And just like that, I’m home. Odd how that happens. One minute I’m sitting in a pub in jolly ole, next minute I’m eating wanton soup and egg rolls with my parents in suburban Long Island.
I woke up this morning, blinked my eyes open, and for a brief millisecond wasn’t quite sure where I was. Like the past five months had been a dream. That’s happened to me before when returning home from travelling. I guess it’s my body’s way of saying, “Yup, you’ve been living your dreams.”
The countries I visited over the last few months in this awakened state couldn’t have been more random at face value: England, France, Slovenia, Croatia, Sweden and Israel. And yet by the time my passport was stamped for the last time, the ink barely dry, the connections between all six became as clear as an airline’s destination map. You know, the one at the back of the inflight magazine with its red lines criss-crossing oceans, mountains and those who live in and around them.
My post-swap journey became a Bob Dylan lyric, getting all tangled up in itself.
Aside from the historical connections – visiting the world’s second oldest synagogue in Dubrovnik dating back to 1721 one week, to standing in front of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, dating way back to double digit years the next – there were more Kevin Bacon-like connections. Ones that didn’t require too much brainpower or a middle school Global Studies textbook with a timeline charting B.C., A.D. and the like.
I’ll start in Paris, where I went to visit the Picasso museum only to find it closed for renovations. I didn’t bother to look closely at where in the world the master’s work would be touring throughout the year, and gloomily left disappointed. Fast forward a few weeks when I’m in Zagreb for the day just to connect from Slovenia to Croatia, and what do I see lining the streets, but Picasso posters promoting the touring exhibit at the Galerija Klovicevi Dvori. Well, how about that?
The morning of my Croatian cruise departure from Split, I roamed the ancient city walls for a place to eat breakfast. I finally settled upon a spot where I could sit outside and eat my eggs on toast with rocket while also getting the last bits of WiFi before signing off for a week. In doing so, I happened to sit near two Aussie couples discussing their next travel moves. I chimed in, and soon enough we discovered they had not only just come off a cruise along the Dalmatian coast, but had done so with the same company I’d signed up with, and had even been on the exact same ship I’d soon climb aboard. Well, how about that?
After spending a soggy, but enjoyable 17-hours in Stockholm (despite it being completely backwards destination to stopover en route from Croatia to a further south Israel), I soon found myself on a beach in Tel Aviv with a family of Swedes from – you guessed it! – Stockholm. Boris, the talkative, 60-something patriarch, soon introduced me to his son (cause that’s what Jewish patriarch’s do). Turns out, he used to work at the very Michelin-starred restaurant I had eaten at two days prior! Hours later, after we had left the beach, showered and roamed the 100-year-old city, we arrived at hip new restaurant Mizlala to find the same Swedish family dining at a window table. Well, how about that?
Finally, on our flight back from London to New York, my mother and I happened to be seated amongst a large group of Israelis, many of whom didn’t speak a lick of English. I communicated with a smile and a nod while politely moving one man’s black hat so that my bag could fit along side it in the same overhead compartment. I managed to communicate that my mother speaks a bit of “Ivrit,” and sure enough, hours later, I take out my earphones to hear her impressively speaking in broken Hebrew to help this grey bearded man in a suit and tzitzit fill out his custom’s form.
I’ve rushed to make a lot of connections lately; trying hard to do things orderly so as not to wind up on a street of charming boutiques just as they’re all closing; or to eat breakfast at a certain time so that I’m still hungry for a lunch reservation; or to shower, get dressed and make it back to the beach in time to see the sun descend into the Mediterranean. A lot of times, I miss the connections and feel frustrated. Like I’ve failed in some way. I end up focusing on what I’ve missed, rather than what I’ve found in between. I rush. I plan. I try to get it right. But what’s right? There’s clearly a greater Plan out there, and I don’t think I’m in charge of it. The more I embrace the one that seems to be laid out for me, the more satisfied and fulfilled I end up feeling.
Well, how about that?