Say Yes. Before you can think about it too much and create reasons to bring yourself down. Most importantly, say it to yourself and use it like a life mantra.
That’s what I did this summer and here’s what happened.
Seriously, is this real life? Did I just spend almost three months on the road (the longest I’ve traveled at once and mostly solo), set up temporary bases in Bologna, Stockholm, and Reykjavik and escape the worst days of summer in Dubai? I need to remind myself that this is real, as I write this on my journey from Reykjavik to Ljubljana via Copenhagen for my next adventure and the Icelandic music on my Icelandair flight makes this feel like one big dream, one that I definitely don’t want to wake up from.
As you might remember from my last update, the adventure began with Blogville in Italy’s Emilia Romagna. I spent my first week in Italy in the lively musical city of Bologna in a dream home (grazie mille Blogville) overlooking Piazza Maggiore and exploring the incredible cuisine of Italy, captivating musical traditions of Bologna, and the serenity of the Po Delta. I also got to hike a part of the Alta Via Trail, and see it in all its mystic appeal on a foggy summer day.
I learnt the art of traditional pasta making by teachers who told me that Spaghetti Bolognese was a culinary myth. I met a professional violin-maker, one of only four remaining ones in Bologna, UNESCO City of Music. I graduated from the world’s only gelato university- Carpigiani (yes that happened). I spent a night sleeping in a real Italian castle.
Ankit joined me for a week and we found Tuscan wine trails and rainbows to chase as we made a lovely agriturismo in Tuscany our base. Over three days we hiked on the coastal trails of Cinque Terre’s postcard perfect villages before he set out on his own solo adventure and I flew to Stockholm for TBEX Europe 2016.
After a month in Italy, as is characteristic of me, I had formed a bond. With the warmth and kindness of the people I met in Italy, the adorable nonnas who didn’t speak any English but expressed way more than mere words ever could with their enthusiastic gestures and happy smiles. With getting lost in every city, spirited Bologna, romantic Florence, it’s calmer neighbor Siena, and the medieval time warps of Montepulciano, Montalcino, and Pienza, and with finding more than I set out for in the sweet songs of street musicians who could have as well be performing a grand concert to an audience of thousands.
With truly cherishing every single meal, always with a glass of outstanding wine and often, fantastic company in the form of my fellow bloggers at Blogville, inspiring individuals from whom I learnt so much about travel and blogging. With never finding a reason to deny myself a beautiful gelato, always a work of art or a calorie-laden meal of pasta, always a happy meal. And finally with the warmest, most hospitable people I’ve ever met- from Silvia and Nicholas to Antonio and Riccardo – to whom I am forever grateful for believing in my work and giving me the opportunities to write the kind of stories that make my soul happy.
It was hard to tear myself away from that but I was excited about slow traveling in Sweden and meeting old and new friends at TBEX Europe 2016. At first, I arrived in Stockholm with mixed feelings and nostalgia for the openness of the Italians. I was used to being looked deep into my eyes by a gorgeous barista while being handed my Affogato, and I wondered if I’d like the contrast with Swedes, known for their reserved demeanor.
Still, I wandered the streets of Stockholm, somewhat fascinated, unable to decide if it was the cobblestone city, with its colorful Gothic architecture, tranquil parks, and many islands that was more beautiful or its gorgeous and fit residents. Slowly, I got to know the city and without a fixed schedule rushing me, I had plenty of time to experience life like a local- cooking every day, working a lot, running in the parks, and enjoying picnics by the beach like the locals in summer.
But I couldn’t sit still in the city for too long and off I went to the islands in the Stockholm Archipelago, each one different from the rest- even Bryggholmen, a tiny dot in the archipelago where I was the only visitor from a total of 10 people on the island, Svartso where local women are spearheading the growth of tourism, Uto and Sandhamn, where my journey was even more fun than I imagined on a RIB with Oppet Hav.
Serendipitous travel moments that I couldn’t believe happened to me, led me to two highlights- the first was on Stora Kalholmen, where I spent hours talking to one of the most inspiring women I’ve met in my life, and the second on Ingmarso where I was invited to a fun community music festival. Somewhere in the middle of all this, I connected with old friends and made new ones at TBEX Europe 2016, one of whom will be moving to Dubai soon to study Arabic, what a coincidence! Serendipity, I tell you it’s a magical thing.
After TBEX, I got to explore Skelleftea in Swedish Lapland, led by Saleta, sweet, warm, and bursting with infectious energy- the kind of person that makes travel with companions even more fun. Here I got to see a completely different Swedish landscape, fika on an island while canoeing in the River Skelleftea, be led by a strong and intelligent husky through the forest, ride on a quad-bike through a wilderness reserve looking for moose, and meet the inspiring people of Lapland.
It was like the universe was saying to me, “Here is all the awesomeness that comes with a life of travel. I love you.” And I said it back to the universe, every single day, “Thank you for this life, I can’t believe that I get to live this life.”
Then, as my days in Sweden were coming to an end, and I began to think about how I wasn’t ready to go home yet, the universe listened one more time. It gave me a choice- More travel: Now or Some unknown time in the future? My heart said, “Go now. Now is the best time that it will ever be.” So I said, “Yes, now please. Thank you!”
And through decisions and opportunities that came around just when I needed them, I found myself on a flight to my favorite country in the world- Iceland, my heart bursting with joy to be in Reykjavik. I couldn’t wait to see my best friend, an absolute gem in my life and his lovely girlfriend who’d just become parents to the most beautiful baby boy ever.
My second time in Iceland was more relaxed than the first and I wasn’t there to travel around the ring road hitting up spots or photograph everything. Instead, I wanted to slow down, spend time with my loved ones, and put my heart into my work fueled by the rush that my creativity gets when I’m in Reykjavik. I did however get the opportunity to experience the wonder that is the Icelandic highlands during a super jeep trip to Landmannalaugar.
I also got to join my best friend Ingo on a trip to the South Coast and hike on the Solheimajokull glacier- a completely difference experience than winter, and see Skogafoss and Seljalandsfoss again and relax in a secret hot spring. And there was the chance to see Hallgrimskirkja everyday, a sight to behold that looks even better as the late evening summer sky is set ablaze in streaks of orange pink flames.
After two weeks and a particularly difficult goodbye, I’m now heading to my next adventure in Slovenia. I’ll spend the next ten days at BIG BERRY, a glamping lifestyle resort in the heart of nature where I’ll meet local artisanal producers, visit Ljubljana and see the beauty of the Slovenian countryside and I know I’ll love it. After that, I’ll be exploring the Cultural Routes of Europe that will take me from Slovenia to Austria and Serbia (more on that in another post) before I return home to Dubai at the end of August.
While this all feels like a dream, and I cannot believe the opportunities, kindness and hospitality that has come to me from my friends around the world, I just want to fold my hands in gratitude and then maybe give the universe a giant bear hug.
I like to think I didn’t just get lucky because I work hard, like really hard, and have taken some huge risks with my career. But there is some magic involved in the fact that I’ve met such amazing, positive and inspiring people that have showed up with a flashlight to shine a light in my direction and reach out with their hand to hold mine while I was stumbling around in the dark. If only I could tell the Natasha of five years ago that she’d find them someday.
So before my eyes well up at the boarding area of my next flight and I make a complete emotional ass of myself, I’m just going to wrap this post with this:
Thank you for finally listening. I’ll never forget what this feels like.