A Spanish Home

I was surprised to hear that my mother had been getting the same familiar questions. “Where is she now, and most importantly, when is she coming home?”

Apparently her response is a shrug of the shoulders and “Well, first of all, I’m not sure this is home anymore, and second of all, I don’t think even Lily knows the answer to that one”.

She’s right on both counts, and yet it was home I was looking for when I stumbled up the 7 flights of stairs to 17 Nou de la Rambla, Barcelona.  I’d been on the road almost 8 months, non-stop, and was in dire need of some familiar surroundings. Continuous travelling builds important connections, but it is also invariably a constant re-hash of stories and events, a re-building of your identity with every new meeting.

My sister had moved into her new flat no less than a day before my arrival, so when her sweaty, cycle-touring hermana scrambled through the door – bike and all – it was with some explanation to the new housemates.

I was welcomed with unwavering hospitality into an amazingly beautiful, though modest, Spanish Apartment. Big bay windows, a colourful paintjob and fairytale wall-poetry filled the rooms. Mosaic tables and floors, archways leading to the bathroom and renaissance style chairs – it was a dreamy delight.

The first week or two I couch-surfed around, trying hard not to overstay my welcome anywhere. I met as many bike fanatics as I could, saw gigs and cabarets, drank copious amounts of tea and went looking for friends.

Pretty soon, I settled down. Not quite the 9-5-husband-and-kids scenario, but I did get myself a phone, go to the same local store everyday for my mandatory baguette and even began paying rent for the first time in 3 years, when a room in my sisters place became available.

I’m not really in love with Barcelona, and I doubt I ever will be… but I grew very fond of her.  She became the meeting point of almost all the dear friends I’d made through my journeys in Europe and there was rarely a night spent alone. The 1 euro Pakistani cervezas, bike lanes along the beach, street festivals and amazing little tea corners made the days pass swiftly. This city would prove to be my last before setting sail across the ocean, and I used my time wisely, taking my own space when I needed it.

It’s true it had been several years since I’d had a room I could stand up in, but it had been almost double that since Ella and I had shared a city. My sister and I have always been close, despite our seemingly vast differences, but neither of us could have imagined how much we would need each other over the next couple of months.

We listened to one-another for long hours, gossiped over red wine, lent a shoulder or two and supported each other into sanity. On weekdays we would lunch together, on weekends, party together.  I remembered our similarities. I remembered her optimism and level-headedness. I remembered how fun she was to dance away the night with and I remembered her humble questioning to seek the truth. She reminded me of my old self and eagerly discovered my new. She taught me forgotten lessons and together we developed unrelenting respect for the bonds of sisterhood.

The sun and the city helped… the friends, old and new, built the foundations… but really, it was Ella who brought me home.

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Charlie

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Hungary

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Slovakia
plotting

Austria

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Austria

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Amsterdam, where it all began

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We first met on a cold rainy night in Amsterdam. I stumbled into casarobino, hair askew, holes in my shorts, soaked from hitching in the wet. He was sitting in a chair in the corner. Robino introduced me by a long series of flattering labels, most of which surprised me as much as anyone else. Charlie was introduced as Charlie.

Later that night, I discovered he was much more than just ‘Charlie’ when I was told he was CYCLING AROUND THE WORLD.  Needless to say, as any newcomer to the bike touring philosophy, I was impressed. The next two months were spent in the same vain, impressing the other when it was your turn. We dumpster dived plenty, we snuck picnics into libraries, we slept in a bike by the beach… we fell in love.

Since then, I’ve heard him recount his ‘worldbiketour’ story over a thousand times and it’s lost a little spark. The impressed feeling has moved and morphed into a deep rooted respect. The lover he is, the friend he is, the man he is – shake me much more now than any mission label. He’ll bake you bread, fix your bike, fold you origami, sew your pants, build you a ladder, cut you a stencil. His talents still make an impression. But it’s more than that too. As any two hearts intertwined, what sooths the soul is the space between. No writing could describe the fluttering, the understanding, the inspiration.

I often wondered if any relationship could really reach equality. I mean where both people feel equally empowered, connected yet independent, simultaneously. I had experienced this, in fluctuation, where first one and then the other feels free… but at the same time? Was that even possible?

After struggles, ups and downs, thousands of kms cycled and a billion different scenarios played and then replayed… I realised it was possible and I was living it. Our roads often seperated, our physical selves countries apart, but somehow our souls stayed bound. We always had fresh stories, new lovers and new frienships to recount over a campfire by the bikes somewhere. Our random roads always crossed again.

Every goodbye (and there have been a lot!) was temperary, both of us blowing in the wind and free to float by again when it seemed fitting. Now though, he is going east and I west. This time there will be a big wide ocean between and no motorised vehicles to turn back the clock, flying into yesterday.

10 months later, Charlie has left. It’s getting cold again and I’ll be caught in the rain soon.

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Buzz.

I couldn’t sleep. It was three am in Madrid, I had to be up at six, but i couldn’t sleep. Had i remembered everything? Was I missing anything? What questions would they ask, what would I answer? Every time I diverted my attention away to more peaceful thoughts, they would creep through and lead me write back to my pending visa application.

Finally, after checking the clock every hour, it was time. A couple of metro’s and a brisk walk later, I saw the American flag whispering in the wind. I was early. Very early. It was still dark. A breeze was blowing, goosebumps raising the hairs on my bare arms.

At a quarter past 8, they let me in. I took my ticket and then a seat. I was number 19. I watched 18 people get up, walk to the booth, speak for 5 minutes, then sit down again. At my call, I did the same, handing over my passport and proof of the 90 euro payment. Another excruciating hour, each number slowly passing by, until number 19 came around again. A different booth this time. They wanted fingerprints. Left, Right, both thumbs – take a seat please.

Still clasping the folder full of letters, statements, certificates… my palms sweating, time ticked on. The room was full by now. Booth number 1 was calling ticket number 50 something. Two windows opened up to the left, a woman in one, a man in the other, with signs that read ‘interviews’. The next turn would be it. Every time they buzzed someone else through, I’d jump three feet, heart in my throat, eyes scanning the electronic screen. 16, 17, 18… I was next. That meant the man. He looked nice, he was smiling often. A good sign I thought, trying to stay calm.

Buzz. Number 23.

Oh. “Numbers will be called out of sequence” read a poster above my head. Ok, so the woman then. Was that better or worse? I couldn’t judge from her demeanor. Finally, another buzz.

Number 19.

That’s me, remember?

On shaky legs I walked up to the desk. In a strong American accent she said “Lily, I’m going to ask you a few questions”. I was trying to swallow the lump in my throat. “You’re the same age as my daughter, and you’re travelling around the world”.

Could she hear my heart beating? It was so loud.

“Thank you for that”, she said with a smile. I’m suddenly in love with this woman. She takes on a motherly air to me, calm, nurturing. She’s making chit-chat, joking as she files through my papers. Then, taking the front form, scribbles notes in the ‘for office use only’ box.

“I’m issuing you the visa. Go and have fun!”

Walking out the Embassy, my feet didn’t touch the ground. I was floating on clouds. I felt like the blind man in the film “Amelie”, the whole world opening up, the sky clearing. Colours were brighter, people more beautiful. A true, honest, ecstatic smile spread form cheek to cheek. I’m sure I looked mad. I felt like doing unexpected acts of kindness to every stranger passing by. I skipped home, singing, dancing, meeting every eye and beaming. A sweet syrup trickled through my blood.

I could enter that ‘promised land’. And now, finally, I can sleep again.

I'm ready!

I'm ready!

V-Day

In a little over 12 hours, I’ll know my fate. I’ll know if i’ve been liberated… and welcomed to the land of the free.

I have over 30 printed pages explaining my existence. I have spent days staring at a screen and running back and forth from the copy shop. I have senators backing me, doctors, former AP presidents, mothers, lawyers… I’ve got it all. If my hoboism shines through despite this, then at least I’ll know it runs deep.

From here on, it feels out of my hands. I’ve done the best I can. Tomorrow I will stand forth in front of the American Consulate (in shiny business clothes) and be judged. Either way, I’m reminding myself whatever happens is meant to be. My options aren’t so bad. It’s either the Caribbean/Central America, or the freight trains of Southern U.S.A. As always though, I’d like to have it all.

Soon, I’ll sail away on “Ramble”. Whichever land it is i’ll be bound for, I’m sure I could call it homeward. It’s all in the journey right?

Closed

Its a sunny day outside. Ive closed the shutters and drawn the blinds.
I’ve tried to resurect myself today, tried to walk out the door and face it, but tears are flowing and I’m not sure i’d make a good impression.

In a month, on an island close by, Menorca, there will be a boat waiting for me. A beautiful old wooden sailing boat, capable of crossing an ocean, with a crewlist and my name on it. The excitement I can generate from that potential adventure seems so easily thwarted by bureaucracy and practicalities. Leaving my community and secure friendships here, would be half as hard if I werent denied entry to them over there.

I’m looking in the eye of an amazing opportunity, the perfect crossing crew, a dream finally coming true… and arrival on a land minus one bike and one language, without North as a way forward – towards that network I know is waiting for me. The United States of America is still closed for visiting hours.

Adventures in Northern Italy

Friends and Family for Fun:

totally joined the bicycle revolution!

totally joined the bicycle revolution!


charlie at work

charlie at work


An old friend made a meet, on his hitch through

An old friend made a meet, on his hitch through


Lightfoot love letters

Lightfoot love letters


we set up a lightfoot box in Vicenza... get writing guys!

we set up a lightfoot box in Vicenza... get writing guys!


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three bicycles in love

three bicycles in love


Even a sister to see! And she rode 40kms this day! woot!

Even a sister to see! And she rode 40kms this day! woot!

Solo Stories…

hitching home

hitching home


Back on the road - SOLO... feeling good!

Back on the road - SOLO... feeling good!


baked bread! Pasta madre! Thanks robin!

baked bread! Pasta madre! Thanks robin!


Romanian truck drivers brought me home

Romanian truck drivers brought me home

Italy

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we had to go to venice...

we had to go to venice...


An open door, a friendly welcome - from Davide our host in Padova, Veneto.

An open door, a friendly welcome - from Davide our host in Padova, Veneto.


two bums on the run

two bums on the run


but i prefered Padova!

but i prefered Padova!


they make vegan pizza - marinara, with no cheese...

they make vegan pizza - marinara, with no cheese...


but i had to have non-vegan gelato... its a cultural experience!

but i had to have non-vegan gelato... its a cultural experience!


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the flying lion in the middle of Padova

the flying lion in the middle of Padova


no cars... but plenty of motor boats... especially for the policia

no cars... but plenty of motor boats... especially for the policia


they've made it THIS far!??

they've made it THIS far!??


and gondolas that cost 100's of euros

and gondolas that cost 100's of euros

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there are levels left to ruin, when the water wins...

there are levels left to ruin, when the water wins...

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climb over the water to get home

climb over the water to get home