holland



My favourite part of the Netherlands is everywhere that is not Amsterdam.

Amsterdam is iconic. It's insane. It's a flurry of bicycles and wobbly tourists and drunk tourists and stoned tourists and shouting tourists and posing tourists. Amsterdam is most beautiful early in the morning when things are still quiet.

Get out of Amsterdam. Get a coffee in the morning and then leave. Spend a few hours in Rotterdam to look at the upside-down houses and a rainbow sign that reads, "Breathe Walk Die" and then leave promptly. Go to Delft or Haarlem or den Haag.

Although by the end, Amsterdam wooed me. I was there so often that it started to feel familiar and homely. Those early mornings and skinny streets and cobblestones got me. But first, I had to come and go a few times and go to a few places in between the coming and going. Of all the cities and towns, Delft won my heart most completely. I imagine it's what Amsterdam would have looked like in its infancy—all romantic with clear canals, stone churches, a wide town square, still quiet and wistful.

In Den Haag, I stayed in a big building with tall ceilings that belonged to an older Dutch man named Albert, who had never missed a Burning Man since his divorce, and that housed two exchange students from Canada and a stream of travellers also coming and going. Albert and I didn't speak much and I wondered if he disliked me or simply viewed me as being too independent to need much. That is one thing he said about me—that he never felt for a single moment that I needed help. I wonder if that's a good thing—to be perceived as being so autonomous that it sets you apart from everyone else. The other wanderers talked to me though, and I to them, and I lost gallantly at a few games of Uno. A boy with shiny eyes told me that the best way to experience a country is by bicycle.

While there, I met a French woman who wore heels that clicked and sat across from me with hands clasped and pronounced, "So!" as if that moment was a fresh book that she was opening for the first time.

Some people just exude light. And L glowed. She shared her stories and listened to mine and looked me in the eyes when she spoke. I could tell that she was genuinely interested in people—that she really cared about truly seeing people. She didn't throw pebbles at the surface. We didn't small talk. She was real and sincere and kind.

L spent a lot of time reassuring me that I wouldn't always be as lost as I was then—that she has been just as lost as I was at 25. But I didn't feel like that at the time, not at all.

Listen: I don't travel because I am lost. This life is not about losing myself; this is about a continual process of creation. Many people get this part wrong. They look at wandering and they think it's escapism. They think drifting is running. And it can be—Oh it can be! But it isn't always. I am curious and I am in love with this world. I am in love with the mountains and the streets and the toothless men with shiny eyes and brunettes with cigarettes and the questions people ask me and the answers people give me. I am here. I am discovering. I am an explorer in my own life. I take everywhere with me—nothing is left behind.

But L was nice, even if she didn't get it.

Holland was when I began to get a sense that this trip was going to be about connections and relationships, while my first time in Europe was more about self-discovery and building my confidence. In Amsterdam, I reunited with an old friend and several cups of coffee, and then another old friend joined us in Heemskerk. It was the first time that the three of us were together in the same physical space. Still, there was this sense of familiarity and belonging. Tess and I slipped into a variation of Sam's Scottish accent, and I was told that I still had an Australian twang. We talked and talked and talked and I humoured them when they wanted to go to Amsterdam for a day.

In my head, I can still hear—with perfect clarity—the feminine roll of the automatic voice on the train, announced "Amsterda-am Centra-al"

followed by a flurry.



Photographs from October 2017.

athens



Athens was an anthem of, "I can't believe I'm here. I can't believe I'm here. I can't believe I'm here."

It took two flights from Melbourne, through a night in Singapore, to arrive in Athens in the morning. Back on the road. Everything I needed strapped to my body.

It's hard to describe exactly how good that felt. Conveying how natural the road feels, how complete and content I feel while travelling, isn't easy. It's like you spent your entire life existing in black-and-white and suddenly, you step into a world of colour. Like you blink and a thousand new colours blossom into existence.

I didn't have a plan but I never really do. I thought to stay in Athens a few days and then head elsewhere to see more of Greece. But hostels outside of the city were expensive and getting there seemed confusing and I really, really liked Athens. I booked a bed in an empty hostel where I usually had the room to myself and could spend the evenings chatting with the young man from Mexico who managed the place. His name was Christopher and he had a long love affair with the road. He spent his youth daydreaming about the world but kept falling in love with girls and then he had a baby and then his baby died and he fell in love with another girl until finally, he was not in love. And in that moment, he decided he had to go before he fell in love again.

I could relate. Not to every detail but I understand how love changes things. It makes staying seem worth it. When I was there, sitting in the hallway with Christopher, I had a lover back in Australia. Someone that made staying seem worth it.

But the road the road the road...

Always the road.

I walked for miles and miles every day, waking early to photograph the morning light and then resting through midday and walking again in the evening to find the sunset. My feet hurt, my skin burnt, my mind spellbound. How wild it was to be there, with ancient ruins cresting hilltops and poking out from under grassy mounds, cobbled streets, warm hazelnuts from street vendors, graffiti on the walls, plants crawling out from balconies. I jumped fences to find myself standing beside pillars of stone, a fleshy dwarf next to rocky giants. I took a boat to Agistri island and I should have missed it—I really should have missed it—I have no idea how I made it there in time, wandering to all the wrong terminals and all the wrong boats and finally running in the right direction with a round Greek man shouting "GO GO GO!" with an encouraging, lopsided grin. I walked around that whole goddamn island. I stared into the blue water and breathed in the pine trees and I prayed for figs and then stuffed my pockets when I found them.

One evening, Natasa walked into my hostel and it really didn't feel like we hadn't seen each other in three years, which is almost always a good sign. We were so busy talking that we nearly forgot to eat. The day ended with a big vegan pizza from a restaurant on a hill and free dessert.

The next day, we decided to walk to the ocean. I hadn't seen a sunset in months. On the way, there was this big, wide, long street and on this big, wide, long street were big department stores with big windows and they were technically open for business but all the lights were  switched off because they couldn't afford the electricity. Everything looked sort of dusty and dim. A faded green pick-up truck drove down this big street and from it a man on a megaphone was calling out. He was announcing, to anyone who would listen, that he and his partner would buy anything you had—cupboards, drawers, bits and bobs, anything at all, anything you could sell.

C'est la vie.

Again and again, moments took my breath away. Moments stole my breath and then crawled into my lungs, nestled into the spaces between my eyelashes, settled into the corners of my mouth. The sight of a sunset, observed from a flimsy plastic chair with my friend beside as we munched on carrots and cucumbers. The city of Athens at dawn. Standing alone at Acropolis as the sun crested over the mountains and turned a blue dream into a world of golden light. Sun beams over the ocean. An old woman telling Natasa and I to keep fighting for a better world. A horse in the streets, bubbles floating overhead. How lucky lucky lucky this life on the road.



Photographs from October 2017.