5 years ago, I never would have guessed that this is where I would be 5 years later.
“Madam, your driver is waiting for you downstairs,” a voice pours over the phone in a thick French accent. Music to my ears.
Ah… Words I’m missing already.
Touching down in the AUS airport on Sunday brought back reality: lots of oatmeal and ramen, pennies saved, but at least the water here is endless and free. It feels like forever ago that I was scrambling to get my passport in time for a trip that didn’t seem like it could be real, at all.
A dream. A fantasy. The impossible. The laughable.
I didn’t believe any of it till I was actually getting off the plane in a foreign country after hours of air time.
“You are in Belgium,” an official with a gruff voice stated abruptly as he pushed the stamp down into the first page of my passport, signaling the end to our entrance interrogation.
The Peculiar Nature Of Timing
How did I get here?
I have asked myself that over and over in the past three weeks. Touring through Belgium, France, Monaco, and Hungary alongside a brilliant and beautiful creative collaborator on no other merit than a fast bond we created over the last 5 months… how does this happen?
It’s something out of a book or a movie. This isn’t real life. This doesn’t actually happen to people.
This definitely doesn’t happen to me.
Yet, here I am.
For every time over the last year that I thought life was over, for every sleepless night spent tossing and turning, for every anxiety attack, for every moment of heartbreak and for every feeling of being broken forever - somehow, it all led to me being in the right place at the right time. I’ve been where I was supposed to be all along.
I met the right people. Made the right friends. Spent the right nights out dancing.
I made myself step out of my comfort zone as often as I could until the very idea of a comfort zone was almost a joke.
And so I moved to Austin. And so I danced alone. And so I met my travel partner, Emma. And so I found myself being whisked away on a magical adventure through Europe. And so I have opportunities ahead of me in a way I would have never dreamed possible.
The opportunity to explore. Learn. Entertain. Create. Inspire.
The Future Is Coming
Here’s the thing I’ve been learning and re-learning:
The future is coming. With or without you. No matter what you choose in life, the future is going to happen. You can’t stop it, you can’t avoid it, you can’t skip over it. Some things will happen no matter what you choose. Other things can only happen if you give yourself the chance to let it happen.
How much control we each have seems completely arbitrary, but you’ll never find out until you start button mashing to see what happens.
They say luck favors the bold.
To be accurate and politically correct - I don’t like to say that this could have happened to anyone. I have certain life advantages. It’s true. I can’t deny that.
But I am still determined to deal with my own demons and do what I can to help inspire others and help them deal with theirs.
In the meantime I’m going to chase my dreams as hard as I can. I’m going to make wild and crazy decisions and see what happens. I’m going to wake up every day and make my choices based on what makes me feel fulfilled and happy (and ideally what keeps me alive, too).
The Trip: Nutshell Version
(Disclaimer: It’s a big nut.)
A lot of things happened over the course of the trip, but I’m going to do my best to let you in on the highlights.
You are in Belgium.
We started out the trip in Bruges at the Hotel Dukes’ Palace. It truly felt like a palace.
Bruges is officially the most adorable city known to man. The cobblestone pathways, streets with no identifiable patterns, small shops, interesting doorways, and co-op gardens tucked away into building ruins… if you want the definition of quaint, you’ve found it.
We were able to see almost all of Bruges in a matter of one or two days by walking around aimlessly and intentionally trying to get lost. There are a lot of swans in Bruges.
Also - have I mentioned waffles? You haven’t lived until you’ve had a real Belgian waffle.
Clearly, I have lived.
It was during this time that Emma quickly learned that I’m pretty bad at directions. I was promptly fired from aiding in navigation in any way.
We also indulged in some Belgian chocolate. But, pictures are going to do a lot better job of explaining Bruges, so here you go:
After Bruges, we made our way to Brussels.
Brussels is a bit bigger than Bruges, but was still mostly walkable. There we were shown to a hotel near the Grand Place, the Hotel Amigo. A man in a top hat greeted us outside to help us with our bags.
(Before you ask - no, I did not take a picture of the Mannequin Pis. This was intentional. It is possibly the dumbest thing I have ever seen in my whole life.)
While in Brussels, we:
- Ate more waffles
- Ate more chocolate
- Had Belgian fries
- Walked to the Atomium
- Saw Franz Ferdinand in concert
- Saw an abandoned psychiatric hospital
Did you know that water fountains are not really a thing anywhere in Europe? Nor are (free) public restrooms? We became unfortunately familiar with this concept after dancing wildly at the Franz Ferdinand and needing first the bathroom and then refreshing agua, but having no Euros on us at the time we were basically screwed.
I’ve never partially walked into so many bathrooms and then turned around upon realizing they were paid. Uncouth, perhaps, but necessary.
At one point, I followed Emma around the mall shopping. We couldn’t find the way out of the top floor, so I jokingly said, “Actually, this whole setup is a trap. You can never get out.”
About 30 seconds later, we saw this:
Paris, and my first massage.
First I’d like to brag a bit about the fact I have seen the penthouse suite of Le Meurice. Beyonce, the Queen of the World, has stayed up there and allegedly conceived her child with Jay-Z there, as well as had a photoshoot for an album there. (You can learn more about other notable patrons, too, thanks to Wikipedia.)
Look how happy I am to be there:
Anyways… so that left me pretty speechless. (Clearly, I’ve gotten some of my words back.) The view from the top is great, too:
Oh, Le Meurice.
Paris was a lot of the same walk-around-to-get-lost tactics we’d used while in Belgium. While in Paris, we:
- Ate pigeon (okay, that was just me, not Emma)
- Saw a lot of really cool architecture
- Visited the Shakespeare and Company Bookshop
- and the Eiffel Tower
- and Museé du Louvre
- and Notre Dame de Paris
- and Basilique du Sacré-Cœur de Montmartre
- and the Père Lachaise Cemetery
- Drank some of the best cocktails on earth (Bar 228 du Meurice)
- Found a kickass hole-in-the-wall bar to dance at (Le Truskel)
- Had my first massage EVER
Before we move on, I’d like to stop and talk about that massage for a second.
I’d never had a massage before. Massages are the best thing in the world. If I could, I’d spend all day getting a massage. I’d get full body massages, back massages, head massages, massages of all kinds. Massages are glorious and send you into the next life which, in this scenario, is heaven. Moral of the story is massages. Massages all day, every day.
However, unbeknownst to us, there was a funny mix-up when we scheduled the massage.
So when we arrived for our appointment, and I was wearing a sweatshirt that obscured the most obvious clue I’m female, the poor woman who received us started by showed us the Men’s changing room. We were all confused but going along with it, but the woman helping us grew even more confused as I began to follow her and Emma into the Women’s changing room. There was some awkward pseudo-French/English words and gesturing until she suddenly realized her error and became totally flustered and embarrassed.
(In her defense, I later saw the reminder for our appointment and realized that the person who scheduled us wrote the appointment in for a Mr. & Mrs. Emma rather than a Ms. Emma and Ms. Anne - so she was expecting a married couple.)
We also conveniently had a driver to ourselves for the last day of Paris, who helped us get in all the last minute touristy stuff we’d missed just walking around.
Another round of pictures, Paris-themed:
Also, while in France, I was able to check off a short list of French named items: French bread, French fries, French toast, and French kiss.
Monaco, where I got a Ferrari.
You know it’s legit cause I have a picture in front of it.
Monaco is basically the richest place on earth, if you didn’t already know.
It’s also small enough that we accidentally wandered back into France while walking around at least once or twice.
While in Monaco, we:
- Ate at a Mexican restaurant run by an Italian man (and the food showed it)
- Ate at an Italian restaurant run by a Mexican man (okay I made up the last part, it was 100% Italian… and the food showed it!)
- Saw a gazillion yachts and crazy high end cars
- Got some insanely incredible views
- Waded around in the really crazy clear and amazing water
- Climbed all over everything (okay, FINE that was just me too)
Here’s me on a thing, and a thing, and another thing.
It’s really surprising Emma didn’t have me shipped home early.
Oh, and on another thing.
I’m actually a monkey.
Also in Monaco, I washed half of my clothes in the tub because I was too intimidated by the hotel to try and figure out laundry service. At that point we’d also started putting up the Do Not Disturb sign up 100% of the time just so they wouldn’t come in to clean and move our stuff, and I think we were freaking out the staff pretty bad. As in, they probably thought we were running some sort of meth lab out of the hotel room.
Nope! Just had my semi-clean underwear hanging all over the room.
More pictures, Monaco style:
Budapest, my people.
WHAT IS LIFE!? Ah, sorry, had to get that off my chest in this post at some point.
Anyways, I’m realizing that this so-called brief summary of the trip is getting really long. And we did about three times as much stuff in Budapest as we did everywhere else combined. I’m also realizing that Emma still has all the pictures from Budapest.
(For those of you who don’t know, I am a quarter Hungarian. My soul felt at home.)
Coming in the next week or so will be a recap of our time in Hungary. For now, just know Budapest is fantastic. Amazing. Splendid. Affordable. Fun. And we had the greatest guide in the world showing us around and letting us in on all sorts of great information about the area.
Here’s a photo of the skyline to tide you over:
The trip back home took about good 24 hours combined from the moment we left the hotel to the moment we got back to our respective homes in Austin. We hadn’t slept in 48 hours by the time we got back (we made the most of our last night!)
All thanks and credit go to Emma and affiliates, who made this whole crazy thing possible.
Additional thanks and shout out to Katie and Tim for coming to pick us up from the airport. Sorry we weren’t looking at the camera for this Welcome Home photo:
What Happens Now?
Good news! I’m already ironing out my second draft of my memoirs. Right now the book sits at about 40k words, but I’m going back through and adding a cohesive narrative. You’ll appreciate the effort, I’m sure.
I also have some plans in the works for continued travel, and a lot more building up in terms of what I plan to do with my creative drive. I’m in a good position for my self-declared World Domination in 2014.
What I’ve gleaned from this entire adventure is: Put yourself in the position you want to be as much as you can. Get the right things moving in the right directions and the details tend to work themselves out.
Thanks for tuning in. Szia!