Realizing the need for a bigger host for documenting my adventures beyond Australia, I created wanderingleah.com.
See you there!
We were planning our last day in Southern Spain. What did we want to do? Where did we want to go? Gibraltar had been loosely discussed, but as the end of our trip neared, our excitement and determination for it stepped up a notch. On our last day of holiday, we rented a car and were off on a road trip to Gibraltar!
The vehicle of choice was an adorable little Fiat, about as big as my thumbnail. Sondre took the wheel, and we were off! We fell in love with the journey and wanted to stop everywhere and see everything along the way, but our eagerness to get to Gibraltar soon took the upper hand.
We parked the car and walked over the border, showing our passports twice–once to Spanish border control, and again to the British side. One minute later, we were suddenly hearing British accents and using British pounds to pay for things. We were stunned. What a fascinating piece of history, and a sore subject for the Spanish government, who wants rule over the 6 square kilometers that was a gift to the UK in the 18th century.
Realizing what little time we had allotted ourselves for the trip, we hastily chose to take a guided tour of the island, which I definitely recommend for those just going for the day. We hopped on a bus and got to see a cave, monkeys, military tunnels, and Europa Point– where we could see Morocco just 14 kilometers across the strait.
We were enthralled by this new and strange world at the tip of mainland Europe and the centerpiece for controversy and debate throughout modern history. Gibraltar is a place that only takes a day to see, but sticks to memory for years to come.
It lit up, up from the darkness of the snow. It radiated warmth from the inside. That is what Tromsø was for me.
Tromsø was for me a city of warm hearts, one where I felt welcome to and comfortable in. From having a chat with the cafe owner to catching up on the local fishing gossip with the marine scientist, I talked to more strangers in a few days that I may have done my entire time in Oslo. It makes, sense, though: with dark and stormy weather, they don’t necessarily have much of a choice, do they?
I was in town for the film festival, one that Sondre certainly wanted to join me in but couldn’t get holiday for. We had been to BIFF in Bergen and it lit something in me. Never a real fan of Hollywood, I’ve always been attracted to independent movies, documentaries, and international films. So of course, being a part of a festival where we saw such films all weekend only fueled this craving. At TIFF, I was shocked, I cried, I laughed, and I learned so much! It also eased the slight disappointment of the Northern Lights never peeking out through the snowstorm.
A few of the movies I was so lucky to see alongside Tove, my former boss and forever mentor from Skogfjorden. It was slightly bizarre to see her outside of the Norwegian village, the only place I had seen her since I was seven. It had been at least six, maybe years since I had seen her last, so at first, I didn’t really know where to start, but I was happy to have been able to share a sushi platter and ideas with her while in town.
Although Tromsø draws tourists for her Northern Lights, whale watching, and midnight sun, she keeps them enchanted with everything else about her. The city is just big enough to provide, yet just small enough to get to know. As I left, I wanted to give Tromsø a giant hug! It was fantastic getting to know this brave, fun, charming Paris of the North.
No, really, I’m traveling less!
Not that I expected you to notice. I still admit I travel perhaaaaps more than normal
In fact in 2013, I made it a conscious goal to travel to one new place I had never been, every month. I couldn’t get enough, so I moved to Australia for all of 2014, and still didn’t see as much of the country as I wanted to. I traveled for travel’s sake. I traveled to come out of my comfort zone, to feel energized, to learn about others. My feet never touched the ground! So what changed?
When I moved back to Oslo in 2015, it was time to figure out: when I’m not traveling, what does my life look like? Who is Leah and what does she like to do?
Turns out, she works a lot, and runs a lot. (That farm girl work ethic doesn’t die easy). In 2015 and 2016, I took hardly any vacation, but was too busy to notice. Stay.com was growing, and I worked overtime most months, balancing Stay with consultancy work (mostly for SolRX sunscreen). It was a welcome distraction, and on the days I felt restless, I ran. (I ran a lot). At the same time, I slowly, slowly began to embrace DIY projects, music festivals, committee meetings, and yoga studio memberships.
At the same time I was traveling less, I was ironically enough feeling more grounded. Or did I travel less because I felt more grounded? Either way, I could no longer internally justify 36 hours in Riga or going to Stockholm for a concert. So in 2017, I have made a semi-conscious decision to travel with purpose. No more traveling for travel’s sake. (Seriously!) (No, seriously!).
Unlike 2015 and 2016, I will actually take holiday, meaning unplugging completely: going to a city Stay.com doesn’t have, without my laptop, and with few plans. My first experiment with this was a trip to Tromsø in January, and oh my gosh you guys, it was awesome.
Since 2013, I have halved the number of trips I take yearly, while at the same time prolonging the actual trip itself. Sounds pretty basic, no? I feel like I have reached a balance that works for my instinct to travel and staying in one place that works for me right here, right now. The stress to make plans ahead of a trip and the feeling of having to rush through a city vanished. That in itself was worth it. After years of wishing I had one more day, or scheming when I could go back, I am eagerly and happily coming home.
Certainly, 2017 is scaring me. This is not, I would argue, a Leah that I have ever known before. I still travel with vigor and enthusiasm. The purpose of traveling for me in 2017 therefore is: How can I grow from it? How can I make sure I leave minimal trace of my visit? Will it make someone else happy? So far for 2017, this has translated into meaning that my trips are planned around people I love. A 30th birthday. A reunion. Another birthday. If I can’t go for more than four days, there is little motivation for me to book these days. It’s an awkward and weird feeling. That may not be my 2018, or even any year ever again, but this is my 2017, and I’m excited to challenge myself in this new way.
The instinct to travel and to travel spontaneously is still very much alive. It’s always been in my blood, and still is. When I travel, I shake myself of restlessness and creative blocks. I am reminded that we are all in this world together, and we have got to learn to get along! I come back home feeling productive, compassionate, conscious, and thriving. My cravings for spontaneity may take over. They may be fueled by a coercive friend or a life change.
On Friday, Sondre and I are off to Seville for a week. On real holiday. So, as you can by now predict, this means you won’t be hearing from me here (although, I certainly considered combining it with work and leaving a few days earlier). 🙂
I was standing in my doorway in Melbourne, with a cup of coffee in one hand, and signing for a registered letter with the other. The letter was from the Oslo county governor. A letter… from halfway across the world… sent express to my door. I remember that moment so clearly, the one in which the world was so undoubtedly at my doorstep.
Now, a little over a year later, so much has changed in my life (and rightfully so). One thing, however, has certainly stayed the same: Since January, I have thought of Australia almost every day. It has been eleven months since I came back to Norway to see if I wanted Norway, and if Norway wanted me. My love has followed, along with a fitting job and a cozy apartment. [Insert joyous, monotonous rhythm here.] It quickly became evident that I wasn’t quite done with Norway after all! A recent visit from Melbourne friends Jenni (and earlier in the year, Anna) have been energizing. We reminise about the good times, crazy library days, and sunny days spent in the park.
Talk quickly transitions to plans ahead, as we have moved our doortsteps elsewhere. We wonder when we will wander back to this land that has given us so much inspriation. Five years? 10? How about 20, like my father? It is ironically comforting, therefore, to know that Melbourne will never again be as I left it.
For instance, I know very well the Cedar Rapids, Iowa of 1987-2006. The Cedar Rapids after that…I know little of. Buildings have been torn down, my parents’ street has been re-paved, and my high school classmates now have families and houses.
Similarly, Norway before 2006 is like one big history lesson to me. I had to immerse myself in significant cultural shows and events (read: The Julekalenderen, Flåklypa, mm…) just in order to understand a joke. And every time the value of the Norwegian krone drops or gains, I compare it to when I first moved here.
Melbourne, likewise, will remain a snapshot of what it looked like and the events that occured in 2014. For fun, I’ve listed just list some things that come to mind: protests, local fashion, only owning [needing] one sweater, shark culls, Korean hot pot, Tony Abbott’s circus, (related: ignoring Aboriginal rights), 96 tram, comedy shows, sunny parks, and lest we forget the market guy who always yells “BANANA! 4 DOLLAH 4 DOLLAH! 4 DOLLAH BANANA!” To feel the heartbeat of a culture, what drives its people, what unites them and divides them…that is how I love to travel, and have always loved to travel. The first thing I do in a new place is check out the nearest grocery store or peaceful protest. That’s where I can get a sense of how much of the world is at their doorstep, and sometimes, how much they are on the doorsteps of the world.
Fast forward to 2015, which is almost over. On the cusp of 2016, Melbourne is at the doorstep of the world, and her metropolis is expanding at a phenomenal rate. It’s a very exciting time: the creatives keep creating, Turnbull has calmed the nation down, and David Jones even has a website now. The next time I visit, I am in for a shock; I can only hope the internet conenction is better 20 years from now, too.
The travels continue, and are never enough to sratch that itch. My time in Melbourne was just short of magical, and I can peacefully live elsewhere, knowing that it will never be as I left it. And that’s ok! It is therefore essential that we keep in mind that the world is truly at our doorstep, whether it is off to a new experience in the here-and-now, or off to the past, where our memories inspire and comfort us. I know that through dreaming, I continue to bring this far-off land to my doorstep, this one where winter is summer, rooftop bars are plenty, and tiny bears are grey and hang out in trees.
My dearest red earth,
The sound of your waves ricochets in my memory, and I miss you.
It catches me off-guard, really. It will be a nice, sunny day on the top of Oslo. I am sitting on my balcony, enjoying the Northern sun on my face (no sunscreen needed). I bathe in it, stripping the layers off me so that my skin shines, exposed to fresh air for the first time in four months.
The sun then plays hide-and-seek behind a cloud and suddenly it is 10 degrees cooler. The layers quickly go back on. And off again, and on again. Your smell lingers in those summer clothes that lay stacked in storage.
Your water is so blue. Those blue eyes that stun me every time I look into them. I have tried to forget them. I want desperately to forget them. I was not born of the sea, so how have I developed such an affinity for it? You charm me with your old soul, and I am lured to your shores, blind with fascination.
My feet have not met my sandals in over four months now. They sit at my door, along with my umbrella, for who knew when you would need which? They wait patiently, collecting the dog hair and dust of my new reality.
Melbourne, my stubborn, mischievous Melbourne. How can I forget the roaring echo from the MCG on a Saturday evening, or giggling in Fitzroy Gardens with Anna, whispering sweet nothings to the coffees in our hands? (a splurge at $3.40). How I remember the smell of the 96 tram on a Sunday mid-day, everyone still in their Saturday Best. Ahhh, the joy of being bloated from too much fried tofu at Laksa Bar, where they knew who we were. We always ordered the same thing, didn’t we?
I love you despite your pretentious cafes with exposed brick walls, my meal served on a cutting board. God, I hate food served on a cutting board. Yes, the salad served on a slate of rock was worse…
Come to me. Come to me, and I’ll learn to tolerate Vegemite. Maybe. (Yeah ok, maybe not). Oh but darling, I will buy fresh vegetables and kangaroo meat from your markets. I will tickle your fields of wheat and grapes! I’ll dive into your red heart, and never stop swimming.
One year ago today, I left Oslo with 29.8 kilos of my life in “Big Blue,” my massive, loyal [and expensive] suitcase. My heart beat so hard that my cheeks thumped with the aftershocks. I had put a lot at stake in investing financially and otherwise into an education in Australia–what if I had made the wrong decision? Alas, I had always wanted to live in Australia. My lonely bachelor’s degree in sociology was getting me nowhere that I wanted to be. I had, however, always loved writing, bringing people together, and hearing their stories. The light-bulb moment arrived, and it was time to act on it! I had no responsibilities, nothing to tie me down–I did not even own a mattress. Now was the time to go!
So I set off with tears in my eyes saying good bye to the friends and the lifestyle I loved dearly in Oslo. It would still be a long time before I could make it home to the U.S., but it was a sacrifice I had to make if I was going to pursue that looming goal, just two semesters in the making.
January 29th was a warm, steamy summer’s day. I arrived at my AirBnb room whose A/C was struggling to keep up with the summer’s pressure. As I hauled my carry-on bags up the stairs in that house, I felt it all (as Feist might say). I felt alone, brave, scared, stupid, adventurous, and EXCITED, all at once.
Eventually settling in a studio flat downtown, I quickly felt myself come alive again, thawing rapidly from so many winters up North. My skin screamed in the strong Australian sun and protested by turning red immediately. I relished trips out the country and to other states in order to let my soul breathe–sometimes, Melbourne was just too full of concrete for this country girl. I pretended my farmer’s market WAS a farm, lugging home $5 boxes of fresh zucchinis, apples, and farm fresh eggs. I lamented daily about hipsters, Tony Abbott, and Woolies. I had gone native, Melbourne-style. I tried to soak in as much as possible, but that only made time fly quicker. Suddenly, I was all out of time.
By January 2015, my skin was sun-kissed and my feet were cracking from walking barefoot so much. I had a degree in my hands, with proud, strong grades despite every curve ball the year threw at me. I was broke, and it was time to find a “real” job. My student visa was running out, and my ticket was return to Oslo.
I write the title with skepticism. Inspired by Forrest Gump, I feel like all of sudden, the day came where I just dropped my shoulders and thought “Well, I made it this far. Might as well turn around and keep going.” A return is inevitable but its capacity and duration remain a project for the gods to deal with. 2014 is hands-down the year I cried the most, learned the most, laughed the most, felt the most. I love both cities and people in them. That’s all I can really say about The Future.
Your support, your letters, your likes and emails and Skype…. it has meant so incredibly much to me. You have been on this journey with me the whole way. You walked with me through a eucalyptus forest. I had you mind when I listened to the koala’s growl in the night. When I drank Little Creatures beer I thought “Yeah, you’d like this.” Thank you, thank you! I’m so happy you joined me.
No, not creeks in your knees or creeks in the floors. Creeks–or cricks, in Iowan.
On our trip back to Melbourne from the NSW coast, we crossed and saw several rivers and creeks–including the Hollywood-famous Snowy River and a town called Lake’s Entrance.
There were so many funny names for creeks along the Princes Highway that I started to write some of them down. Think Pioneers, re-naming everything they came across…I guess after a while, their creative energies started to deplete…
I lay down on the board, and pretend to take a nap. The waves have died down a bit, allowing for some playtime in the water. The small waves gently hit my board, just enough to rock me back and forth. There is a gentle, peaceful smile on my face. All I hear is the sound of the water, and waves in the distance washing up on shore. Marty is nearby, but perhaps in his own world, too.
After being surrounded by chaos and stressed-out city humans in the store for days, all I wanted was to get away from them. Please, no humans today, my soul begged of me. I wanted to hear nothing else but the sound of the ocean. I wanted to see no one but Marty, off in the distance catching a wave.
We have met some French tourists earlier in the morning thanks to Marty’s ability to make friends with absolutely anyone. He rivals my own reputation for it! Everywhere we go, I am practically pulling him away, interrupting his conversation in order to convey “cmon; lets get a move on!” That morning was no exception. They chatted about the south of France, about the weather conditions that morning, and about road-tripping Australia. I was quickly bored, looking forlornly out into the waves. Feeling as eager as I was to get away from the city, I tugged on his shirt and said “So, um, sorry to interrupt but, I wanna get out there.” “Ok, ok, see you guys later” he responded with a wide smile, adding sarcastically, “You act like you really wanna surf or something!”
My capabilities in this sport are minimal, but I have never done any sport in order to excel, let alone one to do with water! To me sports are about letting loose and having fun, and I am sure that was the original intention of them anyway, in the days where it was hard work and a hard life. I have had fun learning to feel waves, and sometimes I have the discipline enough to stand up. I learn a little more with each try. Mostly, though, it is just great to be out there, feeling a part of the Earth greater and bigger than I am.
I remember just before I was about to try surfing for the first time. I had mixed feelings whether or not to tell my family. My brother and brother-in-law, I knew, would not be happy. Of course, I could get swallowed whole by swimming knives, blue bottle jellyfish, or drop bears that prey on Midwestern girls. Admittedly, I did protest slightly when Marty even suggested it. “What if I don’t like it?” I asked wearily. “Aww, you’ll like it!” Marty replied matter-of-factually. After all, I was not born with an affinity to the sea. Growing up, I did not need to feel the harsh ocean winds against my face and feel the salt stick to my skin in order to be happy. Give me a forest, a freshwater lake, and a canoe. Now there’s happiness!
However, discovery is an ongoing human desire, is it not?? Whether it be through food and new recipes, through travel and new places, or music and new songs to learn. When we unearth a new part of our world, we open ourselves to more room to be happy. When we have a bigger platform on which to be happy, it becomes easier to find happiness, instead of a mystical illusion or a fleeting feeling. At least, that is what made sense to me anyway, as I lay on the board, waiting for the next succession of waves to come in.
When I really actually enjoyed being out in the ocean, it was much easier to embrace it. The waves became a playground instead of a terror zone. The city and humans became a distant memory, and time did not matter. As the morning grew late and more humans sought the same solace as I did, I got out reluctantly, but ready to face the city again with new energy.
Just don’t tell my brother or brother-in-law.
Had I been looking, I would have seen the wombat.
Before moving to Australia 10 months ago, I had heard there was not much life in Australian nature. It was apparently pretty red, pretty dry, and pretty barren. I keep learning, however, that there is always life if you just look. I thought the native brown grasses were victims of relentless drought, and that dry lakes could not possibly be a regular occurrence. Beauty in nature according to my upbringing lay in lush, green grasses that my toes danced in. Life found itself in strong rivers and black, nutritious topsoil. Upon arrival, I even thought a burnt forest meant that it was dead. Of course, had I looked, I would have seen that it is teeming with life.
Maybe I had been looking, but through the filter of the city and society. The beauty had disappeared between tram stops and construction sites. I was slowly growing more frustrated with life. I knew I was not seeing much of life or its beauty when a stranger asked me for the time as I buzzed by, my mind elsewhere. I automatically replied “No thanks,” as if they were a street corner fundraiser, and marched on. I was 10 metres away already when I back-pedaled and looked him straight in the eyes. I said, “I’m sorry about that. The time is 2:45.” I had, again, not been looking.
So now, I put my head out the window, the salty ocean air filling my nostrils, but I do not dare let it do something that I do not see. I am wide-eyed, looking eagerly at all the plants and rocks and coastline. As the car winds its way along the Otway National Park, I spot a koala hanging out having a meal, a wallaby, and some funky birds. And then I see this guy:
Where did all of this life come from?! How did I not see this before? I began to spot things everywhere, finding every wallaby’s hiding spot and even a lizard of some sort. It only continued at the campground. On my way to the use the toilet in the dark, I was on high alert for yellow eyes shining in my flashlight. Sure enough, I saw two staring right at me, and it wasn’t moving too quickly. It was, of course, another koala.
There was little I didn’t see at this point. So much to see and learn, and at night the koalas gave their territorial growls, sounding like wild pigs. It is funny looking back that everyone talks about snakes and spiders when they think of nature in Australia, and I still do not want to see any ever ever ever. But by assuming this, are we really looking? Compared to North America with wolves, bears (Ok, in Minnesota anyway) and racoons–in addition to snakes and spiders–growling koalas did not seem so bad!!
By focusing on snakes and spiders, I would not have seen the other animals. By focusing on the brown leaves or minimal streams, I would not have seen all the ferns or waterfalls. It was hard to be convinced of red, dry, barren land amongst all this life.
I just had to look.