We like to think every passing year brings self-improvement, wisdom or growth, but it's not true. The person I became in 2013 was not better than the person I was before. I was - am - shaken. I entered the year in disarray, physically unwell and mentally unprepared to deal with it. And even when we found a cause, and started to treat it, I was not instantly better. It was medications, anxiety. Discomfort.
"Don't be anxious," was the advice. "You're hyperaware. Not everything is a symptom." Easier said than done, of course. "This is you. This is normal."
I don't want this normal. I want the old normal. The 2012 me that set off on an overseas trip, first year out of university, with confidence, freedom. Not a me hamstrung by a perpetual uncertainty of one's health, or dogged by pains you're told to ignore. This was the aftermath of my last trip. This was what freedom wrought.
Of course, that's not true. My heart problem wasn't the result of travel. It was coincidence, mostly. A occurrence of an inherent medical condition I'd only later realise I'd experienced before the trip too. The anxiety, though - that was causally linked. I could blame it for the stress, and wanted to.
I'm in Glasgow. I set off on this new voyage almost two weeks ago now. Last time I spent a couple of hours each evening summarising the day's events on this website. You can still see all the entries. One day I'll feel conceited - or nostalgic - enough to revisit them. This year is different. I didn't have the technology on hand to make it happen until now, yes, but I don't think I needed the outlet as much nor had the passion.
Yet I sit here, finally able to easily compose my thoughts, and I feel unexpected relief at being able to record them. Creation has been a comfort this year. The satisfaction of having written a nearly 20,000 word film screenplay, three episodes of a tv series, multiple songs - this is one of the few parts of the new me I like. I wish I did more of it. 2012 me wanted to write these stories. 2014 me has. I like that. And so now I'll spend the luxury of detailing in narcissistic detail much of what I've experienced on this new adventure to date, because I'm proud of the part of me that feels the urge to do so.
I was the last to leave Adelaide, which brought unexpected responsibilities. The pets and house in capable hands, I set off to Sydney on Friday January 3rd to spend the weekend with friends and see Grizzly Bear live at the Opera House. It was a gentle start. Hannah and Eleanor met me upon arrival in what turned out to be a perfectly situated AirBnB rental in Darlinghurst. The humidity was deathly, leading to awfully fitful sleep over the weekend, but the sun and company made for a wonderful weekend.
Japanese food on Friday night, many hands of Up And Down The River, a morning wander with Michael now in attendance, long lunch with Lisa at the Rocks, unfortunate soft serve that left us all quite unwell, siesta, dinner at Super Bowl on Saturday night, brunch at Bronte with Angus on Sunday. Couldn't have asked for a better crew to go see a spectacular concert with. The nerves and occasional chest pain faded to the background in the light of their company. Grizzly Bear were in awe of playing in such an internationally renowned building that evening; we were in awe of the performance and their abilities.
And then, at six o'clock the next morning, I checked out. Flying to Berlin, alone. Ten hours on an Asianic Air flight to Seoul that was late due to turbulence, four hours spent recharging my phone in a free charger station in the airport, twelve hours on Turkish Air to Istanbul, another three of layover, and finally a hop to Berlin. One visitor transport pass and a bus and a train later, and I met Sarah. Last time I travelled overseas my heart was tachycardic. This time passed without incident.
Berlin was a pleasure. It turns out my parents had also got in that morning. I knew my dad was coming to see Kashmir in concert, but I thought it was just him and the next day. Both parents had arrived within the hour I had, though neither they nor I had worked out the other was in town. With Sarah at home but working, I braved the cold to meet the folks and enjoy lunch with them. I shopped that evening and picked up what has now become an indispensable woollen jacket to shield against the bitter winter bluster. I picked up a kebap outside the train station on the way home.
Wednesday was the second concert in four days. Another long-time favourite, another first-time live: Kashmir. The reason I'd rearranged everything to be in Berlin early. I spent the day at the Deutsches Technikmuseum with the parents, which despite being my second or third time there, still held new delights in far off nooks. The history of computing was engaging, but it was only as we stumbled out into the vast railyards that I realised how much of the museum I had still never made it to. Dinner with Dad and Sarah was lovely, but sadly Sarah had to depart from the noisy confines of the Lido theatre due to a headache. Kashmir performed a rocking set of new and old classics, and the high-ceilinged, intimate venue felt like the perfect European setting I'd always envisaged for them.
Sarah, somewhat recovered the Thursday morning and having already taken two days off, lead us to the Computerspiele Museum, where we met Justin and his pals Matt and Miriam. The gallery is dedicated to the archival and recording of videogame history, and includes many playable arcade cabinets, unique hardware and interesting historical details. We departed late and headed off to Alexanderplatz to meet Raymond and Constantin for a ramen dinner and lazy drinks.
Friday saw Sarah and I reluctantly headed to Tierpark. Berlin Zoo is the best in the world. Tierpark Zoo is not. An extended train ride lead us to a dilapidated building, an inauspicious start to say the least, and the first impressions of the barren enclosures, lack of attendees and tired facilities did little to change things. At a certain point, the dreary day, our tiredness and the bizarre '60s era accoutrements made the place feel rather like uncovering an preserved World Fair expo and us feel rather hysterical. The silliness was the only thing that got us through a dreadful lunch and the bitter cold. The evening wound down with another coffee and cake with Constantin and some TV on the bed.
Another early morning, another international flight. This time to Warsaw, a new city for me and one in which I had no company. The exchange rate had secured me a lovely hotel, but upon emerging from Warsaw Central onto the main road, I felt unsure what to make of the place. A long freeway cut through the city, and the tall office blocks were unwelcoming. It was still very cold, and the sense of unease wasn't helped by the completely unpredictable behaviour of motorists at pedestrian crossings. (They can proceed through them even when a pedestrian has a green light.) It's no surprise Poland has the highest pedestrian accident rate in Europe.
I dropped off my bags and rested for an hour or two in the room. Eventually I decided I needed to brave the weather, and so stepped out into the frigid air. I was headed for a modern art museum, but despite arriving at the entrance, couldn't work out how to get in as all the doors were sealed. Turns out it was closed. The square it faced, though, offered my first positive perspective on the city. A striking tower surrounded by palaces, the beautiful building was a gift from Soviet overlords several decades ago (and is held in mixed regard by the people as a result). Indeed, the more I wandered the town over the coming days, the more of its beauty I discovered.
Sunday was spent predominantly at the Copernicus science museum, the kind of grand scale hands-on experimental facility that only Europe seems capable of doing and that the Investigator Science Centre never got close to. Walking home after sunset - 3:30pm, that is - I enjoyed yet another delicious meal. The previous evening had been a red-faced, eye-watering Indian curry; the morning's scrambled eggs a simple delight; and that night's authentic Polish cuisine was another treat. The country is apparently making a concerted push away from the 'make the best of your rations' 'goulash' cooking into the West European style we all admire.
If I had been more prepared I'd have realised that the museums all tend to close Monday, but as I wasn't I circled to the Chopin Museum and was greeted by a bored security guard and "The Final Countdown" on the radio, which I'm not sure the composer would have approved of. So I wound back to the National Museum - also closed - and National Gallery - yep, closed too. At this point the maximum -3ºC temperatures and lack of gloves had seen my hands lose all feeling, so a burger to recoup was followed by a brisk jaunt back to the hotel and an evening in the spa. Pizza capped off the night, and a damn good one too.
Which brings us to today, Tuesday the 14th. Without Google Maps integration of the public transport system, I left my hotel just before 10am for a 11:50am flight, having not really thought closely about the timeframe. As you are no doubt realising, that is not a sensible amount of time to allow yourself to catch an international flight. At Warsaw Central I found the airport train departed at 10:40, and check-in closed at 11:10. At 11, I sprinted from the station to bag drop and got a boarding pass (thank god that mobile apps have allowed early check-in), inched through security to discover my flight was boarding, waited again in the visa queue for an agonising few minutes behind a grandma with many questions, and then dashed to the gate just in time to make it on the flight. Too close for comfort, but the best stories always are.
So, Glasgow, with Georgie, who I haven't seen since August. Five months. Weird, but comfortable. I'm staying with her for a night in her shared flat before the folks arrive tomorrow and we move out. After homemade curry for dinner, I borrowed back my iPad from her and found myself sitting here, ready to type. Wanting to type this out. If writing those films, those tv episodes, those songs has helped, I can't help but hope this does too.
What changes await me this time? When I ended the last trip I felt the most 'me' I'd ever been. I lost that. That version of me drifted out of reach, dismantled by insecurities and weaknesses both real and psychosomatic. I walked past a café today because I didn't recognise the name. I hate that. I don't want to eat at franchises, but I also consciously had to return to the shop I passed and force myself to go in. Who is this person that avoided ordering a croissant, in English, because of some misguided uncertainty as to what lay within those inviting glass doors?
I know I'll return certain that it was not travel that broke me last time. I have done it so far without strife, and I expect to keep doing so. I can manage my passport, my phone, my wallet. I make my flights. I am over-prepared compared to most travelers. This flutter in the chest, though; what sweet irony that an increased heartbeat could be either my real condition or my meaningless panic. I can just believe that this whole trip is a step towards being that person again. The one that relished the separation instead of feeling oppressed by every freedom. The man of that year.