February 2, 2014

my wanderlust summer in germany

for as long as i can remember, i’ve been passionately in love with earth. it is so infinite and spirited it fuels my heart and soul. however, i was never fearless enough to step out of my comfort zone. whenever i would feel the urge to travel, reality would kick back in. society, my parents, my own insecurity. i was taught to believe the world was a dangerous place anyway so why bother? i don’t have any money, i’m supposedly too naive to ever make it on my own. i also have a responsibility to stay in med school and become a successful doctor so there’s no room for dreams. i convinced myself there was no way i could break away from social norms, that they were necessary and keeping me sane. that i would, someday, be happy. someday is wrong. someday is watching your life slip away hopelessly thinking tomorrow will be better when it will be just as painful. someday is lying to yourself until the fire in your heart eventually burns out. by then, you will be trapped in a life you didn’t choose. except you did. you blindly did make that choice, somewhere along the road. i’m no better than you are. most of the time, i feel so lost i let it overwhelm my whole body until i can no longer breathe. but deep down, i do believe there is always a way out. we are all in control. we have the power to decide and make choices that will either make us happy or miserable. or maybe both, but we will  be going somewhere. we will be alive.
my journey began on august 16th, 2013. this is when i finally stopped making excuses and started living my dreams. i spontaneously got on a bus from france to germany so as to meet with my closest friend on the internet. back in 2010, gina and i were both sharing our humble early work on deviantart, an online art community. she found me, i found her, we found each other, the end. there is so much more to say, actually! our passion for photography brought us closer the day she commented on one of my pictures. this lasted for a few months, then as i was looking through the work of another photographer on facebook and there were literally hundreds of comments, there was only one name i saw. hers. it’s a funny story, because gina is also my dog’s name but i like to think the roots of our friendship are a little more poetic. i was no stalker back in the day, i was quite shy and didn’t have many online friends so it was very unusual for me to just send a friend request to someone and strike up a conversation. but i’m so glad i did. we immediately got along. we would write endless messages to each other, talking about photography, life, dreams. from the very beginning, opening up to gina felt right. i had just entered medical school so my messages weren’t exactly lighthearted but she always listened. she never judged me nor the issues i was facing, when anyone could have rightfully walked out. she cared and that was enough. she gave me hope and dreams to hold onto as she took care of me, day after day. she also trusted me enough to confide in me. in 2011, we started writing letters. these were so intimate and real. we would exchange words, pictures and presents. gina once made me an inspirational book for my birthday. it was so tenderly selfless. she wrote about so many things such as life, photography, freedom, music, animals, nirrimi, summer, dreams, friendship, love, learning to accept your physical and inner self. there was this one particular page about loneliness i remember where she said « you never, ever need to feel lonely one day in your life. i promise to be there for you whatever challenges life will put you through. i want to be there and i will be. in good and in bad times, whatever is going on. if there’s no one to talk to, talk to me. i can keep secrets, i don’t judge, i try to help the very best i can. i want to be a safe place for you and your thoughts and hopefully, i can be this for you. because you always have been for me ». this merely illustrates gina’s kindness. as our friendship grew bigger, we created this friday video thing where we would shoot something from our daily life and share it with one another. i can’t skype because my internet is too slow so this was our way to communicate more vividly. i remember so perfectly how thrilled i was when i first heard gina’s voice. so soft and peaceful, just like i had imagined. online messages, letters, videos, i could never grow tired of these. we would talk more and more about the day we’d finally meet, face to face but life, responsabilities and fake excuses got in the way. until it was summer and we were both out of school and thought this was the perfect time. so i babysitted for a few weeks so as to gather enough money, i booked the cheapest bus ticket to germany and i left. there i was, embarking on a 21-hour bus ride, with a hungry heart yearning for adventure, about to have the summer of my life. the one you remember forever.

day one
it was pure madness. i remember leaving my house at 11am, catching a bus then a train to get to the real bus station. for the first time in my life, i was on time. i had to wait for about two hours before i could even register. i had just had my heart broken, i wasn’t talking to my family so there was really nothing holding me back. i left without saying goodbye, venturing into the great unknown. as much as i had been worrying about this, leaving actually felt liberating. i wasn’t scared anymore. i looked through the window and smiled as i was getting farther away from home. i could feel it all. the infinite joy of being alive, the love of adventure. it was magnificent. it did get scary at some point as i was switching buses in the middle of the night and had absolutely no idea where i was nor which bus i was supposed to hop on next. it was about 6am when i reached germany. i was quite lost when a kind german boy came to my rescue. he was on the road too and so we talked and waited together for the next bus to arrive. when it finally did, it was so crowded there was no room for me nor my luggage. i still have no idea how i managed to get on this bus and stay still for the next six hours. but i did, and by 12pm, i was in munich. gina was already waiting for me and i felt so happy i could cry. she offered me water and a bretzel and we headed to a beautiful park. i was so genuinely euphoric i forgot how exhausted i was and how ugly i truly looked. it was my first time in germany and i was already loving it. people riding their bicycles, gently smiling at you. funny ducks chasing after you. when we got back to her car and headed to her hometown, i was fascinated and snapped too many pictures. everything was new and beautiful. i was in love with the german signs, the roads, the clouds, the fields. her neighborhood is surreal as it is so peaceful and heartwarming. her house is a castle and her family is the sweetest. i’m forever grateful that they all so selflessly welcomed me into their home. i still can’t believe how lucky i was to have a bedroom of my own as well as a bathroom. this was surreal. everything was. cuddling with her fatty, grumpy cat. meeting her devoted mom and her boyfriend. having a wonderful dinner with this new family i felt so comfortable with. her beautiful sister coming home from an amusement park. all of them speaking in english just so i could understand their conversation. it felt like a dream.
day two
it was filled with magic. i woke up at 9am and gina was already making pancakes for us all. it was the most delicious breakfast i’d ever had. so different from home but also much healthier, well except for that huge amount of chocolate. talking in english had already become familiar and we were understanding each other perfectly. we went for a walk in the neighborhood. there were wild horses. it still felt like a ghost town to me because the landscapes were infinite, yet there were no people. we were all alone, peacefully wandering around fields. we took pictures in the forest. sunlit hair was our thing. we went back and cooked pasta with tons of tasty vegetables. gina became a vegetarian shortly after i did so it was amazing to share our beliefs and eat such healthy meals. later in the afternoon, we went to the lake and took more pictures. i had asked gina to model for me and obviously i made her get in the water until a bizarre sound scared us but it was so much fun. we walked some more as we watched sweet families lying in the grass, reading, laughing, playing games. german people truly are extraordinary. it was very hot and sunny and we jumped in the water. we were still talking in english (and loving it, by the way) when nice german people mistook us for american girls. it was so flattering to think that our english was actually good according to someone. we had a wonderful day and we laughed so much. i remember getting creepy and joking about how i find blood funny (i'm studying to become a nurse, does that make it more okay for me to like blood?). as i thought our first real day together couldn’t get any more perfect, gina drove us to get icecream. we went to a park and there was a swing so i started swinging as fast as i could until i felt weightless and carefree. flying through the air, traveling through time and finding my way back to pure, raw innocence. gina's head was spinning. parents were looking but not in a judgmental way. as we headed back home, gina edited her first picture of me, then we proceeded to stalk the gorgeous, mysterious icecream guy we had met earlier in the day. we then realized how crazy this was, obsessing over boys, and laughed until it made it hard to breathe. we had another perfect dinner with her family, watched friends in the evening and this still felt like a dream. too good to be true.

day three
it's funny how days in germany are never the same. we had been swimming the day before but it had become cold and rainy. so we headed to the mall, went grocery shopping and made vegetarian lasagna for lunch. i absolutely can't cook so gina taught me. there really is nothing this girl can't do. we spent the afternoon talking, laughing and watching tv shows. the past two days had been so hectic it actually felt nice to sit quiet.
day four 
we would wake up early and walk to the fields to take pictures. we used gina's tripod to take some together as well. it was quite an experience! jumping around like crazy, running back and forth to the camera. we had a huge laugh. then we went back to the house and made a vegetarian pizza. food was always a priority as we were a bit addicted. the day was still cold and cloudy when we went to the city, then to a forest and a river. nature is everywhere in germany. it's so beautifully overwhelming. boys said hi to us as we were taking pictures. kindness from strangers fascinates me. i truly believe in the power of kindness to soften hearts. there is nothing more fulfilling than smiling at strangers and seeing their face light up. later in the day, i recklessly decided to climb up trees in the river. i felt adventurous at first, then i just got scared when i realized how high it actually was but still, i loved it. we found some wild berries in the forest, we took endless pictures and gina inspired me to try out my first photo expansion. i was so in love with the idea of creating a surreal world. we headed back to the city and had more icecream. a nice couple heard us talk in english and asked us where we were from. more kindness from strangers. i really was in awe. then as i was looking outside the window, watching families and children pass us by, i started thinking about the future. my future. will i be able to have children? where will i be living? will i be in love? will i be happy? i have no idea why these ideas came rushing to my mind as we were eating icecream but it overwhelmed me in a curious way. we walked a lot and a shop blew my mind. it was named "ginalaura", how much of a coincidence is that? it felt like magic, like it was all meant to be. then her father took us to an italian restaurant where we had more pizza. her dad is such a kind-hearted person. he was so dedicated to making sure we were happy, and we definitely were. i really can't thank him enough.
day five
we took the train and went to nuremberg! i remember laughing so much as we were in the train and gina awkwardly tried to open an invisible door. it lasted for a few minutes and i was just as lost and clumsy as she was. nuremberg is so big and crowded. we went thrifting for books and clothes. we also had a good time visiting gina's friend. then we ventured into the subway, bought donuts at the bakery and headed to a beautiful, peaceful park except we had no idea how to cross the bridge and reach it. when we finally did, we laid on the grass and read for a while while enjoying the sun. these simple moments felt so good. as we were taking pictures, my battery died and gina saved me by taking me to a shop so i could buy a new one. there is no way i could have survived the rest of our vacation without my film camera! we looked for more bookstores, then as it was almost time to catch our train, we found a shop i adore but that only exists online in france, and so i convinced gina to take a quick look inside. there were three floors and i was crazily excited. i found a perfect little black skirt, put it on in a hurry and rushed to the checkout to pay for it. however, irritating russian girls drove us mad as they were buying more and more clothes. the amount of money they had was almost inappropriate. all we wanted was to pay for that cheap skirt and go. it was taking forever and we only had nine minutes left to catch our train. we ran like crazy, realizing we were too far away from the train station and it was hopeless to even try. but somehow we didn't give up, we kept on running and running until we couldn't feel our feet anymore and our mouths tasted like blood. four minutes left. there was no way we were going to make it. but it was so late already, we had to get on that train! i think i gave up at some point and gina did too, but then she started running like crazy again and i was like "wait! are we running again? please, no!" and so i had to follow her. then she gave up but it was my turn to push her and it was just so hilarious. i do actually love running but this really was crazy and impossible. everyone was looking at us, probably mocking us. it's a good thing we were running so fast we couldn't hear them. when we finally got to the train station, we heard the news. our train had just been delayed. i started laughing, gina was so exhausted but i promised her she would laugh about it too someday. the truth is, i still have tears in my eyes just writing about it. we won't even forget about that race.
day six
we woke up to fresh croissants from the bakery her mom had just bought for us. we had a lazy morning, editing pictures and eating cookies. in the afternoon, we decided to go hiking. her mom had told us about a very special place with a gorgeous view. so we parked the car and started walking. we ventured into a gigantic forest, hiked for so long and thought we were lost forever until we saw the light again. we hurried only to find ourselves in a tiny village. we had to go all the way back and take another way but we weren't even sure it was the right way. we really were lost in the middle of nowhere. we had been hiking for hours, when finally, it seemed like we had made it. only we didn't. we were, once again, lost in the woods. we are quite stubborn so we weren't ready to give up just yet, we walked some more then, out of the blue, we found it. it was wonderful and totally worth it. it was so late by then but we were excited to go to the lake and swim. little did we know, the water was far too cold and we looked a bit ridiculous, standing there in our swimming suits when it was almost dark. we headed back home, had some delicious dinner and i got the chance to meet her cousin and her uncle. they were so lovely, we went out again to get icecream all together, as a family, and for the first time in my life, it felt like i belonged. i don't really have a family back home so it was refreshingly beautiful to be a part of this family for a little while.

day seven
this is germany. we're in the cutest neighborhood when gina comes out wearing high waisted shorts and blue lipstick. we scare her neighbors as we shoot pictures in the street and next to a van i had immediately noticed. gina is such a perfect model and i'm so happy she let me try out all these crazy concepts. we spent the rest of the day as a family, going to a bird show - it was beautiful but i couldn't help but feel sad for these birds, wondering if they were being held captive the whole time. apparently they were born here and they never tried to escape, but still i believe animals belong in the wild -. we then went minigolfing, it was my first time and i expected it to be much worse. i loved it and we really had a great time. at the end of the day, we had dinner in a nice, heartwarming restaurant before saying goodbye to her uncle and cousin who were going back home, miles away from here. i don't believe in goodbyes so instead i said to her young cousin "i'll kick your ass at minigolf soon enough". i love these human beings.

day eight
how can i possibly describe this day? it was surreal and magical. we woke up so early and her dad took us on a roadtrip to austria! playing music, driving roofless in the mountains. this was the experience of a lifetime. i still can't believe it is real and i was lucky enough to visit two beautiful countries with the most wonderful people. i'm forever grateful. i've always been in love with mountains, i go hiking once a week and they always soothe my soul. but these mountains were different. they were the most extraordinary ones i had ever seen in my life. i found a bouquet of flowers on top of the mountains and it felt so special i took it with me and brought it back home. i couldn't stop smiling and taking pictures. her dad was so patient, he parked the car and laid in the sun while we were running around in the middle of nowhere, taking pictures. we meant to find the waterfall we could see on the other side of the mountains but we didn't manage to reach it so we headed to the city instead and found a perfect restaurant for a late afternoon lunch. then her dad wanted us to see tegernsee lake so he drove for a long time but when we finally got to the lake, there was heavy rain and it was all blurry. her dad kept apologizing for not making it on time for us to see the lake, which is crazy but shows just how selfless and thoughtful he is. it didn't matter to me though, our day had been so beautiful it was more than enough.

day nine
it was pouring rain so we stayed inside and relaxed after our adventurous roadtrip.
day ten
the weather was still unpredictable but we decided to go to regensburg anyway. we had a nice walk in the city. it really was a busy vacation so by the end of this trip, we were basically only talking about food, eating then craving for even more food. we were monsters. gina literally had a veggie burger at 5 in the afternoon! not to mention we had been eating cookies at the end of every single meal. we had made it a tradition of our own, somehow.
day eleven
this was our last full day together. we didn't go too far. we wandered around fields, taking pictures and videos. we visited the house her dad was building. it looked beautiful and i can't wait to be back someday and see it complete. we then proceeded to steal a ridiculous amount of berries. we almost got caught and ran away. we came back home, watched friends while savouring our golden food. her sister snapped a picture of us with our film cameras. it really did feel like goodbye was close. her mom took us out to dinner. it was a wonderful farewell meal. i had the best vegetarian pizza ever. yes, i may have had too many pizzas during this trip but who cares? everyone was so kind, i never ever wanted to say goodbye to them.
day twelve
it was time for me to go home. i wish so desperately i could have stayed. i don't recall ever feeling so content before in my life. saying goodbye was painful. her sister is so lovely, i thanked her for having me around and also apologized for being in the way because i know how important privacy is and i obviously had been intruding. however, she said she had loved having me there and she sounded so sincere i smiled and hugged her goodbye. i finished packing my bags in the morning while working like crazy on a video from gina's computer. i knew for a fact my computer back home was too old and too slow so i needed to make it perfect right then. i was such an awful friend, working on the computer while gina was cooking lunch and making sure i wouldn't miss my bus. i was getting emotional so it was a good thing i had already said goodbye to her parents and thanked them from the bottom of my heart for taking such good care of me and making my trip memorable. i also said goodbye to her mom's boyfriend who made me laugh so much because of how obsessed he was with france and rugby. i would miss her cats too. as we were about to leave and reached her doorstep, i smiled thinking we were just going on another adventure and would be back later in the night. that's when it hit me. i wasn't coming back. i was going back to france and we wouldn't see each other for at least a year. nothing would ever be the same. it was my first trip and it couldn't have been more perfect, yet it was about to end and i didn't want it to. we went grocery shopping so i would have enough chocolate to get me through the 21-hour bus ride. as we were stressfully driving to munich, we got lost because of me. i have no idea why but i suddenly gave gina directions "turn right! it's there, i know it is, i can feel it!" except it really wasn't. we did find our way to the bus station and i panicked as i had no idea where to go. i was really stressed out. i had loved coming to germany, not knowing where to go, talking to strangers on the road but this was different and nowhere near as fun. the bus i would get on would take me back to a bitter reality and in a way, i almost wanted to miss that bus and stay in wonderland forever. it was almost time to go when i repeatedly escaped from the crazy bus driver and got down to talk to gina some more. i thanked her a million times for making my dreams come true. i told her this wasn't goodbye. i would miss her terribly but we would see each other again. tears were streaming down my face as i watched her disappear in the distance. twenty-four hours later and here i was, home. supposedly. but this first big solo trip made me realize i don't truly belong anywhere as my heart belongs to the road instead. this is the story of how traveling has become my true love, and it's only the beginning.

thank you gina for being my best friend, my soul sister. i miss you.
i'm thankful i filmed so much during the trip and put this little video together so i can cherish our memories forever.
gina took countless pictures herself, you can see them all on her blog here.