Happy New Year, my friends and blog readers!
It’s felt like a long time since I’ve come on here to write, or to give any sort of update. But the new year felt like the perfect time, in so many ways, so here I am.
It’s one of my favorite times of the year: I love looking back, I love looking forward, I love taking stock of where I am right now. Every year, as the clock ticks down to midnight, I feel a flutter of hope and excitement for what’s to come, and I hope that never changes. There’s promise in a new year. Possibility. In some ways it feels like the slate is wiped clean, and I get another chance. “Begin with a single step”, I remind myself. It never feels more possible- whatever it is that I hope to achieve- than at the start of a new year.
What do I hope to achieve, in 2020? Oh, the same old wonderful things. Wouldn’t it be a dream to finally finish my book? (or, at least finish a solid first draft?). I’ve been slowly working on some essays to eventually publish in an e-book, and it would be awfully nice to get that out to readers soon. I always say that I want to keep blogging- and blog more- and then never do, but there it is, that ever present hope: I want to do more with this blog.
And I want to walk! I want to walk everywhere and I think (and know!) that 2020 is going to bring me to at least one path that’s a bit out of my comfort zone. Stay tuned.
Writing and walking, if I can do more of both in 2020, it will be a good year.
But this past year was a good one, too. Last year I wrote a highlight post of some top travel moments from the year, and I thought I would do something similar this year, too. But instead of travel highlights, I thought I’d just share any highlight, big or small. There’s travel, to be sure, but there’s also more: the stuff that made me happy, the things I’m glad I took the time to focus on, glad to have filled my days with.
In no particular order (or, in vaguely chronological order), here they are:
A new car
At some point, several years ago at least, I wrote a post about change and the fear of it all, and how to take the first steps. I wrote about how I don’t like change and I get very attached to my things and I love them until they fall apart, and I wondered: what would happen if I sold my car? Sold it before I needed to? Bought something more reliable and then drive myself across the country?
Well, it was a good thought, but instead I did drive my car practically into the ground. A year ago I promised myself I wouldn’t put my car through another winter, and so I had a loose deadline, then hemmed and hawed and finally, finally, bought myself a new (used) car in early February.
For me, this is a pretty big deal. My old car, my little silver Volkswagen, it still ran. There was no check engine light on. When I cashed it in for $500 (which was about $400 dollars more than I thought I would get for it), I had a flash of regret. “There are still more miles left in it!” I thought.
But I have to say, when I drove away in the new car, I felt something lift from my shoulders, and it’s been gone ever since. I don’t worry about this new car breaking down, or the transmission going, or the brakes squealing. I don’t worry at all. My old car was safe but this new one is reliable, and it opens up lots of new possibilities. Lots of road trips. And that’s exciting.
A somewhat “random” long winter weekend in Paris
It was fall 2018, a month after I’d returned from my summer trip, and already my legs were feeling itchy. I saw an email claiming that flights to Paris were insanely cheap, then confirmed it with a few google searches. I impulsively bought a ticket and when February 2019 rolled around, I found myself jetting off to Paris for a 5-day trip. (and when I say ‘jet’, I mean taking public transportation from Philadelphia up to Newark, and then getting on a flight to Paris that had a layover in Germany. Not the easiest or more direct trip, but still incredibly worth it for the price).
I’m extremely lucky to be able to do this, but even so, I worried that it was a little much. To fly from the States to Paris for 5-days because it’s the middle of winter and I need an break? No, I didn’t need to go to Paris. But I do think it was a wonderful thing to give myself. January and February can be hard months: hours of daylight are short, it’s cold where I live, and my job can be stressful and demanding and in the middle of winter it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I don’t want to burn out from the work that I do, and lately I’ve been more intentional about taking time off and giving myself things to look forward to.
Anyway, this is a long intro to say that I had an incredible long weekend in Paris this past February. Did I write about it on the blog at all? I meant to, but I don’t think I did. I found an inexpensive studio apartment on Airbnb in the 12th arrondissement (it was a little far from the center and for such a short trip I don’t think I’d stay that far away again, but it was a charming little space and in the end just what I needed). I met up with a few friends, went to a poetry reading at Shakespeare and Company, drank lots of espresso and wine, and walked everywhere. I’d intended to spend a lot of time in museums, as well, but the city was having a warm spell, and it was hard to resist the sunshine. So I walked and walked, ate ice cream and sat in park chairs and wrote in my journal. It was perfect.
Whenever my favorite artist is on tour, I always get together with my sister and best friend and sometimes another good friend and sometimes my cousin. In those moments, I wonder if there is anything much better: some of my very favorite people all together, crammed into my apartment and sleeping on my couch and my air mattress, driving to the show and singing along to our favorite songs, ordering pizza and drinking coffee and hanging out.
Walks along the beach
When I was younger, I use to spend a lot of time at the beach. All through my childhood and adolescence my family would vacation at a beach house in North Carolina, and in my 20’s I’d spend time on the coast in Maine and New Jersey. I’d spend hours in a chair or a towel on the sand, hours in the water. But ever since I discovered long distance walking, I haven’t had the same kind of time to spend at the beach.
But I still find something incredibly powerful and compelling about the ocean, or being near the ocean. I may not be sunbathing or riding waves anymore, but I look for almost any opportunity I can to spend some time walking along the sand. And when I tally it up, I realize that I’ve walked on many beaches this year: Cape Henlopen in Delaware, Higbee Beach in New Jersey, Miami, Assateague Island in Maryland, all over the northern coast of Spain, and several lovely stretches on the coast of Maine.
Friends, friends, friends!
I can be introverted and at times like to tuck myself away, but I also value and cherish my friendships, and the opportunity to see friends who live far away. I got a few good visits in this year, with friends I don’t get to see as often as I like (which goes for nearly all of my friends, whether they live near or far), and this made me so happy. Here’s hoping that 2020 includes even more friendship, and time to reconnect with friends that I didn’t get to see this year.
My favorite local park
I’ve mentioned it before, many times, but here it is again: I’ve loved all the hikes I’ve done in my local state park. I know the trails like the back of my hand, and it’s a joy to hike through the forest and let my mind run free. There are just enough hills for decent Camino training, but not enough to make the hikes too strenuous. I’ve also gone on a few great hikes with my Philadelphia Camino chapter, and time with this group always leaves me feeling full and happy.
The Florida Keys!
I told my sister that I wanted to take her on a birthday trip, and asked her where she might like to go. “Key West!” she answered, and that’s how we found ourselves in the Florida Keys in April. I’d never been to that part of Florida before, and we had a blast exploring, seeing alligators in the Everglades, sunset dining on the dock, catching a Phillies game in Miami, and touring Key West with all its vibrancy and energy. We also got to tour Ernest Hemingway’s home, and I tried to soak up some creative energy in his studio.
First up, Assateague Island. Assateague is a 37-mile long barrier island off the coast of Marlyand/Virginia, and ever since my adventure on Cumberland Island, I’ve wanted to camp there. Wild horses roam the island and the campsites are steps away from the beach (some are on the beach!). My friend and I spent a great weekend on the island in May. We had ideal weather with no mosquitoes, a horse galloped through our campsite in the middle of the night (that was a close enough encounter for me!), we had hot dogs and marshmallows and wine and I pulled myself out of my tent for a sunrise walk on the beach. It’s definitely a place I hope to return to!
The second camping trip was with friends in Ohiopyle State Park, in western PA, this time in the fall. I liked getting to use my tent a few times this year, I liked getting an open sky filled with stars, I liked sitting around a campfire and spending entire days outside. Here’s hoping for more of this in the new year.
A photo with my baseball hero
I’m a big baseball fan, and I grew up watching the Philadelphia Phillies and cheering for their underdog second baseman, Mickey Morandini. I’ve met him before, but this year it was a somewhat random encounter- my family had tickets to a game, and he happened to be there that night to greet fans. We were walking into the ballpark when a voice said, “Do you want to meet Mickey?” and there he was, hanging around for handshakes and photos. Baseball is the only sport that I really care about, and it’s provided hours of entertainment throughout my life, but also opportunities and friendships. It felt like a privilege to be able to thank my favorite player and tell him that I loved watching him play.
A good, long, summer Camino
I hadn’t been to Spain in three years, I hadn’t walked for longer than 19 days in three years either. This year, I was craving a long walk, and I was craving the Camino. I had 10-days on the Aragones, and 19-days on the Norte, and by the end of it I felt like I could walk forever. There’s no doubt in my mind (or anyone else’s!) that I love the Camino and will probably continue to return all throughout my life, for as long as my legs will carry me.
Three days in Portugal
I’m hoping to write about Portugal on the blog (soon!); after my Camino I spent a few days in Porto and then took a quick trip to Sintra. I’d never been to Portugal before and my short time there told me that I wanted to come back (maybe even to walk a Camino!). I was charmed by Porto, by the blue of the tiles and the winding streets, the boats on the river, the port cellars dotting the hillside and the sound of fado, the taste of a creamy pastéis de nada. I’d just been walking for a month on the Camino and sleeping on bunk beds in shared albergue rooms, so to take a few days and slow down, in a room all my own, to wander through a city without a deadline or any real agenda, it felt perfect.
A birthday meal on the terrace
I returned yet again to La Muse- the writer’s and artist’s retreat that I can’t seem to get away from- and I spent two weeks writing and hiking through the mountains that surround the tiny village. When the other residents heard that I would be having a birthday, they organized a little dinner party on the terrace of the neighboring property (which is occasionally used for overflow musers). It was a magical night. I’m not used to doing much for my birthday, and initially I felt badly for the effort that everyone was making (I’d only met two of the residents a day before!). But in the end, I think it was a treat for everyone to be able to gather together, to dine on delicious food, to drink a glass of champagne, to squeeze around a table lit with candles, to share stories.
Another picnic along the Seine
For the past several years, I keep dreaming about moving to Paris. Not for the long term, but maybe for 6 months, or a year. I’ve never written extensively about Paris here before, but I’ve mentioned it enough for blog readers to know that it’s a city I love. What would it be like to spend more than just a few days there? To settle in and explore with more depth, to make some friends, to become a regular at my favorite spots?
But for now, my life isn’t in Paris, and I’m not sure that it will ever be. That’s the reality, and yet, I look at the ways that I’ve been able to capture some of what I’m seeking, even if I’m not living in Paris full-time. I always seem to manage at least a couple of days in Paris every year, and for the past three years running, I’ve also been able to meet up with friends and have a picnic along the Seine.
Sitting on the cobblestone, drinking a cup of rosé, ripping off a piece of baguette and smearing on some soft cheese, next to some friends, taking and laughing: that’s part of the image of my ideal Parisian life. And somehow, in these last 5 years of travel and walking and writing, I’ve been able to create that image for myself, even if it’s just for a moment.
As expected, most of these top moments involved travel, but when I really start thinking, there are so many more: my grandmother turned 100, I had a lot of quality time with my family and my mom and I just saw Little Women, which was so special. I went on hikes and walks with a couple of great dogs, I practiced taking photos with my new camera. Work never really makes the highlight list but I worked hard this year, and will continue to. The year wasn’t perfect- none of them are- but the good moments far outshine any of the difficult ones.
I hope that the end of this year brings peace, and that the new year ushers in joy and adventure and opportunities for all of us to begin with a single step, and move ourselves towards our dreams. Happy New Year, my friends, I’ll be back soon.