by Veronica Louis
It was three years in the making. Three years of travel deprivation. Three years of yearning to escape the daily humdrum of life.
Embark on a plane, take a deep breath and relax.
Arrive at target destination. Take a deep breath and take it all in.
Discover new places, foods, cultures and develop true friendships with other kindred spirits.
Never forget that unequivocal feeling of being alive and continue to live life to its fullest.
Those steps just about sums up my Europe 2014 trip.
It began in the chic city of Paris, where I re-experienced those things I love so much about Paris: taking in beautiful art, eating delicious baguette sandwiches, and losing myself in a labyrinth of spectacularly charming streets and boulevards.
Next stop was the tiny scenic resort village of Anzère located in the center of the majestic Swiss Alps. Being in the clouds in a literal sense, ironically grounds a person where they know all that is worth knowing in the succession of timeless moments.
Being up in the mountains at 2500 meters, there was an overwhelming sense that every little thing was possible and every challenge beatable. When you can touch the sky, you understand that life is happening and can feel the connection between everybody and everything. And below at 1500 meters, there are those people you instantly connect with and grow to love.
While my primary task in Switzerland was to work on design projects for the charity TACKERS (which organizes an annual ski camp for transplanted children), inadvertently, I made a new family. The founder of TACKERS’ family became my family and I was accepted and welcomed with open arms.
In addition to this new family, I had a circle of spectacular friends who were always there for me in the short time I was there. I am a true believer that long-lasting bonds can be formed quickly and endure the foe that is time.
In Anzère, I finally learned how to ski. When people inquired about access to slopes in Montreal, I assured them that there were ample nearby areas where one could hit the powder. I explained that my inability to ski had more to do with will than anything else. But as it turns out I love skiing.
Despite my new-found ability, the majority of my days were spent in the offices of a ski shop working on different projects. But it was a real shop. Meaning, it wasn’t one of those large cookie-cutter sports store with employees who were there because it’s just another job. This was a family-run business, and the store was charming and quaint and had a distinctive welcoming feel about it.
The TACKERS camp signaled the last week of my Swiss stay. Being surrounded with over-energetic children who overcame unbelievable challenges, was incredible. Let it be a new heart, liver or kidney transplant, these campers knew how to live. The week was inspiring, the energy was abuzz with infectious positivity and optimism.
When it came time to say goodbye, I was teary eyed and I couldn’t believe just how quickly four weeks had flown by.
I hopped on an expensive train ride to Lausanne from Sion, the closest city to Anzère. The one hour and 15 minute ride was 30 Swiss francs. Everything in Switzerland was expensive. I remember ordering a gin and tonic at a local bar for a whooping 11 francs. But of course the cost of living might be high, but the wages are also elevated, with the minimum wage being just under 20 francs an hour. Berlin, is the opposite, everything is cheap: food, clothes, entertainment, and renting a large modern one-bedroom apartment might set one back 650 euros monthly, but in general people earn way less.
Lausanne was a charming small city, and I was once again in a multicultural setting where diversity was the norm, unlike Anzère. The city sits at the edge of Lake Geneva, and one only has to look-up to see the beautiful mountain range that faces the city. Visiting my best friend’s sister and my former roommate was absolutely priceless.
EasyJet is a very cheap and economical way to get from one European destination to another. My plane ticket to Berlin was 30 euros, but that did not include hold luggage. Adding two pieces of luggage doubled the price of my ticket from Geneva to Berlin. But all things considered, it was still inexpensive.
A 1-hour and 45-minute plane ride later, I landed in Berlin. Berlin smelled like home, and I don’t mean it smelled like my place in Montreal. I mean there was an eerie nostalgic smell of limitless possibilities.
To say that Berlin is a hip city is an understatement. It reeks of everything that’s cool and of what will be cool. The youth majority that walk around in flourishing neighborhoods like Kreuzberg and Neukölln walk around with an air of easy confidence. It’s a city full of individualists who somehow come together to form a collective community where it really doesn’t matter who you are as long as you own it.
There is no doubt that Berlin is what you make of it. If you’re an artist, it’s a breeding ground for anything that is remotely creative and the support is extensive. If I were to compare Berlin to Paris, two popular cities that value art and which are at the forefront of trendsetting, I would say that a big difference is that Berlin lacks the pretentiousness. And that lack of pretentiousness, is humbling and one feels like they can also be a Berliner. Ich bin ein Berliner.
From India to Berlin
Four years ago I met Stephen in India, and a couple of days later I met Eun Sun. Along with a few others, we formed a special bond and we spent much time together in the stunning village of Hampi. Four years later, we were once again reunited in Berlin. Stephen and Eun Sun, first met in India but were both from Berlin. Shortly after India, they became a “full-power” couple. I was ecstatic to spend quality time with both of them in a completely different environment from the one where we first all met. Not surprisingly, our bond was just as strong, and I was reminded why we became friends in the first place: they are two very incredible people. It was beautiful for me to witness the amazing love and mutual respect they had for one another.
It just goes to show, that one never knows where and when they might find love, and it might happen under the most unusual circumstances, but essentially anything can happen. And Berlin echoes that feeling: that amazing feeling that anything can happen. It’s a unique city of young, eager and creative dreamers and doers who are there because, the line is fine between dream and reality.
This is my last day in Europe and I’m back in Paris. It felt like just a few days ago I had arrived. And now with my imminent departure I can’t fathom where the time all went. I’ve seen so much, done so much, felt so much.
And if I were to take away one lesson it would be that the only thing standing in the way of what I truly want in life is myself. When I take fear out of the equation, life happens.