It’s All About the People

“A journey is best measured in friends, rather than miles.”-Tim Cahill

I’ve always said that the world is full of friends you just haven’t met yet. Now I know that is true!

A photo tribute to the beautiful, amazing, inspiring, fun and loving people I met on the other side of the ocean when I stepped outside of my comfort zone and traveled alone through Europe. There were even more people I met who I don’t have photos of. Know that you are all in my heart, photo or not.

I am truly blessed to say that I risked failure, but was shown only love.

Thank you to all of you who cried with me, laughed with me, explored new places with me, shared wisdom and perspective with me, taught me about your culture, helped me find my way on a map, invited me into your homes, fed me, inspired me, grew with me. Thank you for proving to me that for every act of hatred, there are millions of acts of kindness that occur every day. You made my trip worth every second and every penny and every fear faced.

These are the faces of a journey of a lifetime…

The U-Inn Berlin Hostel crew! Friedrichshian, Berlin, Germany

The U-Inn Berlin Hostel crew! Friedrichshian, Berlin, Germany

My French travel partner, Claudia and I on the metro in Berlin. The girl's got some serious map skills!!

My French travel partner, Claudia and I on the metro in Berlin. The girl’s got some serious map skills!!

Berlin Wall with friends from Germany and Turkey.

Berlin Wall with friends from Germany and Turkey.

Girls night out - Prague, Czech Republic.

Girls night out – Prague, Czech Republic.

Ruchika and I met on the train in Germany and one week later, she met me in Prague for an adventure.

Ruchika and I met on the train in Germany and one week later, she met me in Prague for an adventure.

Cracking up with Veronika, who worked at the hostel I stayed at in Prague, Czech Republic.

Cracking up with Veronika, who worked at the hostel I stayed at in Prague, Czech Republic.

My amazing hosts who let me stay with them while I was recovering from a bad cold and made me feel so at home. --Vienna, Austria

My amazing hosts who let me stay with them while I was recovering from a bad cold and made me feel so at home. –Vienna, Austria

Jenny and I in Vienna, Austria. We met in Budapest, Hungary, took care of each other when we were both sick and decided to spend another week together in Austria.

Jenny and I in Vienna, Austria. We met in Budapest, Hungary, took care of each other when we were both sick and decided to spend another week together in Austria.

Fantastic travel buddies Molly, Victor and Erin in Florence, Italy.

Fantastic travel buddies Molly, Victor and Erin in Florence, Italy.

My favorite Aussie! Tash and I crossed paths in three separate cities and two countries! This is in Rome, Italy.

My favorite Aussie! Tash and I crossed paths in three separate cities and two countries! This is in Rome, Italy.

I met Ryan at my hostel in Rome, Italy. We spent a rainy afternoon exploring the ruins together. He was just as excited as I was to touch ancient rocks and frolic in the puddles underneath Roman arches. He lives in L.A. and I hope we meet again!

I met Ryan at my hostel in Rome, Italy. We spent a rainy afternoon exploring the ruins together. He was just as excited as I was to touch ancient rocks and frolic in the puddles underneath Roman arches. He lives in L.A. and I hope we meet again!

Baia, Campania, Italy in the home of my wonderful host, and now, friend for life, Gaia, with her mother and friends Chiara and Assia.

Baia, Campania, Italy in the home of my wonderful host, and now, friend for life, Gaia, with her mother and friends Chiara and Assia.

The lovely Valeria and Gaia on our way to Naples, Italy.

The lovely Valeria and Gaia on our way to Naples, Italy.

One of the best nights out on the town with new friends in Amsterdam!

One of the best nights out on the town with new friends in Amsterdam!

Amazing woman who gave me life wisdom and a bag of croissants in the park in Bilbao, Spain.

Amazing woman who gave me life wisdom and a bag of croissants in the park in Bilbao, Spain.

Friends in Berlin, Germany.

Friends in Berlin, Germany.

Gaia and I, Baia, Italy. Met through a friend I made in London and stayed in her home with her family for an unforgettable two weeks.

Gaia and I, Baia, Italy. Met through a friend I made in London and stayed in her home with her family for an unforgettable two weeks.

Chris and I met in Berlin and we met up in Brussels, Belgium, two months later! This is on Halloween.

Chris and I met in Berlin and we met up in Brussels, Belgium, two months later! This is on Halloween.

Second night in Europe and found a family of friends in London, UK.

Second night in Europe and found a family of friends in London, UK.

Josh and I cooking dinner - met in Porto, Portugal.

Josh and I cooking dinner – met in Porto, Portugal.

Michael and Tara, a couple from New Zealand, were wonderful hosts in Pittenweem, Scotland. They took care of me when I got the flu!

Michael and Tara, a couple from New Zealand, were wonderful hosts in Pittenweem, Scotland. They took care of me when I got the flu!

Met Noah, from NYC and Jenny, from Boston in Budapest, Hungary and spent a day at the baths together!

Met Noah, from NYC and Jenny, from Boston in Budapest, Hungary and spent a day at the baths together!

Daniele, my super fun couchsurfing host in Rome, Italy. My first time on a scooter!

Daniele, my super fun couchsurfing host in Rome, Italy. My first time on a scooter!

Beautiful people (Andrea, Carmelo and Claudia) in London, UK who welcomed me into their home and close circle of friends when I first arrived in Europe!

Beautiful people (Andrea, Carmelo and Claudia) in London, UK who welcomed me into their home and close circle of friends when I first arrived in Europe!

Paola and I in Lisbon, Portugal. Met on the overnight train from Madrid and traveled together for four magical days.

Paola and I in Lisbon, Portugal. Met on the overnight train from Madrid and traveled together for four magical days.

Marek and Magda! Hosts, friends, comrades in Krakow, Poland. One of the best weeks spent in Europe was in their home and city.

Marek and Magda! Hosts, friends, comrades in Krakow, Poland. One of the best weeks spent in Europe was in their home and city.

Great company on my last night in Lisbon, Portugal!

Great company on my last night in Lisbon, Portugal!

Goofing off with my girls in Baia, Italy.

Goofing off with my girls in Baia, Italy.

Critical City Mission in Rome, Italy with new friends.

Critical City Mission in Rome, Italy with new friends.

Porto, Portugal adventure crew.

Porto, Portugal adventure crew.

The travelers staying in my hostel in Porto, Portugal.

The travelers staying in my hostel in Porto, Portugal.

Samantha - fabulous roomie for a weekend in Amsterdam!

Samantha – fabulous roomie for a weekend in Amsterdam!

Friends in Steinbach, Germany.

Friends in Steinbach, Germany.

Sam and I, last night out in Amsterdam.

Sam and I, last night out in Amsterdam.

A moment burned into my memory forever: touching the original wall of the Jewish Ghetto with Magda in Krakow, Poland. Photo credit: Marek Petraszek.

A moment burned into my memory forever: touching the original wall of the Jewish Ghetto with Magda in Krakow, Poland. Photo credit: Marek Petraszek.

Met Andreas, fellow backpacker, on the train to Berlin, Germany.

Met Andreas, fellow backpacker, on the train to Berlin, Germany.

The brothers who I spent many afternoons drinking coffee and discussing politics with in Krakow, Poland.

The brothers who I spent many afternoons drinking coffee and discussing politics with in Krakow, Poland.

Martino and I in Warsaw, Poland.

Martino and I in Warsaw, Poland.

Childhood friend Abie and I in England.

Childhood friend Abie and I in England.

The girls from NYC I met in Barcelona, Spain. 24 hrs of friendship that left a lasting imprint. I hope to visit them!

The girls from NYC I met in Barcelona, Spain. 24 hrs of friendship that left a lasting imprint. I hope to visit them!

My mother's friend, Mai hosted me and my friend in Antwerp, Belgium.

My mother’s friend, Mai hosted me and my friend in Antwerp, Belgium.

Javi and I met in a hostel in Scotland and two months later, I cam to stay with his family in San Sebastian, Spain. This photo was taken in Saint Jean de Luz, France, where we spent an afternoon.

Javi and I met in a hostel in Scotland and two months later, I cam to stay with his family in San Sebastian, Spain. This photo was taken in Saint Jean de Luz, France, where we spent an afternoon.

This man rescued me from a bathroom beneath the kitchen he worked at in a restaurant in Florence, Italy when the lock broke and I was stuck in a very small space. Faced one of my greatest fears and survived!

This man rescued me from a bathroom beneath the kitchen he worked at in a restaurant in Florence, Italy when the lock broke and I was stuck in a very small space. Faced one of my greatest fears and survived!

Fancy night out with my college friend, Morgan who met me for a weekend in Madrid, Spain.

Fancy night out with my college friend, Morgan who met me for a weekend in Madrid, Spain.

Kendell, friend I made in Oregon, hosted me for my last week in Europe in Brussels, Belgium, where she is in a graduate program. Halloween shenanigans!

Kendell, friend I made in Oregon, hosted me for my last week in Europe in Brussels, Belgium, where she is in a graduate program. Halloween shenanigans!

Hostel staff and I in Lisbon, Portugal. They took me to a drag show that night! Such a blast.

Hostel staff and I in Lisbon, Portugal. They took me to a drag show that night! Such a blast.

Gaia and her second half, Dario, at his art show! Baia, Italy

Gaia and her second half, Dario, at his art show! Baia, Italy

Gaia, Valeria, Eleonora <3

Gaia, Valeria, Eleonora ❤

Serena and Gaia in front of their university in Napoli, Italy. When Gaia had to take a four-hour exam, Serena rode the train up from another city further South just to meet me and guide me for a day around Naples. I was touched! These two really took care of me and ensured I was never alone in the city.

Serena and Gaia in front of their university in Napoli, Italy. When Gaia had to take a four-hour exam, Serena rode the train up from another city further South just to meet me and guide me for a day around Naples. I was touched! These two really took care of me and ensured I was never alone in the city.

Ruchika and I met this local tour guide who agreed to give us his best private tour of Prague even though no one else showed up for the walk. It was informative, personal and full of laughs!

Ruchika and I met this local tour guide who agreed to give us his best private tour of Prague even though no one else showed up for the walk. It was informative, personal and full of laughs!

The wonderful, vibrant Ruchika at the top of The Žižkov Television Tower having a snack in Prague, Czech Republic.

The wonderful, vibrant Ruchika at the top of The Žižkov Television Tower having a snack in Prague, Czech Republic.

Group of friends showing me around their stomping grounds in rural Germany. We hiked up a butte that evening as the wind picked up and the sun was setting.

Group of friends showing me around their stomping grounds in rural Germany. We hiked up a butte that evening as the wind picked up and the sun was setting.

Take a Walk with Me

It’s a clear morning and the sun is already casting glittery shadows on the surface of the sea. We are going on a walk to Anstruther, Scotland. Will you join me?

The wind is whipping through your hair as you make your way to the cobblestone entrance of the Fife Coastal Path. It isn’t a menacing wind, but more playful, tangling and untangling your curls, kissing your forehead as you stare out at the indigo blue expanse over your right shoulder. The path leads you through the backyard of a handful of homes perched peacefully at the sea cliff’s edge. The only sounds are the wind ruffling through the day’s wash on the clothesline and an occasional seagull’s cry to its mate. In the distance, you see a great rectangle of emerald-green – a field or a crop, perhaps. As the little trail winds up and down the rocky lip of the cliff, you are amazed to discover the expanse of green is a field of broccoli. The vegetables are the size of your head and perfectly uniform in color. Following the length of the field, the path winds downhill in a few short switchbacks and a tall bunch of yellow wildflowers nearly bonk you in the face as they dangle over the trail. You pause to admire the sapphire blue of the ocean as a backdrop to this perfectly cheerful yellow bloom. What colors! Even the green of the grass appears to glow under the bright sunlight.

Up ahead, you see a golf course. Walking along the outer edge of the green, you pause to cover your eyes and watch the golf ball soaring, thankfully, far above your head. Might as well hurry through this part, as you don’t want to get accidentally hit by a stray ball. Anyways, you will need your head intact to enjoy the rest of the walk.

A few hikers in boots and folded down wool socks pass you, smiling. ‘Ello!’  you both call into the wind. The view is gradually getting more incredible as you are coming closer to the island offshore, the green, craggy monolith of The Isle of May. The Isle is home to one of the area’s most diverse populations of birds and you can only imagine how loud the cacophony of all those voices would be.

You round a bend and come to a horseshoe beach with golden sand and algae-covered rocks decorating the shoreline. Now you are to the edge of the town, walking along a narrow neighborhood street on a sidewalk that is just over a foot wide. You reach out your right hand and let your fingers gently drag along the stone wall separating the sidewalk from the yard, just to feel its cool roughness against your soft skin. Winding through the neighborhood, where nearly every block is spilling lipstick-pink wild roses and purple butterfly bushes over the wall, just far enough over the sidewalk so you can smell the sweet fragrance, you spot a building decorated in sea shells. You cross the street to get a closer look. Different shaped white seashells have been inlaid into the concrete wall in spiral patterns that remind you of the doodles you drew on every homework assignment in high school. Huh, that’s interesting.

One more block and you’ve made it to the village just north of Pittenweem. It’s a little larger, but similar in architecture with whitewashed homes and red tile roofs. At least there’s a bookstore! That’s where you’ll head first.

Thanks for coming along on my walk!

With One Knee on the Ground, I Asked the North Sea to Marry Me

I stood bewildered at the bus stop reading the words This stop is no longer in service. But I had just bought a ticket at the bus station and this is where they told me to go…I tried to remain calm, but my bus was due in 5 minutes and there wasn’t time to walk back to the station to ask questions. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, a voice beside me says “Tell me where you are trying to go and I will see if I can help you.” He already had his smart phone out looking up my bus number before I could finish my sentence. After a few minutes of fruitless searching on his phone, I happened to look up the street just in time to see my bus pulling up to the curb one block up and on the opposite side of the street from where we were standing.

“There it is!” I shouted.

The kind stranger patted the back of my pack, like you might lovingly encourage a horse to run, and said “Run in front of the bus and wave your arms in the air. Safe travels!”

I hardly had time to thank him as I galloped down the uneven cobblestone like a bag lady with a limp, but I made it! It started to rain while I stood in line to board the bus and another man offered a gesture of kindness. He tried to speak to me in what I recognized as Italian and I shook my head to show I didn’t understand. Then he popped open his umbrella and motioned for me to come underneath it. I shyly obliged, feeling touched by his generosity. We stood huddled under his umbrella until we both boarded.

Later, during the two hour drive north, his wife leaned over her seat and asked me a question in Italian. I could tell she was uncomfortable so I made the motion for being cold, hoping I had guessed correctly. She nodded enthusiastically, returning the gesture of rubbing her arms and shivering. I reached into my bag and offered her my jacket. At first she refused it, but upon a second offering, she took it gratefully. Her husband, the man who held the umbrella for me, turned around and gave me a big smile and thumbs up. My heart swelled and I felt so glad I could return the kindness he had shown me. 

Meanwhile, the tall bus was careening around corners on an insanely narrow two lane road at a speed that caused the vehicle to wobble side to side. There were two old women sitting next to me across the aisle, gabbing away. I kept using them as a gauge for whether or not to be afraid for my life, but they seemed unphased, so I turned on my music, strapped on my seat belt and snapped my motion sickness wristbands on. The only thing left to do was take in the breathtaking scenery zooming by outside the window. There were vibrant lettuce green hills scattered with bright pink clouds of blooming wildflowers, pastures dotted with grazing sheep, and fields of plants that were a deep aqua green at the base and a light sage green on top. Watching them billow in the wind, rippling color across the hill nearly brought tears to my eyes. Then as we screamed around a bend, my eyes beheld something even more beautiful. A carpet of velvet green hills led down to a silver blue sea, shimmering in the sun and perfectly calm without any waves. Near the water’s edge sat a crumbling foundation of a castle or other ancient building. It was something out of a dream.

Little did I know that Pittenweem, a small fishing village perched cheerily by the sea along Scotland’s Fife Coast, would bring me to my knees in reverence.

I am staying with fellow couchsurfers, Michael and Tara, a sweet couple from New Zealand, in a little cottage across from the harbor which is still heavily used by Pittenweem’s fishermen. The main street of the village leads to an ancient chapel decorated in circular flower-like stained glass and skirted by an old graveyard with tombstones from the 1600’s. The homes are either white washed with colorfully painted doors, or bolder hues of turquoise, gold, purple and various shades of blue. Most of the homes have red tile roofs, due to Scotland’s past trading with The Netherlands, I read online. Almost all of the town’s buildings have baskets of colorful flowers hanging out front, and I have seen three bicycles that have been turned into little gardens. I can walk around the whole village in about 10 minutes. Small alleys with steps lead from the harbor and glossy ocean to the main street and then further down, the mouth of the Fife Coast Trail which connects five villages together, north and south of here. Michael and Tara walk a couple miles each way to do their grocery shopping, since the neighboring village has a super store. Pittenweem has only one tiny grocery store connected to the pharmacy and the post office.

From the edge of the sea, I can look north and see rugged cliffs covered in waving grasses and dark rocks scattered below at the lip of the shoreline. It is so gorgeous, I cried watching the sunset on my first night here. I feel as if I have arrived home. As a girl, I always dreamt of seeing Scotland. Now that I am here, I can’t imagine leaving. I want to marry the North Sea so there will always be a reason to return. I may be an odd bride for such a graceful sea, but I promise to never forget the passion I feel in its presence. Here, I am whoever I want to be. In the quiet, slow-paced life of Pittenweem, I can feel my wings unfolding.

Over dinner of local smoked salmon, oat cakes with creamy, fresh butter and a cup of hot black tea in the little tavern, I wrote postcards trying to share a little piece of this gem of a town with my loved ones. Although I have caught a bad cold/flu and have had to postpone my flight to Amsterdam, I am happy to be staying here a few more days. I was in bed all day yesterday, but even a glance out my second floor window overlooking the sea cheered me up and probably did something unseen to help me heal quicker. I went to the pharmacy to get something for my swollen throat and it was like seeing a doctor while standing at the cash register. The man asked me about my symptoms and then gave me his recommendations. I am amazed at how simple and inexpensive it is to get medical attention here.

When I am feeling better, I am going to see the cave after which Pittenweem is named (Pittenweem means cave in Gaelic). The story goes that a saint or holy man took residence in the cave which has a natural spring in it. People from surrounding areas would come see him to get healed and the saint was said to have done some miraculous things. Eventually, a community sprung up around the cave and a harbor was built, enabling the town’s economy to grow. The cave has been preserved and functions as a little chapel for ceremonies and gatherings. Anyone can see it by asking for the key at the only coffee shop in town.

This place is nothing short of magical! I am most likely the only American staying here and everyone has been so kind to me. They seem surprised that I would travel all the way from Oregon to see their little village, but I assure them how worth the trip was to get here. I feel so grateful for the kindness of strangers, the beauty of Scotland and for the love and support of friends and family while I have been sick. Now to rest so I can get over this cold and go for a hike by the sea.

127

103

107

129

101