What Makes a Place

Is it the place itself? The landscape, the landmarks, the land in general? Or is its inhabitants? I think as with most things the answer is somewhere in between, but it has been an inescapable realisation while travelling that the latter are much more interesting in the long run. People are constantly different, whether it’s within a town, across a country or from two entirely different parts of the world, and it never ceases to be an experience of discovery meeting strangers. Places on the other hand, despite being equally varied, can get a bit…samey… Mountains are mountains, wherever they are, the sea is the sea, buildings offer some stronger sense of individuality but that owes itself to people, surprise, surprise.

The best way to explain it is that I will always be somewhere, but will I always be with someone? Nope. And I’ve found places open themselves up much more if they’re explored with another human, be it a traveller or a local. Of-course I’ll never appreciate the difference it would make meeting someone nowhere in comparison to somewhere, as the former is somewhat impossible. I suppose if someone sat waiting in a vacuum (the nothingness kind, not the cleaner kind) for me to come say hello them then that might come close, but even then spending time inside a vacuum must be pretty cool, and thus notable, and thus is it really nowhere?
This is getting very odd right from the beginning isn’t it..

Alone time is nice, it’s certainly necessary, but I’ve only once decided to take it for myself so far, the rest of the time I’ve either been with someone or would have rather been with someone. Now I just sound lonely. This isn’t getting any better.

BASICALLY what I’m trying to work my way around is this idea that the place is more important than the people, or the presence of people – known or not.There have been some absolutely wondrous cities that I’ve visited but have found immensely unsatisfying for all their grandeur. Florence was one, the South of France in general (pre-Marseille) was another, Arles and Nîmes both failed to impress a lone traveller, and it comes down mainly to the fact that beauty, eye-candy of any sort, is best when someone else is there to appreciate it with you. With the exception of arty-art art, you can take in a view, appreciate it and move on in a matter of seconds by yourself, so what’s left to do in a city built almost entirely on that? You guessed it.

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Dean (NZ), Anna & Lea (USA) and Pieter (BEL)

There’s also the touch of the fleeting moment: The great thing about the EU cough above but as well as Europe in general is that everywhere I’m visiting is pretty accessible, I can always come back, but what about the people I met by chance? What if my hosts have moved on or are busy? The sad likelihood is I won’t see most of these people again, but then that makes the time spent with them all the more memorable.

Being the border-line autist that I am, I’m keeping a list of all the people that I meet, which  may come in handy if I decide to write a b-

GOOD NEWS EVERYBODY, I’M THINKING OF WRITING A BOOK! (On the positive response to all this blogging business)

…if I decide to write a book. And this list, considering I’m just past half way through, is well over 200 people long already.

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Hayley & Shaun (AUS), Olof (SWE) and Ashraf (MAL)

Travelling solo is a strange experience. Is it scary? Not really, not enough that I look back remember it being so. But is it lonely? Well.. again, very rarely. Being by yourself makes a necessity of filling the space usually occupied by friends with new people, which though not necessarily better, does teach you a thing or two about stepping out, getting involved and, as far as travel is concerned, earning yourself a gateway into a whole world of other cultures at the same time.

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With Kevin/Kev-head (USA)
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Ecstatic.

The kindness of strangers is real. And tackled head on it often makes a great friend instantly. This trip will definitely come and go, all the blog posts and books and films I make about it will dart about for a few weeks, but then the light will go out. I was already determined that this wouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of my life or even my travels, but it will definitely have its legacy. Hundreds of people are now all around the world, who I effectively bumped into for a brief moment, I have a massive group of people I would very comfortably call friends, a group that stretches from Canada to New Zealand, Argentina to Korea, Russia, Egypt, Greece, Morocco, Iran, Turkey, Brazil, Mexico and even Yorkshire, the list goes on.

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Ian and Lara (USA)
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Grace (USA) during the States vs Commonwealth Games

There is a bunch of people on the list, referred to as ‘Team Nice’, from the hostel I stayed at there (I keep mentioning this, don’t I?). This group stretches across the globe, and the days we spent there are all that connect us, but that’s more than enough. And to them, ‘Team Nice’ will be a bunch in their giant networks all the same. Travel might broaden the mind, but it brings the world together. And I think of those people when I think of Nice.

I think of Elly, Ian, Alice, Grace and Lara when I think of Cinque Terre and Pisa. When I remember Genova, I remember Ashraf and Olof, as well as Shaun and Hayley, who nonchalantly came and sat next to me in Bologna three weeks later. Imagine the feeling of crossing paths with two people by complete chance twice. It’s amazing. And of course Joe Dickmann, who joined me for an entire week from Orleans to Lyon, an inspiring, hilarious and unforgettable week and a bit.

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With Elly (Hedwig) in Pisa
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Alice and Blake, (AUS)

And what about my hosts? The kindest of them all, the pinnacle of human goodness, I’m certain of that, and as I am beginning to discover, the best way to learn about somewhere. Locals from Avranches to Vienna have welcomed me into their homes. Stopping for a moment every now and then, you realise just how incredible that is.

Everyone mentioned or nodded to here has a little something in their mindset, of this I’m sure, something that spurs them to see the best in people, because they’ve seen the best in people, and something which helps them understand just how incredible this world is, not merely because it’s endlessly beautiful, constantly intriguing and responsible for everything we all are or have, but also, and maybe more importantly, because of everyone else walking, riding, sailing, flying around it.

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