Musings on One Really Good Friday

I have returned to France exactly two years to the day that I left it, as if I planned it to be more significant than it was. I didn’t. But it doesn’t diminish the feeling of homecoming that has been blossoming since I got on the plane from Istanbul to Lyon, when I started hearing snatches of conversations in French. It would then seem somewhat ironic that I had been dreading this trip up until that moment, not feeling my regular level of excitement to be on the move. I love to travel and will do it to within a penny of my pocket’s complete emptiness if given the chance. But France is home. It has been ever since the first day I stepped off the plane in Lyon in 2013 and some part of me will always be here. That is the problem with travelling. We take so much of the world we see with us but we also leave immense bits of our selves everywhere making it increasingly difficult to remain whole and marginally reducing the chance of ever sitting still with every new trip we take. Very soon, we stop travelling solely to discover ourselves and new places and people and things; eventually, we begin to do it because we are incomplete and are trying to find enough of ourselves in these new haunts to replace what we have left behind in the places that become forever beloved. It becomes as much of a give as it is a take. And the more we give, the more we need to be on the go so we can take some more. Travelling becomes the mechanism by which we breathe easiest, by which we can sleep the most comfortably. Languages become thinner and thinner barriers that we encounter as we imbibe as much of them on our voyages as we can. So it is that I find myself on a train at 22h 43 on a Good Friday in 2016 from Paris to Besançon with immense happiness in my heart, the likes of which I have not felt for about three months since my last trip.

On est bien là.

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Juneau in June : Friends are like Bags of Lindor Truffles

The third and last edition of my trip to Juneau was my last full day there.* It was a day of firsts for me. Welllll, technically my whole trip was one big first since I had never been to Alaska before. But I decided to go zip lining on the morning of my last day. It was amazing, to put it super plainly. Some things speak better for themselves when you’re accustomed to living life from exclamation to exclamation:

 

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Someone asked me if I made any friends on this trip. First of all, lol, because I was only there for three days (and contrary to popular belief, I don’t view most first encounters as the starts of beautiful, lifelong friendships). But, I did tell this person that I both did and did not make friends. I will explain-

My favourite part of travelling alone is how much it pushes you out of yourself and forces you to experience things. You cannot go to a place you have never been to before, sit down in your hotel room, and scroll through Instagram. This is not to say that scrolling through social media in any way diminishes the authenticity of your experiences (solitary traveller, not hermit). But, you find that you want to be fully present and in each moment whilst you are on your own. At least, I find that to be my case. No matter how good of a photographer I become or how many absolutely stunning shots I capture, they will never be as good as the images that I store in my mind’s eye because those will be always be filtered by emotion. So for me, when I travel alone and am not caught up in myself, this remarkable thing happens-

I meet people.

I mean, I hold conversations with strangers and share stories and experiences with them. I learn about their lives – as much as they are willing to share- and they learn infinitesimally about mine. And for however long that encounter lasts, I make a friend. I made friends with my hotel lobbyist and the woman I hiked down Mount Roberts with. I even made friends  on my wild wild zip lining adventure and at the salmon bake, where I concluded my Alaskan experience. When I left Juneau, these people did not leave with me and I do not remember a single name. I do not think I will ever encounter them again nor do I particularly wish to, so we are not friends. But they were all my “friends” for a few hours and they all contributed to my amazing experience. Andddd on that note, here’s a picture of me gliding from tree to tree:

 

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Oh, and here’s a picture of a squirrel peeking out from under the table because who doesn’t love squirrels, amirite?
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* – Notice how I started with no apologies for my serious writing procrastination? Yea, me too.

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Juneau in June : Bear Country or God’s Country?

I’m going to try pretending I didn’t go to Juneau last weekend. That I, in fact, am currently there and dutifully blogging at the end of each day like I said to myself that I would. But, of course, I’ve never been excellent at pretending… or not procrastinating so, I will own up to my one week of tardiness and hope my memory can still do the right kind of justice to what was definitely an experience. I will try and break up this post into two so neither are too long. I would prefer the pictures to speak for themselves, barring a few anecdotes. That being said, this is still going to be a really long post. So, I’m sorry and good luck.

Before I jump in, let’s note that I spend a great deal of my life doing a few uncomfortable comfortable things. We all do them, I’m sure most people like me are bugged by them, but we STILL do them. You know, like when we laugh at something we didn’t hear someone say in conversation but we can’t ask them to repeat for whatever reason? Or when we leave someone to have the wrong assumption about something we said or did because it’s not worth the correction and we just hope the point will never come up again? I call those things uncomfortable comfortable things. Because typically, we just can’t be too bothered.

In my case though, I do other things like always offer my own experiences when someone tells me theirs (if there’s a similarity, or the complete opposite). Not to belittle the significance or insignificance of what I’m being told (which it is often mistaken for), but to show that there is empathy or understanding; that there is solidarity in the sharing of the experience. But if you are like me, you do that enough and you begin to feel like you need to take a step back, remember what it feels like to not identify with someone or an experience. Sometimes, I forget that I want to walk into a situation like I don’t know a damned thing.

Why?

Because, if not, I get so accustomed to trying to identify/compare anecdotes or experiences to ones in my archives, that I stop creating new ones. I no longer have the blank slate necessary for completely new experiences and perspectives that are not like ones I already have. In other words, and to paraphrase my mother, I need to stop acting like I have all the damn answers.

And that’s why trips like Juneau are always necessary for  people like me – Trips to unpopular* destinations taken alone with adventure and discovery being the main motives. Words like adventure and discovery always insinuate novelty anyway and novelty is required to learn. So, I needed this journey to Alaska. And, as soon as my plane started taxiing for take-off, I realised that I needed it more than I thought.

In honour of how many things I didn’t know before embarking on this trip, here are some fun (not so fun) facts about Juneau, Alaska that I learned along the way courtesy of my formal and informal guides:

– Juneau is the capital of Alaska. (You thought it was Anchorage, didn’t you? Didn’t you? Don’t lie)

– About 33 000 people are actual residents of Juneau, making it the second largest city in Alaska.

– Juneau is home to about 600 bald eagles. They’re literally everywhere like pigeons are to Chicago or NY. Okay, I exaggerate a little but they’re seriously everywhere.

– We plebeians, that do not make Alaska our permanent abodes, live in the ‘lower 48’.

– Admiralty island, 6 miles from Juneau, has the highest population of brown bears in Northern America.

– That doesn’t mean they are lacking in any other species of bear over there. I was reminded often that I was in ‘bear country’.

– There are 17 million acres of forest around Juneau

– It rains too much in Juneau. Like I could tell you they had 100 inches of precipitation each year but that doesn’t mean much to you, does it? So translation – it’s a freaking lot. But it did not rain ONCE in my three days there. Can you say miracle?

Last, but certainly the highlight of my facts:

– There is a block in downtown Juneau that has an elementary school with a middle school right beside it. Beside that is the high school. Across from the high school is a polytechnic where you learn boat maintenance and repair. Beside that polytechnic is a boat wharf where boats with issues are fixed. Behind the elementary school on the other side of the block is the retirement home, and down the street from that is the cemetery. They call that beautiful arrangement in Juneau the circle of life.

Okay, it’s over. I’m going to jump into pictures now! And as you look at these pictures, think on this – One of my tour drivers asked (in pretty standard fashion) if anyone going rafting had ever been to Alaska before. Only a couple people had so he asked why they kept coming back and a lady pipes up from the back of the school bus saying, ” Because this is God’s country.” She was probably referring to the beauty and how nature still leaves so beautifully with humanity. And it’s the truest thing I heard my entire trip. So enjoy God’s country 🙂

 

-The view from my hotel window – Downtown Juneau

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– The view of Mount Roberts from Downtown Juneau

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– Downtown Juneau looking down towards the coast and Mount Roberts tramway

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– A bald eagle chilling on a street light post

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– The Mendenhall glacier from lake Mendenhall

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– Hi! It’s me!

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– And again

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– “Crazee the clown”

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– Just a cool picture. And clouds. OMG clouds.

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– No phones, no cameras, no children, no drunks. LOL

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– Because mountains and clouds everywhere. Seriously, clouds

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– Mandatory selfie with a pinch of a view 🙂

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– Some cool graffitti

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– The best restaurant in downtown Juneau – Tracy’s King Crab Shack

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– My shrimp sauce ( seriously the best and freshest shrimp), king crab bisque, ginger ale and light reading

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– The view of Juneau from the Mount Roberts tram

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– And again

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– And yet again

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– Lady Baltimore – a half-crippled, half-blind bald eagle close to Mount Robert’s summit

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– So many cautionary signs

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– I did say I was in Bear Country

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– At the summit of Mount Roberts

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– The trail from the summit of Mount Roberts

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* – Places to which people in my regular circles do not visit and do not plan to visit for a plethora of reasons.

Travel

Juneau in June: The Juneau June bug

For the next few days, I’m going to be playing this new game I invented called the, “Imagine you’re in a different place living a momentarily different life” game. Yes, yes, I am definitely not the first or one billionth person to wish for some variation of this but it should be a blast nonetheless. My first order of business? I’m going to imagine I’m going to Alaska. Yep, it’s going to be a Juneau in June kind of adventure!

Let’s imagine I have this amazing trip planned, every detail of the itinerary booked down to a T. Then, the night before my ultimate solo adventure, I get the worst stomach cramps ever. I’m talking roll around, sleep for 30 minute intervals, TMI the next morning (or in this post – uh oh) kind of stomach cramps. But before that night of horrors begins, I come home from work to NO INTERNET OR TV. Why? Because my service has been disconnected. Why?

Why do you think?

I forgot to pay the bloody bill and adult right. But this adulting business is tough work. It’s not a roller coaster, I promise. More like a six flags drop ride – super fast, no prep, and with the worst/best feelings of weightlessness and imbalance. Except with adulting, those feelings don’t go away after you walk it off for 5 minutes.

Anyway, so here I am on the worst evening of life contemplating (of course) if these are supposed to be omens of some sort. Should I not go on this trip? Is superstition even a thing? Where did I hide my pepto bismol? etc etc. Of course I decide I’m going anyway! What kind of imagination would I have if I didn’t even make it to my destination?! So obviously, we’ll have to follow my journey to Juneau (I love me my alliteration, obvs) tomorrow.

A bientot.

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