Happy holidays, friends! And what a year it’s been. It’s time to binge eat on chocolates, drink too much alcohol to deal with family, and reflect on 2016 with unnecessary introspect.
Seriously, am I the only person who had a good 2016? My Facebook feed suggests otherwise.
Despite the doom-and-gloom plaguing the world, I ended up having one of the best, most surprising years of my life. I’m bizarrely happy; I’m comfortable in my place in the world, and dare I say, optimistic for 2017? Even dudes seem to like me this year. What a world!
I’ve jinxed myself. Just set everything on fire already.
These were my favourite moments from 2016.
Learning gratitude on the Camino de Santiago
A few days into my pilgrimage, I was walking across an open plain after having stopped at a roadside truck for a quick cafe con leche. I had just started getting to know familiar faces, but I certainly hadn’t made any friends. The plains stretched ahead of me, lonely and desolate. I had set out on the Camino alone, and I was okay with this. I had long since settled into a comfortable acceptance of aloneness. But I still craved connection.
A friend who had completed The Way told me not to listen to music — when I got bored, I should tune into my thoughts. Fuck that. I had days of that. So I took out my Spotify playlist and started listening to music and singing at the top of my lungs; there was no one around for miles.
An impressive castle-like building suddenly popped up around the corner, and the sun hit it with dazzling light. I was so thrown off by this beauty, I started crying in appreciation. I couldn’t stop. I was sobbing. I was just so happy.
When I was going through heartbreak hell in 2013, travelling alone around Greece, Vance Joy’s Riptide was my anthem. I still get a delicious thrill of excitement whenever I hear it, and it always pops up when I need to hear it. And as I walked along crying, tears and snot streaming down my face, the opening chords of Riptide burst through my headphones. I felt the laughter bubbling up inside me, and suddenly I was grinning, hands outstretched, twirling on the trail, like a goddamned psycho ballerina on the Camino.
But man, was I ever grateful.
The real finisher to the Camino de Santiago
Getting my certificate at the pilgrim’s office in Santiago didn’t feel like the end of things.
After a violent bout of food poisoning, I made my way to Finisterre — the end of the world. This was at the opposite end of the journey from the initial bout of gratitude mentioned above. I had a family then; a sense of Departure Dread plagued me. I didn’t feel finished.
I was pretty miserable, physically. Food poisoning had left me dehydrated and exhausted; I unfurled my sleeping bag in the car, and slept for most of the drive to the End of the World. That evening, after I managed to choke down a cup of noodles, me and my little family headed to the lighthouse to watch the sunset with the other pilgrims. We kept passing our fellow hikers. Mo, Andre the Giant, the Italians.
There’s something special about a seaside sunset on the Atlantic. It commands your respect.
There was a dozen of us there, and other than the clink of wine glasses and Andre’s characteristic laugh carrying over the breeze, all was silent. I breathed in the salty air, and felt connected to my home in Newfoundland. As the sun made its final dip below the horizon, everyone broke into applause. And I was done.
Coming home to Newfoundland
Coming home from Berlin was a really rough experience. I’m not lying when I say I cried the entire nine hour flight from Munich to Halifax. People literally kept asking me if I was okay.
Even now, I try to downplay my experiences from abroad. I don’t want to be that girl who constantly refers to “that one time in Berlin” (and yes, I DO realize that I do this). But the adjustment period was brief, and even I’m shocked about how quickly I slid back into my old life. It was like I never left. I’m not sure my friends even realize how much Berlin means to me — almost nobody talked to me about the recent terrorist attack.
But I was home. It helped that my best friend and her two kids greeted me at the airport in Halifax, and that my cousin/sister picked me up when I landed in St. John’s. Our first stop: poutine and Tim Horton’s. Of course.
I spent the summer doing all the things I missed. There was a barbecue for my birthday, and an overnight cabin trip in August. I did some coastal hiking, and I stood in my friend Matt’s wedding as his groomsmaid. I had one of the best nights of my life. We nearly broke the dance floor — true story!
I came home to Bay d’Espoir to spend time with family, and rediscovered my happy place on the Bonavista Peninsula. One evening, after a few pints of craft beer at the newly opened Port Rexton Brewery, I stumbled out of the front door and into a canopy of stars so vibrant, I lost my balance (and no, it wasn’t just the pints of porter talking). I walked home in the dark, head tipped back, taking it all in. A craft brewpub in the most magical setting. In rural Newfoundland.
Drinking Wine in the Cinque Terre
After a few solo weeks in Italy, I arrived in the Cinque Terre at my hostel in Corniglia. I picked this place because it was at the centre of the park, and it had some of the cheapest accommodations (probably because of the insane flight of stairs I had to walk up with my backpack from the train station).
As soon as I checked in, I met an Aussie girl named Sally. She was about my age, which was refreshing because most travellers I met in Italy up until that point were much younger. We decided to go off exploring on our own.
It didn’t take long. Corniglia is small. But we did discover a place called Cafe la Mer on a balcony overhanging the Ligurian Sea. It had that classic Mediterranean vibe I love so much: soft waves, quiet atmosphere, tinged with nostalgia. We ordered a bottle of wine and some appetizers, clinked our glasses, and spent the next several hours just talking away like we had known each other for years.
The warm sun on our faces; the pleasure of new company; the joy of being in a new place; the sunset finale on another beautiful Italian day. This is why I travel.
Discovering a new favourite city: Rome
I came to Rome for the Colosseum. This being my first Italy trip, I had planned on knocking out all the big ancient history attractions I spent so much time studying in Classics. Believe it or not, the Colosseum was the least memorable highlight of my trip (and it was pretty damned significant, actually).
Man, did I ever fall for Rome. Hard.
Rome felt like a dream the entire time. How could everyone so casually walk around the Colosseum, or the Circus Maximus? How was no one in a constant state of awe, like me?
Turning every narrow corner was a new adventure — what would I find there? Another crumbling piece of history? A priest dashing down an alleyway, robes billowing, grasping two tangerines in one hand?
Rome was all colour, and yes, chaos. Fighting for a place on the subway wasn’t my favourite thing, nor was navigating the tourist hordes at all the landmark places. But those breathable in between spaces — the streets around Trastevere, or the Jewish Ghetto — made it all worth it.
Hilarity in Florence
After a hostel romance gone awry: I hung out with some backpackers at the YES Hostel, drinking beer and dancing. I hadn’t had much social activity in Italy, and I was excited about the possibility of a night on the town.
But it was Monday.
Me and a ragtag bunch of hostel goers made our way towards the centre of town, but only got as far as the Duomo before getting distracted by a group of Americans celebrating a birthday. We went from bar to bar, trying to find a late-night place, to no avail.
My last clear memory before the storm broke out was seeing my hostel crush making out with another girl. I felt about 20 years old again, and immediately annoyed with myself. Then the sky cracked open and gave way to the loudest thunderstorm I have ever witnessed.
I huddled in the corner of the Duomo, clinging to a tiny Filipino man named Champ, as hailstones the size of golfballs pinged the ground around us.
“You’re really calm!” he yelled at me, impressed.
That time I realized I was truly happy
I think it’s taken me way too long to be completely comfortable with myself. Or maybe I’ve always just had trouble distinguishing aloneness from being lonely.
Now, I find myself loving being alone. I love dining alone, and reading alone, and travelling alone. I love quiet. I love peace. I love lack of obligation. I love being more selective in my relationships; I love devoting my time to people I truly care about. Berlin helped me figure this out — my social circle was small compared to St. John’s, and I liked it that way.
I grew a confidence in living abroad (and walking the Camino alone) that I never knew existed. I fucking moved to a city where I didn’t know a single soul. Truly. Not one. And by the time I left, I had a family.
I grew a confidence in my career, and in my abilities. I know these things are reflected in me, both inwardly and outwardly. I know that people are more drawn to me now. I wasn’t happy over the summer, this is true — I didn’t know what I wanted.
But after picking up a job with the film festival, and finding meaningful work again, I knew without a doubt that I was in the right place at the right time. Or maybe my new happiness made it the right place at the right time? Whatever the case, I don’t feel the need to run.
I am bewildered by my own sense of contentment in the city I never imagined I’d be living in again. And I am grateful.
Reuniting with extended family in Ottawa
I spent three weeks in Ottawa with my family in November. A lot of these family members I hadn’t seen in years. That’s what happens when your family is bigger than some places in outport Newfoundland.
In the spirit of my ongoing year of gratitude, I was overwhelmed by the unconditional love I received. My cousins and my aunt basically adopted me and fed me every evening — they drove me places without complaint. My other aunt and uncle hosted an enormous family breakfast. My uncle/godfather took me out for dinner. Me and my cousins spent a sloppy night or two out and about Orleans.
I hope they know how much I love them.
My Last Month in Berlin
What can I say about Berlin? I still ache so much for it, I find I’m too emotional to properly write anything. I haven’t even written my standard guide. I’m doubly emotional after the terrorist attack this past week at the Christmas market.
Now that I’m resettled into St. John’s, Berlin feels like a dream. I reflect on things I did a year ago; how can it be so long? Was it really a full year ago that I met my new friends Melanie and TJ at a comedy club for Christmas dinner? Has it actually been 365 days since my New Year’s Eve with two wonderful Danish women?
I’m not sure I fully appreciated my life in Berlin until my last month living there. The day before I left to move back to Canada, I invited some friends over for a few drinks. It was June 30th, so I blared a Canadian radio station and rocked my Trudeau sweater. At one point I was sweeping my bedroom floor and I broke down into tears, and my roommate came in to hold me. He literally just held me while I cried. And there it was again, that big looming word for 2016: gratitude.
My little group of friends in Berlin mean so much to me. They took a chance on a temporary expat, and they got to know me anyway. I cried the whole time I wrote this.
My friend Trish came to visit, and my friend Ashley. I played tour guide and introduced them to my favourite places, like Sorsi, my much beloved wine bar in Prenzlauer Berg where the bartender knew my name. And Babelplatz, and the East Side Gallery, and beach bars along the Spree.
My favourite days were spent flaked out in the grass at Volkspark Friedrichshain, a bottle of Sternbourg in one hand and a cigar in the other. Or at the city’s oldest beer garden, Prater Garten, watching Eurocup go down. I can picture my street so clearly in my head; I can still hear the trams clicking by. The comforting din of humanity erased years of chronic insomnia. I’ve never been so well rested.
I was so mad and upset about being forced to leave Berlin. I was in no way ready. And I’m certain I’m not done with Berlin, but for now, I’m where I need to be.
I love not knowing what’s in store for 2017 — my life is so full of surprises. I’ll have minimal travel opportunity, but plenty of chances to grow, professionally. Maybe by the end of next year I’ll be skipping back to Berlin, or revisiting Ottawa, or travelling for a few months around Southeast Asia, or reuniting with Greece. And maybe I’ll still be in St. John’s.