This is an old journal entry from a trip to Europe back in 2013 — a transitional period for me, as I had just left my PhD program and was in search for a new adventure.
The last time I crossed the Atlantic was almost a year ago to the day. I was 27 and was determined to put all memories of the last three years behind me. I arrived in Barcelona around 7:00 am. Jetlagged and sleep-deprived, I stepped off the plane and walked through the terminal, barely paying attention to the signs in Catalan. I had always wanted to study Catalan, but next to my graduate studies and all the other languages I foolishly tried to juggle in my head, it never made it on my priority list.
Following my older sister, who had a knack for navigating airports in any language, we made it to baggage claim and found our luggage. She glanced at her watch.
“It’s 7:15. Check-in isn’t until 3:00. What the hell are we supposed to do?”
I shrugged lightly, leaning into my suitcase for support. I hadn’t slept for more than a couple of hours on the plane. “Let’s just go to the hostel and ask them if we can drop our luggage off and then get some coffee.”
And so we wandered around the airport in search of the shuttle that would take us to where we needed to go.
“Go on, ask him,” my sister nudged me in a shushed tone, pushing me towards a man in uniform who was arranging orange cones along the walkway of the lower level of the airport.
I rolled my eyes. And thus would begin my role as vacation interpreter. I quietly approached the man and, pausing briefly to get into Spanish mode, asked him where the shuttles were that led to the nearest metro stop.
As he explained, I glanced at the right side of his chest where his name tag was pinned. Carlos. I had known a Carlos in my graduate program. His office had been a few doors away from mine and he was two or three years ahead of me in the Ph.D. program. We rarely ever spoke.
Thanking him, I headed back to my sister and told her to follow me. Within minutes we had found the shuttle only moments before it was ready to leave. We quickly hopped on, allowing the young driver to pull our luggage on board for us.
I thanked him as I paid our fare and then took a seat next to my sister. His name tag said he was Miguel. I knew a Miguel in California too.
The entire vacation went by in a blur. Barcelona was behind me in the space of a week, as was my sister. As she headed back to the U.S. to return to work, I continued on to London. Paris. Amsterdam. I met family and friends along the way but spent most of my time in solitude. I had wandered into the Sherlock Holmes Museum on a cold and rainy day, excited to have some time to myself to savor my favorite fictional character. I stared up at the Eiffel Tower alone, oblivious to the picnicking couples and families behind me on the expanse of grass that stretched away from the famous landmark. I spent a quiet afternoon in the Van Gogh Museum, wondering if others could relate to the utter despair and hopelessness depicted in the sketch The Sorrowful Man, or if was just Van Gogh and me.
When I finally left, a new life awaited me. A new job, a new city and a new opportunity to start again. I jumped in without looking back. Perhaps there I would find what I was looking for. Some form of self-realization, perhaps a kindred soul, or at the very least, a reason to stay.
A year later, I am still that same person. Still moving, still searching, still looking forward. Time to plan another trip.