How I fell off the face of the earth for six months (while proceeding to criss-cross it)

My intentions have been good, I swear. I’ve started writing this blog post quite a few times. I’ve definitely thought about it a great many times. I’ve sworn, an immeasurable number of times, that no, really, this week, this week is going to be the week I’m just going to sit down and write the damned thing. And every time, something else comes up that becomes more important, and it ceases to be a Priority.

So in the interests of getting something written, and getting back into the habit of actually writing here on a regular basis, I’m just going to write about the last six months. No deeper meaning or message. Just a “here’s what I’ve been doing for all that time where it looks as though I may have fallen off the face of the planet.”

1. I lost more things, and had more disasters, in more foreign countries.

While I was still living in Barcelona, I ended up living above a rather curmudgeonly gentleman who took an immediate disliking to me. He proceeded to call the police on me, cut my power so as to leave me without electricity for three days, and scream obscenities at me in Spanish whenever there was noise in my apartment after 8pm. My “hosts” there sided with him, in spite of an absolute lack of empirical evidence, and nearly booted me from the place. (While it worked out in the end, it was an extremely stressful situation that often lead to my nearly living out of the fantastic co-working space there.)

I took off from Barcelona and started living out of a backpack again soon after that. I travelled down into the south, which I loved, and then spent a day hiking all the way across (and then up) Gibraltar, a country so tiny you can actually do that. (And in order to get there, you have to wait for the airplanes to land, then walk across a live runway.) I left my iPhone in a bus station in Spain en route to the ferry in Morocco, which meant I was suddenly forced to reckon paper maps pilfered from bus stations and information counters again, which I’d rather forgotten how to do. My power cord decided to fray and die on my last day in Marrakesh, which just happened to be the day it was a sweltering 48°. (I ended up sitting on the rooftop of my riad with tortoises crawling over my feet, reading German fashion magazines in a desperate attempt to stave off the conviction that I was slowly being roasted alive.)

And then, once I made it to Lisbon, things got crazier. I stayed in a gorgeous little house within the castle walls, near a hookah bar that was open for ages and made lovely cocktails. Lisbon was fun and exciting and gorgeous, and one of my favourite cities ever, I’m quite convinced.

And then I came “home” to discover that my house had been broken into. They stole anything that might possibly have any value: my laptop, my broken power cord, my hard drive (with all my backups on it), my hairdryer, my travel adapters, my tiny speaker, and a five pound note that could only be spent in Gibraltar.

On the plus side, now I own a new laptop with a Portuguese keyboard that confuses the hell out of everyone but me, and my bag was much lighter by the time I got back to Canada.

Katy the motorcycle
I named her Katy because I woke up one morning and had ‘I caught the Katy’ stuck in my head. Her key is tied with a big red ribbon that flies around while I ride her, and it’s basically the girliest thing I could have done to a sportbike beyond putting streamers on her handlebars.

2. I bought a motorbike named Katy.

I think my original plan was to head from Spain, stop in London briefly, spend a week in Iceland, then head back to Halifax. Somewhere in Spain, these plans all changed. (I’ve noticed lately that I judge time not by duration or season like normal humans, but by country of residence, then work it out from there.) Instead, I ended up crisscrossing up and down Portugal a bit, then flying out to the Azores—tiny little islands in the middle of the Atlantic that I wasn’t even aware existed—for a day before flying back to Montreal instead.

Technically, I now “live” in Montreal, inasmuch as I live anywhere. I’ll eventually have an apartment here, but for the moment, I’m still wandering a bit, and using Montreal as something of a base.

A number of people have pointed out that it’s a little strange that, within a couple of weeks of returning to Canada, I had managed to procure a motorbike, but had no particular intention of finding an apartment. I think this is utter nonsense. If push comes to shove, I don’t really own that many things. I can sleep in my motorbike like other people sleep in their cars.

At any rate, I came back for the summer. I learned to do crazy things, like ride a 125cc motorcycle on Montreal’s ridiculous highways. I got in the habit of singing/screaming at top volume, inside my helmet, when I thought the wind blast or insane traffic was going to send me careening off the road to my death. I went for long bike rides through Laval with my dad. I learned to ride at night, in the rain, with a passenger, and all combinations thereof. I learned a lot (although I still have a great deal to learn) and I learned a lot about myself in overcoming my own fears and self-doubts, and, even though I didn’t go anywhere further than Ottawa for three solid months, I actually had a rather delightful summer.

3. I went back to Europe again.

I lived a thirty-minute train ride from London for two months, and came to grips with the fact that, in spite of considering myself equal parts Brit and Canadian, England feels no more like home than Canada does. I did a whirlwind tour of eastern Europe, exploring various post-Communist bloc countries via long overnight sleeper trains. I returned to the hot baths of Budapest, much more intense at night in the winter, when the air is seven degrees and the water is absolutely mired by a layer of steam. I bribed the conductor of the Russian train for a sleeper car, using only hand gestures and my two-word command of Russian. I wandered through Transylvanian towns, thinking of vampires and gypsies. I was surprised by the elegance and charm of Bulgaria. I explored Belgrade’s strange bars and drank far, far too much rakkia for my own good. I learned bits of strange languages and fell in love, all over again, with the Balkans. I lived in a place that spoke English again, for the first time in an entire year, and discovered that it’s not really all that different.

Dia de los Muertos
Oh, and I did this for Hallowe’en: painted faces with black eyeliner and lipstick, and then went to a fantastic Rodrigo y Gabriela/Día de los Muertos show held by the Mexican embassy in the abandoned Tube Old Vic tunnels underneath the Thames.

4. I saw snow for the first time in three years.

And wow, did I ever see a lot of it. I came back to Montreal for the holidays, and had my first “family” Christmas in years. (Admittedly, it primarily consisted of my sister and I drinking a lot of champagne and then preparing a massive quantity of tapas, but it’s still the closest I’ve come to normality in ages.)

I was really, really, really excited to see snow. The first night I was back, I wandered around in the snow, absolutely fascinated by the strange quiet it induces in a place.

Nearly a month later, and I’m less entranced. I remember why I’ve been avoiding winters for so long. Canada may have many things going for it, but it is a cold, cold country. I forgot how cold -20° feels. It’s cold.

But I’ve been spending time with people I love, which I’ve missed. And recently, I’ve been struck by the desire to “slightly redesign” my own website, which of course has turned into the sort of project I’d charge three figures for, because I’m an obsessive nutjob and I can’t stop with just one tiny little tweak. But I’m learning a lot of new things, and I’m refining my processes. I have all sorts of ideas for where I want to take my business, and this new site is just the tip of the snowy, snowy iceberg.

Montreal in the winter. It proceeded to snow about four feet and destroy my plans of going to New York for New Years’, which I only just now realized would have a beautiful sort of alliterative-feel to it, and now I’m a bit sadder I didn’t make it after all.

Originally, I’d planned on writing a long post talking about my big nine-month cross-world tour. I had big plans: I was going to make this great big infographic with all kind of numbers and charts and pictures. In my head, it’s the most brilliant thing anyone’s ever written and/or designed.

Ultimately, I failed at putting it all together, I think in part because I’d built up so much expectation in my head, that I wasn’t able to translate it on paper. I was trying the sum up this trip as one single entity, when the thing is—I don’t think I ever stopped. I still haven’t stayed in one place longer than a few months, and I’m still constantly wandering about, exploring new places. Hell, Montreal is, in many respects, more foreign to me than London is.

In 2011, I spent five months in Canada, and went to seven countries in two continents. In 2012, I spent three and a half months in Canada, and visited twenty-two countries in four continents. I haven’t even returned to the city I originally left, some fifteen months ago, except for a brief stopover in the airport (where I was met with beers and tackle-hugs from my best friend.) Travel isn’t a passing infatuation or a temporary state of being for me. It’s who I am, and it’s a part of my life I don’t think I’m able to deny anymore. I’ve worked really hard so that I’ve been able to do this—to travel consistently, to make up my own rules, and to change my location without losing out. And, somewhere along the line, it started working. This is just what I do.

Maybe this means I can actually start writing about design again.