A Polish friend that I made at my hostel in Athens introduced me to the Portuguese word, ‘saudade’. The word does not have an English equivalent but can be described as a melancholic feeling of the love that remains after someone you care about is gone. It can be felt during the present moment when you are with someone, after you part ways, or even as a future feeling.
I can honestly say that I have felt this bittersweet aching to at least a mild extent, as I have formed friendships with some the best people I have ever met in Edinburgh and on my excursions elsewhere and possibly will never enjoy their presence again. I used to be under the impression that it was a poor use of time and energy to bond with people who will likely not continue to be in your life, but I was mistaken. Although physically absent, the impact that I have felt and the memories that have been created will always be a part of my life and in many cases, have changed who I am as a person. I will never again question the point of getting to know others over a short period of time. Two days or even a few hours with very special people have impacted more than some (but not many) connections I have had with others for years.
My trip to Munich was a complete success, my host Lili and her friends and family made my experience more wonderful than I could have imagined. Experiencing traditional Bavarian and Portuguese food was a great highlight, both types being every foodie’s dream. The best way I could describe this food would be to call it home-cooked and heart-warming, although not always warm or cooked at home. German beer is also excellent and has ruined me for life (sorry Budweiser). I had the delight of experiencing rowdy dancing starting a tussle in one of the nicest bars I’ve ever been in, the unique and unnerving Jean-Paul Gaultier exhibit, Olympia Park and tower with the best view of the city, and all the wonder of the Marienplatz. Salzburg, Austria also provided its fair share of amusement, and I found that the only and best way to travel in Bavaria is by car, on the autobahn, listening to German guys sing along to Justin Bieber with much enthusiasm. I also learned that McDonalds in Germany is far superior to anything served in the States, why we haven’t figured out that a hash brown patty on a bacon burger is a good combination is beyond my reckoning. While the food and activity was amazing, the most valuable part of the trip was the short friendship I made with everyone I spent time with, especially considering the language barrier, as the only German I picked up is ‘scheisse!’ Lili and her family were extremely welcoming and made me feel like I was at home with mine and her friends welcomed me graciously. Leaving behind my own friends for nine months is hard every single day, but I find a bit of each friend from home in the new ones that I make and am home.
The most fortunate trip of my life, I am beginning to think there is some truth to the positive energy emitted from the ancient relics of Greece. Traveling solo is not something that I planned on, but that is what happened and I was anxious to see how it would play out, never having been completely on my own in an unfamiliar place. It turned out that I was hardly on my own and traveling solo is one of the best leaps I have ever taken. Athens is beautiful, a mixture of the extremely old and very modern, an interesting and diverse city that is unlike anywhere I have experienced. Staying at a hostel in the heart of the popular Plaka area, I had the privilege of waking up to views of the Acropolis and even getting to relax on the roof and stargaze. I was afraid that the hostel would be deserted (February being the off-season) and I wouldn’t have anything to do in the evenings and become lonely on my own. Although it was not crowded, the people I met at the hostel and in town were incredible and formed my entire experience. In my observation, nobody who travels alone actually wants to be alone and human beings naturally desire companionship. The first night I was in Athens, I was culturally educated by friendly Greeks, invited along for an impacting adventure with a wonderful French girl and German man, and became part of the unique vibes of the streets of Athens. Hearing and watching young rappers of varying nationalities freestyling for the public, seated at the edge of the ancient Agora, was one of the defining moments in Athens. I learned that while many struggling people try to scam you on some entrepreneurial scheme, some Athenians just want to be friendly and that the walls I put up were closing off to a much higher extent than protecting. And maybe paying a euro for a cheap bracelet isn’t the worst thing to do. The National Garden in Athens is one of the prettiest I have ever seen and with the lucky warm weather, I spent a relaxing afternoon delighting in ripe strawberries and sunshine. I also was bestowed cultural wisdom from a pleasant Greek man who simply wanted to pass time with conversation. Even when I was departing, I was not alone, for a fellow hostel-mate had a flight at the same time and we enjoyed each other’s company on the metro and beyond.
Everything I learned in Athens was not an effect of my own influence, but was mainly due to the impact of the wonderful people I met there. A group of American guys basically adopted me for a few days and I could not be more grateful for that fast friendship. I had no plans other than to see the main sights in Athens and figure it out along the way. It turns out, I am horrible at navigation and deciding where to go and what to do on your own is difficult when you haven’t planned ahead. Lucky for me, I had an army to rescue me and with whom I got to travel to Delphi. In my limited but staunch opinion, they are the most fun and laid-back cadets in the entire force, and they taught me a lot. Further, I found that spending six hours on a tour bus is one of the best ways to bond with new friends (especially when you share a love for Lord of the Rings and an impressive Gollum voice is casually used). I highly recommend it, and Delphi is sublime in every way.
Greek cuisine was a treat as well, indulging in delicious street gyros, greek salad, traditional dishes such as moussaka, ouzo and the best wine I have ever tried. Greek yogurt is not just a marketing ploy and paired with honey (which I am convinced is in every greek dish) and muesli, is fantastic. It was the first time I was in a warm climate during the winter months and having fresh fruit and vegetables widely available was one of those lovely little things.
If you would have told me six years ago that I grew up to travel solo to Greece and met many amazing people, I would have laughed and said that was impossible. I could hardly work up the nerve to ask for directions, talking to strangers by choice was completely out of the question. My shy nature has thankfully evolved over time and I hope to continue exploring with a fair amount of boldness.
While my time spent in new and exciting places is highly enjoyable, I found myself homesick for Edinburgh often. It is not common to have multiple layers of home, but I very much appreciate it. Not only do I get to feel at home with new friends on holiday, Edinburgh and the States also hold my heart. I only have a few more months in this beautiful city and I sure plan to make the most of them.
My good fortune wasn’t fortune at all, not ancient blessings of the pagan gods, it was rather a gift of kindness and love from so many souls and I am forever blessed. I know my family was praying for my safety and overall experience and surely those prayers were answered and I am very grateful for that support as well. If you are ever losing faith in humanity and are in need of some saving, hop on a plane and get lost somewhere. I assure that someone, or perhaps many, will point you in the right direction.