When I think back to everything that has happened this year, I’m overwhelmingly full of gratitude. To be able to study in an excellent Master’s program in a beautiful city with the support and love of my family, to have good health, to have made intelligent new friends who are helping me with my writing, and to have had on many of my travels the sweetest, most wonderful travel companion—what more could I ask for?
|Oh, look—a charming Dutch man!|
If the last two years were about discovering myself, this year I’ve enjoyed the benefits of that self-knowledge. I’m living in a place I’ve always dreamt of living in, writing and doing other great work I’ve long been wanting to do. All of this has been possible because I’m so much more self-confident and at peace with who I am than I was even a year ago.
To celebrate this year of travels and new territories, I wanted to share with you a little more about these adventures, many of which unfolded in specific cities I visited. Here are my top five places I traveled in 2015.
5. St. Odilienberg, Holland
In October, I spent a weekend at a meditation center in the little Dutch village of St. Odilienberg.
At first glance, St. O doesn’t seem like it has much to offer by way of tourist attractions—it has a population of less than 4,000 people, and there’s not much to do if you don’t enjoy walking through forests. There is also a beautiful basilica, which is well worth a look.
My trip there was fantastic, more for the clear mental space it gave me to write than for any spectacular sights or scenes. If you let it, a walk through this kind of natural environment will restore and inspire you. That is just what I needed.
|Much better than running a half-marathon
with an injured foot 🙂
4. Berlin, Germany
When I was training for a half-marathon in March, a muscle in my right foot decided it’d had enough. I got through my ten mile training run, but for the next few days I hobbled around Prague like Young Frankenstein’s Igor.
Sometimes things don’t go the way we plan them. In fact, often things don’t go the way we plan them. The wimpy thing to do when this happens is to take out our frustration on ourselves or others. I could have been mad, but when my foot felt a little better I took a last-minute weekend trip to Berlin. The trip was filled with chilly walks, delicious food, and bizarrely, a neighborhood-wide blackout.
This visit would’ve already been memorable, but on top of it all I received a very exciting email. I found out that one of my stories had been accepted for publication—my first-ever fiction acceptance.
One plan fell through, but another plan that was much more important to me (writing fiction) was doing just fine.
3. Istanbul, Turkey
|View from my room in Istanbul!|
I was a little bit nervous about going to Turkey by myself, especially since the U.S. Department of State had issued a Turkey travel warning less than a week before my departure date.
But being me, I didn’t want to change my plans after I’d already booked the trip. I did a lot of research and decided it would be safe to travel to Istanbul, especially since I was just passing through on my way to Paris.
And I’m so glad I did! It was a strange but beautiful thing to be in a city with such a different skyline from that of the European cities I’m used to. I’ll never forget that moment in the evening when prayers were projected around the city from all different directions.
But by far, the most impressive thing about my stay was the people. Carpet sellers, falafel vendors, my AirBnB host—all of them were so proud of their country and were excited that I was there to visit it. The Turks are a really hospitable group of people.
2. Paris, France
|Taken from the Arc de Triomphe|
Paris has been my home since September, and so it naturally holds a different place in my heart than these other places I’ve just passed through.
Living in Paris, I’ve eaten wonderful food, but mostly food that I’ve cooked because I’m a student. Living in Paris, I sit but mostly stand at the bars in cafés drinking a glass of wine, talking about writing with my classmates.
Living in Paris, I’ve dealt with endless bureaucracy, and I haven’t gotten apologies from anyone, not much anyway.
Living in Paris as a student of writing, I’ve gone to Shakespeare in Company for readings, and I’ve walked the streets of the city for inspiration.
|Christmas market at Tivoli, Maria Eklind / flick|
Living in Paris, I’ve seen beautiful public parks and a dozen museum exhibits and have lived in subsidized student housing. Living in Paris as a babysitter I’ve gotten kisses on the cheek from the kids I watch when their parents make them say “thank you” at the end of the day. Living in Paris I’ve texted my friends to see if they were safe, and I’ve walked by mounds of flowers and candles remembering those taken from us.
I’ve lived most of the stereotypes about life here. At the same time, Parisian life is not as polished or shiny as it is in Amélie or Midnight in Paris.
It’s real, though. And boy, is it magnificent.
1. Copenhagen, Denmark
In another two days, I’ll be able to add this last destination to my list.
Come Saturday, I will be walking through Christmas markets and drinking Gløgg and riding a rented bike through the city of Copenhagen. I’ll be reflecting more on the places I’ve been this year, the wonderful things that have happened, and the people who made this year such a beautiful one.
I cannot wait.
Where are you venturing for the holidays Anywhere new? Tell us about it in the comments!
Stay safe, happy travels, and I wish you a warm and delightful end to 2015.