#1 Prologue

The beginning of a journey

We are made to believe, by books and movies and everything and everyone else, that travel is life changing. It's all "eat-pray-love-ing" and Hector searching for happiness and Woody Allen making Paris look perfect. 

It's easy to assume that our expectations will meet up with reality. That the Colosseum will be just as big as it looks in the pictures and Paris will be as quaint and golden as it is on TV. And, these days, it's hard not to have expectations about almost everything. 

That's certainly true of me. 

#2 The Man in Parliament Square

A Chance (Second) Meeting

And there he was. An old man wearing a newsboy cap and a big coat. His white hair stuck out from under his cap in tufts and there were bags under his bright eyes.

We found Ian sitting in the shadow of the statue of George Canning with his easel and a small Union Jack flag. He was working on a watercolor of Big Ben.

Just as I snapped a picture of him, he turned around and saw us.  

He said hello and we started talking.

 

#3 Twenty Minutes Late

Listening to the Beauty

"There was a clearing that sloped downward, with patches of grass and bushes and rocky outcrops. Groups of friends and couples were scattered everywhere. Sharing bottles of wine. Taking pictures. Laughing.

As I made my way forward, a familiar feeling crept in. One I’d felt nonstop for the past two days.

Like I was trespassing."

 

#4 Border Control

a mistake at the checkpoint

The big white bus was en route from Croatia to Montenegro.

We got to the border and pulled into a compound that looked like a toll booth on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. The driver was a grumpy Croatian guy. He steered us over to border control.  The bus shuddered to a stop.

He stood, turned to us, and said something that sounded like, “Passports.”

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#5 Checkmate

Losing and winning

The Szechenyi thermal baths is the most popular bathhouse in Budapest and one of the largest in Europe. An extravagant, public pool. The most basic entrance fee gives you access to a locker and any of the indoor and outdoor pools. The massages cost extra.

What you’re really paying for is access to see the inside.

Most tourists bought tickets just to take pictures. But I came to Szechenyi for another reason.

I came to play chess.

 

#6 Right in the Middle

 

musings and gelato

I thought about how I loved Budapest and all of its quirks. How it was so distinct from other places — unpolished and rough around the edges, yet somehow classic and modern at the same time. I didn’t think I’d ever be done with Budapest — I’d been here twice and still hadn’t seen everything. Travel could be difficult that way. You go somewhere, wanting to see everything, do everything, experience all you can. You go knowing there won’t be enough time for everything. And when you leave, it has to be enough.

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#7 Something Old

Ancient Time-Telling

By 10 minutes to the hour, a crowd of hundreds had gathered around the Astronomical Clock in Prague’s Old Town Square. Every face was turned up, watching, waiting.

That corner of Prague’s Old Town hummed with voices. Everyone was anxious, shifting where they stood as they waited to see what happened at the top of the hour.

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#8 Shakespeare and Yoda

An unexpected, furry friend

I learned that the brown dog’s name was Yoda. He was a fox terrier and hunting dog mix. Only a few years old.

He had better paw-eye coordination than any dog my family had ever owned. He could run after the ball without a leash and not get distracted. And if the ball accidentally landed over the fence, he’d hop up on the ledge and paw at it until it came free. He was good at standing still for selfies.

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#9 Standing Up

 

Back to Basics

Filipe told me to practice the motion. Lying on the board on my stomach. Placing my hands beneath my chest. Bending my leg, positioning my foot, then jumping into standing position. He told me that when I jump, my leg has to come out and around, far forward on the board.  

“It’s like kicking a football,” Filipe said, and, though I know he means soccer, the meaning is still lost on me. I can’t kick a soccer ball to save my life. 

He took some photos, put the leash on my left foot, and led me to the water.

#10 Dirty with Dye

Three Scarves and a Handshake

“Looking for your friend?” a man asked. 

My mom. Close enough. I nodded. 

He pointed toward the back of the stall behind me. “She’s in there.” 

I hadn’t seen her, but I took his word for it and walked inside.

#11 The Moroccan Boy

Thoughts from Above the Square

I snapped pictures of the people below. The man driving a cart full of orange rinds. A snake charmer who wasn’t really charming anything, or anyone. The men with the monkeys dressed in FC Barcelona jerseys and tutus and sunglasses. The groups of women sitting on low stools with books full of Henna designs. And the male musical group dressed in green and yellow and red robes. 

Once I noticed him, I couldn’t look away. 

The little boy.

#12 Permanently Edited

A story about beauty

It was mystical here. A place fit for heroes, for Odysseus.

The cliffs were like a mirage. Shimmery and staggering. As if maybe they weren’t actually there. It was the way the light hit everything. Like the world was video footage that had been permanently edited to catch the light in all the right ways. The kind of pure sunlight you only get on perfect summer days. And the water was just so incredibly blue. The bluest water I’d ever seen. Sparkling, see-the-bottom-because-it’s-so-clear blue.

#13 Less Shiny

Realizations from the beach

Positano shone a little less without the sun. 

It was prettier from above anyway — when the people were no more than ants moving up and down the rows of their toothpick sized umbrellas. 

The water was crystal clear and I’d been wearing my bathing suit under my clothes for two days.

#14 Eyes Closed

Irish pubs and feel-good songs

Woah, my mom said, what just happened to you? 

I tried to change the subject.  

When my mom finally got me to start talking, like she always does, I had to force back tears. 

This is what I told her:

#15 An Awfully Great Adventure

Last stop 

“You go,” mom said to me. I unlocked the car for her and bounded ahead, eager to do this one last thing on my own. 

We’d gone searching for a viking tomb on a mountain in South Iceland. After a two hour long detour through a canyon that, surprise, did not lead to the viking tomb, we stopped to refuel and checked Google Maps. 

When we got to the right place, we stood side by side and read the signs by the parking area. The viking tomb was on the far end, at the top of the mountain. My mom saw the incline and decided to wait in the car. I saw the incline and thought, “For the story, right?”

 

#16 The Last Sunset

The Road home

We listened to The Night Circus and drove toward Selfoss. The muted gray clouds that covered the sky turned dark. 

The sun fell, and eventually peeked out just above the horizon. A horizontal line of pale orange light shot out from the sun, halted by the cloud cover. 

We drove toward it.

#17 Epilogue

The lessons from a summer abroad 

Go abroad and you will supposedly come home a different person. 

But nowhere in the guidebooks does it say how that change happens. It’s not as simple as seeing a landmark or visiting a famous museum. There’s much more to it than that, and no one can tell you how or where or when it will happen to you.