

Spring in all its glory.

Spring

Photo by Erika Kochanski.

I am sitting here in this beautiful old town we call Buxtehude (featured in my book for those who have read it or intend to). Known from the Brother’s Grimm fairy tales, this city will be my home for the next couple of months before I go off backpacking. This year I’ve elected to hit less countries over a longer period (stretching out my visits so my exploring is a more relaxed as I do so much on foot). Apart from Germany, planned travel includes Macedonia, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Turkey and Malaysia. Thank goodness I’m good at saving.

Back in 2011 when I arrived in Germany for a year long stay, I got my first taste of what it was like to see Spring emerge as a spectacle. I was also fortunate enough to see the entire year of seasons pass in full, something I had never experienced before having grown up in tropical Queensland. Although through travel I had seen all the seasons in various stages, the experience of seeing each season as a whole with all the traditions and transition was magical. It is one of the things I am looking forward to seeing again.

Right now Spring is emerging. It is budding everywhere. When I arrived the cherry trees had their blossoms already and many of the trees were still bare. Now I’m seeing the tulips and daffodils spring up everywhere from the side of the road to people’s gardens. It’s not just the flowers though, there’s also the wildlife. On my evening jogs back home in Australia I’d cross paths with all sorts of parrots, kookaburras and kangaroos. Here I’m running into black birds, wild hares and deer as I run along dirt roads that run between fields.

There’s more to this place than the flora and fauna, although because I am particularly fond of nature I do tend to notice these things first. All matter of things I’m rediscovering and realising that I did miss them. Less obvious things, like the way bakeries smell here or the way the buildings and streets look. It’s the taste of things that haven’t been eaten since the last visit and words forgotten until seen on a menu or inside a recipe book. It all comes rushing back, and while things do also change there is comfort also in the things that don’t.

So now that I’m finally getting over about seven weeks of various illnesses (four back in Australia plus another three here), I’m looking forward to what’s ahead for the rest of 2015. My head has been so foggy lately that it was difficult to decide what to write about. I have gotten some lovely responses with regards to my book (plus one not so nice which kind of threw me backwards a bit, but that’s the world of writing I suppose and I have gotten past those negative words and focused on the many more positive ones that outnumber them).

 

Travel beginnings and ends.

Past Travels

Photo by Erika Kochanski.

 

“Nothing perishes in the whole universe; it does but vary and renew its form.” — Joseph Campbell.

I sure hope that’s true, that all things reform and carry on searching. That’s what we’re all doing, aren’t we? Searching and moving forward, and as we do so together we find new truth in ourselves and each other. Collectively we are always changing and affecting; we are but one energy split into countless pieces, moving together and apart. I wonder what pieces I will encounter this year on my newest journeys in writing and travel.

“‘Why not’ is a slogan for an interesting life.” — Mason Cooley.

I have walked, climbed, swam, hiked and trudged sometimes ridiculous distances just to seek something new. Whether it has been through bustling modern cities, old towns, crumbling ruins, lesser known beaches or even rocky mountainsides, in any case my battered and bruised feet have found it worthwhile. Every blister has been forgiven in the face of awe and inspiration. Every weary yawn in turn revived in the celebration of new sensations. Some of the greatest experiences I’ve had have been as a solo female traveller. If this is my past, then I can only expect great things from the future.

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell.

Tomorrow is my last day in Queensland, Australia. I have a rough plan for the next 9 months ahead of me, but beyond that there is much unknown. I have ideas ‘beyond that’, but I have learned that sometimes ideas are best kept secret until their fulfillment. Why? Because ideas can be fragile, so you have to protect them until they’re big enough or strong enough to stand on their own and become tangible plans and truths.

“Snowflakes are one of nature’s most fragile things, but just look what they can do when they stick together.” — Vista M. Kelly.

I’m ready to go searching…