NOW BOARDING AT GATE 43
It was a sunny Wednesday in July and I had no set plans for the next four months. The following day I had a flight booked to Italy. I was leaving in three weeks.
Those three weeks were filled with feelings of mainly excitement, but also unease and apprehension about what the next four months would entail. I had two straight weeks of work in Italy for the beginning of the trip, then after that, my schedule was free.
I decided instead of coming home after the two weeks of work was wrapped up, I would continue travelling for another twelve weeks. A bit excessive? I figured I was already up in the Northern Hemisphere, why not stay for a while?
The night after my flights had been booked, I sat at the kitchen bench with a notepad and pen and started writing down all the names of friends who live in different parts of the world. Many friends who I hadn’t seen in years. France, Sweden, England and the USA were at the top of my list.
I looked at flights, I looked at buses, I looked at trains. I roughly planned out a route to fill the following months and began sending out messages.
Three weeks quickly passed and I was boarding my flight from Sydney to Rome.
I arrived in Rome at 5:30am and by 7:30am I was out in the balmy, humid Italian air.
I fumbled my way onto the train and towards my apartment just outside of Rome. It would be three days before I had company.
Over those three days I began each morning by blasting Stevie Wonder and Chuck Berry to keep me from falling back to sleep and to fill the silence that echoed through the huge apartment that felt far too big for just one person.
I met strangers at train stations and together we spent days exploring the cobblestone streets, the Vatican City, the vintage stores, and stopping every couple of hours to purchase icy cold drinks (providing some relief from the 42 degree days outside). We ate out in little Italian restaurants with over-flowing bowls of pasta and swapped stories from our different parts of the world.
Each afternoon I would stop by the little market beneath my apartment on my way home and pick up ingredients for dinner. Tomatoes, pasta, zucchinis, mushrooms, pesto and peaches became staples. The nights were hot and humid and I would fall asleep with the fan on full blast.
Three days passed and early on the Wednesday morning I met Christina at the central station in Rome. She had just arrived from a 30 hour journey from New Zealand but was as perky as ever. We hauled our suitcases into the nearest coffee shop, sat down and began planning our route down to the Amalfi Coast.
The following week on the coast jumping between different villages every 2-3 days was a chaotic, hilarious, humid whirlwind.
I have so many stories to tell. But I don’t even know where to begin. I feel like photos are better storytellers than I’ll ever be. So…
After our days on the coast came to a close, we boarded a train that would take us to a little village in the middle of Tuscany. The dreamy four hour train ride took us through the hills and wildflower fields that Tuscany seems to have an endless supply of.
You know that feeling when you’ve been in a car for far too long and everything starts to become a blur and you can’t help but fall into hysterics at the smallest things? That was Christina and I for the entire four hours, so by the time the train pulled up at the final stop we were more than ready to step out into the humid Italian air again.
We were greeted by a beautiful old Italian couple who were taking us to what would be our home for the next week.
It was a two-story little house with two bicycles out the front. Those bikes became our mode of transport to get around the countryside every day. Each morning we would fill our bags with the clothes we were photographing, grab some peaches from the fridge, take our last sips of coffee and head out for the day.
Arrival in Florence. Excerpt from my diary … “It’s 11am in Florence, the sun is beating down on the people walking along the hot pavement. I’m tucked away in the apartment with the window open and the fan on full blast. I arrived into Florence last night after catching the train with Christina from the little country village to here. Christina left early this morning to fly back to New Zealand. I’m editing photos from the previous two weeks and waiting on the arrival of Lai and her sister Kalia. They should arrive in about 20 minutes. I’m so excited for them to be here!”
Both Lai and her sister Kalia had both been travelling through Greece so when the doorbell rung, I ran down the stairs to let them in and was greeted with what can only be described as two bronzed goddesses waiting on my doorstep.
We brought their bags upstairs and swapped stories of our travels while cooling down over icy glasses of water. After an hour we grabbed our cameras and some euros for gelato and headed out into the streets.
Four days in Florence passed quickly and soon Lai and I were stepping onto a train bound for the Cinque Terre, my favourite part of the Italian coast.
We checked into a small apartment right in the centre of one of the five villages that make up the Cinque Terre. When we leaned our heads out of the bedroom window we had an uninterrupted view of the ocean and of the people downstairs dining in the restaurants below. Seafood pasta and bruschetta topped with tomato and basil seemed to be everyone’s favourite.
It was a sleepy village in the morning, but as the evening rolled around it was bustling with the loud chatter of hundreds of voices. Mostly made up of languages I didn’t understand, but I loved to listen anyway.
Lai and I would take turns each morning in who would go down and get coffee and bring it back up to the apartment. On one particular morning while I was still in bed, Lai came in the door with coffees in hand saying “Do you want to go on a boat trip today?”
She’d met a local fisherman downstairs and his nephew. They had offered to take us out on their boat for the day so we packed our bags with only the essentials, threw on our swimmers and went down to meet them.
We spent the day out in the water getting the locals guide to the area. It was a hilarious five hours on the tiny boat trying to dissect what each other was saying with our minimal knowledge of each other’s languages. I don’t think I’d ever laughed as much as I did on that day. Even writing this right now has got me smiling from cheek to cheek.
Six days later, Lai and I were back at the train station, bound for a small village in Tuscany. This time we would be spending three weeks living in a castle in Tuscany with a handful of other people from around the globe and the family that lives there.
Mornings at the castle were spent out in the vineyards harvesting grapes or stomping grapes in barrels (this really does still happen! Who knew!).
Each afternoon was spent lazing by the pool either asleep or with a book in hand. Books lined the walls in our bedrooms so there was no short supply of new reading material.
All of the meals at the castle were magnificent to say the very least. The food was freshly prepared from the garden by the most incredible cook, or sourced from local farmers around the area. Freshly baked bread lined the table and the wine flowed freely every day and night.
To me, the weeks at the castle felt like I was in some sort of old film. Time felt different, I felt different, the entire world felt different in this pocket of the countryside. Only the simple things mattered it seemed. Good people, good food.
I remember Lai saying one night as we were getting in bed, “I forget what I look like here. I can’t remember the last time I looked in a mirror.”
There were no mirrors; just the people, the hills, the castle, the vineyards and the excitement of knowing there was another delicious meal on the way.
Next top: London.
Flying into London felt like a familiar hug. Six weeks had passed in Italy and it’s funny how accustomed I had come to not understanding restaurant menus, road signs and the chorus of chatter that you’d hear in the street.
I arrived in London and spent two weeks jumping between different friends apartments, meeting new people in cafes, wandering the markets, afternoon picnics in Hampstead Heath on sunny days and eating wonderful food (that London seems to have an endless supply of).
London was wonderful and I loved my days and nights here.
After London, came Paris.
I booked a bus that only cost me twelve pounds and would take me directly from London to Paris in only a few hours (who knew it could be so cheap?).
So a few days later at 8am at a bus stop in the centre of London I was hauling my suitcase into the lower compartment of the bus. I was one of the first on the bus and managed to grab my own seat right at the back.
I spent that eight hour bus ride in a happy daze listening to music and reflecting on the past eight weeks.
My arrival in Paris was met with the sound of one of my favourite people in the world yelling from down the street “Gabi!”.
Ryan and I had met in New York the previous year. He was now living in Paris and invited me to come stay at his apartment in Le Marais. We hadn’t seen each other in almost a year and it felt so wonderful to be reunited. We spent that first night walking the windy streets of Paris, passing by the Louvre, and stopping in mid conversation to watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle. We stopped by a bar at midnight and swapped life stories from the eleven months that had passed.
The following weeks in Paris felt like a dream. Dinners were spent picnicking down on the bank of the Seine, mornings spent walking along the Seine on our way to our favourite coffee shop in the Palais Royale Gardens (Café Kitsune if you’re after a great soy latte in Paris). We went to bed late and woke up late.
In Paris in September it feels like everyone is passing through. Every few days a new or old friend would be arriving into Paris (if only for a few hours) and we would always have a picnic in one of the many gardens that Paris is famous for.
Fresh baguettes, chocolate, cherry tomatoes, hummus and raspberries became the picnic staples.
Late on a Tuesday night in the apartment, Ryan and I bounced around the idea of heading out of Paris for the weekend. Half an hour later we had flights booked to Prague early the following Friday morning.
Friday came around and it was a quick one hour and a half flight from Paris to Prague. After our arrival we quickly dropped our bags off at the apartment and headed out into the streets to explore the city and find some lunch. A quick search for food came to find that Prague officially has the tastiest fresh raspberries and blueberries ever. The streets feel like they’re out of a fairy-tale and the Czech people are kinder than I could have imagined.
10/10 for you Prague.
After Prague, Ryan and I flew back to Paris. A few days later I flew to Sweden. I spent a week in Sweden with an old friend who was born and raised there and we had the most wonderful time (so wonderful in fact, that I completely forgot to ever pick up my camera).
The week flew by and I flew back to Paris for one night. I left for New York early the following morning.
Touchdown in New York.
New York. There is nowhere I feel happier, more alive, more “myself” than when I’m walking those streets at 8am with the cold wind and bustling pavements, lazing in central park on a sunny afternoon with a book in hand, or walking with friends down 5th Avenue at midnight. The city feels like you’re in a film every single day and even the smallest of occurrences seem magic in some way.
The month in New York passed by in a flash. I flew back to Paris for a week. Then onto Rome. Then home for the Aussie summer.