Travel Diary: Berlin and Paris

19th July 2017 –

I awoke from a nightmare of being stalked. Waking only made me feel worse. I dressed quickly, and packed up the remainder of my belongings, and left the hostel as quickly as possible. I wanted to put as much distance between myself and this place as I could. I felt a little relief as I rode the Metro to the bus station, but I knew I wouldn’t feel better until I had left the Czech Republic entirely, or perhaps until my journey was over and I could return to the safety of home.

I arrived at the bus station over an hour early. I had been so desperate to leave my hostel that I hadn’t thought much about time. I sat on a bench and tried to refrain from crying. It didn’t work. Tears streamed uncontrollably down my face. Up until I’d left the hostel there was a part of me that had expected a miracle, expected my laptop to be found, and for everything to be alright. But here I was, about to leave the country, and that meant I had to accept defeat.

I am used to being lucky, and now that I was no longer lucky, I felt cheated by life. There was this immense sense of loss, because the Universe was no longer on my side. There used to be a part of me that believed everything happened for a reason, but I was struggling to see the reason right now. I could feel myself growing increasingly cynical.

On the bus to Berlin I watched sad movies – Brooklyn and The Book Thief – as a way to let out the pain I felt. I spent a great deal of time sobbing, and to some extent it helped. I remember a couple of years ago when my usb stick had broken and I’d lost the majority of a novel I was writing, and the loss I felt at that. Or the more recent loss when a close friendship ended earlier this year. I thought I wouldn’t recover, that the loss was insurmountable. But the more things I lose, the more I learn that you do move on. Sometimes the loss changes you, and it becomes a part of you. But your life will not stand still just because you lost something that matters to you. You have to keep moving forward, always. Theft feels different to other kinds of loss, because you can’t chalk it down to error, to people’s good intentions falling short. When someone steals from you, they make the decision to take what isn’t theirs, they deliberately choose to hurt you. They disrespect your existence entirely, because they place their own desires above your rights.

From the windows of the bus I could see mountains, and they made me ache for home. Where I grew up, in the Eden Valley in Cumbria, there were mountains all around. And even in Glasgow, if you go to the pedestrian bridge across the M8 at Charing Cross, you can see mountains in the distance. Most of the countries I’ve travelled to have been flat, with barely any hills, let alone mountains. Here I feel a little bit closer to home.

If there’s one thing that travel has taught me, it’s how to be patient. After the nine hours that it took me to get to Prague last week, the five hour journey to Berlin seemed like nothing. I watched two movies, and after that I listened to some of the music selection on the bus’s entertainment screens. There wasn’t anything I normally listen to, so I ended up listening to Abba, which made me feel like dancing, in spite of the tears which were still fresh on my face.

As I walked through the bus station, trying to find my way to the underground, I accidentally made eye-contact with a man sitting on one of the chairs in the waiting room. A couple of minutes later I saw that he had taken this as a cue to follow me outside. He tried to approach me, but I walked away hurriedly. Perhaps his intentions were harmless, maybe he had merely wanted to ask me for directions or something. But since having my laptop stolen, my trust of strangers had gone down to zero, and every time someone so much as looked at me I freaked out.

After checking into my hostel, I went to a supermarket to buy food. When they say that Berlin is the vegan capital or Europe, they’re not joking. I went into Lidl, which in the UK barely stocks soy milk, and was delighted to see that they had a wide range of vegan products. It was like I had entered a utopian parallel universe.

I made dinner, and then headed into my room, with plans to get an early night. However, this did not happen, because I had friendly roomates. There were two Australian girls, and a Malaysian woman, and the four of us ended up chatting and laughing for ages. It didn’t miraculously clear up my newfound distrust of strangers, but it was nice to have roommates who weren’t hostile or weird like some of the people I’ve shared rooms with on this journey (I’m looking at you, Nutcracker!)

I awoke in the middle of the night to the sound of crashing thunder, and bright flashes of lightning. It was the heaviest thunderstorm I’d ever seen in my life. There’s something about thunder that feels like a change of energy, new cleaner air, and I wondered if that was what this symbolised. Perhaps this thunderstorm was here as a sign that my luck had changed, and that my journey would be different from here on out.

20th July 2017 –

The magic has returned to travel! For the first time in weeks, my wanderlust has returned, and I feel joy to be travelling. This morning I went to the East Side Gallery, and got very lost on the way there, which meant I spent a great deal of time wandering around Berlin in the sunshine. The East Side Gallery itself was so cool, all the art and graffiti, all the history… And how someone had written “fuck the Tories”, because my country’s government is so crap that there is graffiti about it hundreds of miles away.

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As I was walking back to my hostel, the strangest thing happened. I’d just come out of Gesundbrunnen station, and this guy walks past me and winks. I don’t know the protocol for dealing with such an occurrence, so I awkwardly try to wink back (if you’ve ever seen me try to wink, you will know that I am terrible at it at the best of times), and then I go on my way, laughing at the incident.

For some reason I glance behind me, and I see that the Wink Guy has turned around, and is following me. I start walking faster, and turn my music down so I can hear if he’s behind me. He soon catches me up. I’m rather freaked out at being followed, but there are other people around, so I figure I’m relatively safe.

Wink Guy asks if I speak English. I tell him yes. He tells me he’s from Malta, and that he followed me because he likes how I look. I have no idea how to respond to this, so I laugh nervously. Wink Guy (or Winker, as I shall now refer to him) asks if I have a boyfriend. I tell him no, I do not. (One day I will learn that I should just lie when people ask me that, but today was not that day). He asked how old I was, and I said 19. He told me he was 22, and had moved to Berlin for work. He then told me that he thought I was very pretty, and that he wanted to ask me out on a date. My social awkwardness, and the fact that we did not share the same first language, meant that the conversation stuttered quite a lot. Once I finally switched my brain on, I explained that I was only in Berlin for a short period of time. The Winker complimented my appearance yet again, and I finally came up with the excuse that I had to go and meet a friend. We shook hands, and parted ways.

I felt weird. On the one hand, I wanted to laugh hysterically about the fact that a man who 1) wasn’t totally ugly, and 2) was within my age range actually found me attractive. Because that never happens, and therefore I found it completely hilarious. But on the other hand, I felt very uncomfortable that he followed me. I’m sure his heart was in the right place, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t creepy.

21st July 2017 –

Today’s wanderings take me to the Kreutzberg district, famed for being a paradise for artists, hipsters, and all kinds of counterculture. I sit currently in a cafe called d’espresso, on a hard, wooden bench, drinking a very small and overpriced cappuccino. The place is part cafe and part bar. The cafe section is painted white, with wooden chairs. The bar room, where I sit, is various shades of brown, lit mostly by natural light, which comes through the large windows, though two lamps glow dimly in the far corners of the room. Both the waitresses have brightly dyed hair, one a faded green, the other a vibrant orange.

A cute-ish guy with an earring sits two tables away, typing on an Apple Macbook. He wears a simple grey t-shirt, and he doesn’t have a beard, but other than that, his existence basically screams hipster.

If I had to define myself into some kind of category or label, I would say artist. And whilst a lot of artists overlap with hipsters, there’s a subtle difference. I don’t know quite what it is. Perhaps that I could never afford (no would I want) a Macbook. It seems the hipster lifestyle is very expensive.

I just want to live a life surrounded by artists and eccentrics, a life of second-hand clothes and brightly coloured hair. And whilst I like my coffees large and cheap, I can’t help but fall in love with cafes like this one.

I only crossed to this side of the street because I saw some cool street art. Then I saw the word vegan and was won over. In Prague, I only ever went to Starbucks for coffee, because I knew they did soy milk. But here in Berlin, so many places have vegan options, which means I can go to cute independent cafes, and that excites me very much.
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My initial reaction to Kreutzberg was that it seemed like a slum. Parts of it do give off slum vibes. But I quickly reminded myself to check my privilege. Just because an area is poor, it doesn’t mean it’s unsafe. I started thinking about art and counterculture, and how there is such a link between those concepts and poverty. So many artists have been on the edge of society, throughout history, and so of course there is going to be an overlap between places with artistic identity, and places with a lot of poverty. Artists are often society’s rejects. And what does it say about me, that I want the art but not everything that comes with it? So much art does not come from a place of beauty, it comes from places of struggle and hardship, and to think that art can exist without the circumstances that made it is just ignorant and naïve.

As I was wandering around aimlessly (because what else do I ever do whilst travelling), I saw two dogs playing in a fountain, and it was so cute that I stopped to take a picture (because dogs are so precious and they melt my heart every time I look at them), and a creepy-looking guy rode up to me on a bicycle, and reached out for my phone, as if he expected me to give it to him. My heart raced in panic – I couldn’t lose my phone, especially not after losing my laptop! I snatched my hand away quickly, glared at the man, and walked away as fast as I could. I glanced behind me every couple of minutes to see if he was following me, but thankfully he wasn’t.

I had quite a few instances of men staring at me today. I counted 7 in total who were definitely staring at me, and 4 who either followed me or outright approached me. I am so unused to this. Whilst there were a couple of instances of strangers approaching me when I was in Riga, for the majority of my trip people have left me alone. It makes me feel unsafe to get so much attention from strangers, especially when I cannot speak their language.

22nd July 2017 –

If life was a competition of who loved their friends the most, I would win. Why? Because I woke up at 5:30am to travel half way across a country to visit my best friend. If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is. (I would also win because of my superior snuggling skills, but that’s irrelevant. Though seriously, the thing I receive the most compliments from people about is how good I am at hugs #humblebrag).

I had to take a bus and then a tram to get to the train station, which I was worried about, as I am not always skilled at navigating public transport. But it all went fine. The sun was beginning to rise in the sky as I arrived at the station. I located the right train platform, and then set off in search of coffee. I was super proud of myself because I managed to order a coffee in German. My language goal for this trip was to be able to order coffee in the languages of every country I travelled to. I failed at this once I left the Baltic States, but I was happy to be back on track.

I had to take two trains – one from Berlin to Hamburg, and another from Hamburg to Kiel. After six weeks of travel, long journeys don’t faze me. I spent most of the journey to Hamburg looking out the window, or observing the other passengers. The guy in the row in front of me was very tall and reasonably attractive, so I watched him for a bit (not in a creepy way – he was in my line of vision!!), and I spent a great deal of time playing out stories in my head, my preferred method of entertainment.

My second train arrived twenty-five minutes early. In Britain it’s rare to find trains that run on time, whereas in the utopia that is Germany, trains arrive early!?!

I stepped off the train at Kiel station, through a crowd of people, and ran screaming into the arms of my best friend, who proceeded to tell me that I was shorter than she remembered me, and that she’d forgotten what my voice sounded like, but that she remembered it was high-pitched. I responded by protesting that I didn’t have a high-pitched voice (in a very high-pitched voice, naturally).

I was in a tired daze for the first half hour or so (the effects of the coffee I’d had in Berlin had long worn off by now), so I followed her around the city, nodding along as she talked. We then went to a cute hipster-looking cafe and got coffee and cake. The combined caffeine of chocolate cake and coffee soon revived me to my normal talkative self.
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One of the greatest and most simple forms of therapy for me is to have coffee with a friend. As an introvert I often don’t feel comfortable in groups of people, but one-on-one time alone with someone I love is hugely important to me, and one of the things I need to have lots of in my life to function well. Contrary to what I sometimes say, I do hugely enjoy interacting with other humans. I just prefer it when it’s one at a time. Once I break through the initial anxiety barriers and find people I’m comfortable with, I crave their company as much as I crave time alone. Because the people I’m close with become a part of me, and they become part of the fabric of my world, part of the equilibrium I need to be happy. And that’s one of the things I’ve missed the most since leaving Glasgow, all the people who tether me back to reality when I’m lost in the clouds.

After we left the cafe, we went and hung out at my friend’s place, and chatted and gossiped and read each other our poetry. I’d hardly written any poetry in months, but I read her the two poems I’d written back when I was in Lithuania, one of which was about the many crushes I’d had within the past year, and the other called “The Cider Side of Me” about all the stupid stuff I say when I get drunk.

Later on we went to the botanic gardens, and then went to a burger place for dinner. Before I knew it, our time was up and I had to get my bus back to Hamburg, to get yet another bus to Berlin.
There was wifi on the first bus, and I skyped with some of my friends. The line was bad, and I felt uncomfortable talking loudly on the bus, but just listening to their voices was enough.
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It was cold as I waited at the Hamburg bus station, and I could feel people staring at me. I wasn’t sure if it was paranoia or not. I went into a store and bought a bottle of water, and then rejoined the skype call with my friends for a while, because it made me feel safer and less alone. My wifi kept cutting out, so I eventually gave up.

As I waited for the bus to arrive, a number of people approached me. Some spoke to me in broken English, asking for directions. A little while before my bus arrived, a man came up to me. He was Arab, with shoulder-length black hair, and jeans that were ripped at the knee, I could see a little dried blood on the skin that the tear revealed. We made eye-contact, and I knew he was going to come and talk to me. He explained that he was a refugee, and that he needed money to get to another city to get a job.

I had about two euros left in my purse, and I needed that for a train once I got back to Berlin. I told him I was sorry, and that I didn’t have any money. “Why are you sorry?” he asked frustratedly. “I don’t need your sorry, I need money.” I felt terrible.

Even once I was on my bus, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It’s one thing to call myself open-minded, to share “refugees welcome” pictures on Facebook, yet when it came to it, at the moment that it actually mattered, I proved myself to be as useless as anyone else. I didn’t help that man, and I was so angry at myself for that. I tried to reason with myself, to explain to myself that I had to be careful with my money because I needed to 1) make it back to the UK, and 2) have money for rent when I return to Glasgow. But a little voice in my head reminded me that I had enough money to go travelling, and that that was a luxury, and I should therefore feel terrible about it.

My bus arrived in Berlin an hour later than it was meant to. It was almost 3am. The bus station was deserted, which I found somewhat freaky. I had to cross a darkened car park to get to the train station. I spent the whole time glancing over my shoulder, petrified. Even once I was on the train, my nerves remained. The 3am crowd weren’t the most harmless looking creatures. Half of them were drunk, and there was a guy who looked like Voldemort but with bigger eyebrows.

Once I had left the train, I still had a 20-minute walk from Gesundbrunnen station to my hostel. This was the part of my journey I had most been dreading. I can deal with waking up at 5:30am, I can deal with multiple train and bus journeys half way across a country, but if there’s one thing that freaks me out it’s walking alone through a strange city in the middle of the night.

To calm myself down, I pretended to be talking on my phone. I told myself that if anyone wanted to hurt me, they would be put off by the fact I was talking on the phone. I don’t know how realistic that is, but it made me slightly less scared. I was filled with relief when I finally tiptoed into my hostel room at 3:30am and crawled into bed.

23rd July 2017 –

A couple of days ago, I’d made plans with my roommates to go to the Sunday flea market at Mauerpark. I like markets, markets are cool. But it had been raining yesterday, and the ground beneath us was flooded with muddy puddles.

The four of us browsed the market for perhaps an hour-and-a-half, and I found myself filling with this strange feeling that I couldn’t quite place. At first I thought it was maybe hunger. I bought a tofu-filled pitta bread from a kebab truck, and realised that the feeling wasn’t hunger at all: it was impatience. I’d been travelling alone for so long, that I’d forgotten what it’s like to have to go at someone else’s pace. Or, more precisely, the pace of three other people, who are all practically strangers to me. Have you ever lost three people in a huge market, and not even known their names or remembered what they’re wearing? Turns out it’s quite hard to find strangers amidst a field full of strangers. When I finally relocated them, I told the not-quite-lie that I was tired, and was going to go.
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I went to a coffee shop, and bought a huge cappuccino and a vegan lemon-flavoured cookie, and let myself feel the bliss of solitude. I am a very honest person, and I pride myself on my honesty. I am blunt, I am tactless, I wear my heart tattooed on my forehead (I feel like I possibly wrote that exact sentence in my last blog, so I hope you’re not reading these all in one go. I don’t want you to think I plagiarise my own material!), but there are a few occasions where I tell little white lies. If I am in a social situation and my anxiety is too strong, then I have to do what it takes to get myself out of it, even if it involves telling a lie. My go-to lie is that I’m tired or ill (if I say these to you it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m lying – I spend half my life either tired or having a headache). I remember the first time I went to Improv, and when I went to the pub afterwards I felt too anxious to stay, so I made up an excuse, and left after five minutes. Even though I continued going to Improv, it took me almost an entire semester to go to the pub afterwards. And now that’s my safe place. So you can see that it takes me a long time to feel comfortable in social situations. But if I stick it out, it’s worth it in the end. However when you’re travelling and only in one place for a week, there’s not much opportunity to stick it out and get past the anxiety barrier.

24th July 2017 –

There is only one thing that happened today that matters. I remember insignificant snippets of the day, but not in any chronological order. I remember I texted my mum in the morning, and she mentioned she’d taken my cat, my sweet baby William, to the vet because he seemed a bit under the weather. I was worried, but it wasn’t at the forefront of my mind for most of the day.

I remember that I went to Kreutzberg, and wandered around for a while. I remember seeing a rat across the street and being really freaked out, because I have a huge phobia of rodents. I remember going into a second-hand bookstore, which had a piano in it. I remember listening to the conversation of the other two people in the bookstore, and hearing them talking about Scotland.

I remember both my parents messaging me and asking when would be a good time for them to call. I knew it then, before they told me. I knew that something was wrong. I messaged them and asked if something had happened to William, asked if he was still alive. All they would say was that they wanted to call me. My wifi disconnected, and I felt the panic welling up in me. I knew it, but I didn’t want to believe it. I raced across Kreutzberg, trying to find an underground station, to get back to my hostel. I was on the train when my wifi finally connected, and I saw the message, telling me that my poor William, my baby cat, had had cancer in every organ in his body, and had had to be put down.

That cat was the great love of my life. I’d first got him as a seven-month-old kitten, when I was 8 years old. For ten-and-a-half years, he was my baby. He had thick fur, and a face that looked like it had run into a bus, and he was the most beautiful creature on the entire planet. Every time I put a picture of him on Facebook my friends would joke that he was the most depressed cat ever, because he always seemed to look sad (I don’t think he liked me forcing him to take selfies with me). He may have had a grumpy face, and a grumpy personality, but he was the most precious cat, and I loved him more than anything.

I was in shock. I couldn’t believe he was gone, gone when I wasn’t even in the same country! And how could I go home to a house without a cat? I’ve had cats since I was four years old! I don’t know what my house is like without the smell of cat food permeating through all the downstairs rooms. I don’t know what it’s like to go downstairs in the night without the fear that William has left dead mice outside the bathroom door. Or worse, live ones! I couldn’t imagine a world without that furry face. Even though I’d lived away from him at uni, I knew he was always there for me to come home to. And now he wouldn’t be. The thing I was looking forward to most about coming home from this trip, was burying my face into his fur, forcing him to pose for hundreds of photos, picking him up like the great big baby he was and carrying him around the house. But he wouldn’t be there, he didn’t exist any more. My beautiful baby was dead.

Tears streamed down my face. I didn’t want to cry in public, but what choice did I have? Privacy didn’t exist in the world of travel. I silently sobbed until I got off the train, and then I sobbed some more as I walked out from the station. I went into Aldi and bought a tub of vegan chocolate ice cream. Then I went back to my hostel and ate the entire tub of ice cream and sobbed some more. Then I ate a tin of stuffed vine leaves and sobbed even more. I ignored my parents’ messages. My grief was my own and I didn’t want to share it with anyone.

When I went to my room I saw a note on the door saying the room was being deep-cleaned, and a key attached for my new room. I crawled into my new bed and cried. I didn’t have any roommates yet. When my roommate did arrive, it was an elderly man. Normally I wouldn’t have been keen on sleeping alone in a room with a strange man. He wasn’t keen on it either. I heard him discussing it in German with the staff. I only understood a couple of words, but the gist of it was that he didn’t want to be alone in a room with me. I didn’t care in the slightest. All that mattered was that my precious furry baby was dead and that my world would never be the same again.

25th July 2017 –

When I awoke I glanced over at the bed next to me, and saw that my other roommate was also a man. The Eliza who would be less than thrilled to share a room with two strange men was gone. Instead there was just Eliza the Nihilist who didn’t care about anything because she knew that everyone she loved was going to die eventually and that the world was cruel. I wanted to spend the day crying and thinking about how cruel life is, but alas, I had plans.

I had a second (?) cousin who lived in Berlin, and we had arranged to meet. We went to one of Berlin’s extremely-hipster cafes, and I tried my hardest to pretend to be a fully functioning human for an hour. We talked about our extended family. I told him about my sister’s cute baby. He ordered a turmeric latte, without knowing what turmeric was, and choked on it every time he took a sip.

My social anxiety was in a strange place. On the one hand, I was more mellow than normal, because my reaction to my cat’s death was for my brain to go straight to full-on nihilist mode. Who cares about anxiety when life is so ridiculously brief? But on the other hand, it takes a lot of effort to go an entire hour without crying when the great furry love of your life has been put down.

After parting ways with my cousin, I went into the city centre, to see some touristy sights, because it was my last full day in Berlin. I didn’t feel particularly enthusiastic though. Because why does travel matter when my cat is dead?

I went back to my hostel, and read for a while. One of the previous occupants of my previous room had left Paulo Coehlo’s “Adultery” behind, and when my stuff had been moved to this room, the book had made its way here too. I decided I may as well read it. After a few hours of reading, I began to pack up my belongings. It was time to get rid of what I didn’t need.

I am a sentimental person, and I don’t like getting rid of things. To the point that back in Glasgow, my wardrobe was filled with old amazon packaging “in case it came in useful someday”, which it never would have. Can you see why I was so devastated to lose an entire laptop full of photos/music, etc? I have trouble letting things go.

But now it was time to chuck anything I didn’t need, regardless of sentimental value. I threw out old bus tickets, a map of Riga, and…the Laptop Case from Hell. I can’t believe it had taken me this long! Why would I carry around a broken laptop case which didn’t even contain a laptop? It was hard to let it go, but it made me realise that travel is about sacrifice. You should only carry with you what you actually need.

26th July 2017 –

My flight was in the evening, and I had to check out of my hostel by 12pm. I went out to a stall that sold vegan currywurst, which was about five minutes away from my hostel. As I walked back it started to rain, and I got very wet, as did my food. I was in a little less of a nihilistic mood than yesterday, but not enough to care about something as menial as the weather.

After collecting my bags from my hostel, I took the underground to Alexanderplatz, and spent a couple of hours hanging out in Starbucks. I was thrilled to discover that they sold vegan muffins. German Starbucks is so much better than British Starbucks!

When I finally got bored, I decided to head to the airport. I had to take two trains to get there, and then there was a brief walk from the train station to the airport itself. I found a cafe and bought some overpriced coffee and overpriced vegan cheesecake, then I spent a few hours sitting in the airport. After going through security, I found out that my flight was delayed. I found another branch of the cafe from earlier, and bought more overpriced coffee and cheesecake. The woman sitting at the table across from me was reading Jane Eyre, which is my favourite novel, and I wanted to say something to her, such as “hey, you have really good taste in books”, but my social anxiety kicked in, so I contented myself with sending lots of messages to my friends, complaining about my delayed flight.

Even once I was finally onboard the plane, it was delayed even further. All in all it set off close to two hours later than it should have. By this point I was extremely frustrated. I wouldn’t get to Paris until after midnight.

I spent most of the flight trying to see out the windows, which is somewhat of a challenge when you’re in an aisle seat. I could see the lights of Berlin below the sky, and dark grey clouds, and the orange light of the setting sun. About an hour later, I caught my first glimpse of Paris. All I could see were lights, lights, and more lights.

I had to take a shuttle bus from the airport to the Metro station. I have been on many bus journeys within the past two months, but this is the only one that I would call “the bus ride from hell”. There were not enough seats, barely enough standing room. People and bags were all squished together. There was no room to move. Every person was pressed against every other person, a mess of hands and armpits and too many limbs. It was a twenty-minute journey, but it felt as though it lasted for hours. There are few times in my life where I have felt that uncomfortable.

I had to take two Metro trains to get to Montmartre. The Metro station was a warren of tunnels, and took seemingly forever to navigate. On the first train, there was a short man sitting on the seat opposite me, with a handbag on his lap. He wore very short shorts, and when he moved his handbag, I could see his entire testicles sticking out from beneath his shorts. It took all my self-control to not visibly cringe or laugh out loud. I’d barely been in Paris half an hour, and I’d already seen the sights!

The second train ride was longer. I finally came out from the Metro station and saw darkened Parisian streets. I knew my hostel was only a couple of minutes away from the Metro station, but I got a little lost. It was a relief to eventually arrive.

When I reached my room, I saw three sleeping men, and one empty bunk. The top bunk. The only time I had a top bunk bed during this trip was in Prague, so the climb up the ladder triggered memories of stolen laptops and misery.

As tired as I was, it took me a while to get to sleep. I lay awake in the dark, a pillow over my head to block out the sound of the loud snores of the man in the bunk below me.

PARIS –

I must admit, I was not the best at keeping a diary whilst in Paris. By that, I mean that I wrote absolutely nothing, and jotted down a few bullet points about it once I was at home. So rather than writing a day-by-day account of my journey as I did with every other city, I will instead write it all in one block.

I was excited to be in Paris. In spite of my sadness about my cat’s death, I allowed myself to feel joy at being here. I had wanted to go to Paris since I was about ten years old, so being here was huge. Especially being in Montmartre, as it’s the setting of Joanne Harris’s novel The Lollipop Shoes, which I absolutely adore.

I dressed in a red-and-white flower-patterned dress, and red lipstick, and practically danced down the streets that I walked, taking in the beauty of this city that looked exactly as I imagined it. For the first little while, everything was great. Then I began to realise that something weird was going on…

A lot of men were staring at me. Whilst this had happened a little in Berlin, it is not something I am normally used to. Men do not pay attention to me. Yet in Paris, they seemed to. Men stared at me, some looked me up and down and said “Bonjour madame” in suggestive voices, men made kissing gestures at me when they drove past in cars. There was one man, sitting on a parked motorcycle, who didn’t just turn his head to watch me walk past, he turned his entire body around to look at me for longer. At first I found this all completely hilarious, until one man started to follow me. He followed me down at least four different streets, I walked faster and faster, freaked out. When I still couldn’t shake him off, I ducked into the nearest Metro station, and ventured to a different part of the city.

I could see the Eiffel tower in the distance, which made me fangirl over the fact that I was actually in PARIS. I then went into Starbucks, and was brought right back down to earth by the fact that my coffee cost almost six euros. That’s horrific!

The lesson of the day was that Paris is the most expensive city I have ever been to. It makes London look cheap! I found a vegan pizza shop, and didn’t see the price until it was too late. I spent 12 euros on two slices of pizza. I was beginning to worry about money, because I still didn’t know how much I would have to save for rent once I got back to Glasgow. I decided it was time to enforce a strict budget upon myself. No more coffee, no more cafes.

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The reason I had been wanting to go to Paris since I was 10 years old is because, once upon a time, I was obsessed with the French Revolution and Marie Antoinette. This meant that a trip to Paris would not be complete without going to Versailles Palace, where Marie Antoinette lived. It took me many Metro trains and a bus to get from Paris to Versailles. But by the afternoon of my second full day in Paris, I had finally arrived at a place I had waited almost half my life to go to.

I didn’t go inside the palace, because that was way out of my budget – I only went to the free areas, which was a small part of the gardens. But it was enough to be there, to say that I had made my ten-year-old self proud.

I bought a postcard from the gift shop, of a painting of Marie Antoinette, and wrote myself a letter to remind myself that no matter how long it takes, I have the power to make my own dreams come true.

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By the end of my time in Paris, I began to wonder if I had actually experienced this city, or just seen it? I’d seen Versailles, I’d seen Montmartre, I’d seen the Eiffel tower, but all I’d done was walk through this city, I hadn’t actually done anything here. Paris is expensive, and I had already gone way over my budget, which meant I was fairly limited in what I could do. The fact that I was still mourning my cat and my laptop didn’t help my attitude. But I couldn’t get over the fact I’d waited half my life to come here, and hadn’t made the most of it.
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If I did a trip like this again, which honestly I’m not sure if I ever will, I would do it the other way around. I would start in the most expensive countries, and finish in the Baltic States (because if there’s one country I know I’ll visit again, it’s Estonia).

On my final day in Paris, I went through the usual routine of preparing to leave. I packed up my stuff, left my bags in the hostel’s storage room. I made myself porridge for breakfast, because at least oats don’t cost a fortune here (though they are more expensive than in the UK), and then headed out into the city. I spent a few hours exploring the Jardin de Tuileries, and I went to Place de la Concorde (the square where ma gurl Marie Antoinette was beheaded a couple hundred years ago). Then I walked around the city for a while, bought some falafel (a friend to poor vegans everywhere) for lunch, and eventually gave up on my resolution to stick to a budget, and went to Starbucks and spent the extortionate six euros on a coffee. The fact they charge extra for soy milk when their coffees are that expensive makes me resent them even more.

Also, fun fact: Paris was the hardest city to find vegan food in, out of all the cities I’ve been to. Even Riga was easier than Paris, and that is really saying something.

I had a lot of time to kill, and I wanted to save money, so I decided to walk across the city to my hostel, rather than taking the metro. I’m glad I did, because I finally got to see a huge chunk of the city. I stopped at a supermarket to buy dinner. My options were limited, so I bought some cereal bars, nectarines, and a large packet of crisps. There were some green metal chairs outside the supermarket, and I sat there to eat.

I realised that I was no longer just seeing, I was experiencing, too. Paris isn’t just Eiffel towers and royal palaces, it’s moments like this, sitting outside a supermarket on rue corvetto, with nectarine juice dripping down my fingertips in the early evening. I didn’t feel like a tourist or a traveller, I was just a person, and it felt good.

I made it to the bus station with plenty of time. I sat inside for a while, letting my phone charge, and then located my bus. The driver was friendly, he spoke English. He checked my passport, and then scanned my ticket. It didn’t scan. He looked at it again, then he said “this is five”. I looked at him confusedly, unsure what he meant. Then he pointed “30/05/2017”, rather than “30/07/2017”. I had booked my ticket for May rather than July! He told me to go to the information office and speak to them. I rushed inside. The information office was closed. I ran back outside, explained my plight. He told me there was one seat left on the bus, and I had ten minutes to get a new ticket. I begged him, on the verge of tears. I HAD a ticket, it was just the wrong month, and he’d said there was a spare seat. Couldn’t he just let me on? He repeated that I had ten minutes to get a ticket.

I looked online. The ticket cost 99 euros, when my original ticket had cost 25. I didn’t have time to weigh up the pros and cons, I had to make a snap decision. I had to be in London by tomorrow afternoon to get my train home. What choice did I have? I bought the ticket, and showed it to the driver, with a scowl upon my face. He nodded and let me on.

The guy who sat next to me looked very shifty. I was not in a particularly trusting mood, and I didn’t want to deal with other people. I shoved my headphones in and looked out the window. After maybe twenty minutes the guy beside me touched my arm. I flinched. I then realised he was trying to talk to me. I pulled out an earphone. I couldn’t quite understand what he was saying, but he seemed to be asking to switch seats, which was the last thing I wanted to do. I was not in the mood to accommodate other peoples needs. I told him I didn’t understand, thrust my earphone back in, and faked sleep for the next hour or so. I was still fuming with anger about the ticket. I just wanted this stupid trip to be over. Why had I ever thought it was a good idea to go travelling? I could have stayed at home and spent time with my cat and saved myself a whole load of money. But no, I was dumb enough to think I wanted to see the world. And what had I got out of it? A dead cat, a stolen laptop, a lot of wasted money, and a whole load of existential crises?

It was nearly three o’clock when we reached Calais. We had to get out of the bus to go through border control. As we began to file out, I noticed my seat-mate sliding under one of the chairs in front of us, and suddenly it clicked: he was a refugee. That was why he was acting so shifty, why he wanted to have the window seat rather than the aisle one. I walked on out as though I hadn’t seen anything.

When the rest of us returned from getting our passports checked, I saw the driver getting the refugee out from the bus, and handing him over to the border guards. It was only once I was on the bus, without the man sitting next to me any more, that I began to dissect my response to it. As a Philosophy student, I am often opinionated on moral issues. I found it interesting that my instinct was to live and let live. Which is more moral, to pretend I hadn’t seen someone breaking the law, or to report them? I would have never considered reporting him. It’s not in my nature. But what does that say about me? I am someone who prides myself on being honest. I am also someone who (before this trip) considered themselves to be a good person. But in situations like this I don’t know what is right or wrong. In the end it didn’t matter, because it was beyond my control. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

A little while later we had to get out the bus again, to go through the British border control. I almost wept when the lady who checked my passport greeted me with a bright “Morning!” in a British accent. I finally felt like I was almost home.

31st July 2017 –

I cried when the bus emerged from the Channel Tunnel. I cried all the way from Dover to London.
I’m not a patriotic person. To me a country is just a bit of land that people may or may not have had the luck to be born on. Perhaps my lack of affection for my country is related to the fact that I wasn’t actually born in Britain. I don’t know. All I know is that, in the grey light of early morning, I felt more love for this island than I’d ever felt for it before. All I could think was I love my country, I love my language, I love my home.

When I arrived in London, it was almost 6am. I walked around for nearly an hour before I found what I was looking for: Pret a Manger, my favourite coffee chain. I bought a coffee and some coconut porridge, and read a book while my phone charged. I stayed in Pret for about two hours, because there was an all-important event at 9am that I needed internet access for: Lana Del Rey tickets were going on sale.

I waited patiently, reading to pass the time. Finally it was 9 o’clock, and the tickets went on sale. The website crashed every time I tried to buy a ticket, so I assumed they’d sold out. I swallowed my disappointment, and began my walk across London. I couldn’t do much carrying a huge bag, so I decided I’d just hang out in Euston station until my train arrived.

I’d been in the station for a couple of hours, and was getting super bored, when I decided to try the tickets again, just in case. And it worked! I got a ticket, to see Lana Del Rey perform in Glasgow on August 23rd. I was going to see my favourite singer, in my favourite city! There was good in the world again!

It was so strange to be back in my home country. I went into a supermarket to buy some water and falafel, and I kept forgetting people could speak English. I was so used to having to communicate non-verbally, that it felt almost unnatural to speak. My brain was still in French mode. Every time someone was in my way and I wanted to say excuse me, my brain automatically went to say “pardon” with a French accent.

The train from London to Penrith is the train that goes to Glasgow Central. And even though Penrith is two stops before Glasgow, it felt symbolic to get on that train. Because I was heading towards both my homes.

The train was just past Lancaster when I saw the mountains that told me I was nearly home. I felt like crying again. Within the next hour, the train arrived in Penrith, and I ran into the arms of my parents. It was over, I was back to reality. Everything was the same, but everything was different. I was going home to a house without a cat. And I was not the same girl who had left two months before. I wasn’t sure who I was any more. I wasn’t as nice, as optimistic, as happy. I had to get to know myself again, and that would take time. But I was home to my mum’s cooking and my dad’s coffee-making skills, so I knew I would be alright.

EPILOGUE

August 31st 2017 –

Today it’s exactly a month since I arrived back home. It took me almost all of that month to feel like myself again. Going travelling was like taking a knife to my ego and slashing away at it until almost nothing remained. It was tough, it was heartbreaking, it was humbling. Now that it’s over I can see it in a positive light, I can remember the good parts. It’s easy to focus on the sadness, the pain, the dead cat and stolen laptop. For a long time that was all I focused on. But I can feel a change taking place.

I’ve reached the point where I find myself saying things like “This time when I was in Latvia…” or “I haven’t seen * insert thing * since I was in Prague”, and I can remember my experiences fondly. I got so much out of that trip, and I couldn’t see it until I had returned to my native environment. I have yet to move back to Glasgow, but I’ve been up there twice since I returned from my travels – once to hand in paperwork for my flat, and another time to go to the Lana Del Rey concert (which was practically a religious experience, and one of the best nights of my life!).

It took going back to Glasgow for me to see the full extent of how I’d changed. Whilst I still hadn’t got to a point where I liked myself, I could see the road ahead more clearly, and I knew that I had a whole new journey ahead of me. I needed my travels to strip away everything I relied on, because it means that now I am free to rebuild and become the best possible version of myself.

I arrived home as an anxiety-riddled mess, and after a full month of soul-searching, I no longer feel that way. I feel comfortable in myself, comfortable in who I am and where I’m going. And I can see now that the brutal loneliness of travelling was what I needed to give me a new sense of perspective. It gave me the time and freedom to work through the issues I’d been harbouring, and I’m finally at a place where I can forgive myself, and forgive people who have hurt me in the past.

If there’s one thing I will take away from my experience is this: the world is both bigger and smaller than I ever could have imagined. The world is big enough for all my dreams to come true, and small enough that I can one day actually make that happen. I feel closer to the world than I did before, but I also know that there is a reason that I call certain places home. Because it’s more than about where you go, it’s about where you are loved.

In memory of my precious baby William: May 3rd 2006 – July 24th 2017
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Travel Diary: Prague

12th July 2017 –

Last night I got chatting with two Californian guys in my hostel room. As an introvert, I sometimes love to be around extroverts, because what feels like hard work to me comes naturally to them. We talked for ages, and it was nice to have the company. I found it somewhat ironic that the only time I’ve been in a friendly hostel is when I’m only there for one night.

My American pals told me that they’ve been to Prague, and that it’s wonderful there. They advised me to make sure I’m staying in the old town. I checked the location of my hostel: 1 hour and 30 minutes walk from the old town. It occurred to me that this also means it’s probably very far from the train station. I’m considering changing hostels. I’ll double check how much I paid for the deposit, and if it was fewer than £5, I’ll cancel and book somewhere else. Of course, my main priority today is to actually get to Prague.

I had originally planned to get a bus from Vilnius to Prague, but it would have been a 22-hour-long journey, hence why I stopped in Warsaw. By now, I’m sick to death of buses. And whilst in the Baltic States they have high-quality Estonian buses, with TVs and wifi, I don’t know what to expect of Polish ones. So I decided to opt for a train instead. There were no direct trains to Prague until the afternoon, and I wanted to arrive whilst it’s still light outside.

I looked up connecting trains, and google told me to a get a train from Warsaw to Bohumin, and change there for Prague. However, the ticket machines at the station didn’t have Bohumin as a destination option, so I had to get creative. I looked up a map of Europe, and searched for cities close to the Polish/Czech border. I am now on a train to Katowice, and I’ll figure it out from there.

It’s occurred to me that if I’m changing hostels in Prague, I may as well stay an extra night in Poland. I have no idea what Katowice is like, given that it’s just a random place I picked off a map. And there’s nothing I can do right now because I have no wifi, but perhaps once I’m there I’ll look up the possibility of a getting a hostel for the night.

I find it strange how laid back I feel about this. Normally I’m a control freak, and triple-check everything to make sure it goes exactly as I intend. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from travelling, it’s that no matter how careful you are, not everything will go to plan. So maybe sometimes it’s good to ditch that plan altogether.

Once you realise you don’t have to be so rigid, there’s a great sense of freedom. I’m currently on a train to a destination I know nothing about, and I might even stay the night. That’s pretty cool. And I love that travel forces me to think on my feet and forget my control freak nature for a little while.

I’ve been feeling a lot lately like this trip hasn’t changed me nearly as much as my trip to Estonia last year, and I’ve felt sad about that. Because this time one of my main reasons to travel was because I wanted to change. Yet I’m four countries deep into my trip already, and I’m still preoccupied by the same things that preoccupy me in my normal life, I still have the same character flaws I’ve always had. Shock, horror, I haven’t found myself.

Not that there’d be much to find. I already know myself too well. I’m very self-aware, and I’m as intimately familiar with every flaw as I am with every aspect of my good nature. But surely there’s some untapped potential in me somewhere, surely there’s something left for me to find.

I always thought of myself as a strong person, and generally a good one. I ascribe to the life philosophy of “do no harm, but take no shit”, and that is very much what I live by in my relationships with other people. But is that how I act when it comes to myself?

There’s this line in Lorde’s song “Liability” where she describes her love for herself as “the only love I haven’t screwed up”. It’s possibly the only line in the song that I can’t relate to, and therefore it’s the one line that always catches me, always makes me think. Because I have screwed up my love for myself, over and over again. The strength I have in other areas of my life seems to fall short when it comes to taking care of myself.

I keep thinking of all the times I’ve let myself feel worthless because I failed to get attention from people I wanted it from. There were so many times when I let myself be broken by people who had no idea of the effect they had on me. Or worse, by people who did know, and I fell right into their trap. I should know by now that my worth does not lie in the minds or hearts of other people.

The other thing I’ve realised is just how easily I give up. I’m the first to admit that I can be a very lazy person, but this isn’t even laziness. I’ve been trying to lose weight for most of my life, and I always get to a certain point and just…stop. I thought it was different this time – I got into running, it was going well. But I haven’t run since Tartu, and I ate so much unhealthy food in Vilnius. I can claim that eating donuts is self-care all I like, but that doesn’t change the fact it goes against everything I’m trying to do. I’m too easily swayed by short-term desires – where’s my inner strength now, huh?

Or why haven’t I finished editing my book that I’ve been rewriting for TWO YEARS? Sometimes I’m not the person I expect myself to be, and I let myself down way too often.

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I decided not to stay in Katowice. I just wanted to get to Prague. When I arrived at the station, my first order of business was to find coffee and wifi. I soon located a Starbucks. I asked the barista if he spoke English, and he said no. I didn’t realise straight away that he was being sarcastic, and I felt like a bit of an idiot when the penny finally dropped.

I spent about two hours in Katowice train station. I attempted to get a ticket from the self-service machines, but they did not have a single destination in the Czech Republic. I was beginning to freak out, when I saw that the ticket office had a section for international destinations. I finally found someone who spoke English, and explained that I was trying to get to Prague.

There were no direct trains, but I got a ticket to Ostrava, and one from there to Prague. All in all, I spent nine hours of the day on trains.
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Whilst I had planned to switch hostels, I couldn’t find anywhere else available at such short notice, so I was stuck with the one ages away from the city centre. I’d finally learnt my lesson, and refused to walk for an hour and a half with the Evil Backpack and the Laptop Case from Hell, so I had no choice but to navigate public transport.

The joy of being further west than my previous destinations was that Prague has a Metro system (I don’t hate all undergrounds, just the London one). I’m used to the Glasgow subway, which is a circle, so any underground system with more than two tracks gives me the fear. But, with a little aid from google, I figured out how to use the metro, and got to my hostel.

I emerged from the Metro station to a darkening sky. On one side there was an expanse of grass, and sketchy-looking blocks of flats. On the other side, there was a road, and more dodgy-looking tower blocks. My hostel was nine minutes walk away: the road was dark, and the footpath shrouded with trees. I spent the entire walk swearing aloud, with phrases like “fucking typical Eliza, of course you booked a hostel in the fucking creepy end, now you’re probably going to fucking die!” But I lived to tell the tale, so all was well.

13th July 2017 –

Prague is beautiful. It was only when I came out from the Metro station that I realised I hadn’t actually seen any of the city last night, apart from the rather sketchy area near my hostel. Here it was a different world to what I’d seen last night. The buildings were ornately decorated; they reminded me a little of some of the art nouveau architecture in Riga, though there was a stronger sense of grandeur, and perhaps more of a western influence than there was in Riga. Also, it was far more touristy.

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I wandered down random streets, choosing my way based on which buildings looked the coolest, or which streets had the fewest tourists. The buildings were gorgeous, and I was enchanted by this city. I walked until my hunger got the better of me, and I stopped by a supermarket to pick up some food for breakfast.

I went to the park across the street from the supermarket to eat. I sat on a park bench, overlooking a fountain, in a garden of red roses, eating grapes in the morning sunshine, and watching the world go by. It was peaceful, and beautiful.
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I then went to the astronomical clock, one of Prague’s major tourist attractions. It was the most tourist-infested place I have ever been (with the exception of perhaps London). The past month in Eastern Europe made me forget just how many tourists can fit in one place. It was an introvert’s nightmare. I soon escaped the hoards, and went to Starbucks. The staff spoke English, which was a relief. They spelt my name horrifically wrong (Alaneliza – how???????), which I found rather amusing. I then explored more of the city, crossing one of the stone bridges to the far side of the river, where the city sprawled across a hill, interspersed with trees, gardens, vineyards, and orchards.

It was quieter here, less touristy. I’d avoided the Charles Bridge, where all the tourists flocked, and instead crossed the river by a less popular route. I followed a winding road up the hill, with a high stone wall on my left. The wall soon gave way to a doorway, and I discovered a park, filled with apple and pear trees. Neither the apples or the pears were ripe. I learned this the hard way.

I meandered through the streets on the hill, and came across an English language bookshop. Naturally, it was named after Shakespeare. Because who else would you name an English bookshop after?
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As I wandered through the city streets, I began to realise that, for the first time in this journey, I wished that I wasn’t alone. I walked past so many cafes and bars, and thought of how cool it would be to go to such places. But there would be no fun in going alone. One of the best things about Lithuania was that I’d had a friend to meet with almost everyday. But in Prague I was all alone again, and I couldn’t stand it. I missed human company. I didn’t feel like myself any more.

For someone who frequently describes themself as an introvert, I need social interaction as much as I need time alone. If I’m alone with my thoughts for too long, I begin to drive myself mad, and I need to be around other people to remember that I’m not crazy, to remember where I fit into the world.

The existential crisis began with this realisation, but it soon increased to cover many topics. I couldn’t stop thinking that how I look on the outside doesn’t match who I am on the inside. Whilst a few weeks ago, in Tartu, I had written that I fully loved and accepted myself, and didn’t hate how I looked, the opposite was now true. I looked back on my photos from Lithuania and couldn’t believe how huge I looked.

When I get into this mindset I begin to blame all my problems on the way I look. I start wondering if people would like me more if I were shorter and thinner, if people would view me differently. When a short, thin person has a big personality they’re likeable, they’re cute, they’re considered to be a good thing. But when someone who is tall and overweight has a big personality then they’re considered overbearing. I often feel like I take up too much space in the world. And I mask that feeling as much as I can, by trying to be funny, trying to be liked, trying to at least earn all the space that I can’t help but occupy. But I don’t want to just be the funny fat girl, the loud girl who makes inappropriate jokes. I just want to be viewed as a full person, and it sucks that I live in a world where I feel like people don’t view me as such because I don’t look the “right” way.

14th July 2017 –

My existential crisis continued when I awoke. I stood in front of the mirror, a tube of lipstick in my hand, and I hesitated. What is the point in painting my lips a vibrant pink when I feel like the rest of my body is repulsive? Why should I even bother?

I did choose to put it on in the end, because nothing can stand between me and my favourite lipstick. But it didn’t cure my feelings of inferiority. I went to Starbucks, in the hope that coffee would make me feel a little more confident. It worked to some extent, but not entirely.

I then went to cross the river again, this time crossing at the Charles Bridge, like a touristy cliché. There were some really cool buildings, and cobbled streets, and the blue skies and tram lines that I will always associate with Eastern Europe. As I walked up a rather steep hill, my ears were met with the sound of cello music, from a street performer. When I looked across the street to see the source of the music, I couldn’t help but smile.

The cellist was dressed in 18th century clothing, right down to the white curly wig. There’s nothing that delights me more than a person who can be unabashedly weird for the sake of their art. Our eyes met across the street, and he grinned right back at me. He was so pretty! I crossed over, to give him some money, and his tune came to an end. I told him I loved his outfit, and he asked where I was from. I told him I was from England. He asked what music I like, and I said something lame like “I like lots of music”, because I was too busy melting in his beautiful brown eyes. He asked if I liked Game of Thrones, and I said yes. Then he played the Game of Thrones theme tune, with exuberance, grinning at me the whole time. I was completely enchanted by this beautiful man. He then told me he was going to play a sad tune. I stood around for a while, listening to him play. But my anxiety soon got the better of me, and I waved goodbye, smiled at Hot Cello Guy a final time, and left.

I was in a brilliant mood as I explored more of the city. I climbed to the top of the hill, and was met with a marvellous view. I then found a cute little vegan cafe, and bought a green smoothie. I waited for a little while, and then walked back down the street where I’d seen Hot Cello Guy. I made sure to walk on the other side of the street, because interacting with humans gives me anxiety. Even when they’re really pretty, talented humans with big brown eyes.
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I sat on the edge of a fountain, thinking about Hot Cello Guy, and asking myself why I’d deliberately walked on the other side of the street. I realised that it was because I didn’t want to ruin the fantasy. Whilst Eliza the Idealist thought such thoughts as “we totally had a moment”, Eliza the Realist understood that sometimes a cute stranger is just a cute stranger, and nothing more.

But I also understood the significance of strangers as the signs on our path, to point us in the right direction. The thing that I liked most about Hot Cello Guy (apart from his pretty eyes and the dramatic flare of his outfit) was that he made eye contact with me, and that he gave his smiles freely. I forgot how important that was to me. I know people who I think are very attractive, but who never meet my eyes, and rarely smile, and when they do smile, they’re smiling to themselves, rather than smiling at me. And whilst it doesn’t stop me from thinking they’re good-looking, it does always make me feel like they don’t like my company. Because when I’m around people who make me happy, I smile all the time, I make eye contact when I speak to them. And it’s important to find people who do the same, because what is the point in investing in people who always leave you unclear as to where you stand with them?

So I began to think that the reason Hot Cello Guy crossed my path was to put things into perspective. If a stranger can seem more enthusiastic about interacting with me than people who I’ve invested a lot of my time and hopes in, then that is a massive sign that I need to redirect my energy elsewhere. Because I want people who smile, I want people who can look me in the eye. I want a damn optimist, someone who is human sunshine, and when I forget this then I should remind myself of Hot Cello Guy, because he made me feel better about myself within a few minutes than some people have made me feel within months of knowing them.

I wandered around at random for a while, and soon came to a grassy slope of the hill, where plum, and pear. and apple trees grew. I saw some steps in the distance, and a path which I suspected must lead to the peak of the hill. I remembered a time in May when I went hiking with some of my friends, and how it made me realise I’d grown as a person. Because hiking felt like torture for my legs, but I didn’t complain. And normally I would have complained. And afterwards I was like “whoo, I’m a mature adult who can hike up steep hills in the rain and not complain”. Remembering this made me want to hike up the hill which stood before me now. Except I do not hike alone. Because I am lazy, and I am less motivated if there are not other people around to witness my laziness.

I took this as a sign that I should indeed hike up the hill, to prove a point to myself. I needed to push myself, and hiking up a hill in the thirty degree heat seemed like a good way to do that. I couldn’t find the path which went straight up, so instead I followed a diagonal one, which looped around and made the journey a lot longer. Sometimes I left the path behind altogether, scrambling up steep surfaces laden with loose rocks and dry dirt.

I was covered in sweat and sunshine as I reached the summit of the hill, surrounded by gardens of roses. People milled about, taking photographs. A child rode upon a pony in the distance. Sunlight made the world shimmer. And for the second time today, I gained some perspective.
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When I was drunk in Lithuania, I came out with some analogy of how life is like a hill. And I can’t for the life of me remember what it actually was. But if there’s on thing I’ve learnt, it’s that climbing hills can teach you a lot about life. Once you reach the top, you have a clearer and broader view of your surroundings, but also of yourself.

As I stood, tanned and sweaty and smiling at my own strength, I could see that I had been way too hard on myself, punishing myself for things which didn’t merit punishment. I realised I had to be more lenient, to treat myself before I went into full-on self-destruct mode. I couldn’t spend the rest of my trip in such a toxic mindset.

I hadn’t read a book since I left Tartu, but in bed that night I began reading the book “Everything, Everything”, which I’d bought from a bookshop back when I was in Tallinn. “Everything, Everything” is a YA romance, of the type which I hadn’t read in a couple of years, but it was exactly the book I needed to read at this time, because it taught me the simple lesson of: when someone wants you in their life, they will do everything possible to keep you in their life.

It is literally that simple, yet it is always something I’ve struggled with. Because I am by nature a go getter. When I want something, I pursue it. If I’ve set my hopes on something, I will try my hardest to make it happen. And whilst that works with writing novels, or running 5k, or getting good grades in exams, it doesn’t work when it comes to people. Because people have free will, and they are not objects or achievements that I can gain. They have to want me as much as I want them, and I always seem to forget this. But thanks to my reading material, I realised that I need to change my ways. The people who want a place in my life will try to earn it, I shouldn’t have to make all the effort.

I feel as though every book I’ve read so far on this journey has come into my hands at the right moment, as though the books I read are guidebooks on how I should live my life.

15th July 2017 –

Do you ever have one of those moments where you become so sick of your own bullshit? I have them frequently. As a general rule, they occur for me every few months, coming on a the back of a week-or-so of existential crises.

I woke up this morning and realised that I have been utterly deluding myself for weeks, if not months, and that I need to get out of my negative mindset right this moment.
If only it were that easy. My mind is fully submerged in negative patterns right now, and I can’t shift them, no matter how hard I try.

I’m angry at myself for not being content. I love Prague, I should be happy here, rather than wasting my time being negative. I feel like I’m punishing myself for something, and I feel like I’m punishing myself for punishing myself. Mostly, the punishment seems to be around food. I’d banned myself from anything unhealthy, yet I feel like by doing so I’m being even more unhealthy.

Today I slept till eleven. I had an apple and some rice crackers for breakfast, and then went to the centre centre and got coffee. Following yesterday’s decision, I knew I needed to do something to treat myself, because I hadn’t been very kind to myself lately. I decided I would go to a vegan cafe for lunch, and be a bit more lenient about my food rules. But the two cafes I tried were closed, and I could feel myself growing frustrated.

I bought a vegetable juice, and then walked around for a few hours. I eventually gave up on finding somewhere nice to eat, and went into Tesco. It started raining as I left the supermarket, and my mood grew worse and worse. I was so fed up with everything. As I walked back to my hostel from the Metro station, I began attempting to eat this melon I’d bought. It was a quarter of a yellow watermelon, and not a particularly easy size to eat, so I tried to break it in half. Instead of breaking, it fell to the muddy ground. I responded with a very loud screech of frustration, and a whole lot of cursing. It felt as though each time I tried to find happiness I was thwarted by fate.

***

My roommate is driving my crazy. It’s bad enough that her phone is not on silent, and beeps with every key she presses, and has a loud ringtone. On top of all this, she was shaving her legs IN THE ROOM without soap or water. Would it be so hard to do it in the shower like a normal person? She wiped the hairs from the floor, but I doubt she was thorough. She then proceeded to eat a very crunchy, smelly salad WITH HER MOUTH OPEN and she keeps looking at me with her stupid face and I want to slap her! Sometimes I cannot stand to be around other humans.

16th July 2017 –

I try to live by the philosophy that every day is a new day. Also known as: just because I was a moody bitch yesterday, it doesn’t mean I have to be one today. I had grand plans to wake up early and have a fun day of adventure. I set my alarm for 8am, and at 10:25 I finally slithered down the ladder of my bunk bed.

I fell easily into my morning routine: get dressed, apply copious amounts of lipstick (generally bright pink, but today I pulled out the big guns and wore red), ride the Metro 7 stops, go to Starbucks and drink a very large cup of positivity/joy/will to live (also known as coffee). As I drink this magic drug, I reply to my messages, and then let my phone charge as I write in my diary. Routine keeps me sane, and it’s what I lacked in Riga and Vilnius.

I think one of the reasons I miss Glasgow so much is routine. Whether it was my morning coffee at Cafe Twenty-Two in the Queen Margaret Union, or lectures, or regular exercise, or improv two times a week… I always knew what I had to do, and where I had to be. The world was big enough for me there. Did I actually want to escape it?

I seem to have misplaced my wanderlust. It’s probably lying in the same dustbin as my self-worth.

The hardest part of being in this frame of mind is the knowledge that I only have myself to blame. I always pride myself on being an honest person. I’m blunt, tactless, and obvious, and I always wear my heart on my sleeve (or practically tattooed on my forehead). Yet I have been lying to myself for as long as I can remember. I give myself false hope, I tell myself I need to change to be worthy.

I have been a complete and utter moron for months, and deluded myself into thinking I was fine. But I was never fine, and now I have a hell of a lot of soul-searching to do, because I don’t even know who I am any more. I have the strange urge to cry right now. But I still have just enough dignity left to stop myself from bursting into tears in the middle of Starbucks (I hope). I’m sad and I’m lonely and I just want a hug. I remind myself that I’ll be visiting my best friend in six days from now, and that I’ll get all the hugs I’ll need then.

I’m still so angry at myself for not being happy. Prague is one of the coolest cities I’ve ever visited, and I’m not appreciating it enough. I guess I just have to come back here one day. I hope I can get my mental shit together over the next few days, because I have been wanting to go to Berlin for years, and I refuse to let my dumbass negative mindset ruin that for me.

***

On today’s episode of Eliza’s Dumb Decisions, we have: getting off the Metro at a random stop to “experience more of the city”. I should use the term “city” very loosely here, because when I came out from the Metro station all I could see was a road and a large expanse of grass. I walked a little way and saw some buildings, but they seemed more like a small town than a capital city. Still, I decided to explore.

I explored a bit too far, and had no idea how to get back to the Metro station, so I just kept walking in the direction which I assumed would lead me back into the city centre. I soon realised just how far I’d gone. There was more grass and trees than there were buildings. I continued walking, searching for a Metro station. I walked for about an hour. I didn’t even know which side of the river I was on, so I had no idea where to go. I eventually saw a sign for the city centre, and headed in this direction. I located the river, and walked along the path which ran by its side. I estimated I must be a good few miles away from the city centre, given how remote this place seemed. I was mildly scared of getting murdered. It was a great relief when I finally stumbled upon a Metro station.

I didn’t go straight back to my hostel, because I wanted to get food, so I headed into the city instead. I came across a vegetarian cafe, and to my delight I saw that it was a self-service place, so I didn’t have to deal with the language barrier. The downside was that it was a pay-by-weight place, and I ended up spending more money than I intended, because I didn’t know how much it cost until it was too late. I also bought way too much food.

17th July 2017 –

I’m pretty sure I saw Hot Cello Guy again today. He wasn’t in his costume, and he didn’t have a cello with him, but he was right next to the spot where he’d been busking the other day, and I recognised him by his beautiful face. However, now that he wasn’t sitting down, I realised that he was rather short. Shorter than me. But still so pretty!

I went to the cafe from yesterday again. And somehow ended up spending even more than I’d spent yesterday! But I enjoyed the food a lot more than I had last night. Even though I ate too much, I wasn’t so angry at myself about it. There are worse things to overeat on than vegetable curry and sushi.

When I returned to my hostel, I decided to do something I hadn’t done in a very long time: go for a run. I wasn’t particularly keen on the idea at first. But I’d been looking at motivational weight-loss posts on Pinterest, and I was feeling inspired. I ran for a mile, and returned out-of-breath and exhausted, yet happy.

18th July 2017 –

I awoke in a wonderful mood, which I can only assume was a result of my run last night. As it was my last full day in Prague, I decided I should make an effort to see more of the city. As I rode the Metro towards my destination, the woman who sat across from me smiled at me. She was well-dressed, and fiddling nervously with papers in her handbag. I think perhaps she was on her way to a job interview. I like smiling at strangers with whom I do not share a language. It makes the world seem smaller, and in a good way.

I thought I was going to a cemetery, but the cemetery turned out to be adjacent to a vineyard. And the vineyard was way cooler. The cemetery was very catholic, with tombs and gravestones of Jesus on the cross, and the Virgin Mary. I couldn’t help thinking how weird it is that graveyards are tourist attractions. I was literally walking between rows of long-dead people. Such a strange concept.

The vineyard was located atop a hill, and offered splendid views of the city, with the river sparkling in the sunshine below. I was completely happy, all the negativity which had consumed me only a couple of days previously had now vanished.
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I went to the vegetarian cafe again for dinner, and finally managed to get the right amount of food so that I wouldn’t have to spend too much money. It felt as though everything was finally going right.

When I returned to my hostel, I showered and changed into the shirt and leggings that I wore as pyjamas, and then began to pack up my stuff, as I would be leaving in the morning. The lockers didn’t have locks in them, and I’d shoved my laptop in the back of a locker, behind a mountain of my clothes. I hadn’t used it since arriving in Prague, because I hadn’t had the energy or motivation to type up my blogs.

The Laptop Case from Hell felt strangely light as I pulled it out from the locker. To my horror, I realised that the only reason a laptop case would feel light is if it does not contain a laptop. I searched the remaining contents of my locker, panicking. Surely it must be in here somewhere! It took a while for it to sink in that someone had actually stolen it. I ran down to reception, and explained what had happened. They said there was nothing they could do, because the locker wasn’t locked and I didn’t have travel insurance. I considered reporting it to the police, but I was leaving the country the next morning, and also I was worried about the language barrier.

I have always believed I am lucky, and that no matter what dumb situation I get myself into, I will always get myself out of it. I genuinely believed that a miracle would happen and my laptop would be returned to me. But it didn’t happen, and I was devastated.

It was not the actual laptop that I mourned. It was a shitty laptop, which didn’t connect to wifi most of the time. There were many occasions where I resented carrying it around with me and almost wished I could just throw it in the nearest rubbish bin. The laptop was not important to me, but the contents of it were, because they had a huge sentimental worth.

Thankfully the majority of my books were saved on a memory stick, so I didn’t lose my writing. And most of my music was on my phone. But I lost all my photos. A lot of my photos were also stored on my phone, and I was grateful that I hadn’t lost all my pictures from my first trip to Estonia. But there were photos I’d deleted off my phone.

I hate deleting photos, because it feels like deleting history. But when a toxic friendship came to an end, I forced myself to remove all photos of that friend from my phone, and compromised with myself and kept those photos on my laptop. It’s not like I ever looked at them any more, or that I ever intended to. But I couldn’t bear the thought of permanently deleting the evidence of a friendship which made me who I am today. Yet thanks to the laptop thief, I’ve lost those photos forever. Granted, I haven’t lost all of them. If I was ever overcome with a desire to relive six months worth of heartbreak, I could just scroll back through facebook or instagram to find photos of me and my former friend. But those are the “nice” pictures. I’ve lost the silly pictures, the goofy pictures, the ugly pictures. And it felt like I lost that friend all over again.

Perhaps it’s a good thing, in the long run. Perhaps losing those photos cut the last tie, and I am finally free from any aspect of that person I was still clinging onto. But it hurt like hell. It’s one thing if I decided to delete those photos (which I doubt I would have), if I had consented to letting go. But that decision was stolen from me by the person who stole my laptop, and I was so, so angry.

It took me hours to get to sleep. I didn’t feel safe any more; I didn’t trust my roommates. I slept with my handbag snuggled into my arms, and my phone under my pillow, terrified of losing anything else of value. To combat my insomnia, I googled reviews of my hostel, and was less-than-surprised to see that it had quite a number of bad reviews, some of which even referred to how bad the staff were at dealing with thefts being reported.

All I wanted was to get the hell out of there.

Travel Diary: Vilnius

4th July 2017 –

I woke in a weird mood. There was the usual anxiety of making sure I woke up early, to pack my stuff and get to the bus station on time, and there was a hum of nervousness in my stomach, a caffeinated melody played by the mug of instant coffee I’d drank with breakfast. But there was something more.

I felt a sense of unfinished business here, as though I hadn’t quite achieved something I’d set out to do. But this wasn’t the case. I’d enjoyed my time in Riga. I liked the city, I liked my hostel, I’d had a lovely time meeting with my friend. And it was my time to leave. So why the sudden separation anxiety? I should be used to leaving places behind by now.

I’ve read so many articles about people making friends whilst travelling, particularly in hostels. And it’s not an experience I’ve had. The curse of the introvert strikes again! The friendships I’ve had, whilst travelling, are with people I know from Glasgow, meeting them in their home countries. And it’s strange, because it’s people I’m used to seeing at least relatively frequently, whereas now I see them once and then I up and leave.

And sometimes the brevity of travel sucks, because time works differently, and you can feel closer to a person within a few hours than in all the time you’ve known them. But there’s not the day-to-day interaction, and suddenly you just want to hang out with this person and get to know them even more, but you won’t see them for another two months. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is probably the cause of my feelings of unfinished business. Rant over.

Alas, the rant is not over. You see, travel is pretty much a miracle cure for my social anxiety. So I’m like “wut, I can actually be myself??” and then it’s like nope, time to go to a different country.
And now the rant is actually over. Pinky promise.

I’ve been wondering a lot today why I blog. Why not just write a diary if I need to vent? I generally put it down to the fact that I require a lot of attention to function at my best– the same reason I’m drawn to improv and performance poetry, or anything that’s public and dramatic. But today I realised there’s another factor to it too.

I don’t know who reads my blogs. My general reaction when people tell me they read them is “well shit, now I have to censor myself”. Because I am very open and honest, and I use this blog as somewhat of a shout into the void. Except it’s not a void, there are people on the other end: reading what I write. And I can use that as a tool, the same way I use performing poetry: writing as a substitute for bravery.

By writing a blog, or performing poems on a stage to an audience, there is a degree of separation that allows me to communicate openly, and say what I want to say, even when it’s a little too real or too embarrassing. As I mention in literally every blog, I am an introvert and I have social anxiety (and I also seem to really love to label myself!), and this often means I’m too scared to say things directly. I also have a huge fear of rejection, probably because of my anxiety. It’s not always easy for me to just say to people “hey, you’re important to me, I want you in my life for a long time” (admittedly, once I get to a certain level of comfortableness with people, I say it every other sentence). Just as it’s not easy for me to randomly message people like “hey, I was just thinking about you, how are you doing?” There always has to be a question or a reason, because then there’s more chance of a reply. So instead I shout into the void. Anxiety is fun, kidz.

It started raining as soon as I reached the bus station. I sat under the covering, listening to “another suitcase in another hall” from Evita, watching the sky pour.

The journey was decent, as bus journeys go. There were little TVs to watch movies on, so I watched “confessions of a shopaholic” and “Jane Eyre”, my eyes intermittently flitting out the window to watch the countryside fly by. Lithuania is beautiful.

My hostel was 6 minutes walk from the bus station. You wouldn’t think I would get lost on such a short walk. But I took the wrong turning, ended up somewhere completely random, without wifi so I couldn’t use Google maps. And on top of all this, it started raining. Not just any rain, but possibly the heaviest rain I have ever experienced in my life. I wasn’t wearing my raincoat, and my clothes were soaked within minutes. Rivers of rain ran through the gaps in between the cobblestones of the streets in a constant stream of water.

When I finally arrived at my hostel (soaking wet), I changed quickly into an almost-dry outfit, and bundled myself up into my raincoat, before heading out to meet a friend who lives in Vilnius. She’s one of my bestest friends, and I hadn’t seen her in almost two months, so I was very excited. We met outside the town hall. It took us a few minutes to see each other, but when we finally did there was the inevitable exchange of running into each other’s arms and squealing.

We went for dinner at a falafel restaurant, which was nice. The falafel was good, and there was lots of hummus. I love hummus, and hummus has been pretty hard to find in most of the places I’ve been.

After we’d eaten, my friend took me to a place called the Hill of the Three Crosses. Which (you guessed it!) is a hill with three crosses on top. There was a set of wooden steps for most of the way up the hill. It was steep, and we had to keep stopping every few minutes. We had not reached the top of the hill before the rain began. The further we climbed, the more it rained, and by the time we reached the top the rain was incredibly heavy, and a strong wind blew. We huddled under an umbrella and stood at the crest of the hill, watching the view of the city below. It was beautiful, even through the mist of rain and clouds.

We didn’t stay atop the hill for long, as the rain refused to subside. We didn’t want to risk going down the steps, as they would surely be slippery from the rain, so we walked back down through the forest instead. We then went to a cute little tea shop. They had a type of tea called “philosopher tea”, which is so cool. They also had vegan cakes. I got one which was blueberry, peanut butter, and chocolate chip. It was wonderful! I don’t tend to eat cake in my normal life, because I generally try to be relatively healthy. But the concept of healthiness had completely gone out the window in the past few days, and I didn’t miss it.

5th July 2017

I met with my friend again, and we went to a cafe called Holy Donut which were giving out free donuts in exchange for checking in on facebook. They had a variety of vegan donuts, and a vegan banana milkshake, which was possibly the most beautiful drink I had ever seen. The milkshake had a scoop of vegan icecream in it, topped with vegan whipped cream and a slice of banana, with a crumbly chocolate mixture stuck to the top of the jar. It cost almost 7 euros, but it was so worth it. We sat at an outside table and ate our donuts whilst we waited for the drinks to be made, and a tiny bird flew up to our table and tried to eat my friend’s donut. She held the donut out and the bird came and ate it from her hand; it was so cute!
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After Holy Donut we walked around the city for a while, and ended up in a peaceful park on the edge of the Old Town. We sat on a bench and watched ducklings swim around a pond.

We then went to this really cool place called the Republic of Uzupis, which my friend translated as “the land beyond the bridge”. In spite of sounding a tiny bit like a euphemism for death, it turned out to be my favourite place in the city. The republic (which is not officially recognised as a republic, apparently), has a constitution with points such as “everyone has the right to love and take care of a cat”, and “everyone has the right to have no rights”. We came across a bookshop, with a cute ginger cat outside. He had a purple cast wrapped around an injured paw, and lay resting in the sunshine. Inside the bookshop they sold postcards of his furry butt. His name was Ponulis.
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We wandered around Uzupis for a while, and rested by the river for a while, chilling and chatting. It was so good to spend time with a friend after so long travelling alone. Lithuania felt like a completely different experience to Estonia and Latvia, because I had the one thing I’d consistently been lacking: companionship.
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We went to a vegan bar for dinner. I got a veggie burger, which was very nice, and beer. I’d never drank beer before, because it generally isn’t vegan (they use fish in it. Ew). But because it was a vegan bar, this meant the beer was vegan, so I decided I should try it. It was not pleasant. Apparently it was decent by beer standards, but it cured me of any desire to try beer ever again. From now on I’ll stick to cider and gin.
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6th July 2017

It was one of those days where it felt as though literally everything went wrong. I’d decided to cancel my bus to Prague, because I had zero desire to spend 23 hours onboard a bus. I planned to stop for a night in Poland to break up the journey. However this meant I had to book transport to Poland, plus a hostel, and then transport from Poland to Prague. A bus journey would be very lengthy, so I decided to travel by train instead. I found two websites from which I could book Polish trains. One of them didn’t work, and the other was entirely in German, and wouldn’t translate. I grew extremely frustrated. Eventually I decided to book a bus from Vilnius to Warsaw, and then go to the train station and pray that fate would be kind and allow me to buy a ticket on the day.

The next thing that went wrong was my failed search for an internet cafe. My laptop was refusing to connect to the hostel wifi, and I wanted to upload my blog from when I was in Riga. I decided to look for an internet cafe. However, three times in a row, Google maps sent me to places which didn’t seem to exist. I eventually came to the conclusion that these places must no longer be internet cafes, and that google maps hadn’t updated the location. By this point I was in a foul mood.

I headed back to my hostel, as I needed to do some laundry. I’d asked last night about the hostel’s laundry facilities, and I’d been told that I needed to buy my own laundry powder. So, after spending 4 euros on laundry powder, I went to my hostel. Only to be told that the hostel did not have laundry facilities. Whaaaaaat? Furthermore, it was a public holiday, so I doubted any laundrettes would be open, even if I could be bothered to drag my laundry half way across the city. This left me with only one option: to do my laundry by hand.

I spent the next half hour or so on my hands and knees, washing my clothes in the bath tub. Let me tell you, this did not improve my mood.

I went to the supermarket and buy some chocolate to cheer me up. I found some vegan dark chocolate with orange flavouring, and some tomato flavoured crisps. I then noticed that the store sold kvass (the weird bread drink I’d had in Latvia), though it went under a different name in Lithuania. I decided to buy a bottle of this, too, as it would make me feel nostalgic for Latvia. I forgot to buy a bag, and as I was trying to balance the items I’d purchased in my arms, the bottle of kvass fell to the pavement, and exploded all over my trousers. Could this day get any worse?

When I returned to my hostel (after buying another bottle of kvass, which mercifully didn’t explode), there was a group of young men in the common room. I glanced at them, and one of them said “Hi”. It didn’t properly register until I’d already left the room, because I was still mentally crying over spilt kvass. And by this point it was too late.

I considered going back downstairs, apologising for ignoring them, and starting a conversation. I even walked all the way down the two flights of stairs, but I couldn’t force myself to open the door. I was in a bad mood, I’d had a sucky day, I didn’t want to talk to strangers. But I didn’t want to waste an opportunity. I was so angry at myself for being so pathetic and shy.

I used to think I was brave. In some ways I am. I’m brave enough to travel solo across Europe. I’m brave enough to get up on a stage and perform in front of strangers and friends and everyone inbetween. But when it comes to socialising, I am not brave at all. And I can’t stand it! I can’t stand feeling so weak and worthless in social situations.

Naturally, an existential crisis ensued. I feel like I’m constantly letting myself down, like I’m not brave enough to be the person I want to be. I’m not brave enough to make big changes in my life. I’m not brave enough to go after what I want. And so much of the time I tie my self-worth to outcomes that I can never make happen. I was so frustrated, and so furious at myself for not meeting my own expectations. I felt like my life was a mess.

I sent a series of long, rant-filled messages to my best friend, and then dealt with my feelings in the only way I could: with poetry. If I felt like my life was a joke, the best response to that was to exploit the irony of my situations, and find humour within them. I wrote a poem about how I’m a serial crusher (i.e. I get a lot of crushes. And I mean A LOT). Normally I write sad poems, but this was a humorous one. I could see the funny side of my sitcom-esque life. At least that was a start.

7th July 2017

Sometimes you have to be tough with yourself. This morning (after a long lie-in), I told myself that enough was enough: time to stop moping about things beyond my control. I am in a damn beautiful city, full of awesome vegan cafes, I get to spend loads of time with one of my best friends. The sun is fucking shining and it’s a beautiful day for me to grow the fuck up. (Forgive my language, I inherited it from my mother).

I made myself get dressed, and put my hair up in my “power ponytail” (yay, it’s finally long enough!). The power ponytail is a self-confidence trick I’ve been using on myself since I was in school. Every time I put my hair up in a high ponytail, I picture myself as a super successful 30-something-year-old showrunner on a TV show (my dream job). Because obviously successful women need to wear their hair up so it doesn’t get in the way of them and their busy successful lives. It sounds silly, but it’s worked since I was 17. Power ponytail means I’m ready for business. And today’s business is learning to make myself a priority again.

The next item in the Strong Empowered Woman Starter Pack is a large, soy cappuccino. High Functioning Eliza’s personality is 90 percent coffee. So it was logical to take a trip to Caffeine.
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With my chin in the air, and my power ponytail bopping along against my neck, I marched through the sun-dappled Old Town. I listened to Lady Antebellum’s song “Heart Break” on repeat, as a power anthem to remind myself that I’m going to go through the rest of the summer without thinking about men – whether it be friends, or my inevitable crush-of-the-month, or my male cat, I am so sick of investing too much energy and effort in people who don’t fight for me. Part of knowing my worth is knowing when to call it quits, or at least take a step back, because I am worth so much more than wanting people I can’t have. I am so done with that pattern. I’m leaving it behind to rot in the dustbin of history, because I DESERVE BETTER.

The other day I changed my phone screen background to an image of the quote “you get what you settle for”, from Thelma & Louise (my all-time favourite film), because sometimes I need reminding. I settle too damn much, and I am DONE settling. I deserve the best, and I should accept nothing less.

I’m making my fucking dreams come true (again, blame the language on my mother’s influence). I have wanted to travel for years. Travelling across Eastern Europe has been a goal of mine for so long. And at the end of this month I’ll be going to Paris, which I’ve wanted to do since I was ten years old. That’s almost half my life! I’m so furious with myself for not appreciating how amazing this journey is. I want to slap myself across the head with something painful, and tell myself to grow the fuck up and stop sulking. If I absolutely HAVE to be miserable about things beyond my control, I can at least have the grace to postpone those feelings until I return to the UK. For now, I’m putting that self-pity on pause, because I have so much life to live.

As I was in a “treat yo self” mindset, I decided to take a trip to Holy Donut. I bought a banana milkshake and a gorgeous chocolate donut. It didn’t occur to me that perhaps the “treat yo self” concept was just another form of self-sabotage. Loading my body with sugar was hardly the most productive method of becoming my best self. But this didn’t occur to me at the time.
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After I’d finished consuming beautiful sugar-filled unnecessary calories, I headed towards Uzupis. I took a different route to last time, and met a few cats, and discovered some cool grafitti-covered abandoned buildings. I walked across the whole republic, until I came out on the motorway on the far side, where there were views of dark green forest in every direction.

8th July 2017 –

Today me and my friend went to one of the most marvellous of institutions: a cat cafe! As in, a place full of ten furry babies, which also happened to sell some really good spring rolls, and kvass. The cats seemed unrealistically tranquil. But they were beautiful and soft and furry, and it was so nice to play with cats again, even if they didn’t seem remotely interested in the attention they were getting.
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After we left the cat cafe we climbed up a hill to a graffiti-covered building on top. We sat between the columns at the building’s front, taking refuge from the heat of the sun. On the way down, we passed some men, who heard us talking in English, and called out “Hey girls!”, trying to get our attention. We ran the rest of the way down the hill, to get away from them as swiftly as possible.

9th July 2017 –

I met with my friend again today. We walked around the Old Town for a while, before heading to a bar for dinner. There was a really cute bartender, and he said I had a pretty accent 😀 He was very tall and very pretty, with dark hair and a flirty personality.

Me and my friend sat outside in the bar garden to eat. The fries were very good; I am a big fan of fries. I also discovered that I am even more of a lightweight than I previously thought: I was drunk after half a glass of cider. Drunk Eliza is like Sober Eliza without any filters: extremely honest, extremely affectionate, and extremely talkative. If you think I don’t shut up when I’m sober, you really should see me drunk. I just say whatever crap comes into my head. And I say it loudly.

This later inspired me to write a poem called “the cider side of me”, which is one of my favourite of the poems I’ve written, so clearly good things come from the consumption of alcohol.
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10th July 2017 –

We went back to the bar from yesterday. Sadly the hot bartender wasn’t there. But the fries were still good, and I was still a lightweight. As usual, Drunk Eliza was very talkative, except this time drunk me had a new aspect. Whilst I can often be a very philosophical drunk, this was the first time I’d been a poetic one. I was spouting all kinds of poetic crap about many different topics, and not all of it even made sense. According to Drunk Eliza, life is like a hill. I’m not quite sure how the analogy went, but it seemed logical to me. Perhaps because by this point we were about to climb a hill. The hill had some kind of little castle atop it, and the path up was made of cobblestones which were uncomfortable beneath my feet. I was out of breath and thirsty for most of the way up, but it was worth the climb. Not just because we saw three cats at the top.

We sat on a bench and watched the city grow dark beneath us. It’s moments like that which remind me what I love about cities. Seeing all the lights, and all the thousands of people that they represent, makes me think of how the energy must be, of all those people combined. Each person has a life, each person has their own story…and a city is thousands or millions of stories all squashed together within houses and apartment blocks.

It was strange to think I’d be leaving in the morning, heading to a different city once more, alone again.
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11th July 2017 –

I hardly knew I was leaving Vilnius until I was already gone. The act of getting on a bus has become so routine by now that it’s practically muscle memory, and all of a sudden I’ve left another city behind.

As I waited for my bus, I got talking with a man who was perhaps in his 70s. I heard him talking in English, asking someone if it was the right platform for the bus to Riga. I interjected because the woman he was asking didn’t speak good English. He was a friendly man, with brown skin and white hair and beard. His accent sounded Caribbean, and he said he lived in England. He smiled a lot.

For someone who constantly claims to hate small talk, I find myself appreciating it more and more. I’m grateful just to be able to communicate in my own language. Back in Glasgow I could have conversations with people who served me in shops, etc – I could be charming and polite, and it’s nice. Here I don’t have that. I know that a smile is the same in any language, but I miss using actual words.

The bus from Vilnius to Warsaw lasted 9 hours. It passed by quickly enough, as I watched movies the whole time. But I arrived with a dreadful headache, and I got lost and took ages to find my hostel. When I finally rid myself of the Evil Backpack and the Laptop Case from Hell, I went out to find food. I was surprised to see that there were vegetarian cafes on seemingly every street corner. But I’d promised myself I would make a concerted effort to be healthier once I left Vilnius, so I went to a supermarket instead. It took me absolutely ages to find a supermarket, and my headache was increasingly rapidly.

I find myself feeling more and more weary of travelling. It’s been over a month now. I’m tired of living out of a suitcase, of not spending more than a week in one place. I love travelling, and this is such a cool experience. But the truth is: travel is exhausting. I’m tired of buses, of walking around all day, of the constant pressure to be doing something because I don’t want to miss my chances, when all I really want to do is have a day off so I can REST.

I feel bad for complaining, because I know I should be grateful that I am able to travel for so long… But this isn’t some kind of vacation from reality. This is real life, and I am a real person, and I am goddamn exhausted. I’ll be home in three weeks from now. I know it will fly by, but right now it feels like forever. I miss stability, and certainty, and routine. I miss privacy, and not sharing rooms with slightly-dodgy-looking strangers who speak at me in languages I can’t understand. I miss creature comforts and a feeling of belonging and a feeling of home.

Perhaps I’m just tired. I have a very long day of travel ahead of me tomorrow. Maybe once I’m in Prague I’ll rest properly and feel differently. All I know is that right now I’m desperately homesick.