REMINISCENCE: recall to mind of a long-forgotten experience or fact; the process or practice of thinking or telling about past experiences

Sometimes, I wonder why I feel compelled to write about my life.  What is the value of writing about what happened today or putting my musings into words? 

But, then I stumble on old writings from long ago and I realize that the words capture things I’d forgotten.  Sure, I remember the basics of big events (time, place, people) but the years have dulled my memories of the emotions, the quirks, and the small insights I never thought I’d forget.  I recently indulged in a little reminiscence – a trip down my written memory lane.  It was a delight.

About this time eleven years ago, I was on a plane bound for Edinburgh.  It was the beginning of a grand adventure.  There were adventures before and there have been many since, but backpacking through Western Europe remains one of the most memorable for me.  Even so, it took reading my notes from that trip to bring it back to life in all of its glory. 

During that trip, I sent emails to a distribution list of friends and family every few days.   It was “blogging” old-school style – via Hotmail, at an internet café, with dial-up.  My mom had the foresight to print and save those emails for me.  Thanks mom!

Here is a reproduction of my final email home from Amsterdam after two months of travelling:

I’ve learned…

I will always look like a tourist, no matter how hard I try to be fashionable

Peanut butter is a versatile source of protein

“Breakfast” at a hostel means bread and butter

Some friendships are instant

Sleeping in airports is not a good money-saving strategy

Playing dumb can get you out of a lot of trouble

McDonald’s always has free bathrooms

Drying clothes over gas stove burner makes them smell funny

Sometimes pointing gets you farther than trying to speak a language you don’t know

Flip-flops are not appropriate dress shoes

Thirty people sleeping makes a room smell bad

Any tour is a free tour if you are sneaky

Everything is within walking distance when you have all day

Cotton clothing gets crunchy when hung to dry

Everything in Europe is smaller except the beers

“Clean” is a relative term

Bathing suits are not necessary for sunbathing (sunscreen, however, is a brilliant idea)

I will miss…

Meeting new friends every day

Never being lost (you can’t be lost if you don’t have a destination)

Afternoon naps

European chocolate

European cheese

Icecream, gelato, helado, etc.

Having the next country or city I visit be the most pressing decision I have to make

Seeing things I had only seen pictures of before

Walking through a new town before anybody is on the streets

Sleeping on trains, benches, walls, park lawns, etc.

Not needing a car

Playing gin rummy daily

Cobblestone streets and sidewalks

The thrill of hearing English spoken by the person behind the counter

 I look forward to…

Showers that don’t require body contortion to shave my legs

Water pressure

Tap water at restaurants

My running shoes

A pedicure

Renting home videos in my PJs

Cotton clothing (yep, the kind that takes forever to air dry)

Understanding the restaurant menu

Mexican food

Having a choice about what I will wear based on appearance, not aroma

Free bathrooms

AND MOST OF ALL…more adventures like this one!

Did the ‘all who wander are not lost’ cliché make me cringe a little?  Yes.  Do I wish “icecream” was hyphenated?  Yes.  From a writing perspective, I’d like to edit this.  But, from a memory perspective it’s perfect. 

Reading that email brings me back to the days just before my twenty-first birthday when I was struggling with whether or not to get on a plane to return home.  It takes me back to the moment when I felt certain that I was destined to be an expatriate.   It takes me back to the time when I was super skinny despite a diet of bread, peanut butter, chocolate and cheese. 

Imperfections and all, my old writings capture memories and freeze time.  Some insights hold up years later.  Some seem quaint and overly simplified.  Regardless, they make me smile.  I hope the same holds true when I look back on my musings from this season of my life.


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