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Sleeping in Airports, Hitchhiking through Romania

If I could offer any advice–to you, to myself–it would be to go about boldly.

This is more than living boldly or going into the world with boldness. It is not as calculated as that. It is simply going about, in whatever way one interprets such a phrase, in a bold manner.

Alright, onwards now with a short* narrative filled with tales of nights in airports, 7 hours of hitchhiking in a large, white transport van, sleeping on the couch of a Romanian stranger who had only offered us the fact that she abhorred anything to do with garlic, and the general frivolities with which Katie and I always find ourselves going about.
*Please note my declared intention, however, I sincerely doubt that it will be as so. 

On the evening of May 4th, a day that is quite important for some of you out there (you know who you are), the magnanimous Katherine Lee Franciosi (relatively short in height, medium dark brown hair, social securitiy number 893-22-8173*) and I sneaked our way into the undercarriage of the ÖBB train bound for Bratislava.
*this number has been changed for security reasons

Just kidding, we had bought tickets. I, Josie Marie Rozell, strongly respect and adhere to the rules of the Austrian Public Transport Committee in charge of all train pricing and procedures. Date: 12 May 2017. Signed: JRozell

We tucked ourselves into an empty sleeper carriage and filled our bellies with a capital train dinner of avocados, bananas, peanut butter, figs, and pears. As to be expected, topics of humanity and purpose and meaning filled the carriage as we whisked through the Austrian countryside in the late evening spring dusk.

We were to catch the connection to Bratislava from Vienna, and optimized the 15 minute layover in the Vienna Hauptbahhof with the acquiring of delicious ice cream.

What happened next, after we boarded our final train to Slovakia, was about 30 minutes of extremely hyper conversation, the two of us engaged in a simultaneous, very flamboyant display of discourse on our hopes and dreams. This was then very shortly followed by a sudden and noticeable decrease in movement as our bodies began to slump back against the fuzzy seats and our words became slurred and to become omit themselves from sentences.

What used to be, “I sincerely probably definitely believe with all my life long living livable heart–life long living livable! By golly, try saying that ten times fast!–that it is my very personal destiny to be an exploration writer” turned quite mechanically into: “I want nap”.

Because Katie and I are children and the sugar crash is a real thing.

We rolled into the Bratislava airport circa 23:44 and after a very responsible session of teeth-brushing-face-washing, we snuggled ourselves into rows of blissfully arm-rest-free chairs and powered down for the night.

Morning Life is always slightly hazy when one has spent the prior hours in an airport. We yawned and stretched ourselves to the fullest capacity one can muster at 06:00 to the tune of “Staying Alive” and the Grease theme song playing from the 24 hour cafe kiosk nearby.

I genuinely love spending the night in these kinds of locations. It’s so atypical both in terms of ones daily routine and also the standards of society, that it never fails to unleash torrents of happy free flowing adrenaline and feelings of adventure.

Katie and I bounced ourselves to the check in desk to acquire the signatures of the sleepy Slovakian officials with no problems. As we were going through security, however, horrendous tragedy befell us, and we lost a dear friend.

Meryl.

Our Meryl Streep.

Her beautiful presence has been the mascot of our latest adventures, from Morocco, to Pescara, to Budapest and Hamburg. She has opened many a wine bottle, been useful for many a fingernail cleaning endeavors, cheered us up in times that would have been hopeless without her.

Using Meryl in Pescara

Who knew you weren’t allowed to take a significantly-large wine opener and dual corkscrew with you on an airplane?

Everyone, probably.

O, the Tyranny.

May you never rust, may you always be as beloved as you were in the not-so-capable hands of Katie and Josie; above all may you never be forgotten.

To your health, Meryl Streep*.
*this is only a theoretical toast because we do not currently have a way to open this bottle of wine.

As is our usual fashion, Katie and I promptly forget to continue to be sad when a setback occurs. We bounce ourselves then onto the strangely coined WizzAir! plane, which always slightly makes me need to relieve myself when I glance at the name.

I don’t remember much about the 2 hour flight to Cluj Napoca, Romania. This amnesia is probably the result of the semi-psychologically-concerning, zero conscious states that Katie and I proceeded to fall into almost immediately upon being seated.

I do recall, at one point, regaining alertness long enough to rouse Katie and ask, “Are we still here?!” the context of which is as much your guess as mine.

When we step off the plane to the crispy warm Romanian breeze, it is Morocco all over again. Little Katie and little Josie bodies oscilating back in forth in our excitement at being in a new place, the looks we are exchanging commuicating clearly that we are engaged in a big mental hug.

Our goal was to spend Thursday night-Monday afternoon in a heightened state of adventure. We had found a couchsurfing hostess in Brasov gullible enough to agree to put us up on her couch for a few nights, the sole introduction we acquired of this shining lady was that she abhorred anything to do with garlic, which we thought was quite fitting to the Transylvanian region.

Brasov was roughly 7 hours from Cluj Napoca by car. We decided against the socially acceptable public transportation options in favor of scribbling “Brasov” on the back of my homework and sticking up our thumbs.

An hour or so into this decision, a large dusty 20 passenger white transport van, trailer in tow, honks at us and pulls to the side of the road. Katie and I exchange glances, again forget to be anything but excited, and lumber over to the van.

The thing to keep in mind when hitchhiking is that you can always say no if the vibe is off. Just imagine all of those cheesy 90s ads depiciting Mom-jeaned teenagers with lavender asexual polos dancing around and “just saying no” to sex, drugs and too much candy, and know that you, too, can “just say no” if the person who opens the window of the car reeks of formaldehyde.

The place Katie and I were at was extensibly populated, and the fact that we were together eliminated additional fears. Because this understanding of no exists, reeeeal sketchy drivers, the types like Harvey in the Lovely Bones, won’t stop and try anything freaky.

They know they’ve got some strange vibes, they know you know they’ve got animal tails and human fingers locked in a safe in the basement back home with the wife.

But, also know, that people don’t tend to be like that. People are people, like you and I, and I don’t think the act of animal torture and human disfiguration appeals to either of us.

The ones to whom hitchhiking appeals tend to be a “bit off”, relatively speaking. A bit crusty around the edges from a disinterest in showering regularly or wearing makeup, usually sporting large dusty packs and way more interested in sleeping in 16-person hostel rooms to meet more people than a private hotel room.

The ones who pick up Hitchhikers tend to be the ones who hitchhike themselves, so they also tend to be “a bit off”.

Getting sick of reading the word “tend”? Well, deal with it, that’s political correctness for you.

All that to say, when the automatic van door slide open and revealed its contents to us, we did not get bad vibes. We clambered in the back behind 4 seated passengers, no words being exchanged between us, not even glances of curiosity or intrigue. It was entirely…a non-intrusive welcome to the interior of the van.

We genuinely from this point on had zero control of the situation, sans diving over the heads of the others and jiggling open the automatic door to rocket out of the moving van. To add to that, we also didn’t fully have an idea of what was going on, because no one was speaking. For all that we knew, our “Brasov” sign could have read more like a “Brzozów” sign, and we could be destined for south-eastern Poland without our knowledge.

About two hours later, our little transport van pulled into a gas station, and its inhabitants jingled out of the van in search of the loo, sunflower seeds, and a much needed smoking session.

At this point, one of the inhabitants, a youthful zesty chappie in his late 40s, comes over to me and begins to describe the most efficient way to get to the toilet to relieve myself if that is “what desires your heart?” He spent so much effort in trying to provide me with what he thinks I might need, that it sincerely washed away any lasting anxieties the two hours hadn’t gotten rid of.

We became quick friends; his friendliness and lack of social fear of strangers coupled with my enthusiasm and general appreciation for the beauty of his country quite well. He told Katie and I his story of being a truck driver all over Europe, and his 77 hour hitchhiking endeavor to get home to his wife and kiddos from Hamburg to Bucarest.

He did indeed confirm that Brasov would be a city we pass by, and acted as a translator between us and the driver instructing us fervently that, “you need something to know? Ask you me. I ask driver, driver tell me, I tell you. Anything”.

Eventually, 7 hours after leaving Cluj Napoca, we pull into the Brasov train station and bid our vanmates a solemn and very genuine farewell, for we had developed quite a bond with the lot of them and were a bit sad to leave. They had been so wonderful and so welcoming, and so…opposite of what the ambiguous “society” had deemed people in white vans who pick up hitchhikers to be.

I shall end this post with just the telling of the beginning of our voyage, with the intention of coming back and describing in the exuberant detail that always seems to happen of couchsurfing and hiking, and more lessons learned from Romania.

Lessons learned thus far in the journey: 1. atypical sleeping places are addicting. 2. while maintaining personal integrity, “gut feeling”, all that jazz, don’t allow “society” to cram falsities into the mind and instate fear where fear does not need to exist. 3. People are people, like you and I. We’re quite normal, sometimes.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

P.S. For a bit of irony, please reread the third paragraph.

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An Adventure Featuring Hammocks And Old Austrian Gents

I love rain.

Its ability to generate an instantaneously cozier environment, the aesthetic of sitting up against a mighty window, a mug of creamy steaming coffee between two slightly chilled hands, sitting cross legged, shoeless; the patter of the rain against the glass a perfect acoustic companion to the book you have sitting on your lap. 

It’s pleasant to be inside and dry when it is raining. As if you get to be an exception to whatever is raging in the outer world; no matter the condition, you get to be untouchable. 

For me, way more so than being inside and cozy on a rainy day, the real excitement and adventure comes from being outside, definitively swaddled in the poncho-iest coat in the closet, my fleece-lined rubber boots tied securely bore my ankles enabling my feet to splash in every puddle they can find with no dire consequence. 

This past Thursday, in celebration of my Weird Fiction class and Deutschkurs being canceled, I decided to pop over to the Hauptbahnhof in my swankiest adventure gear to see what I could find. 

Adventure gear of choice: chunky forest green Scottish beanie, black soft shell over my typical Patagonia blue heathered hoodie, leggings, double paired thick wool socks, rain-buddy Sorell boots. Hammock, of course. Two books: Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig (R.I.P) and Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Moleskine notebook. Pen. €0,50 avocado from the Turkish market and a bar of 80% dark chocolate. Austrian Pale ale + bottle opener.

The next train would leave in seven minutes destined for Bruck an der Mur; I randomly selected the name of a town which was on the train-stopping-agenda, and to my increasing happiness, to get to “Peggau” would cost me €1,70. 

Hop the train, peel the avocado, listen to some “Roo Panes” and thirty-three minutes later find myself stepping out the train door to a beautiful, cozy little tiny town surrounded on all sides by whopping cliffs and forests.

My face curves into a wide smile without my guidence and I give my hammock an excited pat; perfect

The rain is still coming down in a steady drench, and the bottom layer of whispy grey clouds is whispering between and around the cliffs, hanging in the trees and curling around the mountains, creating the illusion that it is endless. 

I decide to turn left as I come out of the little Peggau train station; from that point on, it seems truly as if the Universe took control of the day. 

I find myself very shortly in the middle of this reaching pine forest, the soft crunchy earth laden with pine needles and dry from the coverage of the thick trees. I was going to stop here and set up my hammock, but my curiosity gets the better of me when my boots intersected with a faint trail and I decide to follow it out. 

It takes me to the base of the cliffs, and breath fails me: cave after cave dots the base, one every 50 meters or so as I continue along the path. 

Not the dinky caves that are more just a temporary break in surface area smoothness, but the real exciting caves that, as you peered into it head on, were pitch black with depth and a lack of an end point.

The Universe and the path take me up the mountain, my feet, quite toasty and dry within my boots, sink deep into the wet leaves and scramble along smooth tree roots, the ages of which seem to surpass comprehension. 

I hit the lower cloud level and suddenly the world around me becomes wonderfully mysterious. Little whisps of clouds dance around the wet mossy earth that my hands gripped and I have to gingerly step around a multitude of very chill, happy snails and earth worms. 

This sense of…pure wild isolation excites me. Every time. This feeling that my presence is not only unique but also welcomed by the trees and forest around me. That the air I am breathing was just produced, and was just produced for my inhalation. 

Gratefully, I exhale and hear the trees breathe in as deeply as me. 

I scramble my way up for about an hour until I come to another, secondary layering of caves. Thick, rubber-smooth trees surround me. 

I take my pick of the two knottiest to set up my hammock, kick off my boots and snuggle into the folds of material. I pop the bottle of Austrian Pale ale and giggling, rock back and forth in the hammock over the side of the hill. 

For a while I read Nature but the streading drip of the rain from the leaves of the trees high above alert me to the idea of unsustainable happiness. With only gratitude flowing around my soul, I pull on my boots again and jaunt over to the coziest cave to snuggle in amongst the dry leaves. 

I spend about three or four hours oscillating between Nature, Zen, and writing in my Moleskine, the scarf that is tucked around my legs and my chunky knit hat seated safely on my insulating curls keeps me warm in this kind of world. 

If one were to peer at the five pages of tiny writing entered into my Moleskine, indubitable confusion would occur. Sporadically interrupting concurrent thoughts are single-word exclaimations such as: Safe! Independent! Free! Love! timelining the emotions and feelings that kept arising from the Nature that whispered around me.

And indeed. I love this kind of isolation. Here, I am not committed to following social protocol. If I’ve got a song stuck in my head, I belt it. If I want to talk musings to myself, I speak with confidence and purpose. If I need to pee, I just yank down my leggings and go.

The time passes and my joints get a bit stiff. Satisfied with this experience, I jump and dance my way down the way I came, no agenda, no plans, no thoughts, just existing. 

I ramble into the train station about fifteen minutes after an hourly train back to Graz had come. No matter, I think to myself. I’ve got €2,70 in sole €0,20 coin increments rattling around my pocket. That’s enough for a coffee or beer or something in a cozy pub. 

I walk a bit, still splashing in the puddles, and come across “Cafe Andrea” with an illuminated “OPEN”. I open the door and am completely surprised. 

It’s a small pub, maybe twice the size of an average living room. There is only one occupied table of five, old gents, and a beautifully plump smiling woman is behind the bar wiping glasses with a microfiber towel. Everyone is laughing; the from-the-gut kind of laughter that crinkles the eyes in such a way as to cause momentary blindness. 

The rain has added a secondary level of complete perfection to this scene: the filtered light from the clouds shrouded the pub in a haze of warmth and security. 

As I open the door I am greeted with huge smiles and the attention of all. The woman raises her palm in greeting and unleashes a string of Austrian-dialect German, to which I laugh, surprisingly confident and secure in this moment, and sing back: “auf Englisch, bitte?

This comment unleashes a torrent of room-wide bellows, the older gents slapping each other on the back and echoing “auf Englisch! Auf Englisch!” They gesture for me to tuck in and join their table, and I do with absolute ease. 

Their level of english mirrors my level of german to create this beautiful parallelism and nonjudgement. We all introduce ourselves and Andrea–the woman behind the bar–squeezes in next to me, handing me a fresh frosty beer. It tastes amazing paired with my still-pulsing muscles. 

For about three hours the seven of us laugh and speak in broken-German/broken-English; they let me practice conjugating schlafen and bear with patience and sneaky grins as I try to remember vocabulary terms. 

I definitely learn more German than I have ever learned in a Thursday afternoon Deutschkurs

Manfred buys my drink for me and I find myself making plans to meet up with the group again on Saturday, same time. With an overwhelming sense of lightness, I skip back to the train station.

When I arrive at the station, my watch reads 20:41 and I compare that to the “20:36” of the train schedule. Before any realizations set in, I look to my left and see the train to Graz barreling down the track, an unfortunate “5 minutes delayed”. 

Universe. You cheeky bastard.

 I munch on a pretzel for my rainy walk home from the Graz Hbf and after jolly warm shower, make homemade veggie ramen noodle soup and attempt to process the day. 

But I can’t, because all that is going around and around in my head is:

What just happened.

Have a hammock adventure as much as possible, friends.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

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From Such Great Heights

I gently rock back and forth to the tune of the slurping river Mur as it swishes its way amongst the rocks and the ducks beside me. My hammock, slung between two perfectly distanced trees, is of a breathable material; the caressing wind nudging into the pores of the fabric and hugging my naked wiggling toes in blissful circulation.

From my 270-degree window I see life. In every form. The perfection of varying green hues that spring forth from the thickly ribbed trees aligning the river cannot seem to lie still; the inactivity of winter gives yield to a bursting of dancing. I see brightly flocked and dully matted birds alike, the dull giving forth an echoing of song far superior.

All things smell whole. Full. Ripe. It is the smell of potential and of motion. The warm loving breeze whispers an aura of cleanliness with its presence. My coconut-husked curls, rather uneven and a bit choppy for want of a good haircut, tosses about my ears and neck in such a manner as to render any imperfections unintelligible.

My belly is full with the fruit of a ripe avocado sprinkled with lemonpepper, the gentle swing of the hammock giving rhythm to internal digestion.

And the sun swims along my bare arms–joyously exposed to the air for the first time after the brisker temperatures of the Highlands–I feel that delicious awakening of all the senses that happens when one is so shrouded amongst Nature.

“I am a lover of uncontained and immortal beauty.”

I learned…caverns, these past couple of weeks. About love. About humanity. About the world and my role in it. And much of this learning has remained relatively unknown to me, due to surface in the next couple of days, weeks, months: whenever the situation calls.

Perhaps my greatest known lesson was concerning stillness.

I spent…hours…in the sweeping mossy green of the Scottish Highlands.

Sometimes I would have a Newfoundland with me, and we would sit together on the soft spongy green, her sitting profoundly still as I ran a steel brush rhythmically through her thick black coat.

I would talk, sometimes.

She would tilt her head back towards me and bring her deep black eyes to meet mine to indicate she was listening. Together we exposed problems and insecurities and immaturitues. Together we blessed the trees and each other.

Once I was taking Daisy for a walk.

We had been moseying along for quite a significant amount of time at a slow melodious jaunt, as Daisy’s massive quantity of size caused our walks together to be methodical. I noticed a few yawns coming from her end every now and then and directed us past a thicket of knobby trees into this beautiful vast meadow of sunlight moss.

As I pulled the steel dog comb from my pocket, she obediently sat her hind legs down. For a few pulls, I stroked through her thick coat with the comb.

Suddenly, in the stillness and the silence, I found myself wholly undistracted to the peace that was emulating–oozing–from the Nature in which we were surrounded. In this profound clarity of momentous divinity, I placed the comb back in my pocket.

I snuggled down upon the moss and the earthen floor, curling an arm underneath my neck as a sort of pillow. Daisy moved almost in unison, tucking her front legs down and resting her massive furry head right in front of mine. She gingerly placed one warm front paw on my back, in a manner so noteworthy of love and friendship that could write notebooks of poetry.

In the peace and stillness we fell asleep against each other, her soft snoring the metronome for the curious birds.

I’m sure it would have been a bizarre sight for the passerby. The image of a girl and a bear cuddled up together fearlessly in the middle of the forest.

The poet finds something rediculous in his delight until he is out of the sight of men.”

Every day I would run the country roads that wound up and down hillsides, past grazing sheep in meadows exploding with yellow flowers, above the lapping black waters of the firth. Sometimes listening to podcasts. Sometimes listening to the breeze.

After my run, the blood still coursing freshly through my blissfully receptive muscles, I would tuck myself into the thicket of trees that stood just behind the house. There, the safety of the trees blocked all sights and sounds of the road beyond, and here again existed this perfect stillness.

Sometimes I would lay on my back and rest my feet against the trunk, feeling the circulation of blood through my body. I would stare at the fluffy clouds that dotted the azure sky, the silhouettes of the branches against the sun remaining long after I closed my eyes.

Here again. Stillness. Palpable peace surging from every fiber of the Nature that surrounded me.

This habit of spending so much time in the one place where truly God and humanity coincide continuously hands me a white blank page on which to begin again. In such isolated I am wholly Josie: neither alone nor lonely.

My life, I believe every life, is filled with these moments of…earthly reincarnation.

His intercourse with heaven and earth becomes part of his daily food. In the presence of nature a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrow.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson claims, to quote directly: “The reason why the world lacks unity, and lies broken and in heaps, is because man is disunited with himself”.

The vibrations of Nature and all that it provides–the peace, serenity, hope–are enough to patch us up from the inside. It takes a bit of vulnerability. Of allowing ourselves to be in isolation. To get away from the manmade things that do not matter and only serve to divide us further from the truth of our own Nature.

It doesn’t require fearlessness on our end, fear is indication of something that needs to be examined further and it should stop being so…masked. Shameful.

The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship.”

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

P.S. all of the quotes are taken from the absolutely marvelous Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson. If I could recommend anything, it would be taking that short novel into the woods somewhere, completely alone, and seeing what happens.

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Always Only Onwards

When it comes down to Monday, I am going to be very very sad to leave. To leave the French couple. To leave Liath and Russ, to leave the Newfies, the Spaniard, the chilly cabin nights and of course the hot water bottle.

For this feeling of looming sadness, I am insurmountably grateful.

It means that something indeed worth keeping has been cultivated.

I would like to live my life like this. To go through and cultivate moments worth keeping. I would live a lifetime full of the pain of leaving a home in order to know that my life has been spent in good, vibrant, purposeful community.

To be involved with something that is only existing in this moment is something that I hope to never fail to express gratitude.

The French couple, Didac, Liath, Russ, these specific Newfoundlands, the books I am reading, this time of year, this Scottish weather, my own immaturities, my current set of insecurities. These beautiful things have collaborated with the universe and are at an intersection.

It is needless to wish this to last forever. Yes, the community and this sense of family is what I hope to reside forever and ever, but not this situation. Not the Highlands, not the dogs, not the people. Because to do so, to wish it to continue, would be to do this present moment a severe injustice.

I want to let it breathe. To let it remain special, as something that is exclusive and precious to this moment. Something that I am not muscling down and forcing to remain stagnant, in dear and wild hopes that somehow I am in control.

I will never go back to the Scottish Highlands. I will never go back to working with dogs.

If again the Scottish Highlands intersect with my life, if again working with dogs crosses my life path, then I shall with open and receptive arms go to the Highlands and towards working with dogs with no expectations.

But never back.

I refuse to live my life coming back to things.

To pretend so anyways would simply be a lie. These moments can never be replicated.

Come July I will be very very sad to leave Austria. To leave my beautiful, enlightened best friends. To leave my talented and stubborn flatmates. To leave all the multitudes of opportunities to travel.

For this feeling of looming sadness, I am insurmountably grateful.

I’m not going to go back home. Back to my Kansas friends, back to my Kansas university, back to Jiff’s natural peanut butter.

To treat life as this sort of pendulum, whereas we must go back to the person we were before, is to discredit all of the progress we have made in our own humanity.

On Monday I am going to go to Austria for a bit, before the next adventure. And then at the end of term, I am going to go to Kansas for a while, until life takes me elsewhere.

Always, always onwards.

Peace and Blessings,
Josie

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To The One I Have Given My Heart

Our story is one of many ages.

He, sitting there, day in and day out, perched upon the lacquered wooden chair in the living room, just waiting. Me, blindly scampering around, being my “own woman”.

The French couple would praise him and Didac would swear to his goodness and true strength of character. Liath would encourage an interaction, claiming that he was perfect for me. 

But I….no, I was my own woman, thank you very much. I could bloody well feed and clothe myself, and I could certainly keep myself warm.

I didn’t need him.

But yet. He sat there, perched upon the lacquered wooden chair, day in and day out. Just waiting. Because he knew that in due time I would realize my need for him. My desire. 

It happened Saturday night. The night that will forever live in infamy as the first time I had truly felt the brimming and full capacity of love. Its transformative power. How it opens us up to vulnerability and to growth. 

Perhaps that’s what I am most thankful to him for. Teaching me how to be vulnerable. Teaching me that it’s…okay–maybe even necessary–to ask for help. 

It was a cold and quite frosty Scottish night.

The French couple were sauntering off to the caravan for the night. I watched their slow and deliberate movements, the bright moon throwing chilly silhouettes against the the sprinkled, dewy grass.

Didac had long gone to the cabin with his constant Newfie companion, Flo, and I was beginning to feel the lull towards sleep myself. 

We were alone. It was just me and him left in the living room. I had the last gulp cup of steaming tea and a chapter left of Dracula; he was sitting, perched upon the lacquered wooden chair, waiting.

As I finished both my tea and the book, I glanced out at the night again, and subconsciously shivered. 

It’s cold out there, tonight, I thought to myself. I glanced over at the wooden chair and saw him nod. 

I looked around the room, cautious, vulnerable, closed. Suddenly the chill of the room and the desperate pounding of sleep became overwhelming, and in a rush of intense emotion, I threw my tea to the side of the room and welcomed him in with open arms. 

He had known that one night I would find my way into his arms. We spent the next nights together, tucked into the layers of cabin sheets and fighting the blustering cold Scottish nights. 

Life changed for me after that.

No longer did I feel the chasms of chill and dank working their way into my joints and soul. I now had…him. My companion. My strength. The reason to go to sleep at night. 

We went everywhere together; we would spread out a picnic blanket against a stone wall down by the beach after a long day’s work and drink Scottish pale ale together, watching the tide come in along the firth, the sun on our faces. 

He taught me how to accept help. How to ask for warmth.

He gave me the world, and he didn’t ask for anything in return. 

I’ve never felt love like this before, never felt that need for something so strongly, that I feel I might die if not encased in him. I know that soon I must leave Scotland and return to Austria–O, tumultuous fate!–and we must be parted. And when that dreaded time comes, I hope that we will be able to look upon our interactions and intimacy with the seasoned gratitude that life so often bestows upon the traveler. 

And when our departure comes, the only hope I can cling to is the hope that I will be able to love again, as I love now. 

Of course, I am referring to a hot water bottle.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

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Happiness Lessons from the Newfs

Newfoundlands are marvelous at eye contact. 

They peel up the folds of thick skin that hang perpetually in front of the lids and stare deep into your soul, their bodies frozen in time as they concentrate all of their energy and consistent forward motion into staring deep into your soul. 

When you lock eyes with one of them, it’s as if absolutely only you and them exist in this moment. Together. Frozen. Communicating. 

The Newfs choose this manner of communication because first, there is something so intimate about eye contact, so raw and pure and personal and effective; and secondly, because unlike in the extremely realistic dream I had last night, dogs can’t talk. 

There are three things I have heard the Newfoundlands say to me: first, that there is a raging force of love that transcends language barriers, age gaps, and species variations. Second, that there is much I have to learn about happiness from them. Third, that they would like me to please pet them, now please

Hopefully I will learn more in the upcoming weeks about the first in order to solidify an idea of how to capture this force with words–as indeed the Nature around me is exuding the same lesson–but for now I would like to capitalize on the lessons I have learned concerning the second. 

There is happiness in a dog. You look into Betty’s eyes, Vlado’s face, Monty’s strange leaping run that he does when he’s feeling “positively frivolous”–his words, not mine–and you cannot help but be exposed to it. 

You see it when you hold up a finger, and declare, “sit, Chloe!”, and place the food bowl in front of her. Her body wiggles back in forth and she gives a decided grunt of contentedness as she barrels her face into the combination of thick pieces and Dog Chub. 

You see it when you slide the collar over Ruby’s massive gigantic bear head and attach the leash with a skeptical click, as you and the leash exchange glances knowing that if Ruby were to unleash her full strength neither you nor the leash would have a chance. When you sit down at the beach overlooking the firth and gingerly, with long deliberate strokes, brush through her thick fur. She sits perfectly erect, almost as if she were watching Fight Club or perhaps entertaining the Queen for tea. 

You see it when you come back from a run and click open the gate, and all of a sudden seven blobs of black come running full gallop at you, the folds of skin lagging in time and hanging in the air long after the paws have made contact with the concrete. 

From what I gather, the happiness of the Newfoundland is based on a three-fold principle: 

1. No expectations. Or at the least, very little. 

They don’t expect you to feed them twice a day. But you do, and they are ecstatic about it, because any ideas of entitlement are entirely void. They don’t expect you to include them on your out-of-gate-experiences. But you do, you bring the leash and you invite them to join you in exploring the countryside. They don’t expect you to ever come back from a run, but you do, and when you do they surround you and thrust their black masses into your sweaty face and leave little black hairs all over your skin. 


2. They’re not over-thinkers. 

Dogs are extremely intelligent; more intelligent than we give them credit for. In fact, the light of my eyes, my own border collie Mackenzie, is my parent’s smartest child. No offense, brother mine. 

But they don’t spend ages upon ages thinking about goals or about work or about life’s stresses. They don’t spend time contemplating life’s many mysteries or why we interact the way that we do. 

They don’t over analyze the tricky practices of humanity like we do. 

According to Mo Gawdat, author of Solve for Happy, the world’s most unhappy people are the thinkers. 

I have the tendency to practice the art of “overthinking”, and these tendencies lead to my most unhappy times. I begin to question too much, to doubt too much, to lose security and to lose certainty. 

I consider the future too much, or I set too many goals for myself. Suddenly I lose my contentedness, I lose my ability to be in the present and to enjoy the certainty of this moment; because quite honestly, nothing is certain outside of this moment. 

Gawdat proposed the mathematical formula for happiness: that it is greater than or equal to the events of your life minus your expectation of how life should be. 

It’s not as simple as having “no expectations. Whatsoever. Ever.”, because then where does the motivation for human betterment come from? But it does include crafting expectations to be realistic, attainable, slightly out of reach (so as to prompt something to strive for), and exciting. 

Which leads me to the third point:

3. They’re excited about everything. 

The moment you peek your head up from under the thick warm covers, Flo comes bouncing on top of you, simply ecstatic that you are awake and she is awake and the world is awake and the birds are singing and it is simply a marvelous time to be alive! 

What other times can one be rewarded for doing menial tasks–such as scooping diamond-shaped pieces of horse-hoof-mixture into a metal bowl day in and day out–than when working with dogs? Because they look at you like you are the world. When in reality, it’s truly your opposable thumbs and the fact that you can reach the dog food that has enabled you to complete this task. 

Happiness, much like love, is something that transcends the human limitations we place upon so many things. It goes beyond borders, ages, heights, species…the forests exude happiness, the galls cry happiness, the water that we drink sings down our throats and tickles us with happiness. 

Newfoundlands, the beautiful wonderful heathery Nature, getting to read and write and run so much…all of these things make me so so so happy. I am transfixed by the idea that I can make something as happy as it makes me. 

And that, I think, is quite possibly how we make the world better. 

Peace and Blessings,

Josie 

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The Morning Report

The mornings go like this:

A not-so distant bark announces both the dawn and the passage of a morning delivery truck which speeds along the narrow Scottish road on the other side of the thick hedge that isolates our safe haven of dog love from the rest of the world.

I attempt a last-minute burrow between the piles upon piles of thick wooly blankets, ignited by my body temperature and protecting me against the chilly Scottish morning air in the wood cabin, but am unsuccessful. A huge, wet black nose tickles its way underneath the first layer of blanket and sniffs at my yawning face.

Flo shoves a big paw under the covers and gives me a grand lick as I counter with my forearm. She takes this as encouragement; the other paw jets under the covers to join it’s twin, and Flo’s entire torso flops upon my body.

Newfoundland’s like to snuggle. They like to be held. And by this I mean they like to hold you and perhaps pretend that the sizes are switched and you are holding them. But all three of us know the real story.

They drap their black fuzzy masses upon you in all of their glory, enveloping your face in pounds of thick wooly fur. You anatomically can’t help but bury yourself into the folds upon folds of warm slobbery goodness that is the Newfoundland.

I fall asleep to Flo’s guttural snores and wake up to her massive head wanting nothing but love. I subcome immediately to this, of course, and saunter out from under my beautiful warm covers. Hopping on one foot to decrease Josie-to-cold-cabin-floor ratio as much as possible, I yank on one black rubber Hunter wellie after another and give Flo a squeeze. Together we exit the little cabin and head for the main cottage.

The first thing we do–the three other volunteers and I–is wake the Newfies up and give them breakfast.

This one-course meal is offered in two options: for the younger Newfs we have a delectable full-scoop of small diamond-shaped dog food served alongside a hearty half-scoop of big pillow-shaped Newf food, and topped with the finest white laquered vitamin pill and a big ol’ hug for good measure.

 

For our larger, more furry Newfs, we’ve got a more sophisticated palate: one and a half scoops of Scotland’s finest big Newf chow slow roasted and finished with a squeeze of absolutely appetizing “Dog Chub”.

Friends, it’s as good as it sounds. I would know, because Ishka and Monty like to play “who can spill all the dog food better” pretty much every morning, and I get to be the fortunate official who picks up each piece by hand because I’m too lazy to go grab the broom from the kitchen. So ergo my hands smell like “Dog Chub” for a significant portion of the day.

After Newfie breakfast comes the human breakfast.

Cups of Scottish tea, coffee, and orange juice accompany buttered toast with jam and honey. Sometimes my American side comes out and I slather peanut butter on my toast instead of butter.

And by “sometimes” of course I mean every morning.

Our volunteer task force consists of a fabulous French poet-photographer duo and a boxing Spaniard from Barcelona. Together, under the trusting guidance of the very curly-haired, very Scottish Liath, we pull of the seemingly impossible; attending to the needs and requirements of 15 absolutely full-sized Newfoundlands.

After washing and drying the breakfast dishes, we assume our pooper-scooper places and clean the garden and the kennels. Then we take hoses and attack the floor of the kennels.

The later task is easier said than done: Vladimir and Daisy have this wonderful fascination with the hose, and dancing around trying to purge the concrete slabs of the furry remains of a Newfoundland’s good night sleep is turned into quite the water park as the freezing Scottish hose water reverberates off the massive flat heads of Vlado and Daisy.

Breakfast: done. Newfie droppings: scooped and deposited (hint: don’t drink the creek water). Kennels: shining.

From here we split. Some begin grooming or trimming. Some begin with repairs. Some tackle household duties. It might be hard to imagine, but with so many massive dog-bears lumbering around sleepily, things get a bit dusty.

We have 3 weeks off from Austrian Uni for Easter Break, and to maximize the wonderfulness of so much holiday time, I’ve popped over to the Scottish highlands to learn how to train and take care of Newfoundlands. The 25 hours a week of work is exchanged for the most diverse, vegetable-loving kitchen to be entirely at my disposal and a blanket-shrouded bed in a woodsy cabin. It’s ideal, to put it lightly.

I’ve got a lot of favorite moments. But a repeated favorite is when Monty sprawls in all of his massive glory right in front of the front door and positively disables the oppertunity for the door to swing open because his solid furry head is propped up against it. In order to jettison out of the house, one must firmly grasp the door handle and do everything but brace two legs against the wall to yank it open. Monty’s thick furry body slowly, very slowly slides backwards along the wooden floor as the door becomes more accessible.

He literally doesn’t wake up for this.

I don’t even know if he can feel it, he’s that Newfoundland.

You can’t hurt a Newfie. You accidentally trod on their paw? There’s about fifteen layers of skin between your foot and their nerve endings, they don’t even notice. You want to take a nap on top of Ruby? Go ahead. Flop yourself down. Besides a palpable “I’m so glad you’re with me!”, there’s almost no response. I mean, it’s not an issued challenge, but just know they’re an insatiably durable breed.

Not only can you not hurt them, but they would never ever hurt you. They may look powerful and foreboding, but not an ounce of aggression or meanness resides in those massive black bodies. There’s too much love, empathy, and snuggles to leave room for that.

Newfoundlands are cute. Like, real real cute. Like, they’ve got so much skin on their face that when you stroke them they assume different facial expressions.

If the full-sized Newfies are delectable and perfect…can you…can you even imagine–my heart thuds to a stop every time I merely think of them–the Newfie puppies?

Proof that there is a God, friends.

Stay tuned for a blog post solely devoted to attempting to portray an accurate description of the Newf pups. They’re that……oh, you’ll read about them.

That’s all for the morning report, loves.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

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Mapping the Self

Yes, it’s quite functional to wear Hunter wellies in a rainstorm; but why is that I take to the streets in my black gloss boots in times of sunshine and crispy breeze?

In my boots am I a Scottish gardener, taking long, steady strides along the heather and potatoes, the lip of my boots generating a gentle suctioning noise against my calf, the thick, slightly raised heel kicking back against the earth in undertones reminiscent of a knock upon a wooden door. 

The winter is yielding to the spring, and thus the seasonal wind must hurry in order to complete it’s yearly business of bringing chill. I pull my head through the neck of my Patagonia sweater, draping the fuzzy teal material onto my torso. It encases me in a continual hug, the winged sleeves fold over twice to rest mid-forearm, the front pocket beckoning gently for me to snuggle my hands into its safety net. It wards me from the methodical breathing of the morning dawn.

This sweater is the embodiment of mountains; the smell of a pine forest on a misty day, the sound of a singing stream dangling from the rocks, the taste of a crisp apple on the summit and the tool by which the dribbled juice of the apple upon one’s chin can be rubbed away. 

In my sweater, I am not merely warm; I am a bird watcher shrouded in sensation. 

My burlap-brown cross-body Fashi bag is slung across my right shoulder, tucking me into myself and bringing my head to be held high. It houses keys, phone, wallet…all things that could be secured in the pockets of my blue rain jacket. 

But yet I swing it across my right shoulder; for with it’s presence am I an explorer. The cryptic lands that I cross may contain tram tracks and pigeon feathers, but the steady weight of the thick brown strap of satchel against sternum reminds me that every moment is a chance encounter with the spectacular.

It is the raw, unfiltered beauty in persona. The reason why brands are such an important part of daily life, the reason why we choose to use our bodies as advertisements. 

Perhaps my case is singular.

My favorite clothes do not exist as my favorites because of how they fit against my shape; they are special to me for what they represent and how they allow me to represent myself through them. They are my memories and my intentions, my interactions and my discussions. 

It goes past clothing, as all things must. 

Persona exists in hobbies. The reason why, when I sit down to write formally, I turn off the lights in favor of candles and soft yellow lamps, I snuggle into my fleecy slippers, I brew myself a strong cup of coffee, I turn on noir jazz and I always open the window to welcome the breeze. 

I’m not writing. I am a writer and there is a vast canyon of distinction between the two. 

The aesthetic appeals to me, it draws me in and it welcomes me to slip on a new gown for the evening, to signify to myself what part of me I am going to unleash upon the world. 

I secure a bandana firmly against my wavy hair before slipping out for a morning run. It doesn’t do much in the way of aerodynamic usefulness; my bangs still part in the middle of my forehead, the material of which the bandana is made is not conducive to wicking away moisture, and indeed a thinner patch of hair over which the bandana is knotted has developed, albeit small it is nevertheless definitive. 

But yet I secure a bandana firmly before slipping out for a morning run. 

In my bandana, I am useful. I am the riveting echoes of Rosie, pounding away on the hulls of giant steely ships, humming gently to myself as I stride past clean bridges. In my bandana I get to work. 

Why do certain movies leave us with a racing heart and a desire to go save something, anything? Why do certain songs make us want to rollerblade down steep hills and climb silos and drive with reckless abandonment?

How can I feel so classy, when I haven’t showered in an unacceptable amount of days and am the product of a long, long train ride back home? But yet here I am; nestled on the navy blue print seats, a paper mug of Earl Grey tea steaming on the table to the left of my keyboard, my feet tucked up underneath me, the dancing countryside winking softly as the sun puts itself to bed for the night. 

Why do we get tattoos? Why do we wear Hard Rock Cafe tshirts? Why do we drink San Pellegrini and strap on high heels? Why do we prefer hardback books and marble statues and eating with forks?

Efficiency…usefulness…necessity…preference. Persona. It keeps us accountable to instincts that are appropriately distanced from animalistic behaviors. Our effort to map out ourselves, our efforts to choose the way that we want to interact with our world. 

Peace and Blessings,

Josie 

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Hopping The Wrong Train; Or, We’ve Got A Trend Here

The day was ours.

A forecasted 67 degree day, cotton balls of wispy clouds fluttering lazily along an ocean of playful, winking blue, the sun declaring eternal friendship, the breeze giggling joyously as it danced among the blossoming trees.

Austria was lit by the spring; the finger-numbing chill of winter replaced by light jackets and thick green grass.

With an affinity for both this kind of weather and each other, the trio of jubilant Rrona of the land of Kosovo, soul pal Katie and I decided to spend our Sunday throwing the middle finger to the course books and popping on over to a jolly great mountain for a wee day jaunt.

Oscillating in our excitement and pleased with ourselves for setting a definitive time to meet at Hauptbahnhof, we forgot to solidify properly in our minds the station from which we had found a decent trailhead.

Naturally, what ensued was that we zipped down south for 45 minutes instead of the much more appropriate north.

I like to think it could happen to anyone.

Rrona, Katie and I stepped out on the platform, the red ÖBB train whipping our hair as it bucketed out of the station, and were immediately met with…perhaps one hill off there in the distance, a nice little lake to the left hand side, a rather tall and sprucey forest.

We exchanged glances; somehow, in our excited conversing on the train ride to this moment, we had not noticed the lack of mountains as we jetted through the countryside.

Extreme, palpable laughter ensued, as it always does with Rrona and soul pal.

We grabbed hands and with as much eagerness as shown to dismissing our homework, we skipped together onwards, determined to fully enjoy the sun, outdoors, spring and each other.

After finding a massive chess set located outside of a wee Volksschule and delighting ourselves with a game of chess–perhaps rivaling that of the elementary school kiddos who also amused themselves with the set–we ambled into the greatest, tallest field of spruce and pine forest. And if I knew more trees by taxonomy they would have been included, too.

We spend our sunny Sunday in happy, blissful company; munching on chocolate cookies and hummus sandwiches, taking naps on the slope of a thickly grass-carpeted hill in the beaming sun, popping over to the little Austrian Gästhaus for a pint before catching the correct 18:02 train back home.

My advice? Well, it’s three-fold. First, try as much as possible to find yourself in the company of the magnificent Rrona of the land of Kosovo and wonderful soul pal Katie, because you will never laugh quite as hard at yourself and the situations you will find yourself in. Secondly, find yourself on the wrong train more often.

Thirdly, don’t get hit by cars when you’re biking. But I’m told that’s a given.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

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So Many Questions

My left hand rests on the thin stem of the wide-lipped wine glass containing a comfortable amount of 2014 Chianti Classico; the fingers of my right hand stretch across the hard keyboard, the clicks and chinks of which ooze palpably throughout my small Austrian room transforming me into the screenwriter that Ewan McGregor plays in Moulin Rouge. 1940’s crime and noir jazz shyly slinks into my mind, shrouding me in a veil of husky inspiration, a desperation and urgency for the words that are welling up in my mind to relieve themselves in Courier New 12pt font.

I have no desire to distinguish between paragraphs; to hit the enter key is an almost shame, splitting up these words that belong to no one but themselves, hacking through flow to craft categories of significance that don’t exist until vomited onto paper.

I do not buy into…talent…when it comes to writing. I believe in those who believe they were selected to be writers and those who believe they have a different art form. We give ourselves too great a significance when it comes to art; we are the vehicle for the creative genius but we do not exist as the genius ourselves.

Otherwise, how could we stand such pressure? Such pressure of top-notch performance every time we attempt our art? No. It cannot be up to us.

Perhaps it’s the Chianti. Perhaps it’s the copy of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden that rests definitively upon it’s front cover, the contents of I have finally, wholly completed reading. Such a read prompts such a mental probing of humanity as to render the reader a different, more aware individual. Aware of the complexities of human nature.

It’s a near stream of consciousness. These thoughts that are categorizing themselves into paragraphs against their own will. My fingers long to forgo punctuation; to favor the endless rambling sentences that echo the masterpieces of Joyce. Why subdivide something that doesn’t exist in divisions, that is wholly connected and formulated. Why add exclamation and question marks to words and sentences that long to express themselves with complete detachment of human interference?

I don’t think in punctuation; why write in such?

One might call what happens in my mind overthinking but I treat that much as I treat over-exaggeration. It doesn’t exist until we give it existence and then classify it as something negative.

How can you over exaggerate.

The slow, rhythmic saxophone yields to a muted trumpet. The far left candle flickers out, the wax rebels and melts onto the black wick.

Why does aesthetic matter so much? Why is it so vital to be immersed in a persona? Is that inauthenticity? Is that charade? Why must I snuggle my way into my thick patagonia hoodie and sit cross legged upon my black swivel desk chair, wine or a strong cup of tea towards one side and jazz from the front? Why is the candle so indicative of my writing?

Am I even allowed to publish this? To showcase such an intimate portrait of my mind? That the aesthetic “stream of consciousness” is the king of my thoughts? In one day I have so many questions over everything I encounter that my fingers and thumbs would most certainly demand to be amputated by how much googling I would have to do in order to figure out the answers to all of my questions.

If we’re all striving to be so individual, how is it so comforting to discuss what we have in common?

No man is an island. But then what have we marooned ourselves upon?

I meant to write about Budapest, the magical city to which we traveled last weekend in order to rekindle a love of the Hungarians that graced my life this past semester. To write about our rainy, cafe adventures. Or perhaps our lack of sleeping. Or the beauty and rawness of sublime unyielding friendship.

But, as I have mentioned before; I get to select the tea that I drink and the jazz music that I listen to. Nothing more.

It’s not a lack of control. It’s the presence of acceptance.

Naw, that’s simply me pretending like I have control.

The trombone of Alex North gives way to the smooth, finger-snapping Warren Barker Orchestra. The middle candle wax topples into the wick, extinguishing the second flame; the rightmost candle dangerously close to following suit.

The flickering green light that lights the stairwell adjacent to my window finally becomes more and more delayed; metaphorically indicative of my late-night state of mind.

Away I go.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

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A 62 Hour Journey Home

Friday, March 4th: the quite relatively tan and avocado filled adventure duo of Katie and Josie shall fly out of the Tangier Airport approximately 17:45 bound for Frankfurt. Austria isn’t too atrociously far from the bustling metropolis of Frankfurt, Germany. It will be easy, they thought. Just get back to Graz, they said.

Flying intercontinentally between Africa and Europe subjected a mere 2 hours and 21 minutes from the lives of the duo, a grand round of applause for the Ryanair flight team for making it to the continent a zippy 24 minutes ahead of schedule.

We touched down on Friday night, local time 21:06. In our infamously optimistic ignorance we fully expected to be nestled between the sheets of our respective Austrian covers by Saturday night.

Well friends, Saturday night came, as it tends to do. And yes indeed, we were both fully present for the occasion. Unfortunately the so-longed-for Saturday night covers were exchanged for the hard cement ground outside the Pescara, Italy train station, huddled together in a daze of post-pizza hums and under the carefully judgemental eye of the train station guard, humorously pacing back and forth within the train station itself, clearly visible from the outside windows upon which Katie and I reclined as he continually denied our entrance into his protected domain. A much different experience, as one might imagine.

Sunday night also came, as is also its fashion. Katie and Josie; present and accounted for. Much to our continual chagrin, the so-longed-for Saturday night covers were again exchanged with Monday night sharp rappings on the exterior door of a large white shed, disconcertedly situated in the middle of a Slovenian city park behind a crowd of tall pines; our only assurance being the single piece of white printer paper boldly declaring the words “HOSTEL” in italicized 72pt Times New Roman font tacked to the hard plastic door upon which our knuckles were getting quite the bruising from repeated knocking.

Shall I recount the tale of our 62 hour journey home from Morocco? I am afraid to say that I have almost no choice in the matter. It’s too juicy to not be expressed in archaic language and elongated run-on sentences.

Katie and I planned and prepared our voyage to and around Morocco a full and appropriate 2 weeks in advance to take off; despite the tiny ratio of planning to backpacking time, we were quite thorough in our preparations. Not only did we plan and book how to get to Morocco, but we also planned and booked how to get back.

If you had happened upon a reading of the first Moroccan adventure post, “Not Even to Morocco”, you would be familiar with the disruption of expectation concerning how to get from Graz to the Frankfurt airport, due to a miscommunication in which airport Ryanair flew out of and the bothering fact that a secondary surprise airport even existed in Frankfurt; the correct one of which of course we were not bound for. So getting on the Ryanair flight to Fes included showing up at 4 in the morning and finding out we must wait for 2 hours to catch an hour long bus to chart us to the retro Hahn airport.

I digress, you can read about that below.

Having bought return tickets before realizing our mistake, we found ourselves at the conundrum of having invalid bus tickets for our purposes. We would simply not have enough time to make it back to the Frankfurt main airport in order to take the night bus to Munich; thereby missing the connection to Salzburg and likewise to Graz.

So, one relaxing and lounging Tuesday afternoon in sleepy Essaouria, Katie and I brewed ourselves strong mugs of mint tea and perched upon the thick cushions of the Atlantic Hostel rooftop terrace and researched a second way to get home.

We found that the most efficient way to return would be to catch a 13 euro Ryanair flight from Frankfurt Hahn airport to Pescara, Italy on Saturday at 12:25. From Pescara, we would board the 3:00am Flixbus to Udine, Italy, wait 45 minutes, and then continue our voyage from Udine to Graz.

Refunds were situated, new tickets were purchased, stress was relieved, smiles ensued; more tea was brewed.

Things were going as planned: we entered the Frankfurt Hahn airport, found some truly capital blue hard plastic benches upon which we could wrap ourselves in scarves and burrow into the scooped chairs for the night. Friday night passed as one might expect for a night spent in such a manner, and we emerged from a tossed 3 hours of sleep to some cheap McDonald’s airport coffee the next morning.

Things commenced with the pattern of going as planned: we boarded the flight to Pescara around noon, finding ourselves backpacked-up and roaming around the beautiful downtown area by 2. To our utmost happiness, a large bustling chocolate market greeted us from the moment we entered the square, and as we munched on true Italian canolis, we knew that these 11 hours of which we must find means to entertain ourselves would pass well and in a fashion echoing our Munich layover.

We zipped to a small market, purchased some Italian wine, meandered some more, found delicious pizza, and made our way to the shores of the Mediterranean. We chucked our travel weary packs down upon the soft sand, excitedly wiggling out of our socks and shoes and digging our slightly crusty toes into the grains. Katie and I reminisce gloriously on our past month together, passing the bottles of wine and exchanging words on how much we appreciate and love the other.

At 9pm, we take back to the streets, searching for a sturdy gelato stand to conclude our truly stereotypical Italian meal. We clamber into a small shop and emerge successful in our searching; cafe and Oreo gelato for Josie and dark chocolate orange gelato for Katie. As we sit and people watch on the terrace of the shop, a band of four Italians, all roughly our age, come and sit down in our vicinity. Our fondness for other humans takes control, and Katie and I found ourselves immersed in a miraculous conversation with the Italian equivalents of Russell Brand, Cedric Diggory, Michelle Monihan and Tyler from Fight Club.

They grab us by the hands and gallop us off to their favorite hole-in-the-wall wine bar and purchase a bottle of Chardonnay; we pass it around, basking in our new friendship and learning tricky rather racist Italian phrases.

More Italian buddies come to join the group, and we bustle our way to an outdoor market concert venue where an Oasis cover band is riling up a group of 70 or so beautifully dressed Italians. We jump up and down and dance wildly amidst the throng of leather jacketed gorgeous human beings, our large packs bobbing up and down from their perch on our backs.

In hindsight, we probably should have been more self conscious of the fact that we had been wearing the same clothes for the past three days and that the showering hadn’t been all that consistent. But in the light of our friendships, it was absolutely trivial.

We bid them a farewell around 2am and head to the train station on top of the world. The tight fisted police man gestured to the cold cement outside the train station doors and told us that we could “wait for the bus not inside my train station” here. It was a miracle that Katie and I found ourselves on the 3am bus to Pescara with all of our baggage and packs accounted for; despite the rigidity of the cement ground, the lack of sleeping took precedent and both of us fell asleep for a time waiting, wrenching ourselves to a grinding alertness at the capital timing of 2:53am.

Things further appeared to be going as planned: we reached the bus station of Udine at precisely the aforevisioned time and waited our expected 45 minutes until the bus that would charter our final leg would arrive.

Unfortunately, as it happens, this day was Sunday, March 5th: it was not the Wednesday, February 22 that we had mistakenly bought the bus tickets for.

And thus here is where the adventure began.

Katie and I, in spasms of throaty sleep deprived giggles, sauntered into the Udine train station in abhorrantly high spirits for the situation with a single task:

Alright. How do we get back to Graz as cheaply as possible before our classes start on Tuesday morning?

We found an 8 euro train ticket to Trieste, waited the necessary 48 minutes until arrival, and then in Trieste happened upon a 6 euro bus ticket to Ljublijana. We jaunts around the beautiful coastal town for two hours and then meandered back to the bus station, snuggling in as we bumbled across the Slovenian countryside admist the sunset. 

We arrived in Ljublijana with high expectations of making a connection to Graz; but to no avail. The time was 22:13 at this point, the last train to Graz having left only an hour ago. No matter; this fact could not extinguish the fledgling fires of adventure that raged within the chests of Katie and I as we figured out how to get just that much closer to Graz.

We boarded the train to Maribor, Slovenia, after a very friendly Slovenian husky call of “Go to platfurm 12 na-ow. You ‘ave see-ven minoots” from the wonderful ticket saleswoman. Side note: every Slovenian person I have been so fortunate to encounter I have nothing but absolute palpable love for. If you are Slovenian, I probably love you too. 

We arrived in Maribor to find that our best option was to catch the 8:33am train to Graz, as the current hour was quite late. We pawned the wifi from the Illy cafe outside the station, and found the aforementioned white shed hostel.

After a good 10 minute pounding on the plastic white door, the most unexpectedly pleasant and wonderful Brazilian man, clad in his pajamas, answered and escorted us to the cleanest and most comforting attic double room, thick goosey pillows and comforters beckoning us from the beds. Despite the initial rising feelings that this could perhaps be the residence of a serial killer and indeed we might have deserved our fate to stumble so aimlessly into such a poorly executed ploy to attract desperate voyagers, Katie and I had such a wonderful grand night tucked up in our attic. And indeed, the room was most gloriously nicer than all of the hostels in Morocco and our own respective Austrian flats combined.

We popped over to the train station the following morning, our high spirits still radiating through us. We purchased cheap tickets to Graz, had the most markedly entertaining language-barrier conversation with the cafe woman that I will never forget, and hit our beautiful Graz around 10:30.

One might imagine this unexpected turn of voyaging events to be quite horrid; indeed, it probably was.  But due to our high levels of infamously optimistic ignorance, we didn’t see it that way. It was the height of adventure, train hopping from city to city, trying to get closer and closer to Graz as cheaply as possible, not having necessary obligations until Tuesday.

There was absolutely no way that our adventures could have concluded in a more appropriate fashion.

Peace and Blessings,

Josie

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To End as We Began

Friday, February 3rd: 2:13pm. Our budget-fare Ryanair flight bounced to a halt upon the breezy, palm-tree enclosed airport runway of Fes, Morocco. I ducked out of my seat at the back of the plane and clambered down the rear steel steps, forcing myself not to run as I go to meet the descending Katie from the front steps. 

With our hair whipping around in the warm wind, we locked eyes and uttered little squeals of excitement, embracing each other wildly in an excited swaying manner, unfathomably impressed with the warm temperatures of Morocco as compared with the chilly winter Europe that we so recently escaped. 

A Moroccan taxi driver apathetically holding up a piece of white computer paper with Jozzie Rosell scrawled in black ink met us at the front of the Fes Airport, gesturing to the clean white sedan parked across the lot. He hauled our packs into his trunk, giving it a firm slam, and opened the back doors for us. 

Katie and I tucked into the back seat, still breathless, still only communicating in small squeals. 

We took off along the palm-tree laden road, our eyes consumed with the vast amounts of green. Suddenly we began to pass sights previously unseen by the pair of us; goats chowing down on the top leaves of branches far beyond my personal climbing abilities, women and children scrubbing at robes and shawls on washboards outside the house, rows and rows of vibrant oranges hanging juicily from untrimmed trees. 

Almost instinctively we clasped hands, savoring the moments of exploring this culture together, beyond thankful for the presence and strength of the other. 

For the durander of our 20 minute drive from the airport to our hostel, we remained hand-in-hand; the beginning of month-long adventure together, symbolic of our mutual intent to support each other and to explore culture together. 

Friday, March 3rd: 2:02pm. A tall, dark Moroccan man rapped on the cold wood door of the Melting Pot Hostel in Tangier, a thick buzzing from the reception desk opening the door to allow for his passage into the narrow tiled corridor. 

“Cab”, he said simply, using his index finger to gesture back to the entrance he just stepped through, eyeing the packs that lay at Katie and I’s feet. We exchanged solemn glances and hauled our packs back up to our shoulders, pausing to fervently thank the beautiful Moroccan hostel employee that sat smiling behind an old wooden desk before we ducked out the door to follow the driver. 

He opened the trunk of his clean yellow sedan and grabbed the packs from Katie and I’s shoulders, hauling them into the trunk and giving it a definitive slam. He walked around the car and opened the back door for us, gesturing for us to enter as he took his own position behind the wheel.. 

I crawled in after Katie, scooting easily on the clean plastic seats. 

The day was a windy cloudy one, billowy thick rain clouds squeezed the sunlight back into the sky releasing furious shuffles of chilled wind around Tangier. Despite our escape from the wind, we remain breathless; the fact of the matter was that our month in Morocco was coming to a definitive end, and neither of us could wholly believe such a fact would come into existence. 

Our driver took off along the narrow streets of the cobblestoned Medina, passing underneath tiny arches and barely dodging casual strollers as he squealed around corners. 

We began to pass sights now wholly familiar to us; the pointy robbed shopkeepers peering behind high stacks of candy bars and boules of round Moroccan bread, scraggled whiskered cats slinked around the feet of hijab-clad Moroccan women, stopping to sniff at small bits of fish that littered the cobblestones from the fish markets. 

We passed high, beautiful swaying palm trees, dancing to the tune of our bouncing cab; we swung by tourists happily sipping on freshly squeezed orange juice and seeking refuge from the weather underneath old stone archways. 

In our breathlessness, we instinctively clasped hands, savoring the last moments of our exploration, beyond thankful for the presence and strength of the other. For the durander of our drive from our hostel to the Tangier airport, we remained hand-in-hand; solidifying our immense satisfaction with the proceedings of the last month that we got to spend in adventure, warmth, and fresh orange juice. 

Little did we know that our adventure would not conclude with a simple flight out of Morocco, but would linger onwards for the next 72 hours as we picked our way back home to Austria. 

Peace and Blessings,

Josie