Departure Lounge of the Restless Mind

Notices have been given. The unnecessary has been donated or tossed. The essential has been separated for efficient packing. Airline reservations have been made. Most goodbyes have been said. All that’s left to do is wait. I know this departure lounge of the mind so very well. The floor is worn into grooves by my endless ambulation. I pass the time in atonement for the sins of my transient soul. Turning back now would involve a hassle, and, anyway, I don’t want to. Once a decision is made, I just want to get on with it.

I’ve lost count of how many times I have transited through this purgatory. All the little moves around America and Central/Eastern Europe. Then the major moves. The amputations: leaving America for New Caledonia in 1999. Fleeing New Caledonia for Eastern Europe exactly ten years ago. The road ahead is even more obscured than it was a decade ago. I have the same concerns, but even more intense. Ten years ago, I knew where I wanted to go. This time I have no idea, and I will be going it alone. However, my mind is much more serene this time around. Despite the turbulence, the journey has always managed to smooth out.

As I reflect back on my time in this part of Europe, a wistful gratitude arises. In spite of the inherent frustrations of such a lifestyle, I have woken up every day so very happy to have had the opportunity to experience, in depth, so many different cultures. Because – even though Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and Czech Republic are in the same part of Europe – they each have distinct cultural quirks. They have become treasures in the vault of my memory.

Ten years ago, in June 2007, I arrived in Poznan, Poland. Alone. Stomach twisted with worry. Could I pull this off? Was the school that hired me to teach at English summer camps legit? Would my husband leave his home, a tropical island paradise, for a gray and grouchy country? I had no choice but to leave that island, which was killing me physically and mentally. The denial was gone. I had accepted the consequences. There was no turning back.

Poznan. It was there that I regained my confidence. An English teacher’s salary is pathetic, but for the first time in many years, I was able to support myself. My apartment was on the sixteenth floor of a Soviet block building. A tiny little hole with dubious renovation and toxic mold in the ceiling. I got in touch with my cousins in the south of Poland. I adopted a rabbit from a shelter to keep me company at home. It was a hard, cold, grim place. Lots of lessons learned. Lots of laughs. Lots of vodka. Wolfing down zapiekanka in the Stary Rynek at three a.m. after a night in the pubs. Jumping up and down to keep warm. My husband joined me almost a year later. He adapted to the culture shock remarkably well. I knew so many people there. Most of their faces and names have faded. I think that, probably, they have forgotten me, too.

Budapest. Ruin pubs and thermal baths. Long walks through the canyons of neglected buildings. Ghost signs and bullet holes. Both of our apartments were huge, beautifully decorated palaces. The highest ceilings I’ve ever seen. This is why we stayed in Budapest longer than any other city. My stint as an English teacher came to an end. Hungarians are the least respectful students I’ve ever encountered. The pay was abysmal. I am not a masochist. I went back to helping my husband with his work. The few expats that we met were parasitic. We retreated into our own little world, socializing only with the friends and family who came to visit.

It is during this reclusive time that I began my blog. It was my connection to the outside world, especially during those long winter months when my husband was in New Caledonia and it was just me and Flower the rabbit. I can now state that I am able to withstand long periods with no social contact. One winter was so frigid that I went weeks without saying more than jó napot/viszlát to the cashiers who worked in the supermarket on the ground floor of our building. When I did finally venture out, other humans became weird entities. The sounds that came out of my mouth sounded unintelligible. They scared me. This warped view of the outside world stayed with me until we left a few months later.

Popradske Pleso – Tatra National Park

Bratislava. But more than that: Slovakia. Those mountains. The unsettling gauze of reclusion dissipated. My students were a delight. I found a hiking buddy. Nearly every weekend, from late February to early December, we went out. We explored just about every trail in the Little Carpathians, sometimes even crossing over the narrow range in a single day. We ventured further out, to the Vel’ka Fatra and High Tatras. Eerie castle ruins and glacial lakes. I was in heaven.

Our apartments, however. Rabbits are considered livestock in Slovakia. The few places that would rent to us were barely a step above hovels. Toxic water, battered furniture. Hot water unavailable from midnight until eight in the morning. After Budapest, it was a difficult adjustment. Despite my love for the mountains and my Slovak friends, we moved on after two years. We recently returned, for a brief visit, to lay our Flower to rest on a hill overlooking a river.

Prague. I have finally learned that the places I have an initial aversion to often end up being fabulous. My visit as a tourist a few years prior had turned me off. Too many tourists. But the other options – Bulgaria and Croatia – entailed a lot more effort. It didn’t hurt to try Prague. If it was horrible, we could easily move on. As we had so many times before. The move and integration was so easy. The petty daily struggles that we had endured over the previous years were nonexistent. Decent and friendly customer service! Good quality products and so much variety! All of it is relative, of course. It’s amazing what you can get used to, if you tolerate it long enough.

It didn’t take long to be seduced by the shadow side of Prague. My one regret is that I didn’t see as much of the Czech countryside as I would have liked. For two years, I have explored this magical city, falling more in love with it each time. So many hidden corners continue to reveal themselves. It is here, in this enchanted realm, that I will while away the remaining days until I am transported into the next phase of this astonishing journey.

67 thoughts on “Departure Lounge of the Restless Mind

  1. Thank you for your profound reflection and insights into your journey. I was reminded by Matsuo Basho’s “Every day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” As I look back, there have been inflection points that have changed the course of my pathway. And that has made all the difference. Safe travels, my friend.

      • Just returned from a UK adventure. I’m researching the Industrial Revolution to find the contributing factors that led to the increase in public service such as labour rights, animal rights, prison and mental health reforms. There was a great deal of effort by many to address poverty. I was particularly looking at Mary Parker Follett. I think you would be very interested in her narrative.

  2. Love the title – could be a Milan Kundera book title – or am I showing my ignorance, have I missed an alternative reference. I admire your wandering spirit – where to next I wonder. Stay happy and travel safe.

    • Hi Robin- No direct reference, but once I thought about it, it does resemble the film title “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”. We all copy, whether it’s deliberate or not. 😉 Wandering is something I’m meant to do, I think. I’ll be at our place in France for a while until I figure out where to next. It’s still a mystery to me, too.

  3. It sounds like a good place to while away some restlessness, Julie, but I’m a bit desperate to know where next. Asia, Japan or somewhere European….? I know, I know.. patience, virtue etc. 🙂 🙂 I thought you were retreating from the blog when I first started to read, but you’re not, so all will be well, in due course. Dobry podróży!

    • Dziękuję bardzo, Jo. 🙂 I’ll be at our place in France for a while, trying to figure out the next step. I have no idea where I’ll head to next, but most likely it won’t be Europe. I’ve been tentatively exploring options, but nothing has jumped out at me yet.

  4. I thank you very much for all the astounding articles I have been offered by you over the years and this one, which is somehow like a summary of your life experiences. I would only wish you much strength to also master the next chapter of your most exciting and not easy life!:) Very best regards Martina

  5. I think Flower will love looking out onto that river. Bonne voyage! I know you will bring the same enthusiasm, curiosity, and love of mystery to your next adventure that make your stories so captivating.

    • I miss Bubba, too. Every day. She’s in varmint heaven with Skipper and all our other friends. No idea where I’m going after France. You’ll be one of the first to know.

  6. This is a nice cheat sheet for me, an index card (more beautifully written the most!) of the places and times I’ve been reading about for several years now but have never been able to string together quite properly. And Flower … I didn’t know of her provenance, if that word can be used for animals! I am happy that your mind is more serene with this move; as I wrote to you recently, even an “easy” move has burdens, and I hope you can bear them as lightly as possible this time.

  7. Yes, I concur with the other commenters. The clarity of your prose impresses me once again. Such lovely, simple sentences to unravel a complex emotional experience, that of a traveler finding home in movement. And the photos: well defined compositions. I look forward to your next adventure.

  8. Julie – I just read through your piece and these comments and echo them all. So beautiful. (I choked up a bit at the dear one from ‘Mom’) I can so imagine those miserable E European flats, the discomfort before finding place. A challenging but rich life you have created – and what more can we ask for?
    I do hope you land softly in a sweet place and that your solitude is not painful – although I know that skill you have acquired – it becomes a need eventually, doesn’t it? What’s clear is that you have made us, your devoted readers, care about you. Don’t disappear. We will all await your news and the delight of reading you.

    • Thank you so much for your support, Tricia. I realized from a very young age that I am alone. We all are. We are told to fight it, to fill it with companionship of any kind. Our culture views solitude as an illness, but it is so comfortable to me now. I’ve learned so much in these last ten years – patience, mostly (as you can imagine) but also what’s really essential to carry along from place to place. My baggage has become so much lighter – literally and metaphorically. 😀

  9. Your title intrigued me. Your recollections of your experiences have enthralled me. When you mentioned your blog, I thought this is the end.

    I am trying to second guess your next destination and I am influenced by vaguely recalling you have an apartment in another city. I hope the move goes smoothly and the journey provides some excitement.

    • Good memory. 😉 Yes, I’ll be at our place in France for a while. As long as it takes to sort things out. It’s such a comfortable little way station. I haven’t spent much time there, but it feels like home. I’m taking advantage of the luxury. Thanks so much for the kind wishes.

    • Yep, never a dull moment. Living overseas and making an effort to mingle with the locals – rather than hang out with other expats – really gives you an insight into other cultures. It is endlessly fascinating. Many thanks for tagging along on my voyages. 🙂

  10. So interesting to read about your past journeys. This post resonates with me as I have moved many times in my lifetime and dealt with culture shock time and time again. A wonderful challenge and priviledge I guess.

    Your description of Budapest is so simple and so alluring and beautiful in its simplicity. You do have a unique style of writing which is quite captivating. I look forward to reading you more!!

    Thank you for sharing this.

    Peta

  11. Sometimes, it takes time to find a new destination but you’ll know when you find the right one. (It worked for me, I didn’t know where to go on citytrip, and then one day, after a few weeks of thinking about the different options, I found the right destination and it wasn’t on the initial list).
    Solitude is certainly not an illness, I like to be alone, like you, even if sometimes it’s a bit too much.

    I think I said it in the past but it’s still true: I really love your blog and I hope to read you for a long time in the future.

    • Thank you for reading my work since almost the very beginning. 🙂 I’m definitely taking my time before making a decision. I’m open to almost anywhere. If I had my choice, I’d work in Antarctica for a season or more. But you need a specialized skill or connections to get one of those jobs. 🙂

  12. Hi Julie. A deep, thoughtful post as usual. I like “Flower” as a name for your rabbit.
    I don’t think anybody in his/her right mind who has met you can ever forget you. But that’s just me.
    Sorry to hear you are leaving Prague. (It is a city where I could fancy myself living for a while. To learn
    that strange language) 🙂
    Now where to? You don’t seem to know. Which puzzles and worries me a bit. (As an E-friend)
    What happened to Angers?
    And that bit about “going it alone”? Hmm.
    Whatever path you chose, “Vagabonde”, I wish you a happy one.
    Brian

  13. Oh, and food for thought to the wanderer. I remember a few years back standing on the Pont de l’Archevêché by Notre-Dame, I was watching the river, “MY” river, and all the Beauty around. And I came to the realization that Beauty was what I had been looking for all those years till the end of the Earth. (In a figure of speech). And then I looked around again and realized, that all those years I was looking, searching for it all over the globe, it was just there, waiting for me. (I may have told you that before). I don’t know what you are looking for. Not sure you do. But I hope you find it. 🙂

    • Yes, you have told me about this before. I have found what I was looking for in a spiritual sense. Wandering to find that elusive peace is done for me. I don’t care if I travel anywhere again. If I get an opportunity, great, but if not, no big deal. I’m grateful for the wild ride that I have had. Now I’m focused on the practical – independence and as much comfort as possible. I don’t want to struggle at my age. And I don’t deserve to struggle. Maybe I will be able to pull it off in Angers, maybe not.

      • Glad you have found what you were looking for. And I agree about traveling. (I am almost done about that, though Asia beckons a bit) I also agree that you, of all people need to be practical. Though you are still very young, it is time to stop struggling. 🙂
        (I’m glad I have)
        Take a deep breath in Angers. It is a small town, but you have the whole of France at your fingertips. And though my compatriots are grumpy, there is a lot to see. Take good care of yourself mon amie.

  14. Looking forward to hearing about your next steps, and wishing you the very best! This post makes me think about how the more we learn about a place, the deeper we understand the depths they encompass are. It also makes me want to go back to Slovakia! I was only there briefly, but it is where my dad’s family is from.

    • Thank you, Leah. Slovakia is my favorite country in Europe, and possibly the world if I think about it. So mysterious and such beautiful nature, with good infrastructure and kind people, but still off the main tourist path. I didn’t know your father is of Slovak origin. So is my maternal grandmother.

  15. You’ve certainly been around. I couldn’t help but think of some of the young bloggers I’ve read that are adopting a “see the world” lifestyle, and wonder if they really understand what they’re getting into – I suspect you could teach them a lot more than English. But I doubt that even if the lessons took, they’d be able to write about it as well.

    • Thank you, Dave. I’ve also noticed the profusion of young, voracious travelers. There seems to be something missing from their accounts. A depth, or something. In this era of social media, there is pressure to put on a show, to compete. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of soul searching, or maybe they’re afraid to share it.

      There is a price for wandering while young. If it goes on until middle age, there is no going back to the real world without real difficulty. Too late for family or career. I don’t regret it, but some may.

      • Dear J.D
        Following your blog, I have a feeling, will be the best decision I’ve made today. An absolute joy to read your story.
        It makes me wander how I’ll feel looking back at the life I chose to live when I’m a bit older. As you say, by then it’ll be too late for a career or I fear, even a family, but I see no other life I can live. And remembering your story, will be like a blanket of reassurance when the cold nights of doubt descend upon me.

        • Hi there and thank you. Some of us have no choice, really. Our spirit could die a slow, excruciating death in a cubicle day after day or it can soar free, coming to rest, hopefully, on a soft place. Bon voyage.

  16. i’m inspired by the adventurous quest
    to be there, whatever the reason. to be present with things
    as they are, within & without. finding contentment
    in various countries & conditions.
    may your journey continue with relative ease, Julie!
    as for me, after a life of moving about,
    i’m finding contentment slowly rooting.
    time will tell how the journey goes 🙂

  17. Hi Julie,
    I don’t know why, but I’m somehow saddened at the news of you leaving Prague, but I’m sure that, wherever you’re going, it’s going to be another experience, and hopefully a good one at that. My only plea is that, if you’re moving to a villa in Tuscany, please-oh-please don’t go “Under the Tuscan sun” on us!
    Safe journey,
    Fabrizio

    • Hi Fabrizio – I’ve moved around so much that I don’t get so sad when I leave a place. I’m always a little apprehensive when I leave…”is it the right decision”, etc. However, every move I’ve made, so far, has been for the better. Prague will be a tough one. We had a special connection. And it signifies the end of my Central/Eastern Europe adventure. But I can always come back. If that’s how things work out.

      Do you really think you have to worry about me going “Under the Tuscan Sun” or “Eat, Pray, Love” on my readers? Unless it’s a psychedelic/surrealist version…woohoo! (I shouldn’t sneer, though. I’ve never even read those books/seen the movies, so I can’t judge.)
      I was just looking at Italy yesterday evening, as a matter of fact. It just popped into my head. I doubt it would be permanent, but I feel like I need a big change from former Communist countries for a little bit.

      • I never thought I would but… you never know, you move to Val d’Orcia, Jamie Oliver and Sting are your neighbours and then the next thing you know… Just kidding! Good luck wherever you’ll go, hope to read about it soon.

  18. Best of luck on your next adventure, Julie. I feel graced by the beauty you’ve shared with us from your various journeys and look forward to hearing more about where you land. I admire your willingness to accept and relate to your solitude, which strikes me as the ultimate toolkit for accepting the movement of grace and change in our lives.

    Peace
    Michael

  19. “Ten years ago, I knew where I wanted to go. This time I have no idea, and I will be going it alone.” – I am always thankful about ‘not knowing’ and just letting everything be. Wish you all the luck, my friend.

  20. First of all! Wish you all the best wishes . And yes what an amazing read! You have beautifully described the other side of travelling which is usually not described and brought into the limelight.

  21. So beautifully penned as always… A sort of travel log… but full with personal twists & feelings… (What would we do without subjectivity; I am wondering?) 😉 Did you manage to speak as many languages as the places you´ve lived in?…. I am sure Polish must be so difficult?… How did you sort that out?…
    Sending love & best wishes, dear Julie… xx 😀

    • At the very least, I learned the basics of each language. I made the most effort with Polish, so I could communicate with my cousins. It is a very difficult language. Slovak and Czech are similar to Polish, so they were easier to pick up. Hungarian is a completely different language family, so I only learned enough to get by. I think it’s important to make an effort to speak the language if you live in a foreign country. Both out of respect for the culture and to add to the richness of the experience.

  22. As usual Julie, you provide us with your delightful telling, adventure, and insight, through your travels , thank you. 🙂

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