RIDING IN BUSES WITH STRANGERS

At some point during our trip planning, Todd and I decided we needed to be frugal. Long after the miles and points were exhausted on boutique hotels and direct flights. And of course, rather conveniently, after the safari and overwater bungalows were confirmed and paid for.

After a late night discussion, we arrived at the decision to try and rough it during various stages throughout our trip. Really leverage those backpacks we had purchased. So for a few weeks we booked Airbnbs with shared water closets and discussed some alternative group options. One of those was a road trip I had discovered when I was traveling by myself two years ago. A shared bus ride from Croatia to Greece through Montenegro and Albania. Only 5 nights and an absolute steal including accommodations, breakfast and transportation. 

As we waited patiently in the parking lot of a supermarket in Dubrovnik for our chariot to arrive, I don't know what I expected to find inside. Perhaps a few other thirty-something couples who also had a temporary lapse in judgement. Intellectually stimulating company we would laugh with and bond with. Future friends we would call up the next time we were in Chicago with the kids, after reconnecting on Facebook about all the fun times we had that perfectly strange summer of '17.

Instead we got exactly what we paid for - 6 freshly faced 21 year olds traveling for the summer before heading back to finish their last years at university. To be fair, everyone was far more mature than I had been at their age, yet the gap in expectations for a holiday were quite large. Evenings were filled with pub crawls and night clubs rather than the speakeasies and craft cocktails we would have preferred. Overcrowded public beaches were chosen over over shaded chairs at the nearby beach bar. And the cockroaches we discovered in our bedroom (on two separate occasions) confirmed that simple comforts had been abandoned for cost savings. In the end, it was a pleasant reminder of the comforts that come with age. And the proper ability to save.

We quickly adjusted our expectations and in the end were pleasantly surprised by the experience. However, days are long when you spend hours on a bus moving from one place to the next. And while the scenery and excursions were breathtaking and unique, it did mean quite a bit of time together as a group. 

One girl seemed to occupy my personal space far too often. Our exchange started off rather amicable, but a new character flaw seemed to emerge each day. She talked too much. Interrupted conversations and perseverated on unpleasant topics. She gave advice, which was often cringeworthy given the irony of the source and our significant gap in age, not to mention life experience. She drank too much but didn't grow more tolerable by the glass like some people do. 

But it was her facial expressions that were particularly vexing. She had one of those faces that seemed to flatten a bit in the middle. Her eyes were set far back in her head, often casting dark shadows across her face. And while gorgeous in color, they were always half closed. You could only get a fast look at them before she shook her head and covered them with some expressive hand gesture. Without such a contemptuous demeanor, her expressions might have varied more, but she seemed to be forever forced to display a discerning pout to the world. Even a simple observation came across judgmental. But then again, it usually was. 

Often times, I wanted to cock by head to the side and ask her that the hell was the matter?! How could anyone possibly be this young?! 

And then I realized why I was having such a difficult time with her presence. She was me at 21. A bit naive and insecure. Not willing to listen more than I spoke. Always trying to prove something to someone, and myself. All without accountability. I would like to think I had a bit more tact back then, which is why my sympathies were initially hard to conjure. But in the end how could I not cut my own self a little slack? 

It took years to figure out how to appropriately allocate the limited number of fucks I have to give. And I still struggle with it at times. Especially when it comes to other people's perception of me. I just hope she figures it out earlier than I was able to. Because seeing people for who they are and where they are in their life takes patience and understanding. And at the end of the day, it's this very introspection that makes getting older taste even sweeter. 

SLOWING DOWN IN THE FRENCH RIVIERA

Its 10:00PM and we just wrapped up a dessert of fresh raspberries from the local market. Dinner had been just as simple - a homemade salad prepared with seasonal vegetables. Washing dishes in our tiny kitchen, I could see through the living room and out the open windows into the lush green garden that separates our us from the busy boulevard.

Perched atop the hillside, you can immediately tell the building housing our temporary apartment use to be a hotel. The entryway opens up to a grand staircase with ornate detailing on the back of each step. The hallways are long with identical doors gating the no longer identical rooms. Many are open in hopes of a cool breeze, so I peer in as I walk by. Curious about the lives on the other side. It is the individuality that gives the building life, which would otherwise appear abandoned. All the furniture has been removed from the common areas and there is not a thing left hanging on the wall, but the grandeour of what it was, or might have been, still seems to resonates.

It’s been an oasis after being in a state of constant movement, staying only 2 to 3 nights in each destination. But here, in the French Riviera, we weren’t on a timeline. We could wake up slow and head to the market, which feels familiar now. I shout to Todd to grab more olive oil while I vacillate between nectarines or strawberries for our morning parfait. We might go on a run or grab a long lunch before walking the short distance to the beach. We prefer the rocky shores in late afternoon, when the crowds have started to disperse and the sun is high enough to read our books, but low enough to not burn our skin. After a bottle of rose and a nap there is still enough time to jump in the car and drive to Antibes to watch the sunset. 

Everything is slow and effortless here. Families gather at the local beaches near the point, picnic baskets in hand and children in tow. The road wraps along the coast, zigzagging by extravagant homes and landscapes. When we finally arrive at our destination, the sun is still suspended above the mountains. Watching it sink reluctantly makes me question if it does really fall faster back home. Or do I just move so fast everything else around me becomes a blur? In both time and memory.

REFLECTING WHILE TRAVELING

It’s now been 15 days into our 110 day trip. More than 10% done, which feels surreal on both ends of the spectrum. That it’s already been 15 days, and we still have 95 to go. Continuing on to the French Riviera last week solidified the feeling this isn’t a vacation, quite oppositely it is life for the next several months.

People keep asking me where we live and I want to say New York, but that isn’t true anymore. We don’t live on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, but we also don’t yet live in LA either. We live right here in this moment. Which is beautiful and strangely bittersweet at the same time.

When I left San Francisco to travel and then move across the country, it was an overdue transition. The city breaking me down slowly each day I overstayed my welcome. But I wasn’t done with New York. And I know New York wasn’t done with me.

Our last night in town we sat at dinner in the West Village. A cozy Italian spot with more empty bottles than glasses on the table. Old friends and new interlaced around us, forming the most abstract and illusory family. Our love for each other and this city never grew stagnant. Always in constant motion, growing and transforming as boldly as the seasons do there. It’s the thing I miss the most right now and the reason I still respond with “New York”, anytime anyone asks where we are visiting from.

I find comfort in the fact that leaving early means the city will always remain elusive in my mind. A perfect home and a place I yearn to return one day.

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