“To travel is to live” one of our old storytellers Hans Christian Andersen wrote, and I certainly agree with him. This story is a real life story, about how traveling into the unknown may end in a true fairy-tail. How intuition, along with a number of lucky choices plus a small portion of courage, can change the path and the future.
My initial choice was a farewell to my everyday life in Denmark. In the spring 2014 I offered a lift to a Dutch passenger via the carpool portal Gomore. She told me about her traveling in the Nordic countries and her stays at the so-called workaway places, mediated by workaway.info. 23 years before I finished my last longer trip around Europe, since that I lived a more or less “normal” Danish life, with a vacation every year. Janine’s story was so inspiring that I had to act on it. Until October 2014 I resigned my job and apartment, sold my vinyl collection and gave most of my belongings to charity.
October 14, I packed my Yaris with gear and clothing. My plan was to follow the European coastline to Portugal, around Gibraltar, Italy, Greece and drive north along the Black Sea. During a year with stops at 6 workaway places along the route. The first part held, the Black Sea I thankfully skipped and chose a route through Balkan, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. I had no plans for my future after traveling, nor when and where it precisely stopped.
Following the coastline was a really good choice. Europe’s coasts offer much more than the tourist-filled beaches, which I avoided as far as possible. There are amazing cliffs in places like Playa de Las Catedrales on the Spanish north coast, at Peniche in western Portugal and Lagos/Sagres in the south. And unique mountain scenarios along the Greek coast, around Peloponnese and Evia. A Yaris is no terre-road vehicle, but with careful driving it’s possible to find deserted and beautiful beaches and coves.
Driving along the coast leads through a few cities and countless small villages, which challenged my language skills. I lived in Portugal for a period in 1992, but haven’t spoken the language since. Yet I remembered enough to fairly communicate in Spain and Portugal and barely in Italy. No deep philosophical conversations, but with assistance from a phrasebook and a drawing pad I could ask for directions, do some shopping and talk about basic topics with the locals. When I reached Greece I was lost in translation, so to speak. Many Greeks speak English, but only a few manage a second language in the small villages. Yet, trying your best with gestures, a few words and the aforementioned drawing pad makes simple communication possible. And more important, it often creates a good atmosphere when meeting the locals.
At the workaway places communication was easy since everyone speaks English. But it also helped refreshing my language skills, because the “hosts” invites to meetings with their friends and neighbours. You participate in the daily work in exchange for food and accommodation, and it surely is a big optimization of the travel experience, to stay with local people and join their daily life and culture. It’s highly recommended to anyone who likes a travel beyond the traditional touristic places. Which I also visited though, but they are not important to this story. There are descriptions and pictures from there on my blog På rejse med Hr. P og Gekke. Look in the archives from October 2014 to June 2015.
Else, I spent the nights on all kinds of accommodations, from hotels and private rooms to camping in the open. I mostly drove alone but also in periods with passengers, some for a whole week. It was a mix of beautiful nature, cultural experiences, and a lot of new friends. And a few dramatic events. The first happened after a month and made me reconsider my project for a while. In a small Portuguese village, I was assaulted in broad day light on the street. After a short treatment on a local hospital and meeting some kind people, I was ready to continue though. The worst experience was on a Greek mountain. I was surprised by a storm with heavy rain and the car spun in a hairpin bends. I literally thought it was the end before the car finally stopped. So close to the edge that I had to get out of the passenger door. Experiences I would have preferred being without, but which somehow also provides diversity on a long travel.
After 9 months and about 24.000 km. I found myself in the Czech Republic, where I booked a trailer on a micro-camping near Cesky Krumlov. I planned spending 2 weeks looking for a new workaway place and starting some thoughts about what the future should bring. One day I drove the 25 km. to Ceske Budejovice for a revisit. I walked along the river, passed a cafe bar, and had a kind of strong gut feeling – one thing I’ve learned to act on while travelling. I walked back and into the place. When ordering a beer I looked into two beautiful brown eyes, and got a shock. Here the travel ends abruptly and becomes a fairy-tail.
I immediately recognized the woman with the beautiful eyes. We met 23 years earlier on another travel. Back then I was around Czech Republic on my way to Denmark. We fell in love but unfortunately lost contact shortly after. I spend 5 summer holidays between 1992 and 2005 trying to find her, but gave up then. Now my travel cup was already brimful of beautiful scenery and experiences and it floated over, trying to understand what just happened. On June 3, 2015, 3 pm. we incidentally met again after 23 years of separation, and we now live together in Ceske Budejovice, where I am trying hard to learn a language more.
“You don’t have to know the formula for water to get wet, you just have to jump into it.”