I waited. For bowed heads with ornate hairstyles attached. For deep glares from stern, angular bodies. A vivid sense of imbalance that I could use to dismiss a nation which had wounded me with its non-Zürich-ness. But the women were mostly looking straight ahead (and at some point which was other than me), and the men, likewise, seemed neither particularly impressed nor disgusted by my presence. A few days went by and I started to see that this, too, was a likeable place. A relatable place. A place with its own dignity economy, and rewards which revealed themselves even to a short-time visitor.
(It was when I landed in Tallinn, Estonia, that I noticed more of the misogyny I was looking for. But even that was counterbalanced in between deep friendliness, a passion for technology, and a hearty way of living. This city clearly deserves more time than we had for it.)
One thing my mother and I actually have in common is our fascination with ornate architecture. As such, I spent most of the time in Riga chasing one manifestation of aesthetic bliss to another. Along the way, I found out that the regular Jane may not be able to eat out, even for a special occasion, but doesn't allow that to diminish her enjoyment of the city's delights. I only needed to look at the physical environment discernible on the streets of the Old Town to see that the people were engaged by it. The vibe was cultured and sophisticated - a place people were creating something worth tuning into. I hope I can spend more time there someday, perhaps in month warmer than October.
Reading Henning Mankell's 'Dogs of Riga' was both a plus and a minus - the crime fiction tale put the city on my map, but continued to paint it in hues so gray, that it would take me a while to disentangle myself from a sense of horror upon viewing the real thing. I suppose I am grateful that Latvia was selected at all by the Swedish author I was dabbling in. I might not have been as eager to come otherwise. Reports of abundant Art Nouveau are one thing, but a narrative that stirs your imagination is far more lucrative. And so I reluctantly raced into the unknown, and ended up relishing the reliably colourful reality.
A decade ago it was pointed out to me that, being from Bulgaria, I could very well work in the UK if I felt like it. In 2018, I was quizzed extensively about my intentions for London and onward. By the end of the encounter I had handed over my phone to show the electronic proof of my onward ticket to Reykjavík, and explained those pesky visas to Vietnam (all three of them). I had more stamps from Thai airports, leaving me to speculate that it was the Southeast Asian country’s Communist status that had inspired suspicion. Whatever the case, after a 24 hour flight I’m generally not in the mood for this newfound interrogatory zeal. Next time I fly through friendlier customs in "The Continent."
B) Iceland made me feel at peace with my “psychic” powers
I have been told by my last few psychologists that it’s impossible to read people’s minds, advice I always felt missed the mark. I can agree that I’ll never know the exact detailed infrastructure of a person’s innermost thoughts, but I can often pick up quickly and intuitively on details that it might take a less sensitive, attuned person a five minute conversation to establish. Shutting down my intuition never helped me, and I see now that if I trust myself, I will go further in life than the naysayers can imagine.
Walking around Reykjavík, I was often treated in a way highly conscious of my general disposition. So used to trying to conceal aspects of my eccentricity, I was taken aback at the locals’ openness to it, and would have liked to stay longer and get used to ‘snap-judgements’ that worked in my favour!
A note to those thinking that I am indulging in magical thinking: I’m pretty sure my perceptions would be backed up by science, if tests were conducted. I even agree with those who claim that there is no such thing as intuition, but acquired (heightened) powers of observation.
C) London is still worth the visit
One my last night in Europe I made it to the 02 Brixton Academy to see Lykke Li live. An old favourite, LL charmed me and countless others with her feisty, sad ditties accrued around haunting, off-beat soundscapes. She was psyched to be there, and I was in a good mood for quite some time after.
In a nod to what makes London stand out as a global hub, I made the acquaintance of a Muscovite who had spent lengthy stints basking in the plentiful outsiders (and outsideryness) of the British capital. He only wished the people of this city were more enthusiastic about literature, and could incorporate more Russian-style authenticity into their lives. I was shown that Muscovites wouldn't smile at you if you asked them for directions on the street, but that smiles were something saved for a genuine friendship.
And so, even with Brexit looming, it's going to be hard to dismantle the melée of international influences which have made London into one of the most alluring cultural hotspots to be found. I will confess to feeling more relaxed about the city, having wandered off the (dark, gloomy) headlines of the Guardian page, and onto its shiny, elegant thoroughfares. People here treat each other with a kind of mutual respect that's appealing.
I've recently switched banks and created three different accounts within the new one. Ah, the things you do when you suddenly find yourself wanting to spend as much time with your partner as possible, and your partner is residing on the other side of the globe...
The move away from my old bank began when I realised that they were sucking up my savings through exorbitant charges made while I was using my account outside Australia. Now that I've made the move to an institution that charges me no fees at all, I wonder that it didn't occur to me to make this change before.
Three accounts, you say? One is for fixed expenses (e.g. fortnightly public transport use), the next is for variable expenses (e.g. that new Little Mix CD I'm aching to acquire), and the final savings account that will get me to my long-term goals.
I will begin to actively use this system tomorrow, when I get paid. Multiple financial experts have advised me to adopt it, and witness the greater control over my spending that it results in.
I haven't completely cut ties with my old bank either, so I have the option of an extra account for short-term savings (e.g. new eyeglasses, quality haircuts, private dental cleans). If I put a little aside each fortnight, eventually it will build up over time.
With these steps in place, I am feeling more confident that I will meet my financial goals.
This rearrangement of my financial life has come from examining my money in close detail, something I once felt was in bad taste for an artist. But really, you don't need to be in the finance industry to spend significant time and effort on managing your financial flows. If it's a part of your life, it's worth analysing, and even poring over in great detail - until you get your resources exactly where you want them.
They may only have been absent for four days, but it was so good to be side by side with my partner again. We reunited in a place with nostalgic value for them, a place where we’ve been tracing their past footsteps, petting cats and eating delicious things.
Switzerland shares a similar type of natural resplendence with Finland, to the extent my partner is getting Finnish and German intertwined. As long as they keep playing with languages, though, things are well.
Me, I’m lucky enough to have been travelling 6 weeks, with a view to return in April 2019, so even as my time is running out I remain grateful. I feel deeply relaxed on some level.
German language TV filters into the soundscape of a handsomely decorated bedroom. Our host has mastered the art of Thai clutter- style wallscapes.
It’s not hard to make abundant and evolving plans for a return to Europe, noting carefully which destinations make for a balanced, poignant celebration - and knowing that a fraction of those plans will ever be realised. But that’s okay - because I’ve got an amazing person to realise them with!
Soft jazz plays. I’m the only one here, apart from the receptionist who only occasionally makes noises indicative of efficiency. Outside the sun is shining, but I dream of dreary skies. I’ve booked the hotel across the car park. This changeover marks the beginning of the end of my Basque stay. It’s been a reassuring return to Spanish grace, however I’m impatient and some good things aren’t best savoured when the traveller is distracted.
I will say that a 2 day stopover in Zaragoza was a clever way of cutting up the journey. Two 4 hour bus rides are far more palatable than one 8 hour one. It helped that the city had a lovely patina, and soaring peaks to gaze longingly at. Floating up and down a Main Street or two, I indulged my senses with pretty patterns, vibrant colours and the promise of something tasty with every step.
You’d think I would be sick of jamón y queso, but their quality is consistently mouthwatering. You quickly forget to try to mind that it’s on offer all the time.
Another curiosity is how few American visitors can be found. I’m staying in a tourist hotspot near the airport, yet I believe I’ve only heard a solo feminine voice introduce American tones into my jumble of foreign impressions. It’s the Brits that dominate amongst the English speakers, though internal tourism seems to be making up the bulk of the hotel customers.
It’s not hard to find Americans in Rome or Reykjavik, but the abundance of Spanish speakers in their home country makes for an emphatic absence. Do they have limited engagement with Latinxs? Do their forays into learning this “second language” of the nation only advance so far?
There are no Australian voices at all, but that can be excused given the non-negligible matter of geographical proximity.
And yet, here I am.
The number of churches I saw in Reykjavík in seven days: 1.
The number of churches I saw in Barcelona in one afternoon: 2.
Spain feels familiar in soothing ways, even though the pollution irritates my respiratory system. The kindly gentlemen who display restraint with their drama, even as their features suggest incipient catharsis. I, too, am searching, but afraid to suggest the wrong kind of vulnerability or enthusiasm. Since friendship is based on willing to make yourself vulnerable, I stutter, look on jealously as the world continues to turn with my fears proving once more unsubstantiated.