Camino amigos

For those of you who don’t know, I walked the Camino de Santiago in June 2012. I plan on writing more about it, but suffice to say for now it was a life changing experience in more ways than one.

My DSCF9422experience on the Camino has been on my mind a lot recently, partially due to where we are living. Our wee village is actually ON the Austrian Camino route. Before starting the pilgrimage I was unaware that many people actually start from their front doors, all across Europe. I recently heard of someone who began in Estonia(!). What luck that of all the places, in all of Austria, where we ended up is a stones’ throw from the actual path.

Walking past yellow arrows and shells is now a daily occurrence, and a daily reminder of all the wonderful things that I learned en-route.

The Camino brought many things to my life; healing, clarity, confidence, a reminder of what was important to me, new love…but what I wasn’t anticipating were the friendships that developed on this journey.

Meeting people was the last thing on my mind when I took my first few steps toward Santiago. I was struggling with a lot of things in my life at the time and believed that what I needed was time alone to process, to think and perhaps to even pray. Drinks, laughs and daily conversation were at the bottom of the list of things that I thought I needed.

Was I ever wrong.

Meeting people on the pilgrimage was different than anything I have ever experienced before at home, or even on previous travels. There was an openness and an honesty that was refreshing, albeit a little surprising. People walk the Camino for a myriad of reasons, but there is an underlying core that ties everyone together. Regardless of the reason for partaking on this journey, it takes a certain madness to decide to leave your ‘regular’ life behind for a month or more to walk across an entire country. There was a courage, a tenacity, an openness and a searching that tied together everyone I encountered on the trail. Unlike at home, within twenty minutes people were sharing more about their lives than most of my friends at home had in the first year of knowing them.

These conversations provided me with more insight and perspective than all the time spent walking alone/thinking/journaling tied together. Snapping out of my narcissistic mindset, truly listening to others and honestly sharing allowed my brain and heart to work through problems far quicker than if I had just spent each day walking alone with the mad flurry of thoughts in my brain. I laughed, I cried, I learned and I healed.

And I remembered how to be grateful. It’s easy sometimes, particularly when going through a hard time to hibernate and withdraw. But I’d say that the best answer to being down is to reach out. We’re social creatures, and caring for others and letting them care for us doesn’t just make our hearts happy, it also makes us healthier. I read a study recently that said social isolation was as bad for you as being an alcoholic, or smoking 15 cigarettes a day! http://www.forbes.com/2010/08/24/health-relationships-longevity-forbes-woman-well-being-social-isolation.html
Guess who’s feeling better about her smoking addiction. Yup.

But I digress. To all those I met on the Camino, I just want to say THANKS! Those I met briefly, those who came and went along the way and those who have now become dear friends – my life is better for having met you all.

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DSCF9488Ramblings and discoveries from a gal who quit her job of seven years, ended an on-and-off relationship of ten, traveled extensively, fell in love and moved to a country where she knows no one and can’t speak the language to save her life.

Join her on her journey as she acclimatizes to life in Austria, rambles about the things she thinks about, shares her opinions on books, food and things purchased, and occasionally writes articles on previous travels.

Happy feet!

For the first time in my life I ordered boots online, and they arrived today (squeeeeel!!!)

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Why so excited you ask? Well, when I left Canada this summer I didn’t give much thought about where I was eventually going to settle down, so my packing ‘process’ went a bit like this;

‘it’s August, I have a two bag allowance for my flight and can’t afford to ship anything (not that I had anywhere at the time to send anything to), I’m going hiking and camping and it’s sunny right now. Dresses, hiking clothes and a few warmer layers in case the nights are cold sounds great!’

Fleeting thoughts of a possible/eventual fall/winter crossed my mind, but I let them go and hopped on the plane without a care in the world. Cue December and the move to Austria. Oh. It snows here. And it’s bloody cold. And I live on a mountain and need to walk at LEAST half an hour to get anywhere resembling civilization. Guess these (non-waterproof) hiking boots aren’t going to do the trick.

Now, if there’s anything I’ve learned from Boots (the boy, not the objects) it’s that quality really does make a difference so I didn’t just want to buy ANY pair of winter boots – I wanted pretty, I wanted waterproof, I wanted warm, I wanted practical…and I wanted inexpensive. Impossible, right?

Not so – I spent ages reading reviews of winter boots online and came across this review in the National Geographic adventure blog. Let me introduce you to: The Teva Vero Boot.

Testing out my new Teva Vero boots!

Testing out my new Teva Vero boots!

The first thing that sold me – it’s a review written by someone who writes for National Geographic. I’ve been crushing on NG since I was a child, so that equaled immediate trust in the reviewer. Second – Holy cute! Third – awfully practical sounding. But the price was a wee deterrent, $180 for a gal who’s not worked much this year would be a huge stretch. So, I did what any self-respecting shopper would do and went on Amazon.de and there they were, in my size, for less than half the price!

And the verdict? They’re positively fabulous.

  • Soft as slippers
  • Sturdy and supportive
  • Cozy warm and breathable (so no icky foot sweat)
  • Amazingly waterproof (as proved when my foot crashed through a foot-deep puddle that was frozen and hidden under layers of fluffy snow).
  • Great grip for icy roads

Now, what are you waiting for? Stop reading and go order yourself a pair immediately!

Snowdrops can make me cry, and other little things…

Today I was walking to WDSCF9425örgl when I spotted two deer in the distance; there they were, peacefully munching on whatever greenery they could find buried under the snow without a care in the world. I stopped to watch them for a moment and that moment turned into minutes while I truly soaked in my surroundings – the fresh snow, the towering trees, the magnificent mountains in every direction, the crows cawing above my head and the fact that I really have moved here started to settle in. Immense gratefulness welled up within me and that’s when I felt it, the familiar warmth of a tear filling my eye.

“Crying over scenery, Evi? Really?” You may ask. To which I respond wholeheartedly “Damn right”.

This world is an extraordinarily beautiful place, especially when we take the time to look at the details. Now, I am a particularly exuberant person; I get excited about potbellied pigs, old books, first snow (and second, and tenth, and hundredth), and snow drops to name but a few.

Snow drops particularly come to mind as they’re a favourite of mine – they represent spring, new beginnings, strength and resilience. I can be having the worst day in the world and if my eye lands on a snowdrop I remember how small my problems really are.

They also remind me that I am who I am, and that is something to be cherished. I had an ex, once-upon-a-time-ago who had difficulty accepting my excitement over things. This was a constant source of disconnect between us that left me feeling a little crazy at times. He actually said to me once ‘Evi, sometimes a snow drop is just a snow drop’.

At the time I wrestled with this statement, questioning my enthusiasm, wondering if I was over-the-top, if I was missing a sense of ‘seriousness’ about the world. But this past year in particular with all the travels I’ve been on and the amazing things I’ve seen, amazing people I’ve met and reconnecting with old and wonderful friends I’ve realized that a ‘snow drop is only just a snow drop’ if you let it be and fail to notice the magic within it.

Now I don’t want to get all preachy, and I’m a big believer in the old idiom ‘to each their own’ – this is just how I choose to view the world. And I’m really happy that this is the way that I do.

Do as ye will, but if I may suggest – take a moment today to really look around you, at all the little details, insignificant as they may seem and I just bet you that the world may look a little brighter (and in the end, isn’t that what we’re all hoping for?)

 

Turns out I’m a little afraid of the dark…

I live in the middle of nowhere. Well not literally, but close enough for a gal who grew up in a big, bustling city. The village we’ve moved to has 1745 people (1747, now!); we’re surrounded by forest and mountains, and from what I can tell more neighbours have cattle and horses in their backyards than I’ve ever seen before.

Where we live

Where we live

Our amenities in town include a bank, a teeny ‘grocery’ store that’s open from 7:30 – 12, and the Gemeindeamt. The Gemeindeamt is one of the most endearing things I’ve discovered about Austria so far, you have to register with your local town-ship when you move to the country and after doing so we received a letter in the mail from the mayor (including his available hours to chat!), and a cute little hardcover book with the history of our new home. Awesome-sauce! And that’s all there is for miles and miles. Oh, except the nightclub(!) that is ten minutes in the other direction – I have yet to go there as Boots isn’t a big fan of ye ol’ disco…

But I digress, there aint nothing around this little village, so in order to get groceries or a regular dose of human contact (and I use that term loosely as I can’t actually TALK to anyone yet) I walk to Wörgl – our nearest actual town. It’s just over a half hour away, down the mountain on a little road, through forests and over a river (a little longer on the way back with all the uphill-ness!). It’s a walk I enjoy thoroughly and now that I know which way I’m going (unlike the first attempt where I went the wrong direction and a subsequent hour out of my way), it’s easy as pie. BUT, it’s January and so the sun sets obscenely early and in order to ensure I’m not wandering up a mountain in the dark I’ve been uber-conscious to ensure I head back with plenty of time.

That is until yesterday.

I decided to treat myself for a coffee and a few cigarettes at a darling little café I’ve found and wile away the hours writing (yes – you can smoke inside some of these places! For fellow smokers, I’m sure you can understand my joy!). Well, I got extremely caught up in said writing and before I knew it, I looked out the tinted windows and saw that the sun was no longer shining through. Oops. I awkwardly asked for the bill, and high tailed it out of there.

The sun was just beginning to set and turned the sky a beautiful pink which complemented the blue and white mountains magnificently. I power walked up the road, out of breath and a little sweaty after the first two turns and then into dim forest; a little creepy, but I could still see and my not-so-trusty flashlight was at least providing a small, warm, yellow circle in front of me and hopefully deterring any cars that might have been driving down from hitting me. So far, so good. But, by the time I left the first patch of forest it was completely dark. And I don’t mean night-time in Toronto dark, I mean full-on countryside, no lampposts, no light to see your own shadow with, d-a-r-k. My heart rate way above where it should have been I barreled onward, anticipating the last patch of forest I had to go through and hoping that I wouldn’t pee myself with fear. Urination was avoided, but holy shit did that half a kilometer scare the bejeezus out of me; remember the old Disney Snow White movie, where she’s running through the forest at night and it’s all creepy trees with eyes, and branches reaching out to grab her? Well, that’s what it felt like. Every rustle, every twig snapping made my breath inhale sharper and I couldn’t get to the end of the path quickly enough – I didn’t quite run, but I sure speed-walked as quickly as my wee legs could carry me.

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Terrified.

And there you have it – this gal who’s traveled all over the world, met a bear and a puma, hiked through and slept in various jungles and forests, is over the 30 year mark in age and has done some pretty adventurous things has nothing when it comes to walking alone through forests in the dark. Needless to say, I’m going to learn how to take the bus.

Nowhere near fluent…

I’ve been in Austria for just under a month now. My ego, and my experience traveling in South America with little-to-no knowledge of Spanish before heading there tell me that I should at the VERY least by now be able to

a) order food and drinks,

b) ask how someone is and respond how I am,

c) ask for directions (not that they’re ever much help as my penchant for getting lost is extraordinary!).

Alas, none of the above is true. I can say thank you and please, and have learnt three different forms of saying hello, and two goodbyes. And that is IT.

Why the difficulty with German, you ask? Why that’s the same thing I’ve been asking myself since I got here….I had wild dreams of reading a few pages of a German novel to Boots (how I will refer to the boy in this blog) every night and having him fix my pronunciation, enrolling in an affordable and awesome German language school where I would be sure to excel, downloading free language learning software, meeting a neighbour who would decide to teach me from the goodness of their own heart…Alas, I have done none of these…I can’t even count to ten!

I’ve told myself that German is just difficult, that classes are too expensive, that Boots doesn’t REALLY want to sit and listen to me struggle with the ‘ichs’ and ‘rolled Rs’, the free internet courses I’ve found look ‘dumb’, and the neighbours aren’t home during the day. All valid excuses and ones that I’ve been using as a security blanket to hide the real reason I’ve been avoiding the learning curve.

The simple truth is that I’m embarrassed. Terribly, horribly, blush-inducing-ly embarrassed.

I’ve thought about this a fair bit and here’s what I’ve figured;  when I was six we moved to Canada from the UK and I had a very strong Welsh accent – adorable, I know! But not so adorable at the time, as the kids in my junior school would chase me around the playground, make me talk and laugh at me. I was mortified (obviously) and according to my mom I lost my (super cute) accent overnight. Ever since then, speaking in public (especially using words or languages I’m not overly familiar with) is a real struggle. Maybe it’s just psycho-babble, but it’s my brain and my theory and I’m sticking with it!

So, what to do? Remain stuck in this six year old mentality or make a break and just dive in? Given this past year and the huge leaps I HAVE taken, I would be letting myself down if I continued on this self-pitying road, so as of today – I’m-a-jumping-in! (Knees trembling, blush creeping up my cheeks, and all)

And how? After hours of internet research and tidbits from folks I’ve met on my travels I have decided to try the following methods:

1)      According to Tim Ferris he suggests finding the 100 most used words in the language you are learning and memorize the shit out of them. That is the 100 most spoken words, and the 100 most written words (some different, some the same). Check out his post here: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2009/01/20/learning-language/

2)      Increase said list to the most common 3-500 words and only add on words that I will be using in daily conversations.

3)      English and German have a LOT of similarities. I’m on my 250th word now. Committing these to memory as well.

4)      READ OUTLOUD! This simple act is the most terrifying to me (see above), but according to a terribly charming gentleman I met on the way back from a trip to Peru it’s the best way to learn. You sit with someone who’s fluent in the language you’re learning and read a page from a book. Fluent person stops you every time you pronounce something wrong and corrects you. You don’t talk about grammar, you don’t ask for definitions, you just read. And you do this for weeks. Slowly, it just starts sinking in. At least that’s the theory.

5)      Continually try and pronounce “Oachkatzlshwoaf”. It means “Squirrel Tail” in Tyrolean (Oh, dialects!). And, as I live in Tyrol, this is the one word that apparently will give me mad respect when I go out. Yup, picture me now; entering super-hip bar with super-hip Austrians. “Hello. Squirrel Tail.” Here’s hoping that Boots isn’t pulling my leg…this is going to go great.

And that’s my game plan. Excel sheets prepared, flash cards in the making, a book picked out for when Boots gets home tonight and I’ve now said Oachkatzlschwoaf 20 times out loud to myself and I officially feel like a crazy person! Wünscht mir Glück! (and God help me if I can pronounce that!)