The last few weeks have been rather hectic and I have moved around a bit since my last entry. I also lost my mojo… just a bit. It is almost 6 months since I started this journey and I have had the most wonderful experiences, however, it has also been tiring and I’ve been feeling a little homesick (again). I think it is the nature of the travel beast and I’m still finding it difficult to balance the need to see everything I possibly can, and taking time out to recover.
But to catch you all up….
After I left the retreat, I visited a friend I met in Tanzania now living in a city, Vejle, on the mainland of Denmark. Vejle has some interesting architecture on the docks which took my fancy, otherwise it’s a fairly quite, pretty place. My friend is obviously a black African and it made me sad to see how isolated he felt in this city. He felt like he was the only black man there however I saw others and even spoke to a black guy about the African population in Vejle. I think he’s biggest issue was the sense of not belonging to this country and being incredibly home sick for the expansiveness of Tanzania. And it is clear to me, through conversations with him and others, that racism is alive and well in Denmark as it is in many other white dominated countries. White privilege is real and as white people, we have no idea what it is like to live in a black man’s skin, even if we are empathic to their experience.
My friend’s main reason for being in Denmark is that he has a daughter to his Danish ex wife and he wanted to be closer to her. I admire his commitment to his child especially considering the sacrifices that he has had to make to be near her. He also supports some of his family at home. I have met a number of African men who have moved to the ‘first world’ to support their family and even though they are working in relatively low paid jobs, they have created a lifestyle for their families in Africa that they would never have dreamed of otherwise. Families who have lived in one dirt floor room scraping together enough to eat now have houses to accommodate the whole family and more than enough to eat and they live well. It makes me think once again about how much these people have sacrificed for the sake of, not just their immediate family, but their extended family, and how culturally different we are where the sense of sharing is so natural for them whereas our cultural bent is ‘everyone for themselves’.
When I left Vejle, I decided to go over to Sweden for a change of scenery (because I could!). Most of the time was spent in Malmo which is about an hour out of Copenhagen. Malmo is multicultural and the two areas where I stayed had a strong Muslim presence. The second place is supposedly notorious for being the worst area in Malmo but I’m not really sure what that means. One thing I noticed, regardless of said reputation, was that there was a lot of parkland around this area which gave the place a nice feeling and I saw a lot of Muslim families picnicking. I had no concerns with walking around and felt totally safe. While at Malmo, I took a trip to an amazing little place up the coast called Angelholm for a bit of a rest. I stayed at a B&B right next to the sea just out of Angelholm. The area was fairly unpopulated and there wasn’t much around – a bit like an outback Australian country town but by the sea…and with no pub! Sweden, even in the height of summer, is cool relative to what I’m used to. While I was there I hired a a bicycle which I rode north which was a beautiful experience and I did end up having a swim. The water was freezing of course.
Sweden is an interesting place. My Swedish friend told me that the government is very open to supporting human rights issues, such as refuges, women’s rights, LGBTIQ rights (while I was there, Gay Pride was being celebrated) and the right to be nude however they are strict on what they consider issues which are harmful, such as drug use, smoking laws, alcohol sales etc. After being able to walk into a grocery store in Croatia and Denmark to buy alcohol, I was a bit taken aback that Sweden was not as liberal around access to alcohol. However, the other side of the coin is that there is one distributor in Sweden basically monopolising the alcohol industry which makes me wonder if alcohol misuse is indeed a governmental concern or a way of supporting a monopoly. Anyway, it’s interesting.
I went back to Copenhagen to catch up with my son for a couple of days and then flew to Barcelona. Barcelona is absolutely amazing! It is not a huge city by any means however the strong sense of history and the amazing array of architecture is breathtaking. Every corner I turned revealed another jaw dropping architectural discovery. Even the buildings which are not considered tourist attractions were amazing. The other thing I loved was the street art (of course). Barcelona is a busy, noisy, colourful city which is well worth the visit.
The other interesting thing about Barcelona which I didn’t know is that although it is in Spain, it is part of a distinct region, Catalonia, and many of the locals speak Catalonian, not Spanish. Catalonia was historically separated from the rest of Spain, however in the early 1900’s Catalan lost its autonomy and Catalonians were oppressed and forced to adhere to Spanish rules and language. Things started to change in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until 1978 that other communities were once again recognised and allowed to be autonomous. In 2010, Spanish nationalists attempted to invalidate the laws supporting Catalonian autonomy which resulted in massive protests in 2010 and 2012. The conflict has continued and it appears, from what I can see, that there is still some issues around Catalonia gaining its independence from Spain. There are still political prisoners and throughout Barcelona there are Catalonian flags and banners demanding the release of these prisoners. I have been finding the history of the countries I have been travelling in so interesting which, for one who has had no interest in history in the past, is nothing short of a miracle!
The pièce de résistance for me in Barcelona was definitely the Sagrada Família. I don’t usually pay to go into places like this unless I know I’m in for a treat (or it’s cheap!). When I went to Sagrada Familia initially the tickets to go in were sold out. I purchased a ticket on line there and then however had to wait 6 days to eventually get in and it was well worth the wait. The external architecture of this building is fascinating and worth a visit in itself, however, the inside of this building blew my mind! Walking into this architectural wonderment literally took my breath away! It is more than likely the most amazing building I have ever set eyes on. I have been told that the Taj Mahal is up there with the Sagrada Familia and am now disappointed that I didn’t make the effort, although I’m pretty sure I’ll go back to India one day to see it.
While in Barcelona, I stayed with a Costa Rican friend who I met through my son. She is studying in Barcelona and lives in a share house as many Uni students do. She actually moved house while I was there taking her things, including me, from one place to the other. It was interesting living the share house experience. It has been a long time since I felt like I was couch surfing – I think the last time was many many years ago when I left a relationship and had no where to live dragging 3 young children behind me. Travelling for the last 6 months has definitely had this flavour however I have basically been able to stay on my own (except when my beautiful friend travelled Croatia with me but that was totally different). It was actually a great experience especially in recognising the need to live light and to get on with people you may not actually even know (or like) otherwise it could become a problem. I’ve lived mainly on my own since my son moved out 10 years ago with the exception of a friend living with me for 18 months (who was so easy to live with!), or friends and family visits and Airbnb visitors. I think it is a challenge to live with others in this communal setting and to manage life moving from one place to another is not overly settling. However, it made me think about how unnecessary what we sometimes think is essential is…especially in relation to ‘stuff’.
Most of the material possessions which we accumulate have no meaning or consequence to our lives except to weigh us down, physically, emotionally and mentally. Over the last few years I have become very aware of what I think I need and what I purchase. I suppose I have become a minimalist to some degree. When I was young and broke with 3 children in tow I couldn’t afford anything but the basics. When I started on my belated career path and was earning reasonable money, it took me some time to be able to give myself permission to buy stuff that wasn’t absolutely necessary. I probably went overboard a little but definitely not to excess. However, I basically stopped spending unnecessarily a few years ago when I considered the impact on the environment that consumerism has and the fact that ‘stuff’ does not bring happiness and only clutters and complicates our lives.
Travelling with just a backpack (albeit a large one) has made it clearer just how little we need in this life to be happy. I have some beautiful things that I love packed away at home which I will not begrudge myself of. Notwithstanding, I think we need to be very aware of what is important to us, and ensure that ‘stuff’ is not at the top of the list. My travelling tells me that experiences are definitely important, although, maybe they are ‘stuff’ in a different form. Human relationships are much more important although at times, not as comforting and consistent as ‘stuff’. They are hard work and painful and I have learnt that in so many ways… especially through loss. I have a history of avoiding them and still do in some areas of my life. Nevertheless, they are worth the risk as life is pretty bleak without them. I could have all the ‘stuff’ in the world at my disposal however without human relationships, it means nothing. This isn’t rocket science and there are plenty of people in the world with this manifesto for living, including me, yet sometimes it is empty rhetoric as people continue to accumulate ‘stuff’ and hold onto it so tight at the risk of losing those they love, regardless of the hyperbole. It’s something which I will continue to ponder on especially in relation to how I live my life when I return home.
And so the journey continues… In the next few weeks I am planning to continue travelling around Spain until I reach Lisbon, Portugal and then I’m off to Morocco.