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In a few days short of a month’s time, I will have been living in Berlin full-time for 3 years already. 2016 and what’s passed of 2017 have been really intense for me, lots of ups and downs — although unfortunately far more downs than ups. As every incident compounded on top of another, I found myself feeling more and more jaded and things that used to hold a lot of weight in my life just didn’t anymore. Somewhere in between the bouts of apathy and depression, I realized that I could either basically do nothing, or do something. And I grew tired of doing nothing. It soon became very clear to me that I needed to get away from everything and break out from the familiar and mundane for a while.

So, I resigned from my job and decided to do some solo travels for the next few months. I’ve once been told that when you’re feeling lost, the best remedy is to actually get lost. So far I’ve found this to be true — every time I’ve immersed myself in new experiences and surroundings, I’ve walked away with more clarity, and felt that I’ve done something conducive in rounding out the lens in which I see the world around me with.

I hadn’t really planned out a solid itinerary of destinations just yet, but I figured it’d be best if I just play it by ear and plan as I go. The first stop ended up being quite easy — just a quick hop over the English channel. Manchester — a city I’ve never been to but have heard some great things about, and I figured I could work my way up northern England ’til Scotland, which I’ve always wanted to visit. Warum nicht?

And thus begins the next few months of my post-desk-job adventures!

Day One: 24 July
I was originally going to be alone in Manchester, but had met someone from London at a music festival in Germany a couple of weekends prior who ended up meeting me there and making for wonderful company! (The serendipitous beauty of planning as you go.)

While waiting for my friend to arrive, I spent a quiet morning at Takk, an artisan coffee house that serves light brunches and small sandwiches. It’s quite cozy and humble — I was impressed with how unpretentious the staff and guests were here, which would otherwise probably be the case if this cafe was transposed into Berlin, for example.

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Brunch is served daily here ’til 4 PM. I had the “Takk-Shuka” which was essentially their version of a shakshuka — harissa-spiced sauce, baked eggs, mint yogurt, and pistachio dukkah, served with a slice of grilled sourdough on the side. The portion was quite small but not too small – the perfect amount for a late breakfast.

I took a seat in the corner, facing the window and enjoyed some time writing, people watching, and soaking in the small pocket of sunshine that came through the window and warmed up my tiny but cozy corner of the cafe.

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Iceland has always been this dreamy travel destination of mine, but always just out of reach due to random circumstances (i.e. bad timing, lack of planning, I’m just too broke, etc.) But surprisingly enough, this trip was rather spontaneous considering how many times I’ve tried to visit and had it not work out. Somehow the stars aligned and just a couple weeks later, I found myself at the Berlin airport with a 40L backpack strapped around my waist and an excitement I simply could not contain.

Traveling around the “Land of Fire and Ice” does require a fair amount of research and planning, especially if you’ll be driving on deserted stretches of road with no mobile service, temperamental weather, and infrequent towns (and yes, restrooms) for extended hours at a time. But without a doubt, all the hard work pays off in the end.

If you’re planning on doing a roadtrip around the country, the single most important thing you need is a trusty 4WD car. You want something durable, reliable, and efficient so you can drive both safely and comfortably for long distances across various types of terrain. Although most of the main roads are paved, how solid the car is will make or break your experience – because you’ll find yourself wanting to make unplanned detours every few minutes and you’ll definitely need a car that can do that for you. Plus, most likely most of your time will be spent in the car anyways (which is much better than it sounds, I promise).

*Traveler’s Tip: I rented a Toyota RAV4 4×4 from SAD Cars – recommended by a friend (hi Kyle!). Don’t be fooled by the name – it was the furthest thing from sad. Responsive service, the most affordable prices I found, and guaranteed Iceland-ready vehicles. They were also really flexible about pick-up and drop-off times, and the price included a free shuttle service from the airport to their car pick-up lot as well. Even cooler – you don’t have to return the car with a full tank of gas and they offer discounts at partnering gas stations that you’ll find often along the Ring Road. Yep, true story. One of the best decisions I made for the trip.

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Anyway, I’m sitting here racking my brain trying to put how incredible this country is into words, but have come to terms with the fact that no matter what I write, it’s just not going to do it any justice. But I did scribble some thoughts at the end of almost every day in my travel journal, so I think I’ll share those – if anything, it’s real :o)

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Our last morning in Porto was a warm one. Of course the rainy weather started to lift the day we were leaving, coaxing us to stay a little longer. We spent a lazy morning strolling around the city, getting our last bifana fix, and squeezing in visits to the bookstore and cafe where the J.K. Rowling sat and wrote the Harry Potter series. I would be remiss if I didn’t pay these gems a visit – as I do claim to be quite the Harry Potter fan. A little overrun and desensitized by tourists though, but I can only imagine how they once were – a rather enchanting and otherworldly space for creative energy.

We were so caught up in trying to see as much of Porto as we could in our last few hours there, we almost missed our train to Lisbon. With a suitcase and a bag of wine bottles in hand, we ran down a seemingly endless number of platforms at the train station and somehow was able to catch our train a brief few seconds before the doors closed. Sweaty and out of breath, one leg of our trip had already come to a close as we moved onto to the next. Lisbon.

A short 3-hour journey (or nap) later, we arrived to Lisbon’s main train station, Santa Apólonia. An aged station standing in layers of brick and faded, powdery blue paint. Thankfully, our apartment was only a few minutes of a walk away. I dragged my luggage across narrow streets of puddly cobblestone to Bairro Alto, a hip and trendy neighborhood in Lisbon that boasts of the best restaurants and nightlife. And by some stroke of luck, this was also the neighborhood we were staying in.

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In an attempt to run away from the inevitable winter quickly settling its way into Berlin, I planned a small vacation to Portugal for a week. And just my luck – the sun only started to appear in Berlin the day I was leaving, and I arrived in Porto during a very rainy state. It continued to rain the 2 full days I was there, until today – where I’m currently on the train to Lisbon, window seat and shielding my face from the blinding sun pouring in from outside. And Lisbon, if my iPhone’s weather app is to be trusted, is supposedly experiencing a small thunderstorm at the moment. Woohoo.

Despite the rainy weather, my stay in Porto was nothing short of warm and cozy – greatly attributed to the “plentiful” amounts of Port wine and inherently compassionate nature of the Portuguese locals.

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Today is a special day for me. Today marks my 1 year anniversary since moving to Berlin. It may not sound like much at all, but to me – it’s a pretty big deal. In the past year, I have experienced and grown so much – far more than I could have ever fathomed I would one year ago. I’m still having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that this time last year, I was unpacking into my first apartment, living the Auslanderbehörde nightmare, typing piles of government paperwork into Google Translate, and stuffing my face with döner kebaps after a year of miserable separation. Oh, how time flies.

The first thing people always ask me is, “Why Berlin?” Simple question, difficult answer. I would often find myself answering with something specific enough to be relevant, but still sort of vague – left open-ended and up for interpretation. Because to be honest, I didn’t really have an answer.

“The people are cool.”

“Work is fun.”

“Lots of creativity here.”

“It’s pretty centrally located.”

I tried to write about it 6 months ago when I reached my half-year point, but found myself struggling for words. I had something written, but I never shared it because it didn’t feel right. What I’ve learned is that sometimes, it’s just better not to put abstract, evolving feelings into the confines of words. I wouldn’t want to compromise the integrity of something that I believe to be more profound than what I am able to communicate. So at the time, it just made more sense to leave everything unspoken.

And because today we’ve come full circle back to August 26th, I find myself wanting to revisit this topic. To seek solidarity with a question that I was never able to answer. I’d like to think that I’ve found the answer and that I’m much wiser now. But the truth of the matter is that while I do think I have a better grasp of what this place means to me and why it means so much – it’s still not clear, it’s still not definitive. Because probably another 6 months down the line, I’ll reread this and have a completely different stance then. But that’s okay – that’s part of the beauty of this city. Allow me to explain.

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