Two hundred Ninety-Seven Days in Limbo

At the surface, my life might seem ideal. I’ve spent the last 185 days in Europe, living a life I could have only dreamed of. In my head and my heart, my home is Stockholm, Sweden. This is partially because of the love-at-first-sight moment I had when I first visited this city two years ago, but mostly because my impulsive behavior led me to an impromptu visit three months after my initial visit that would then put me on the same path as my now boyfriend. Since that first meeting, we’ve been doing the long-distance dance I dreaded, especially since I was in my last year of finally finishing that long overdue Bachelor’s degree I had started back in 2006. We did the dance for nine months until finally deciding in June that I would apply for a residence permit to live in Sweden. It was June 21, 2016 to be exact.

I knew the wait time for a permit had increased since the influx of refugees Sweden has taken, but what I didn’t know was how hard enduring the wait time would be. At first it was fun and exiting, I had completed my degree in May and was now off to a European adventure in July– Iceland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden! But July soon became October and the 90-day tourist visa had run out before having to return back to the States. Seattle, to be exact.

Well the story of Seattle is funny because you see, I could have had my adult life rolling once and for all, at the age of 28. A week or two before I returned to Seattle, I applied for one job. With that one application, I was asked for an interview. At that interview, I was given the job on the spot. How about that? And in the matter of a week, that job was revoked from me one day prior to seeing the space and meeting colleagues. Why? Because the day before I went to the job interview, I went to my interview at the Swedish consulate for my residence permit. At the end of my interview I was told that I should receive my decision for the permit in two-three months. TWO-THREE MONTHS?! Although I didn’t entirely believe it, I was filled with excitement. I don’t recall what exactly I said to the woman at my job interview, but I said enough about Sweden that she was skeptical about hiring me one week later. And that experience alone was enough to discourage me from putting any effort into attaining a “real job” while back in America.

I could only see the same thing happening again. And well, my life is in Sweden, I told myself, why start something here that I don’t plan on finishing. Before I knew it, it was time to return to Sweden anyway. The way the tourist visa works for U.S. citizens is that you’re allowed to stay 90 days in Europe during a 180-day period and as long as you spend 90 days out, you can come back again for 90 days. I was sure that during this time period I would get my residence permit for sure. Sweden was now taking lower amounts of refugees and the people in charge claimed to be aiming for shorter waiting times…

Why Liège? | Day 51

When people go to Belgium, they go to Brussels or perhaps Bruge, but there I was on a train to Liège. Who goes this city while backpacking Europe? This girl.

You’re probably wondering why Liège was even on my itinerary? I’ve got three reasons: waffles, frites and beer. And that’s exactly what I got.

I had left Paris; I knew I couldn’t stay any longer and caught a rideshare (via Bla Bla Car) as north as I could, which brought me to Metz. The driver and the other passenger were both limited in English and my French, almost nonexistent, made it fun trying to converse on the three-hour ride. I was making my way to Luxembourg City to spend the day, but plans changed and my best bet was to hop on the next train to Liège after only roaming the city for a few hours.

As soon as I could, I acquired the famous Liège waffles. Amongst old structures, just a stone’s throw from my friend’s home, was a plethora of waffles– some plain and some filled with rhubarb and other flavors that make your mouth water. I had been waiting for the day to get to Liège and try these waffles in its birthplace ever since I discovered Waffles de Liège. Do make note that there is are two styles of the Liège waffle when in Liège– the local version and the tourist version. I personally do not discriminate against waffles so I’ll take whatever I can get, but I did appreciate the waffle full of rhubarb jam (napkins needed).

Liège is a small city, making it a very walkable city. I easily walked from waffles to beer to frites to waffles to beer again in no time. I even ventured into some greenery with a view that overlooked the city, then was greeted with what I think is probably the longest stairway I have ever seen. Luckily, my friend created a route where we went down them and not up. At the bottom we strolled to an outdoor adventure area for kids that seemed more like an abandoned playhouse. We got there just as they prepared to have a water balloon fight. I wish I had a place like that as a child. You don’t see any of these spaces in America.

I was pleased with my decision to visit this more unknown city in Belgium. Good beers, waffles and fries everywhere, what a dream come true. With Amsterdam only two and a half hours away, I had to head there next.

But We’ll Always Have Paris | Day 48

They say Paris is the city of love, and it is, even if only a mirage. It is easy to fall in love in Paris, the city is rich with history and is romanticized through proper marketing. You have the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Pont des Arts and Notre Dame. These attractions were worth seeing, but my heart was in Montmarte, where the fabulous life of the fictional character Amélie Poulain resides. Maybe I should’ve known for that very reason that when I left Paris, the smoke and mirrors and camera tricks would stop working and any sort of summer romance would too when I left the city.

I thought Paris would be overrated, but it wasn’t. I fell for the egg, cheese and bacon crêpes that I made into a breakfast staple and the speculoos macarons. Café des 2 Moulins and crème brûlée. The eclectic street art amongst pathways. The history of the city knowing great writers and artists of our time once thrived in this very city.

One late night while walking the streets of Paris, I was approached by a woman speaking to me in French. I responded with “je ne…” struggling to say je ne comprends pas to tell her I don’t understand, but anxiety lies in my ability to speak a different language and I couldn’t spit it out. “Oh, American?” she said. She spoke in English and said she was liked my outfit, is a stylist, and asked what brand my jacket was. I felt rather accomplished, complimented on my attire in the city known for its fashion, especially with my backpacker wardrobe.

Despite the reputation, the French were some of the nicest people I’ve met. I was even inspired to learn French again.

J’adore Paris, even if good beer is hard to find. Hey, at least they have good food!

 

Because I Cannes | Day 44

After a week of unbearable heat and a plethora of mosquitoes bites on my body, an unwanted souvenir I acquired during my week in Italy, I was desperate to get to France. The trip there did not come easy. Failed plans of a rideshare created a day of traveling by train from Monterosso to Cannes on the most uncomfortable train ride yet. There was no air conditioning and at some point, no seats on the longest leg of the commute. No food either. It seemed that the universe wanted to give me more reasons to want to get out of Italy more than I already wanted to. The South of France became my salvation. When the train finally left the Italian border, I was relieved. Even though Italy and France are right next to each other, I felt a huge difference in the air. We passed Nice and Antibes, until finally– Cannes.

I’ve heard that the French are rude, but I’ve only ever come across the nicest people. Here in Cannes, I booked an AirBnb with Eric and Jonas. I fell in love with them while reading reviews and fell in love even more when I met them. Their home is walking distance to the beach and near a cute farmer’s market where I found a variety of homemade salami. Cannes reminded me of being back home in Hawai’i, particularly in Waikiki with the sidewalks full of tourist along the beach and high-fashioned shops right across. The concept seemed official when I came across a spot called “Waikiki” as if the universe sent a sign that it agreed. The ocean here, unlike Italy which felt like a bath, cooled you off in the heat. Everyone here seemed refreshed, rejuvenated and well, happy. I hung out on the beach drinking cheap wine and I, too, was happy.

If I were rich, I’d place a vacation home in this city and spend my days writing on the beach.

IMG_5027-copywp

IMG_5062-copywp

IMG_5091-copywp

IMG_5057-copywp

 

 

Cinque Terre | Day 43

Ever since I left the Scandinavian islands and made my way inland through Europe, I was anxious to get to a coastal city again– Cinque Terre, the five towns that sit alongside the cliffs off the coast in Italy. The salt-filled wind brushed against my skin; I made it. I finally made it from the Baltic to the Mediterranean. After the hustle and bustle of the Italian city life, being on the beach was a nice breather.

I found a spot to camp in Deiva Marina, 15 minutes from Cinque Terre National Park by train. It was more like glamping since the campsite, Camping La Sfinge, provided tents complete with a bed: there were even showers and toilets! I could not wait to get the ocean after spending a lot of time in cities under the blazing sun. After checking in at the campsite and fighting millions of mosquitoes along the way, wine and prosciutto was obtained for a drunken walk to the beach. The Mediterranean is just a walk away from the train station, where you can find a handful of restaurants. The sun was setting by the time we arrived at the beach, but that didn’t prevent us from jumping in. To my surprise, the ocean was as warm as bath water. I was content in the water, finally feeling free from the restraints of being inland. It was then that I truly realized that growing up on an island affected me; I needed to know that the shore was near.

Ah, it was that night that I discovered Trofie al Pesto. One word: pesto. This pasta resembled long-grained rice or worms a covered in pesto, one of my favorite things to drench my mouth with. Which reminds me, I must find this at a restaurant near me because it was THAT good.

Cinque Terre is not a place to escape the crowds. They’re here too, especially while waiting for trains to get between the five towns. I only explored one. It wasn’t until I took a detour away from the beach and into the buildings, I finally got to have that taste of Italy I imagined– laundry hanging on clotheslines, a good hole-in-the-wall food joint, sitting outdoors, taking as long as possible to finish a small cup of espresso.

Wes Anderson’s Milan | Day 42

If you’ve ever dreamed of being in a Wes Anderson film, one way you can realize that dream is by visiting the cafe that Wes Anderson designed himself– Bar Luce. I only spent time in Milan because I found out about this cafe and decided I’d fit it into my itinerary. It’s not very often that I read an article and can conclude that well, I’ll just make a pit stop there in a couple months.

1A9FF15E-7E50-4189-8C4F-ADC733057F08 copy

The cafe is located in Fondazione Prada in Milan, which features a very clean, futuristic design that resembles the setting for a post-apocalyptic sci-fi movie. The space provided a cold atmosphere, compared to the warm setting of a Wes Anderson film. I wondered if I was even in the right place. The only indicator of the cafe is the simple three-letter word: Bar, on its exterior. If you didn’t come here looking for this cafe, you would have missed it if you weren’t compelled to grab a drink.

Bar Luce lives up to your Wes Anderson expectations. Everything in the cafe is visually appealing– the food, the menu, the wallpaper, the restrooms. Everything. Although trying to take a symmetrical photo, as you would want to in a Wes Anderson setting, can be difficult. He did design the space to function. I enjoyed a Marocchino and Tiramisu, which I’m now realizing both include cocoa, coffee and dairy. Guess I had a theme going for my Wes Anderson experience.

After leaving Fondazione Prada, I went to the Navigli District, ordered some fried seafood (the best calamari and mediocre other sea creatures), grabbed a cheap bottle of beer, and sat along the canal and watched the sunset, as the buskers across the way played guitar and sang songs out of the 90s. I was also reminded that those friendly Italian mosquitoes were still alive and thriving and still in love with my blood, all night. I had no expectations for Milan, but the night in Navigli District proved to be fun for drinking in the streets and people watching. Even managed to end my night with a slice of pizza. Mmm, pizza.

pradawp

bl4wp

bl3wp  bl2wp

bl1wp

milanowp

Romanticized Rome | Day 41

In these ruins, you are bound to find beauty. In this city, you will be amongst many other outsiders, tourists, and vendors trying to force a selfie stick purchase upon you. Rome was the only city on my trip I intended to play tourist and made a goal to see the Colosseum. I had been warned to maybe avoid Rome, especially this time of year due to  the crowds, but I did it anyway.

Rome seems to be a city of romance, but in the summer heat, it was everything but romantic. Rome was the only city I thought to myself, “You stupid American tourist; you just walked yourself straight into a trap,” after getting into what I thought was a cab, only to find no indication of it being a cab and a woman texting on her phone in the passenger seat. When I asked to get out, she assured me, “If you think we’re going to do something bad, we’re not.” Yeah, sure. The cab driver, who seemed friendly at first, now hustled me for money after causing him to lose “clients.” And after I finally got out of the cab, was called a bitch, which I replied with a thank you.

I found that public transportation shuts down early, which I couldn’t understand. After visiting major cities like Tokyo and New York, I guess I just sort of assumed subways ran all night in major cities. A bus that never came and a closed subway line was the reason why I ended up in that cab. I will say though, the cab driver I got after resorting back to the cab after a shuttle to the airport I finally settled on failed to start, was nice.

But Rome, oh Rome, you are not for me. How I love your ruins and your art. Imagining a whole empire once thrived within this city and its ruins that still remain after all these years, leaves a person in awe. However, exploring the ruins in the heat required survival skills that consisted of seeking water fountains and constantly refilling water bottles to avoid a heatstroke.

The art school drop-out and Arrested Development fan in me was so excited to see Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam in the Sistine Chapel. The art school drop-out me could spend all day marveling over all the art in Vatican City. Rome holds many beautiful things, yes, but Rome as a whole was just not for me. 
DSC_0050wp

DSC_0031-copywp

DSC_0025-copywp

DSC_0016-copywp

DSC_0021-copywp

I’ll Melt With You in Florence | Day 39

Memorized by all the details on the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, the main Cathedral of Florence, I asked my new friend if I could touch it. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that people who lived hundreds of years ago created such beauty that could withstand time and it was there right in front of me. To graze my hands over the grooves of the building had me feeling like I was now a part of history.

DSC_0004-copywp

Florence is so rich with culture and the contrast of the city by day and by night is just that, day and night. The day is full of tourists and unbearable heat, but thanks to the tourists and unbearable heat, I found myself in line at an organic gelato shop that even made their own cones– Edoardo il Gelato Biologico. After studying the menu intently while I eavesdropped other Americans discussing the weather, I chose vegan almond and decided to try Chianti, mostly out of curiosity and because my Florence native friend said it was his favorite red wine. The Chianti gelato was sweet and wine-y, of course! Delicious, especially since it was wine in gelato form. My biggest battle was eating it before it melted all over my hand.

Another day consisted of me strolling through the Lorenzo Street Market to get lunch. I got there late, so the food shops in Central Market were almost all closed. The important thing is that I managed to get myself a prosciutto sandwich with tomato and mozzarella, my favorite. Walked through the market and and was seduced by all the other food, but there I stood already with my sandwich in hand, admiring pastas of all shapes and sizes. This is where having a travel buddy could have been handy; we could’ve dispersed the collection of food for a joint feast. It’s okay, I acquired prosciutto.

prosciuttowp

I also took my friend’s suggestion at trying out La Prosciutteria when he found out my deep, deep love for prosciutto. They make sandwiches to order and have prosciutto EVERYWHERE! Slabs of prosciutto hung from the ceiling and if there were craft beer there, I may have thought I died and went to my idea of heaven. I asked the woman who slung sandwiches what she suggested and ended up with a prosciutto sandwich with a truffle spread. Truffle has a very heavy flavor, so I would keep that in my the next time I go around ordering truffle anything. The prosciutto– so salty, so flavorful, so tender, so perfect (I love prosciutto).

DSC_0005-copywp

By night, my friend would give me a tour of all the different landmarks- from the Piazza della Signoria, home to the “Old Palace,” or what I like to call “The Castle,” and the open-air sculpture gallery to the Piazzale Michelangelo to get a panoramic view of the city. We got wood-fired pizza that contained three different combinations, all involving cured meat, and got to order local craft beer. He even took me to a bar called The Box with the best cocktail I ever had– fresh watermelon with gin– that seemed to play all my favorite musicians! All was so peaceful and calming and even charming at night, when compared to seeing exploring the city in the day.

watermelonwp

I could be in love with Florence with it’s history of great artists like Michelangelo and Raphael or it’s random Audrey Hepburn eyes graffiti and Simone D’Auria‘s “I Eat Earth” art installation of spoons. Heck, this wine-heavy city even has a craft beer scene. If it wasn’t for the deathly heat and the infinite amount of stealthy mosquitoes that seemed to have a strong thirst for this foreigners blood, I might have been in love. And that was only the beginning…

DSC_0002-copywp

DSC_0014-copywp

audreywp

DSC_0011-copywp

spoonwp

DSC_0006-copywp

castlewp

Swiss Dreams | Day 37

A road trip in an old Volkswagen van with classic rock coming from the stereo; I was livin’ the dream. Growing up, I would watch Almost Famous and That 70’s Show full of envy that I was not born in that era. I always longed for the day I could own a VW van and travel. Luckily, Couchsurfing allowed me to cross paths with the coolest 22-year-old Swiss boy I know, Jannik.

I quickly traded the view of Lake Zurich to spend 3 hours road tripping down in his van to head south to Ticino. Ah, finally! I never thought the day that I’d get to live out my teenage fantasy would be in Switzerland. There I was, sun on my face, wind in my hair in the passenger seat, filled with the excitement of a little girl.

Knowing that I was dying to be submerged into mother nature’s arms, Jannik had the best idea for a detour to avoid traffic— driving over the mountain instead of through it. That idea left us witness to land illustrated in fairy tales. We found ourselves making a bouquet out of the furry flowers, surrounded by marshmallow clouds.

Stargazing upon rocks in the shallow river. Short hike into a little oasis. Singing and ukulele-playing under the tent during night rain. Walking around with a watermelon. Swimming amongst mountainous backdrops. These were some of my most memorable days and perhaps why I took a long hiatus before finally writing this. Life was so simple, yet more fulfilling than ever. This was living.

Processed with VSCOcam with hb2 preset
Processed with VSCOcam with hb2 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with hb2 preset

In Innsbruck | Day 33

An old city engulfed by mountains, full of athletic types, that’s what Innsbruck is. What a breather it was to make a stop in Austria. Minimal tourists and mountains to look at in every corner. I was there for nature and wanted to see more than there was time for, but I took a hike up the mountain and that’s all that matters. You can take a short bus ride to a mountain which makes things really convenient. It is gorgeous once you start hiking up and there seemed to be more mountain bikers than hikers. There are huts throughout the mountain too to fill your belly whenever you desire. It was literally a breath of fresh air after quickly going through cities.

That night there was a DJ that played by the river in front of the university library, filled with 20-something-year-olds drinking mostly beer. It ended at 10 p.m. and it was like the clock striking midnight for Cinderella, the reality of Innsbruck hit me. A girl born and raised there mentioned how you don’t really get to see sunsets because of all the mountains. What?! A life without sunsets?! And when I drink, I get hungry, really hungry and found there was nowhere to get food. Even though it was only 10, the city is small enough that places close early. I hate this place. What is this life? Thank goodness I’ve been on a chip-binge since I got to Europe and snagged some Brazil do Salsa flavored chips on a grocery-run earlier in the day. Something to tie me over.

Innsbruck is a great place to be immersed into the walls of nature, but to my disappointment, it is not a great place for late-night food.

%d bloggers like this: