Welcome Back Little Butterflies,
I have just arrived back from an adventure of a lifetime ~ 22 days of pure European summer. As I have touched on before, I am not your everyday, normal, healthy, twenty-something-year-old woman. I am always living with pain, fatigue, and frequent dizziness and nausea (if you are not familiar with my story, read it here). Therefore, when traveling there is always something that manages to find its way into my bags whether I invited it or not; my list of chronic illnesses. Like anyone with a chronic illness would know – they don’t, by some miracle disappear for you to enjoy your holiday, and unfortunately, you can’t just ignore them, like you would the bills you left behind to pay on your return, they are your excess baggage.
Traveling is hard enough to begin with, but traveling with illnesses has been even more challenging. I know more than anyone else, my body and the limits that I can push myself to, however, traveling breaks through most of those limitis, leaving me often in a world of pain and fatigue. I hear you; why travel? Well… The world has so much to offer and I am not going to let my illnesses control my life. I have never given up on a dream because of my medical history or someone telling me to, and I am not going to be one to start now. I have learned over time how to adapt and manage a situation, and when to take a breath, rest, and try again. While I didn’t necessarily become a new person, or emerge as a more confident person, I came out on the other side of my trip with lifelong friends and a few valuable life lessons from across the countries I visited.
London, the first stop of many on my itinerary. With the old and royal architecture, the green spaces, and for what was the opposite of “normal” London, beautiful summer sunshine, made a great start to my tour across Europe. The challenge with London though was battling through the fatigue. As any seasoned traveler would know, jet-lag is real, but add in a touch of chronic fatigue and it becomes a war within your own body. It is all too easy to let yourself sleep in a little longer than you should, all too easy to take that nap you know you shouldn’t have. In London, alone, I had to figure out a way to carry on, no matter how exhausted I felt, there was no other way. I learned to plan out what I wanted to do and see, early in the morning, or the night before I went to sleep ~ so much to see, so little time.
Paris, the city of love ~ or so they say. After my first visit to Paris, I did not love it one little bit. Maybe it was due to the memories of lying on park benches in the middle of the Champs Elyseè after fainting, thankfully that was not repeated. I am so glad I gave Paris a second chance as I now see the beauty this city has to offer, the architecture intact from years ago, charming old buildings and apartments running along the Sienne, and the gestures of romance all around; I was witness to a proposal underneath the Eiffel Tower, congratulations to the happy couple ~ Okay, so maybe it is the city of love after all.
Engleberg, a small town positioned at the bottom of Mount Titlis with views of mountains all the way around; quaint, beautiful, picturesque. In the distance, bells ring on cows; across the road, church bells chime on the quarter hour ~ oh the church bells… Atop the mountain lay a blanket of snow (my first real encounter with snow, and it’s summer!), green rolling hills all around, the cow bell’s creating a sense of peace and serenity. Trübsee lake providing a stunning view, and a few laughs while we attempt to row ~ my oar ending up in another boat (I know that isn’t how oars work). A group of Australian tourists, the only people that know how to get lost twice going down (or back up) the mountain; maybe once in a while, we really should trust our instincts.
FLORENCE, TUSCANY, ITALY
Firenze, oh Firenze stole my heart ~ actually my stomach: Italian food, Italian wine… *mwah! Florence too is filled with beauty and enriched with history (including the history of 3 out of 4 teenage mutant ninja turtles). Florence taught me how to be the wine connoisseur I never was ~ can’t go to a Tuscan winery and not have the wine, right? If anyone really knows me, they know I hate going out to clubs and bars (really not my scene), and ultimately I don’t really drink at all. Florence was the first time I decided to go out and have some fun with the group, letting my hair down and singing horribly along to their karaoke attempts. While I did not attempt to go up on stage, I enjoyed it from down below, dancing and singing along as loudly as I could bear; “I bless the rains down in Africa…” or “it started out with a kiss, how did it end up like this…” Thanks for the memories, even if you were all too drunk to remember, I will for all of us.
ROME, LAZIO, ITALY
Roma, enriched with Roman history and well-recognised monuments and architecture aplenty. “Hey now, hey now, this is what dreams are made of…” Unfortunately, I didn’t meet my Paolo, but my coins remain in the Trevi Fountain ~ and love works in mysterious ways, or so I’m told. Rome was alas, the place I cried for the first time, the pain became unexpectedly overwhelming during the walking tour (think cobblestones and uneven surfaces, stairs too many, and thousands of steps later…) Thank you to the people whose hugs and kind words supported me and provided me with the smile I needed back, you know who you are! Rome taught me a valuable lesson: how to enjoy a city without breaking myself ~ it is okay to enjoy the views and culture from; a tea room, a Cafè, or a park too.
VENICE, VENETO, ITALY
Venezia, just picture it! Canals, gondolas, narrow streets, and the many picture-perfect moments; Venice is exactly what you see in all the google images, Instagram posts, and blogs alike, and wouldn’t be complete without a gondola ride, queue: “when the moon hits the sky, like a big pizza pie, that’s amorè…” Venice was the first time since London where I was completely left to navigate my own way. I utilised this time to take in the views, take in the culture, breathe in Italy. Sometimes the time you spend alone is the time you really feel at peace, you feel like somehow you are not just another tourist, but apart of their little part in the world.
KIRCHDORF IN TIROL, AUSTRIA
Sometimes we all need a little push past our limits ~ after all, our only limits that exist are the ones in our mind. In Kirchdorf in Tirol, I was offered an opportunity to try something well out of my comfort zone, something that would push me well beyond the limits I have always set. I am proud to announce that I conquered canyoning through the alps ~ abseiling, cliff diving, and waterfall slides! I can’t say that it was easy, it definitely was not. Canyoning, for those who have not tried, is a mental challenge just as much as a physical one; and while my body is clearly not built for such physical feats, I did it! I chose to put everything on the line, and push myself farther than I have before for an experience that I will not forget anytime soon. With thanks to the little family that did it with me; encouraged me when I felt weak and gave me their hand when I was weak; we did it together! It was in this moment that I learned the value of strength in others. Should we do this alone, we would fail ~ it is together when we conquer; conquer the fear of jumping off the edge while our hands are shaking, and conquer the climb across the rocks when we don’t feel strong enough.
PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
Prague, was somewhere that I have never been but heard so much about. I went into Prague with little expectation and came to see Prague for more than the Prague Castle, Old Town, and Trdelník’s (although picturesque, and delectable!). Prague offered unexpected adventures; with libraries and book towers, a butterfly house ~ where I really got to live out “The Brie Effect” dream, meandering and dancing through random streets. My time in Prague offered me an experience that I wouldn’t have had if I were to enter with an exact itinerary ~ sometimes the unexpected is what brings the unbelievable!
Berlin, a city of beauty, a city of many stories (often sad). Berlin is a city with a combination of modern and historical components, it portrays a place of destruction that over time has been built around with new foundations constructed. Berlin also taught me to learn when to rest when I need it; again with another long walking tour, and day spent exploring, as much as I desperately wanted to experience Berlin nightlife with my new family, I also had to listen to my body and unfortunately that put the nightlife tour off of the table. That didn’t mean I could not enjoy my evening in Berlin. While we had access to a beautiful hotel and some comfy beds, I utilised this to hang out with some friends playing Mario Kart, singing along to The Greatest Showman soundtrack “if we could rewrite the stars…”, and laughing about our first impressions of one another (they recall me as the girl who dropped her breakfast on the first day, was it a peach?, no it was a hardboiled egg). Often it is these types of nights that I would live for at home, but even while traveling it was a great evening I will continue to treasure ~ and my body thanked me for it.
The final stops on my European adventure, until we headed back to London. It’s funny how people tell you very different things about Amsterdam based on age-appropriateness. Before traveling, my sister and grandparents all said I would love Amsterdam, it is so beautiful and quaint. Beautiful? Quaint? ~ Red Light District, Coffee Houses, Moulin Rouge… OH, they meant everything aside from those mentioned areas; the canals, the dancing houses, the green parks, tulips, flowers, and bicycles galore! In Amsterdam, I again had my own battles to fight, my body decided it was now time to feel dizzy all over again ~ like the first time I visited Paris all those years ago (at least I didn’t fall off the bicycle!) I am grateful to the friends that acted as my support when I stumbled or held my hand to walk me safely back to the hotel to rest (although from afar it probably just appeared like everyone else, dabbling in the world of Amsterdam.)
I can’t say that every day that I was away was a good day ~ that would be a lie. I can’t say that I never cried ~ that too would be a lie. I can say that every day was memorable. I will remember the excitement and nerves of getting off the plane in a new country all alone for the first time ~ despite the sheer exhaustion I was feeling at the time. I will remember seeing all the sites of Rome on a walking tour ~ despite the tears rolling down my cheeks by the end of it. I will remember the feeling of conquering canyoning in the Austrian Alps ~ despite the almost unbearable pain I had for the following days. I will remember the feeling of smiling, laughing, and falling in love with all the countries that I passed through.
Now Fly Free Little Butterflies.