Then Let’s Begin…

scottish weddingCarol’s Wedding was wonderful. An intimate group of 50 people were gathered at the lodges in the Highlands, and I was honoured to be one of them. It had been a while since I had travelled to the countryside, the air was so clean and fresh – I’d forgotten what an atmosphere without smog was like. The food was prepared by a local catering company that specialised in Scottish dishes, the fish was fresh and the beef was a deep red – my soul felt enriched by the whole experience.

ol ladyTaking a break from the dancing at the party, I had a chance to talk to Carol’s Aunty, a proud Scottish woman of at least 80 years. Her knees had given in, so she was content in watching the merriment from the sidelines. We talked about her memories of Carol as a child and discussed the excitement she had for her niece starting a new phase of her life. Aunty May insisted that times of great change were the best of times for a person. When the world around them shifts, intentionally or not, a person must learn to adapt and thrive in a new situation.

As we watched the ecstatic couple twirl around the dance floor, I thought about my own changing situation. In a day’s time I would be in another country, surrounded by strangers and with no plan. That’s what scared me the most; not the alien environment or foreign languages, but the prospect of having no game plan – just free time.

Although I would have been fine with taking the train down to Liverpool (First class travel is always so hard to resist), I was fortunate enough to run into some old course mates at the Wedding who were on their way back to Liverpool themselves. Sophia and James were a couple that had been together since our time spent at University.

We took our time driving back down South, hitting the scenic roads and stopping off along the way. It had been years since we’d had the chance to properly talk to each other and a lot had changed. On the way down they suggested eating at the Airport before I left to toast the start of my adventure, which sounded like a grand idea. I made sure to quickly book a space for Liverpool John Lennon airport parking, not wanting to sting my gracious drivers with an unexpected charge.

I must have fallen asleep, because when I opened my eyes we were pulling into the Airport Car Park. As they helped me with my bags, Sophia and James happily discussed all the possibilities that were out there awaiting me. During our meal, they mused over the plethora of different people I would meet from different cultures and joked about romantic meet cutes. When I asked if they would ever consider taking a similar trip, they laughed off the suggestion – their adventure together was enough for them.

Leaving them at departures, I left them at the security gates waving me off. I had successfully eased myself in to the notion of travelling the world. The memory of London was slowly fading in my mind, and the anticipation of starting my own adventure was firmly in its place.

Are you sitting comfortably?

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Plan’s Derailed By A Forgotten Wedding!

bag packedI was so close to booking my flights! Hours, if not minutes, away from pulling up a website and putting down the cash. My bag has been packed for a few days now, the bare essentials all crammed into a conveniently sized carry-on rucksack. I’d even found someone to look after the flat whilst I was out of town. The mortgage is sizeable and I figured, if I was going to be off work for half a year, I may as well have someone help me pay it.

My research was complete, my route was planned – the only step left to go was to book the flights.

I was on the precipice of booking when I received an email from my Assistant. She had a few questions regarding her new responsibilities during my time away, and in the post-script casually told me to ‘have a great time in Scotland!’ This final message triggered a memory that I had buried under months of work. There was a reason why this weekend was special, and it was more than just the beginning of my travels. I needed to go to a wedding.

Carol, one of my best friends from University, was getting married. She’d moved to Edinburgh around the same time I’d made the move to London. We hadn’t had many opportunities to see each other since then, but we always made time if we were in the same neck of the woods. I’d received the invitation well over 6 months ago – and would have missed it had it not been for my excellent Assistant. If she’s still there when I get back, that woman is getting a raise.

best girliesSo, instead of spending one last weekend inside my comfortable routine, I’m going to Highland Heather Lodges in Scotland!

I’m pleased really. Although I would have liked to have bought one last Starbucks and said goodbye to Michaelangelo, it’s better this way. I’ll be able to pack up my bag and head to the Highlands in full on travelling mode. There’ll be a load of old friends there as well as a whole bunch of new people that I can get to know, it’ll be like a trial run for my first night away – all set within the gorgeous Scottish wilderness.

The lovely cottages they have up tskye islandshere were booked months ago, after a brief chat with Carol she’s confirmed that all I have to do is turn up. She knows how little I care for taking on a role at a wedding. I much prefer to just be a slightly swaying face in the crowd, with no responsibilities so I can relax and have a good time. This should be a glorious weekend of comfort and luxury before I lower my standards and hit the hostels.

As I’m writing this, I’m confirming my flights out to Greece – my first port of call. I’ll be flying out of Liverpool to save on flights, and landing in Athens in the evening. So, for now, its time to say goodbye to my lovely flat for the next 6 months, and say hello to the open road. Wish me luck!

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Escape From London: Train to Edinburgh

busy tube manI found the mousiest Arts student in existent to stay in my flat whilst I’m away. When she arrived, breathlessly stuttering her apologies for being late, she had all her possessions clutched in her arms. Her frayed, stressed hair had clearly been dyed several times, yet the rich chestnut of the roots growing through was the most prominent colour. She was forever pushing her large rimmed spectacles up her nose, like a film star overacting at being nervous. Most of all she seemed in awe of the flat. Speechless, in fact.specs

I’d had to list the property and accept a tenant on pretty short notice. I had no worries about finding someone, it was just the right person I was looking for. Someone who would appreciate how lovely I’d made it and want to selfishly guard its protection, like myself, instead of sharing it with others. This student was paying an absolute steal for the place, and it looked like she could barely believe it. I left her dumbfounded in the living room with the keys in her hand and a faint smile on her face.

Leaving my building with a rucksack on my back, I finally felt like I could start letting go of my city troubles. But first, one last ride on London’s infamous tube system. Now, after 10 years, I like to think that I’m a seasoned pro when it comes to conducting a smooth journey on the Underground. However, all of that changes once you’ve got a rucksack on your shoulders that’s as big as you are. I felt guilty for all the times I’d glared at tourists fumbling with their bags, whilst I was trying to get past. Never again.

A-train-approaches-Ribble-005The train up to Edinburgh takes just over four hours, I’d booked first class for the sake of ease. Don’t guilt me now – I thought if I had to endure a long train journey on the UK’s famously poor train network, I might as well make it as comfortable as possible. Sipping a beer and nibbling a ridiculously small sandwich, I slipped by headphones and felt the worries and stress of the city slowly start to melt away.

As I started to drift off, I thought about the little London bubble that I was leaving behind for the next 6 months. I thought about the mousy Art student, nervously exploring my flat before jumping on the bed with glee. I thought about Jeff, who cleans the floors, finding another younger woman to swap newspapers and surreptitiously flirt. Then I thought about Michaelangelo, looking in vain for me whilst subconsciously forgetting my name and drink order.

Then I remembered how little I knew any of those people. How little any of them mattered to me then and how little they would matter to me in 6 months time. I fell asleep, looking forward to waking up in a new country.

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Goodbye London Routine, Hello New World!

granola-with-fruitAfter nearly 10 years of working in the same building, living in the same borough of London, I’ve got into some comfortable habits. Six days a week, I wake up at 6:30am, eat breakfast and go to the gym at the top of my building. With the granola and fruit in my stomach, I try and burn 800 calories in the space of an hour. After taking the elevator back down to my apartment, I shower and change, leaving for the tube station at 8.

baristaOn the way to the station, I stop off for my Starbucks. If it’s a Monday, Thursday or Sunday, I’ll be served by Michaelangelo who’s Italian and gorgeous. He’s the only barista there who knows my name – so three days a week I’ll have “Maddie” written on my cup instead of any number of variants. After leaving with my Grande Soy Sugar-Free-Vanilla Latte, I briskly walk to the tube, grabbing a copy of the Metro on my way through.

When I get into work, I’m usually the first one in the office. I greet the exiting cleaners with a ‘good morning’ and trade my Metro for a copy of The Sun with Jeff, who does the floors. By the time I’m sat at my desk with my paper, coffee and inbox open, it’s 8:45 and I’m ready to start my day.

hostelIt’s a solid morning routine, but one that’s started to grow old in the last couple of years. I’ve been swapping newspapers with Jeff for over half my time at the company, the cumulative minutes and hours we’ve spent in that brief exchange probably comes to nearly a week. Yet, all I know about him is that he’s married and has been buying The Sun ironically, to joke with an uptight Marketing Executive for 6 years. I hope he doesn’t think something is going to happen. This lady’s heart is forever dedicated to a certain Italian coffee-maker.

Soon I’ll have to bid my myriad of acquaintances goodbye. I’m serving out my last week in work, starting next Monday my comfortable routine will be no more. In a month’s time, I will have grown accustomed to sleeping in dormitories with a dozen strangers and I’ll be waking up in cities where I won’t know where the nearest Starbucks is, let alone the language to order in.

I’ve got 6 months of time to fill. My company were kind enough to let me go for half year, a ‘micro-sabbatical’ they called it, granted to me for the decade of good service I’d provided them with. For my colleagues who already have families, I’m going through some kind of crisis. I’m just taking my chance while I can. The older you get, the more you fear change. The idea of acting out of your set routine can become a launch pad for unease even panic.

I’m just shaking my life up, whilst I can afford to. I could travel through the finest of Hotels and dine out at the best Restaurants, but I’m not going to. I want to seek out the seediest of Hostels, discover the food stalls that the locals frequent and drink beer every night. I’m going to spend half a year without needing to wear heels or make-up. I’m going to measure my life in unquantifiable units of enjoyment, rather than calories and minutes spent on the treadmill.

I just hope Michaelangelo doesn’t miss me too much!

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