Week 14: The luckiest girl in the world

There was a time, not so long ago when doing this would have been impossible. It doesn’t seem so long ago that I was stuck waiting for life to happen, waiting to see if I would get better, get my life back. Then, I would only plan a few weeks ahead, any more than that would have been pointless. There was no certainty, at times, there was hardly any hope.

To me then, traveling was a dream, something so good that it could never actually happen. But then I started getting better, and I started hoping that it would happen, that I would get to travel, and see the world and now I am.

There have been times when I have been tired when the comforts of home have seemed inviting, then the routine and ease of it all feels like it’s calling. But then I sleep and rest and met someone new and see something amazing and I don’t want to stop.

I have hiked in national parks, met people from all over the world. Heard stories that have reminded me how privileged I am to have been born in the UK to parents who always had enough of everything. I’ve seen the poverty in parts of eastern Europe. I’ve seen the wealth in other parts of the continent. I’ve traveled on trains fresh out of the ’70s with no aircon that run super slow and taken high-speed modern trains that don’t give you enough time to see the scenery you are rushing past.

Last week I sat on a rickety old chairlift in the Bulgarian mountains, laughing and talking about ‘the challenges’ of life on the road. Our problems are small ones, lack of good towels, the constant sense of running out of time, having to wait to use the toilet, things so insignificant they only come up when everything else is so good you have nothing to complain about.

Life on the road is simple, you have nothing but what you carry, you wear the same clothes on repeat without always getting a chance to wash them, you sleep in a different bed every few nights, have the same conversation with new people every day.

I enjoy the lack of routine, for me, at home, I need a strong routine to keep my head clear, on the road every day brings something new and I have relaxed into not always knowing what will come my way. I have learned to change my plans at short notice, to adapt and change to suit my environment. To me, there is less pressure living like this. I feel free to be myself and live how I want to. There are few expectations, even fewer rules and I have less rules for myself too.

And every time, I stop and think, I can’t help but feel that, at the moment, I’m the luckiest girl in the world.

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I hope this has been an enjoyable episode,

With love,

The girl with the braid in her hair xxx

Week 12: A familiar face and a faraway place

Warning: this is a long one!

After 2 and a half months Sarah comes to visit. We started planning this so long ago, April to be exact. At that point, Budapest seemed a lifetime away. I had so much to do and so much to see and then suddenly I’m sitting in a cafe in Budapest seeing one of my oldest friends walking towards me.

Me and Sarah met when we are about 11 in a climbing competition, since we have done many stupid things together. It is her fault I dreamed up this trip, we are in a competition to see who can visit all the European countries first). When she said she wanted to come out it was when I thought I would be easily hopping from capital to capital. We settled on Budapest and Bratislava, I let her do the planning for this bit.

And now we are in Budapest and she is melting in the heat of mid-summer in central Europe and I find that I’m pretty used to 30 degrees now and we are joking and laughing about how I’m so excited about finding cheddar in a supermarket and everything feels so good.

We get to the apartment and she almost has a meltdown when she can’t get the key to work as it is hot and she is tired and I laugh and take it from her. We get the aircon working and she half climbs into the fridge to cool down. We laugh and I love the feeling of not having to do the introductions with someone new. I have loved everything I’ve done, I’ve met amazing people but 5 days with an old friend feels like a treat.

We get confused over Hungarian currency then cause a queue at the ticket machine for the tram as we can’t work out what tickets to buy. I force her to walk through the city to the supermarket in the heat to buy food and then we go back to the apartment and I cook us dinner and she does the washing up and everything flows.

The next day we do a free walking tour, the guide is obsessed with art nouveau which gets a bit much after a while. We eat lunch in a traditional Hungarian restaurant and find a water misster that sprays you to help you cool down. We sit by a fountain and then head to a bathhouse where we do walking races across the pools which Sarah wins and endurance competitions in the cold pool that I win.

That evening I manage to fuse the lights and the aircon in our room. We laugh and improvise. The next morning Sarah learns I will sleep through everything but my name being said. After breakfast, we head out into the city again and find our way to the musical fountain on Margaret Island and we sit getting splashed watching the water show.

The next day we take a very hot train to Bratislava. It’s 34 degrees outside and there is no aircon only an open window to keep us cool. She does her colouring in and I write my journal and knit. We reach the city and our accommodation and Sarah gets stressed out with a key again. We dump our stuff and then head into the old town for a walking tour. This one is better the guide is really good and we both enjoy it. We find dinner then head back to the apartment for a quiet evening.

The next day we do a city game (a bit like an escape room but running around the city). We enjoy it but there are a few bits that seem to have a got a little lost in translation and we way over complicate it at the start. By the time we finish we are both crazy hungry and so get pancakes followed by icecream and by the time we finish our ‘lunch’ its 5pm. We sit for a while in a square and then head home via the well air-conditioned supermarket where we spend ages hunting unsuccessfully for peanut butter.

We say we will get an early night but instead, I keep us up looking at trains and planning another part of my trip and getting overwhelmed by train timetables and then it’s almost midnight and we need to go to bed. I’m on a train to the High Tatra mountains and Sarah is going home and I can’t believe our time together is over already.

The journey is pretty easy, I each Poprad and take a risk by going to the supermarket before getting the bus but manage to time it perfectly and only have to wait 5 minutes before a bus to Zdiar comes. The driver doesn’t speak English and it’s a little hard to communicate but I manage. I overshoot the stop I want and have to walk 1.5km back to the village. I get an incredibly warm welcome when I reach the hostel and even though I don’t eat Pizza I go out with everyone that evening having cooked and eaten first.

After dinner, everyone sits out on the porch chatting. I plan with Megan and Rachel to go to the Polish lakes the next day. It’s a very relaxed atmosphere and I can’t remember how it comes up but I end up telling Rachel that I’m autistic. A few of us chat about it for a while. Rachel is a psychologist and is researching into autistic girls. There are some teachers there as well and it’s really interesting to talk to them about their experiences and share my own. It’s funny how things work out.

The next day I’m up early to get a bus that ends up not existing. Megan, Rachel and I stand at the bus stop for 45 minutes in the end but we do get to the Slovakian border and from there we walk to the national park on the polish side. It’s busy, it’s a Saturday and this is one of the most famous lakes in the area. The first bit is just on a road, my blood sugars try to go low a few times but I manage to avoid a proper Hypo.

The first lake we reach is so crowded. It’s nice but there are so many people. I find it harder to appreciate nature when it’s that busy. We sit a while and eat a little but then head off for the next part of the walk, this takes us away from the crowds and is much more interesting. It’s a long day but we all enjoy it. On the way back, we meet a Polish lady and her daughter, they have been coming to the area for years but haven’t met any English speakers before. We chat as we walk. We are all tired by this time and so it’s nice to have another conversation.

We say goodbye when we hit the main path back. The three of us try to figure out the best way to get back to the hostel, we have missed the bus we wanted and the next won’t be for a few hours. We walk the 2km back towards the border and try to hitchhike but to no luck. Then a car pulls up in front of us and a familiar face pokes out, it’s our Polish friends and they dive us all the way back to the hostel.

We all shower then head out again. There is a beer festival in the village and everyone else from the hostel is there. It’s not something I would normally go to but the hostel is such a nice place and the people so welcoming that I feel comfortable enough to go with them. I eat and drink tap water while everyone else tastes lots of beer. It’s a little noisy but I enjoy myself. As things start to wind down a band is playing outside and everyone is out there. I go outside too but the noise and vibrations from the music is too much and I return to the shelter of the building.

I see Rachel looking around for me but I can’t go outside to tell her why I disappeared. I feel embarrassed that I can’t be outside. I want to be with the others but I can’t be in that noise. Even though they know I’m autistic it’s still not fun to have to say I can’t join in because of something everyone else enjoys. I think about going home, but I don’t want to go. It’s a situation I have been in a hundred times before, the longing to join in fighting against the overwhelming stimulus that makes me so uncomfortable I have to flee from it.

But people come inside and when I explain Rachel and Megan stay inside with me until it finished and we all go home. I don’t like making people choose between being with me and being in the environment I can’t tolerate but they didn’t seem to mind and they choose me.

The next day I take it easy, sleeping in and eating nice food. I chat with Rachel about her research and manage to do some writing. It’s nice to just sit and relax. There is a thunderstorm in the evening and I sit out on the porch in the pouring rain watching in.

On my last full day in the Tatra’s, I join two Aussie sisters and we do the saddle hike, it’s the one everyone who goes to the (https://www.gingermonkey.eu) does. The scenery is amazing and I’m pretty pleased with myself once I’ve done it. After 4 years of not hiking my fitness isn’t as good as it once was but after my time in Lofoten it’s getting better and I enjoy the feeling of pushing myself.

That evening after dinner it’s movie night and so I settle down to watch slumdog millionaire in the living room. It’s been an amazing 4 days in a part of the world I hadn’t even heard about until it popped up on a Lonely Planet post on Facebook.

I’m sad to leave the next morning but I can’t help but look forward to what the final 2 months of the trip will bring.

And as a reward for getting thought all these words, have some lovely pictures!

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I hope you have enjoyed this episode!

With Love

The girl with the braid in her hair xxx

Week 8: Goodbye Scandinavia (Norway)

It’s hard to believe June has ended already. Time and distance have stopped meaning anything to me. Every day is something new and it’s getting hard to keep track of things. After the peace and quiet of the farm, city-hopping is another world.

My last full day in Norway was spent walking on a glacier. The whole experience was surreal and amazing but the main thing I took away from it all was how FAST climate change is affecting the planet. The Glacier I was on shrunk by 80m last year alone. It’s a terrifying thought to think that one day there might not be any left at all.

The next day I headed to Oslo, after the price of the bus to get to my hostel I decided not to bother and to try to hitchhike all the way. Now people who know me will know that I like plans and order. I’m habitually early for everything and hate not knowing what’s going on. Hitchhike small distances is one thing, this was the biggest leap into the unknown I’d taken.

Leaving the hostel I get a lift with a French couple to the local town, Sogndal. It’s raining and the wind is a little cold. Not the best weather to hang about by the side of the road. The thing about Norway is that even in the rain it is an easy place to wait for things, the constant changing of the scenery and the beauty that surrounds me is enough to make waiting for an hour by the side of the road is almost pleasant. An old Norweigan man picks me up and takes me over the ferry to about 20 minutes from the main road. I wait for over an hour by the ferry until I’m picked up again and dropped off on the main road between Bergan and Oslo.

I’m not there long when a van stops and the man driving offers me a lift… All the way to Oslo. It’s a 5-hour ride over the highest mountains in Norway. Kjell, my lift is one of those people who genuinely cares about people and we talk easily as we drive. At every turning point and stop, he tells me what the plan is so I always feel safe and enjoy the ride.

I basically skip Oslo and the next day take a train to Stockholm. I arrive at the hostel past midnight and sneak into the room.

I enjoy Stockholm as a city but find it hard to get to know anyone in the hostel. I meet a Ukrainian girl on a walking tour who I get along with and we spend an evening and a day together. The medieval and historical town is interesting. I enjoy walking around and seeing it in the sun. But I feel a bit isolated. After my time in Norway, it’s like the happy bubble I have lived in burst. Norway I felt totally free. Everything was easy and fun. Stockholm feels more limiting. It’s not so much because it’s a city but I don’t have the easy confidence I’m used to when traveling.

I miss Norway and the mountains, I find it easier to be alone when in nature. I wonder if I did the best bit first and the rest if my trip won’t be able to hold up to the experiences I’ve already had. I tell myself to remain positive, Sunday I board a ferry and head to Poland. I’m glad to be leaving and moving on. I’ll miss Norway but I’ve had enough of Stockholm. I just hope Gdansk will help me feel free again.

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Hope you enjoyed,

With love,

The girl with the braid in her hair xxx

Week 4: ‘Trainee police officer accidentally kidnaps British tourist’

I have been away a month now. I’ve found a comfortable routine on the farm, working in the garden, picking leaves for herbal teas, packing teas and spice blends on rainy days. Life is easy here. Time has run away with me and it’s hard to believe that I have less than two weeks on the farm before I move on south.

I have seen all season, it’s been winter, then autumn, then summer then spring. It has been beautiful sunshine and I have worked in a T-shirt and sun hat and it’s snowed. Some days you can see for ver from the top of the mountains and other days, like today, you can hardly see the mountains at all. I have lived simply, most days with little incident, just amazing scenery and nice people.

I have discovered how easy it is to hitch-hike and that most people seem to want to help you out. (Christiane, one of my workmates on the farm, says I’m doing so well because I look so sweet and innocent. It’s a good job looks can be deceiving otherwise I would be in trouble).

After exploring most of the local area, ie, where I can walk to from the farm, I have been setting my sights a little further afield. Now living 4km from the main road and have blood sugar leaves that insist on be stupid no matter what I do means I’ve been having to plan my trips quite carefully. Getting to the main road takes about 45mins by foot then you have to hope to get picked up.

On my last day off I took a trip to the coast. The plan was to walk from Eggum to Unstad. A path that follows the coast on the north side of the island. The clouds were low and it was raining on and off all day. Standing on the Eggum road sticking out my thumb to every car that passed I was ready to accept it might not be a good day for a lift.

Luckily I wasn’t there too long when someone offered to take me part way, I was a little unsure as if I couldn’t get a lift the last part it would mean walking back again but decided to take the chance. My lift, deciding Eggum wasn’t too much further than he wanted to go ended up driving me all the way and I was left full of the joy that comes from kindness.

The area around Eggum is dramatic, steep mountains rise up seeming straight from the sea, the clouds kept the tops to view and the waves crashed angrily on the rocks. There weren’t too many people out due to the poor weather and I enjoy my walk, scrambling over the rocks, standing under waterfalls and watching the clouds roll in from the sea.

I walk enjoying the solitude and the weather. I have just finished a tricky bit of very slippery scrambling when a woman stands up from under a rock she had been huddling from the rain beneath and asks me how far we are from Eggum. We chat a little about where we are planning to go. I said I walked from Eggum and am heading to Unstad and then will try to hitch a ride home, her reaction to this is to offer me a lift as she is parked at Unstad. We walk back not quite together, both of us enjoying the relative solitude of walking, and when we reach the end of the trail she asks if I still want a lift. I say I do and we chat the last part as we head to the car.

We drive back to the main road chatting easily. It’s always nice when I meet people that not only offer to help me but are easy to talk to and make you feel welcome in their space. She is a trainee police officer from Oslo doing her year away in Lofoten to be able to spend time in the mountains. I ask what kinds of crime happen here (there can’t be much, we keep the door of the house wide open most of the time and the cafe door is never locked) she says mainly drugs. It’s a quiet place around here.

We reach the main road but then turn in what I think is the opposite direction to where I want to go. I sit looking out the window unsure, I don’t know the roads here that well but I’m almost 100% sure that we should be going the other way to get to where she said she would take me. After a bit of indescion, I look at her and say ‘I think I need to go in the opposite direction to this’. I assume she will just let me out but she laughs and finds a place to turn around.

As we drive on she laughs, “It would make a good headline” she says “Trainee police officer accidentally kidnaps British tourist!”

Turns out she was just on autopilot and was heading home.

As with most of the people, I have met her she goes out of her way to help me out a drives me all the way back to the farm. In return, I give her a tour and cheese tasting.

 

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I hope you have enjoyed the story of my latest adventure!

Lots of Love

The girl with the brain in her hair xxx

 

Week 2: A quiet life

I’m sitting outside in shorts and a t-shirt writing this. The sun is blazing down and it feels like it’s 25 degrees outside, it’s not, it’s below 20 but sun cream is on and I’ve been working most of today in a T-shirt and even the accidental shower I gave myself with the hose was on the pleasant side of cold.

Right now I’m the only one outside, everyone else is having the post-meal rest. We eat dinner at 3pm here and every day, no matter how busy people are there is a lull of activity after the meal. Life here follows gentle rules, very little feels rushed, Everything is allowed to take its time. the only time I have felt at all under pressure is when Klara the Candian (not so mini) mini pig gets into the garden and I’ve had to try to chase her out.

I spent most of my work time in the garden. It makes a change to be working outside to the song of birds and the rustling of the wind in the trees. The valley the farm is situated it had a little over 10 houses, most are at the end by the lake the rest belong to the family of the farm and are scattered about the land a short distance away. The road has so few cars on it when they do come they seem as loud as airplanes do at home. On days the sun is shining I don’t think there could be a more idyllic place. No matter what I want to be outside here, it feels a world away from London.

I’ve been away for a little over two weeks but it feels longer, home and the routine that comes with it seems like another world, commuting an hour to work, the rush of people, the traffic on the roads, the sirens of ambulances and police cars as they rush past, it all feels like another reality that I have no desire to get back to.

I got used to the pace of life here easily, I take pleasure in the beauty of my surroundings and things like collecting eggs from the chickens every day make me smile. There is a simplicity here as well and the peace. Most of the food I cook for myself comes from the farm. The nearest shop is 8km away and I’m waiting for someone to help me adjust the bike seat before I can realistically get there on my own. At home, I’m used to being within 1o minutes of a shop at all time. Anything you want can be found easily. Being here has reminded me that some things that are so easy to take for granted are actually luxuries. Chocolate tastes so much better when it’s hard to get hold of and super expensive to buy.

After running in at 100mph the first week I have slowed down a bit, not I’m not going to see all of Lofoten but I will be awake enough to enjoy the bits that I do see. Last week Tove (who owns the farm) took me on a cheese delivery run to Solvaer it’s an hour in the car and the scenery is dramatic the whole way, while on Vestagoy the mountains shelter farmland on most of the other islands in the archipelago the mountains dominate.

I join the family on the 17th of May celebrations. The National day in Norway is taken very seriously, it’s not something I have witnessed before and I was surprised to find myself part of the local parade.

My time here is moving quickly, the end of May is already approaching and I’m over 1/3 of the way through my stay here. I’m as relaxed as I’ve been in a long time and there are still so my mountains to climb!

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With Love,

The girl with the braid in her hair xxx