Europa Friendship Voyage

It’s been less than two weeks since my mum cooked a dinner for me after being four months away and I’m sitting in the train slowly passing the borders of our little country again. For the next few days I will thankfully call “home” my friends’ homes around Europe, already extremely glad for this voyage proving that for the lasting friendships a distance is not an obstacle.

I planned everything during the summer. I knew I will have a bit of both time and money, our two grand essentials, alfa and omega of doing things you like in life. Time until my departure for New Zealand scheduled on 30th October and a full pocket of money earned in the States from sleepless 70-hour working weeks of summer. Beyond that, I made promises to my dear friends we will see each other again, even if that would be only for one more time. And I really like to keep my promises, especially if it means to travel to the places I’ve never been or to come back to those I’d love to experience over again.

I spent hours and days to plan a perfect trip, meaning as cheap as possible where timing requires a much consideration. It ended up with buying seven flight tickets, one train and one bus for something like 220 euros. I reckon it’s not a bad deal for visiting five countries in two weeks and meeting a bunch of great people. Recommendations and many thanks go to www.azair.cz and to mister Ryan and his amazing airlines.

Breclav – Bratislava – Budapest – Antalya and Kemer – Istanbul – Zaragoza via Milan – San Sebastian and Bilbao and Zarautz – Biarritz – Cholet and Nantes – Poitiers – Prague via London – Breclav.

It’s already a late afternoon and I’m standing on a bus station somewhere in Bratislava hiding from the rain. Only until Filip shows up and takes us straigh to the pub to hide from the rain. In fact the beer was a purpose of going in the first place. We met during our epic Erasmus in Ljubljana two years ago and have seen each other couple times afterwards due to a close distance. After all, Slovaks are like brothers and easygoing Filip is one of the best ones. We drank some beers and happily recalled hilarious memories from Slovenia, mostly happening during our dorm drinking sessions or workshops as we collectively and intelligently called them. Or during two euros tequila sessions on the bar of Companeros club, but these are usually and gladly forgotten. Don’t think it was only about drinking, in Slovenia it was even more about eating, but as almost every Erasmus participant would agree, it was a big part of it. That’s how you sometimes meet friends forever. I thanked Filip for a great time and providing me a place for a nap before my 3am bus to Hungary.

From time to time I’m thinking what a life it would be if I would have chosen waking up and getting ready to work at this time, getting ready to spend all day in the office hopefully creating some reasonable values, having a precise day-to-day schedule to follow and dreaming of the next destination where I want to travel when some leave days come up. I’m not entirely against this idea in general and I know people who have been doing it and enjoying it. Maybe I would like it too, or maybe I would not. It’s just a feeling that there must be something more why my wandering soul keeps burning.

So I’m thinking about that while wandering the empty streets of Budapest at 6am waiting for Starbucks to be opened up. Some people have their careers already started and don’t regret it at all. So as Nikolett who just ordered a mochaccino and sat down in front of me in this rainy October morning. We talk more about the future than about the past when in May 2013 we happened to participate the same Youth in Action program in Ankara in Turkey. And even though we spent only one week in the same hotel we had a time to get involved into serious topics besides having our first conversation after consuming many of Hungarian spirits. Timing was perfect so as soon as Nikolett ran out to get into her office work I ran out to catch my flight to the country where we two first met.

There is always a special place in the world which attracts us a bit more than the other ones. Whether you travel a lot or just a little I believe for most of us there is always a particular country or region where we don’t hesitate to come back whenever there is a chance to do so. Like a favorite movie that we never get tired of. I’ve found this uniqueness in Turkey and from my first visit in 2012 I knew I will come back not because I liked it very much, that happens almost everywhere I go, but because there was something more, something what I can just hardly describe. It was its different culture, enormous and vibrant Istanbul, vivid and kind people, everything together created this intense feeling which, during my last visit, made me thinking of learning the language and trying to live there one day. Well, that would be far from the reality, but that’s how intense it was.

Although it were my friends, Umit and Sahika, who I met four years ago in America and in Turkey afterwards when they made a big impression on me and became the best example of Turkish hospitality. I learned it’s the people who give every place its life and Turkish people have a superability to give a lot of life. So when I found my way from the airport and got out of the bus I gave Sahika a big hug and felt the unique vibe again in this bustling street of Antalya, old men drinking tea in front of their small carpet and souvenir shops, younger ones smoking hookah, charming Turkish girls laughing at the foreigner with a backpack and despite all the pulsing life nobody seems to be in rush. Life just goes. It’s not late, it’s not early, it’s present.

High on this vibe I was introduced to Sahika’s family and we had a dinner together full of local cuisine’s goodies. Actually the food is almost equal to the people when it comes to a question why I like Turkey so much. Try some kebab with traditional ayran and we can talk. It was a special time to stay with the family and feel the culture from within.

During four days I slowly realized one particular difference between our hurried western culture and the Turkish one. As Can, Sahika’s father, explained to me, for him to earn in his little street mart enough money to ensure everything for his family is equally important as spending his time with them, maybe even more. If there is no money in the cash register at the end of the day, he remains happy because he still has his closest ones. And of course this is just an example because he works a lot to make the mart running, but the thing I understood is that sometimes money and yearning for success just can’t be more important than being a good father. Chasing the money or success or whatever it is while missing the basic values, either it’s family, friends, gratitude to have enough or your own health, makes our society unhappy and constantly dissatisfied. Once I heard about the satirical equation of happiness which says that happiness equals what we have plus something. Like it’s perpetuum mobile, a machine which never stops but according to the science (and Wikipedia) will eventually burn out. I think this machine desribes our consumerism-driven western culture pretty well as we always dream of things we don’t have in order to achieve something more. The sad burn out point comes when we forget to appreciate what we already have. End of the story.

Antalya showed up its beautiful side with empty beaches and summer weather in the middle of October and I was enjoying the real doing-nothing vacation laying on the beach with a beer in my hand. No need of more. Sahika took us to Kemer, close medieval town still under the hordes of tourists, where we swam in the purest water I’ve ever seen. We went to see Antalya’s city waterfalls, harbor and beachfront promenade, but for me the best was simple wandering the streets watching the life around. And then, of course, eating traditional fast food and smoking hookah. As a guest I was truly taken care of. So when the day of my flight came I didn’t want to leave and my wish was almost heard out because our driver came late and we got to the airport half an hour before the flight time. Luckily in Turkey that’s enough.

I’m back, back in Istanbul waiting for Umit after longest airport bus ride ever. Here people use hours to measure time for getting from one place to another. Two hours is, for instance, okay time to get to work or school every day. And why people do that? Because it’s Istanbul, the center of Turkish life. No one dares to exactly guess how many people live here. Usually they agree with something between 15 and 20 million. It’s a grand festival of everything connecting Europe and Asia, cultures and people.

Umit’s decision to visit one of the four city’s islands called Buyukada was a perfect escape from the big rush. We talked over the tea and baklava, another local cuisine’s miracle, after riding bikes in tiny island streets. Naturally, Umit bargained the price for renting the bikes and made it half. It’s good to have a local with you when traveling Turkey.

My Istanbul accommodation was an old apartment in Kadikoy inhabited by friends of Baris who is in turn friend of mine. He also spent his Erasmus in Ljubljana but we met only for 3 days of our amazing road trip to Bosnia when Baris filled the last seat in the car and became a great companion. Next day I also arranged a meeting with Hande, friend from America again. So I’m here meeting people I’ve met before around the world blessed by their presence and the fact it is possible. It feels great and Ortakoy view is just magical. After one week in Turkish company I’m about to leave, though with knowing I’ll come back again… This is my special travel place, everyone has one.

Next stop: Spain, the country I’ve never been to before. In this context, it really surprised me how my English became totally useless knowledge in here. We stayed in Zaragoza for two nights. Me and Mia, another Erasmusmate and traveler from Finland. Our ways came together on Milan’s airport when changing the flights and we intended to visit Amaia in her Basque country. That’s right, in case you didn’t know, there are other countries within Spain with their own languages, flags and politics. Though the currency is everywhere same so to find an exchange office takes a lot of effort even in half million people city. Welcome in Spain, we don’t speak English and we don’t want your dollars. In a good way.

Basque country opened to us and Amaia was an awesome guide with a car so we traveled to Bilbao, to lost Basque wonder Gaztelugatxe and to her hometown Zarautz. It was again something different. Eating out after 10pm as everyone else on Saturday night in Bilbao, meeting no tourists around Basque countryside and experiencing being a stranger again without knowing the language and habits. That’s why traveling is so adventurous and the best learning source. It exposes you to the new and watches how you try to deal with it.

When you travel, you experience, in a very practical way, the act of rebirth. You confront completely new situations, the day passes more slowly, and on most journeys you don’t even understand the language the people speak. So you are like a child just out of the womb. You begin to attach much more importance to the things around you because your survival depends upon them. You begin to be more accessible to others because they may be able to help you in difficult situations. And you accept any small favor from the gods with great delight, as if it were an episode you would remember for the rest of your life. (Paulo Coelho – The Pilgrimage)

I enjoyed my Spanish rebirth very well and left for the final meeting with my best Erasmus friend Gladys. Since there are never enough lucky coincidences they were just having a family wedding on the French side of Basque country while I was around so we could meet in Biarritz and drove 5 hours north to her hometown Cholet. France, also for first time, was impressive. Despite a lack of time, we visited a cute countryside, Gladys’s sister house and had a fancy dinner in charming streets of Nantes. And honestly, the way of tasting the French cuisine was one of the best moments, the moments when 35€ is no reason for regrets, especially when it equals to the price of my flight ticket home the next day.

Looking over the plane’s wing on the beauty of the night sky makes me thinking about all of it. What is the point? Is it just a fun, is it a pleasure, is it about gaining something? Then I look back and see all the people who I met, who made me laugh, who made me happy, who made my days so much exciting. I see all food and drinks which wasn’t always the healthiest but was such a pleasure to eat and drink, moreover when it was with someone who I like to talk to. I see all the views what I’d have never got without leaving my country. I feel the curiosity hidden behind all the travels and I feel such a strong feeling that what I’m doing makes very good sense to me. I would even say makes me a better person and that makes me smile. What else matters? So I look back over the wing longing for my next destination.

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