Laura Fortune

Life Learning

Keep It Light

Roadtrip, U.S. Travel, Life LearningLaura FortuneComment

Somedays I just need to "keep things light" and see the humor around me. Take a deep breath, smile and it just happens. My surroundings are light and I inevitably meet people that I have a little laugh with. I am thankful for this.

Today was a day like that, and on top of it all, I was equally thrilled to find that Tucson has a radio station dedicated to playing my favorite music, Classic Hip Hop. 97.5 FM, thank you. I needed that too.

As I cruised around this place, here's some of what I saw today...

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Miracle Mile.... 

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Bathroom in the Historic Corbett House (thanks for the tour, Bonnie!) 

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Amazing.   

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Decoration at the Mexican Dentist

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A Sweet Treat

Zion to Grand Canyon

Life Learning, National Park, Roadtrip, U.S. TravelLaura FortuneComment

August 5

I was up early and off to Zion National Park.  Zion wasn’t on my radar of places to visit and it was added onto my trip a couple days ago.  It is absolutely mind-boggling beautiful.  It is a spectacular sight and the best way to see it is by hiking.

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The night before I stopped into the Chili’s across the street from the Wal-Mart lot I was staying in, and the waitress saw my NY License and asked if I was touring the National Parks.  I told her about my day in Bryce and how Zion was next.  I was looking up hikes at that moment.  She suggested the two I was reading about, and one of them is called Angels Landing, with a steep climb and narrow walking cliffs that drop-off on each side and you need to hold onto chains for.  I thought this would be the most epic hike to end this solo and unpredictable journey.  It is not for children or people with a fear of heights.

I never thought I had a fear of heights until one trip to Yosemite with my brother.  He took me on a secret hike and there was one part where you walk out on a ledge about 3 feet wide.  I followed my brother anywhere, I trusted him and he always encouraged this bravery.  But when I got out to the ledge, I froze.  It’s dizzying and one wind gust or loss of balance felt like I would blow off the side like a piece of paper.  I couldn’t move back towards the place we started, he had to coach me back, and when I was off the ledge, I was paralyzed for the next hour. 

I hiked up to Angels Landing with this knowledge.  It felt like a fear I wanted to conquer, much like sleeping in a tent alone, or hiking in bear areas alone, or driving around this massive country by myself.  I wanted to end this epic National Park tour with a crazy hike, solo. 

I made it to top of the mountain and began up the chain portion. I stopped and thought about it, and decided to give it a try, I didn’t want to regret not finishing the hike. My sneakers had no grip, and I was slipping as the sloping steps created by redstone sediment were covered with sand.  I didn’t take another step, and said to the person behind me, “I’m sorry, I’m having second thoughts.”  I felt alone.  I felt the fear and my body beginning to freeze up.  I didn’t have my brother or anyone with me to coach me or for me to follow and trust.  As I turned around to go down the first set of chains I had climbed up, my sneakers slid more and I lost total balance and began sliding down, my hands and knees slowing me to a stop.  I heard gasps and a stranger holding the chains reached out his hand for me to take and helped me up to grab the chain.  I was done. 

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I hiked down the mountain and couldn’t hike any longer, because I had improper shoes.  It was such a defeating feeling.  To be in the most beautiful park, and to not be able to experience it the way I would like, with hours and hours of daylight left.  

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I took a look at my map, and began the plan-dance.  The Grand Canyon was no longer in my plans, but I looked again.  Within two hours, I had found a shower at a nearby RV park and began the drive to the Grand Canyon to arrive a couple of hours before sunset. 

It was perfect.  As I entered Grand Canyon National Park, the first sight was a herd of Bison.  This immediately made my detour worth doing.

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I entered at the North Rim, a less populated view of the canyon, and I found the most perfect spot to sit and watch as the sun set on my final stop on this National Park frenzy.  What a time of my life.

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Sneaky Night in Glacier

National Park, Roadtrip, U.S. Travel, Life LearningLaura Fortune1 Comment

 

I left Golden, British Colombia and I drove towards Montana, my destination for the evening was Glacier National Park.  I arrived around 5pm, which is plenty of daylight, but tight to expect to find a campsite, for such a popular park in the summer. 

The attendant at the West Glacier entrance informed me that no sites were available and the entry fee was $30 for 7 days, and no option to pay a daily rate.  Whether I spent the night in the park or not, wasn’t on my mind as much as how I was dead-set on driving one of the most scenic drives in America, Going-To-The-Sun Road.  It is a 52 mile road that goes from one side of the park to the other and from what I read about it, I was willing to pass over $30 to just drive across the park. 

After some exchanges between the lady attendant and I, she understood that I was only in the area for the evening, and I just wanted to drive the road.  She leaned in and said, “Well, it looks like it’s going to take you about 52 miles to make the U-turn.  Hint…hint…”  At first, I didn’t quite understand her sentiment, but she shoved the maps and pamphlets towards my car window and said, “Welcome to Glacier.”

I drove in and immediately slowed down, and feel into a trance of the sights and smells.  I had no rush to get through this park, and I wanted to leisurely enjoy it at my own pace, now that I had pasted the velvet ropes and gained a renegade entry. 

My first stop was Lake McDonald where I took my first fresh water swim of this trip.  It was a hot day and I floated in the clear water flanked by mountains with large pebbles under my feet.

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I moved forward and stopped every time I felt the urge, and that was a lot.  By 10pm, I had only made it half way through the 52 mile road.

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When I know I am just passing through or taking a scenic drive, I know that the best times are at sunrise and sunset.  I considered the lady being nice enough to let me in, under the guise that I would just drive straight through. 

It was dark now, and my options were to drive the second half of the road in the dark and exit Glacier to find a place to park and sleep, or maybe, I could just slink back into a side road, and park at a picnic area.  So I did.  And in the morning, I drove the rest of Going-To-The-Sun Road in the light of the sunrise.

The morning view from the van at my nighttime parking lot

The morning view from the van at my nighttime parking lot

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No Sugar Coating

Life Learning, Roadtrip, International TravelLaura Fortune1 Comment

Let’s be honest, this is hard. 

Anyone who thinks this trip is all gorgeous views and sunsets and that I just magically float in a self-driving car from place to place is just wrong. I think about all that goes into each stop I make, each mile and route I chose to take, when to get gas, how to stay hydrated, eating healthfully and driving hours and hours at a time.  I have to listen to my body and decide where and when to stop when I get drowsy and need a nap.  I have to consider where to sleep for the night, how to feel safe and good in my surroundings.  Also, I am not totally free with time, I have places I need to land at a certain times.  I mean, I have a dentist appointment in Mexico and I am currently in Canada. 

All that was difficult, but manageable for me. I enjoy the challenge and adventure and I like these problem solving moments, I was getting by. 

Until I got sick. 

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There has been no scarier situation than waking up in the middle of the night in a parking lot in a small Canadian town and needing to find a restroom fast, but not being able to sit-up, much less climb into the front seat to drive to who-knows-where.  I made it to the one open gas station, and I used the bathroom, bought some medicine and made friends with the attendant, Tamara, as I thought I might be seeing her again that night.  As I returned and re-parked in the parking lot I was staying at, I climbed into the back of my van and thought to myself, “I deserve a freaking scout badge for the past 30 minutes.”

Another relief to see the sunrise as the morning came.

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I have been sick for the past two days, and with all the strain I have put my body and mind through for the past month, it’s not a surprise that my body has said, “stop, I need a real rest.”  I also needed proximity to a real toilet.  So I drove until I needed to make the next decision.

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I am currently at a hotel room smack in-between two gorgeous and famous Canadian National Parks.  Glacier and Banff.  It’s heartbreaking, but I have to accept that I still have a long way to go and a lot more to see, and I need to be healthy for the journey ahead of me.  So drinking water, Gatorade, sleeping and watching trashy TV is how I’m rolling for these 36 hours. 

 

 

Daylight Brings Relief

Life Learning, National Park, Roadtrip, U.S. TravelLaura Fortune1 Comment

July 19

It wasn’t a great nights sleep.  I had crazy dreams, some of them involved various ways intruders where entering my tent.  It’s a strange thing to dream about a scary scenario while you are actually in that place.  I also heard an animal sniffing around during the night, but a few sleeping bag movements scared it away.  The sun came up eventually, and daylight brings relief. 

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I took a little walk around my camp area and found a patch of wild orchids.  I brought a few along to freshen up my traveling flower arrangement and also admired the morning fog.

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I packed up and got back on the road.  I passed by a sign that said the Drive-Thru Tree was up the road a little.  I figured, why not?  I drove up at 8:30am, and it was closed.  No Trespassing.  Seeing a one-way road that was most likely the exit to the tourist destination, I thought to just see how it would be to drive down.  I definitely trespassed.  I drove up to the tree, but didn’t have the balls to drive through.  The area was so cheesy with wood carvings of bears and animals and the tree looked plastic and a gift shop was directly behind it.  I snapped a picture and got out of there.

These long winding roads can be tiring and slow or quick with sharp turns, and it’s hard not to want to pull over every 10 minutes to marvel at each view that comes about.  I also felt really grumpy and deflated on most of these days.  I thought this roadtrip would clear my head and give me good time to feel a certain way about a place or what my next step is, and I just wasn’t feeling that way, not yet. 

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I crossed the Oregon state line and encountered more beauty and rode past an old thrift store I thought I would stop at.  The guy behind the counter was the owner and he had no front teeth and claimed he had an apartment above the store and had not left the space in 3 months.  He said he would like to go the beach or something, but he would have to go alone, and what’s the point of that?  Well, I bought a utility knife and wished him well. 

I found a campground north of Coos Bay, OR along the Oregon Dunes National Park, and I found a place I felt comfortable with and set up.  Flower vase on the picnic table.

I went for a sunset hike to see these dunes, and I was struck.  I never knew this landscape existed anywhere besides a sandy desert.  It was the most beautiful sight.

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That night I had a knife added to my bedside set-up, and it began raining in the middle of the night, which has the ablitity to sound very much like footsteps.  But it was a better nights sleep.  And daylight brought relief.

Highway 1

Life Learning, Roadtrip, U.S. TravelLaura FortuneComment

July 18

Last night I stayed in San Francisco with the high school friend and we went to a Giants vs. Indians baseball game.  We had a blast, we barely watched the game but we just chatted about life and family and boys and we just really had a great time together.

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This morning I left early and headed north to Highway 1.  This is a highway that curves and bends all up along the California and Oregon coast. 

I knew this was going to be a long drive that would take a few days as it’s not a straight shot like an Interstate would be.  I wanted to take the time to see this coastline, and wow.  Good call.

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I stopped at Bodega Bay for some of the best fish tacos, and I stopped for a little hike at Bowling Ball Beach.  The tide was too high to see the large amount of big rocks shaped like balls, but still a nice time to get out and explore.

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As sundown approached, I decided it was time for me to stop and find the place where I would sleep for the night.  I have two Apps that I use.  'Camp & Tent' shows were all the campsites are in any area, and 'Boondocking' is the same concept.  Boondocking is appealing because it is free, but as I pulled into an dirt lot along the coast with other vans and RVs parked up for the night, I thought I might like to see what the campsites have to offer.  What I really knew was that I need to pull-off the band-aid on solo tent camping.  I had never done it, and I was going to need to begin getting comfortable with it. 

I landed north of Fort Bragg, CA at the Westport-Union Landing State Park.  I drove around for a while, considering what I should do.  Did I feel safe?  Is it worth the $35 State Park charge?  Can I actually do this on my own or get any sleep this way? 

I found a spot on the coast and two sites down I saw an RV that didn’t seem to have people in it, but on their picnic table was a vase with an arrangement of wildflowers.  I was also traveling with a vase and some flowers by my side in the cup holder of my van, and this felt like a warm and kind sign for me.  I set my vase of flowers out on my picnic table and began to set-up my tent and watch the sunset.  And as the sun went down, I climbed into my tent and fell asleep. 

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No Friend Left Behind

Family, Life Learning, RoadtripLaura FortuneComment

July 16

Saturday night after the show, I drove over to a friends house in Oakland where I would be staying for the weekend.  We lazed on her couch and caught up for a bit.  Then we drove into the city and I met-up with a good friend’s older brother, who has also become a friend of mine, and later another friend I haven’t seen since high school came through and we went dancing later that night. 

On Sunday, the same high school friend came by that morning to bring some treats for me and to relieve me for a moment to watch my booth.  Sunday evening, two friends of mine who I met in Brooklyn, came to see me and help me pack up.  We rode in my minivan back to the East Bay, and we laughed about old times and lamented that we couldn’t believe we were all on the west coast at the same time.

A friend's view from the floor of the back of the van as I drove us over to the East Bay

A friend's view from the floor of the back of the van as I drove us over to the East Bay

The family and friends I have been fortunate to see on this trip has been incredible.  So many supportive people from all parts of my life, who have taken the time to come to see me, and for me to see parts of their world and each with the ability to pick-up wherever we left off.  I’m a lucky girl.

  

This is 36

Life LearningLaura FortuneComment

This is me, this is my 36.  

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I have forgone some societal factors thus far in my life, and these choices have shaped my adult life in ways I am really amazed by. Moving to Portugal and traveling on my own. Spending two months working as late as I want in a metals studio. Packing it all up to go on a cross country roadtrip on my own. People I have known for a long time aren't necessarily surprised by my choices, but they don't quite understand them either. I'm okay with that, I don't fully understand all of their choices , yet I accept them. 

This is 36 for me. Tomorrow I will know 37, and it's all just super exciting, cuz I'm a grown woman and I do what I want...

Despicable Me

Family, Life LearningLaura FortuneComment

July 11

I love visiting this little family, and this morning we realized I hadn't been to their house in California for almost two years.  I had seen them in Tallahassee and on their trip to New York City, but as I was pretty steady with visiting, it just hadn't happened in a while.

As I get older and see the kids grow, I can't help but to think of how different my brother and my life has looked.  I've been free to come and go and stayed unattached to the responsibility of a family, and it's almost all he has known his whole adult life.  

I think this crosses my brother and sister-in-laws minds when I'm around, too.  Do any of us know more than the other when our lives are just so different?  Do any of us feel like we made a bold choice at some point in our lives?  I think when we talk about our experiences it's more of a consensus that we are all just trying to do the best we can on that particular day.  

And on this day, I went to see the kids swim practice and my sister-in-law as the swim coach, I took the kids to In-N-Out Burger, and to pick out one candy at a gas station.  Then I took them to see Despicable Me at the movies.  And when the movie began, I promptly fell asleep for the duration.  Despicable.    

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A Surprise Ending

Craft Show, Life Learning, Roadtrip, MovingLaura FortuneComment

July 9 

Sunday felt altogether more calm and relaxed.  I had my set-up figured out, I knew what hot felt like, and I understood that this trip was going to feel more like a meet-and-greet with a learning curve show, with a dream roadtrip bonus. 

I always meet really wonderful people at these shows.  The value in this experience is the information and advice I take in from other vendors and people that are visiting the show.  I’m open with people who are interested in enamel and I’m open when they are interested in where I am based out of.  “I’m in-between places.”  I left Brooklyn for Portugal and now have a metal studio in Southern Georgia, and I’m traveling the west coast.  It’s all a strange combination. 

But the highlight of my time in LA had little to do with the show, and more to do with the choices I have made in the past year. 

Sunday was over and I was packing up the jewelry for the weekend, and a lady approached my table.  She asked if I was the artist that moved to Portugal and I said Yes, in a where-is-this-going type of thought. 

She introduced herself stating she and her boyfriend were the couple that came to my apartment last year and bought most of my furniture when I was moving out of Brooklyn.  I couldn’t believe it. 

This couple was so sweet and encouraging of my move out of Brooklyn and taking the chance to go and travel.  They had just been on a similar type of journey and were settling in Brooklyn and reacquiring things for their new apartment.  They loved my stuff and wanted to buy much of it from me.  At the time, I was on-the-fence about whether to store my stuff, or to just sell it altogether.  Having them in my place, and watching it all walk out the door of my apartment so quickly made the decision rip of like a band-aid. 

So many decisions feel so hard, and then they are made for me, and I accept them.  People come along who buy all of your furniture, cars breakdown, a tooth needs extraction. 

It meant a lot for me to see this couple at that moment.  I wasn’t feeling totally great about the show in Los Angeles, accepting the losses, but sometimes it helps to just have a little moment, a small-world moment.  A reminder of a time where I was at the end of a major chapter of my life and where I currently am within a whole new experience.  It kind of just makes me feel like I’m doing something right, in the right place.

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Mexican Dentist

Family, International Travel, Life Learning, Roadtrip, U.S. TravelLaura FortuneComment

July 6

My uncle and aunt moved from Breckenridge to Tucson and I was one of the first visitors to their new home.  Since the move they had began traveling to see a dentist in Mexico, a place highly recommended and much cheaper than American dental costs.  I have never had dental insurance and have always paid out-of-pocket for my extensive dental needs, so this appointment to see a dentist in Mexico was really exciting to me. 

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I had never been to Mexico and it just seemed to be a funny reason to go. 

I had a loose crown and it needed to be re-cemented, a simple procedure, from my understanding.

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After the dentist looked over my x-rays, it was brought to my attention that the loose crown was actually a loose tooth implant, and it was infected and needed to be extracted.  I was handed the tooth implant in a plastic bag, a prescription for antibiotics, a list of the costs that I will pay for a new implant and a follow-up appointment card to see the specialist in one month, after the bone in my mouth heals. 

I didn’t expect any of this.  I didn’t expect to have one less tooth for the month, to need to pay the cost for a new implant (it’s less than in the US, but still a pretty big expense), or to need to extend my roadtrip so that I land back in Arizona the first week of August. 

A few days earlier I was hit with the unexpected car loss and readjustment to the change of automobile, and now I was readjusting my trip again. 

It was overwhelming and shocking.  But the tooth problem needed to be taken care of and infection is nothing to ignore.  So I leaned into the change again and carried on.

In five days, I lost my car and a tooth.  Rolling with it.

Alright Tucson, see you in one month. 

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July First!

Life Learning, Roadtrip, U.S. Travel, FamilyLaura FortuneComment

5am Saturday July 1, 2017  Tallahassee, Florida

My Jeep was packed and I pulled out of the driveway at my Mom's house.  We did our traditional honking and waving, she ran towards the sidewalk to wave more, and I passed her with a shout out the window, "I feel like I forgot something!!" She waved it off and I continued down the road.  West coast bound.  Here it goes!

5:45am 

My truck jerked forward and the Check Gauges light came on.  The coolant gauge went way up and my truck felt like going over 60mph was a struggle.  My mind raced.  I needed to find a mechanic.  I needed to find a new way to get to my destinations.  Can my truck be fixed?  Can I just make it to Austin?  Ohhhh, that didn't sound good, can I make it to Pensacola?  Whoa, that isn't right.  I hope I make it to the next exit.  

6:30am Defuniak Springs, Florida

I made it to the Wal-Mart parking lot, actually the Auto Center.  Smoke billowed from the hood.  

I don't know the time frame of all the other events that happened that afternoon.  All I know is that at some point my Mom showed up, a tow truck arrived, the mechanic said the engine is fried, the first car rental place didn't have any SUVs available, so we drove west to the Pensacola airport where the line was 20 people deep, after all, it was a Saturday afternoon on July 4th Weekend.  

I reached the rental car counter and they had my car ready.  "Ma'am, because it was a sameday reservation, we couldn't guarantee you an SUV, so we have a mini-van."

Noooooo!!  Please do not make me drive a mini-van for the next month.  Please.  

We arrived to my new van, and once I saw how to make all those seats disappear into the floor, I was sold.  I fit everything in the back to one side and had room to spread out my sleeping bag.  My jeep didn't have A/C, or a great sound system, but here I was, with all of those luxuries.     

All the sudden my trip felt brand new and I immediately extended my time away.  I was going to take the trip around the country and up the west coast that I have always wanted to take.  I have a car that I trust and that I can sleep in if I need to.  I had the space to fit my display and better gas mileage than the Jeep.  

In my experience I try to make the best decision I can make at the time, and then life happens and decision ends up being made for me.  It was always meant to be this way.  

Eight hours after my initial departure, I was back on the road.  I drove through Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and I made it to Austin, TX at 2:30am CT.

Down South, and kinda like it.

Art, Family, Jewelry, Life Learning, Moving, StudioLaura FortuneComment

I returned to the US in a whirlwind.  A visit with a friend in New York City outside of JFK airport, a quick stay with an old friend in Jacksonville, Florida, a sweet wedding in Asheville, North Carolina, a visit to my sister in a cabin in Elijay, Georgia....and that was the first 5 days back.

And after all of that, I needed to boogie down to Florida to set-up a studio and get to work.  I decided that in July, I would travel the west coast to participate in a series of Renegade Craft Shows, so I needed to stock up.  A series of events led me to Studio 209 in Thomasville, Georgia.

It's a perfect place for me, and this is a total surprise.  I'm growing fonder of being in an area I never thought I would return to.  I love my family and friends here, and the idea would come to my mind over the years, but then I would go for a visit and as fast as the idea came to me, it flew out the window and I retreated back to Brooklyn and back to the drawing board.  

The opportunity to have extended traveling time has changed me.  I don't feel trapped by places, because I can see that I can go away, experience new people and places, and return and quiet back down, work in my studio.  That is the life I want.  A studio life/travel life/gardening life/old truck with a dog life.  

And someday I will have that.  But in less than a month, I will pack up my 1999 Jeep Cherokee and drive west for a whole new adventure. 

Two Weeks, Wut?

Moving, Life Learning, International Travel, PortugalLaura FortuneComment

At this exact time in two weeks, I will be sitting in the Lisbon airport, waiting to board a plane and fly back to the US.   

My plan is vague at this moment, and I have a few options for what I'll be doing while back in the States for three months.  The options so far are, a west coast road-trip at craft shows, an artist residency in Southern Georgia, a summer in Brooklyn working at a Summer Concert Series and other odd jobs, even an offer to live in Seattle.  In the next two weeks this plan will take a shape.  But also in these two weeks, I will feel a sadness and uncertainty about how I am spending my last days in Lisbon, until I return in September.

I have settled into a life of spending time with my friends, eating at local places, working at the studio, or being home.  It isn’t so different from my previous life in NYC.  I stopped exploring as much as I did when I first arrived, and a guilty feeling has hit that I just didn’t do enough and my time is running out. 

“It will all be here when you return,” is what I am told.  But the next three months hold so much mystery, and I wonder what I will have experienced and who I will be when I return.

I ran into a guy I met here in Lisbon, and he was telling me about his plans to move.  Even though I could see the trepidation of getting everything in order, I congratulated him.  I know from my experience you have to keep putting one foot forward and plans evolve, the fear is a waste of time, although difficult to avoid.  He agreed and told me of an old Portuguese saying that goes something like, 'If all you have is cold water for your shower and you don’t want to take a cold shower, then lather your body with soap and using cold water to rinse is the only choice.'  I still kind of laugh at this story, and ummmm, okay, I guess it makes sense.  Lather up, the rest is inevitable. 

I will miss it here, and I will try not to dwell on every passing day…the 14 days and one hour.  These are some of my daily sights I don’t want to forget. 

Saturday and Sunday Morning cartoons in Portuguese

Saturday and Sunday Morning cartoons in Portuguese

The view as I sit in the window of my apartment on a rainy evening.

The view as I sit in the window of my apartment on a rainy evening.

My next door neighbor, the Panteão Nacional.

My next door neighbor, the Panteão Nacional.

Sights I see walking to and from the atelier to my home.

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When I leave the studio, this yellow building always pops up in my view and I love that.

When I leave the studio, this yellow building always pops up in my view and I love that.

The Old Story

International Travel, Life LearningLaura FortuneComment
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My time in Romania was spent in one region, Transylvania, and one small village, Apos.  I like to say I was on Farm Island.  It was difficult for me to find time away, an ability to get off the island, and I didn’t try very hard as I found everything I needed on the island, good food, good people, a place to sleep and sweet animals all over.

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As island life and small towns go, there is so much to learn from personal and work dynamics, right there.  An event at Villa Abbatis was to happen three days after my arrival, so there was a lot of work to be done in preparation.  The people I worked with spoke Romanian, and my only language is English (a little Portuguese, yayyyy!) and a good work ethic.  The last one came in handy as I eventually made my way in with the workers, a group of people I came to really love.

The event came and went it was a “brunch”.  I’m not going to spend any time describing the celebration, besides to say, the food and music were wonderful and a great Romanian experience.  I knew so little of what was expected of me, so I ended up just busing tables all day.  Any server and busboy knows that term.  It was never ending and I became one with the dishwashing staff.  It’s a bonding that happens with no language needed, within a kitchen crew.  We all bond with laughter and eye-rolls.

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The brunch scene is not my thing in NYC, and it happens to be the same case in Romania.  It was interesting to see this age-old dynamic (upper class comes to experience authentic food in a poorer village), and I questioned my ability to stick around after the event was finished because I could see my presence was not necessary after the work for the event was done.  But there were a couple of days “off” and I ended up spending it with the people who live in Apos. 

For the next three days, I was invited to their homes and sometimes just showed up for coffee.  One day in particular I finished a task at the stables and went to one of their homes to see the pig butchering.  I arrived a little before noon, just as the burning was happening.  The use of hay and fire to burn the hair and char the skin of the pig.  After the pig was scrubbed clean and shaved, we peeled the skin off and ate it with a bit of salt.  The ear was cut for me to try, then the snout.  I have no resistance to trying anything new, and when standing there with the kindest people in their backyard, with a lamb and chickens plucking about and beer cooling in a bucket of well water, I trust their way of life.  It’s poor, but rich with so much knowledge and a way to move forward in life.  For the next 9 hours I stuck around and helped with every aspect of what is a normal day for two families every 2 months.  Utilizing every part of a pig that was raised in their backyards. 

For those 8 days on the farm, I experienced two worlds.  People that pulled up in their cars and paid for a brunch and horse rides, and people that’s only mode of transportation is a horse and wagon and the food they raised and prepared themselves.

 

I felt lucky to again be placed in an environment that was a new experience I could never have imagined.

Taking Chances, Romanian Style

International Travel, Life LearningLaura FortuneComment

I didn’t have the balls to answer Romanian people honestly when I was asked, what made you travel to Romania?  My answer, still honest, “I’ve heard it is a beautiful country!” but it wasn’t the whole story.

Traveling to Morocco and Romania came out of a necessity to leave the Schengen EU region to extend my time on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.  I was able to pause my tourist visa that allows me 90 days to be in the EU.  My deadline was to be back in the US for a friend’s wedding at the end of May, so essentially I am over here for 4 months rather than only 3 months in Portugal.

I found cheap, direct flights from Lisbon to Marrakesh and Bucharest, and so, Morocco and Romania were the spots.

I don’t have a bucket list of travel spots, there are too many and I am the type of person that is open to travel anywhere.  In someway, it felt like these places chose me, each so special for me to further learn about traveling and myself.

Romania is an outdoor enthusiasts dream.  There is the Black Sea, bird watching in the Danube Delta, the snow capped Carpathian Mountains, and the rolling green hills of Transylvania.  Upon researching where I would travel in Romania, there was a clear line of small mountain towns that led me to the Transylvania region.  But traveling solo, I found it a little unrealistic to be able to get further out of the little train stop towns to see the areas I really wanted to experience.

So I joined the website, workaway.info, and I sent an email to a man and his wife offering a place to live and work in the region I was most interested in experiencing, near Sibiu, Romania.  He responded that he didn’t have room for me, but his friend was having an event the week I needed accommodations and he may need extra help.

Two quick emails later, I had agreed to spend 8 days working at Villa Abbatis Equestrian Center in Apos, Romania.

Two weeks later, I arrived in Bucharest, and with no follow-up contact with my Romanian contact, I sent him an email confirming my arrival the next day to the Sibiu Train Station at 4pm.  I hadn’t heard back from him, and boarded the train.

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On a six-hour train ride, one of two options would happen at the end of the ride.  One, I would be picked up by my contact, or two, I would be in a region I wanted to explore anyways and would just carry on with a new plan.

I arrived to Sibiu, and there, at the bottom of the train station steps was a man I saw with a similar look of recognition I had seen on blind dates in NYC bars and coffee shops, “Laura?”

Gabriel stood there with two Romanian pastries and a bottle of water.

We hopped in his truck and he drove me to a farm. 

PANDO People

Moving, Art, Portugal, Studio, Life LearningLaura FortuneComment

So here I am presently, living in Lisbon, Portugal.  The women I met back in October, that set such an impression in my mind, are exactly the kind, smart, funny, talented and real type of people that I suspected I had found.  The type of group that made me want to pack up my life and move to another country.  They make up the studio called PANDO, and now I am a part of it as well...

The women of PANDO have welcomed me with wide-open arms and I couldn’t imagine experiencing moving to Portugal without having this little community. 

I have found sisters.

I lived in NYC for over 13 years and moving there out of college, I had never lived anywhere else as an adult.  I had a wonderful full-time job and good friends, but for a few years I was on a rollercoaster ride in my mind, of when to leave and where to go.  New York City isn’t an easy place to be, but cutting the cord and leaving it is a hard decision, too.

Check out Joan Didion's 1967 essay, "Goodbye To All of That"  A timeless and relevant piece on the topic of leaving NYC.

I wanted to step-out on my own as an artist and designer, and finding an inspiring location, an energetic and welcoming artist community and low-cost of living, was a difficult criteria for me to pinpoint in America.  I just didn’t feel strong enough about any place.  And then I found Lisbon, but more over, I found PANDO.

My idea was to come here for the trial period of what an EU tourist visa would allow, to see how it felt to be in the Portuguese culture, around the language and get to know people, to work in an art studio here and to attempt a life as an expat.  I wanted to do some traveling on the side to feel that solo-travel inspiration again. 

Fortunately and amazingly it has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life with no end in sight.

Essaouira (April 6)

International Travel, Life LearningLaura FortuneComment

After almost 24 hours of travel, bus, overnight train, and a long taxi ride, I reached Essaouira.

As my trip barrels on, more local people become entwined in my adventures, as I continue to open up to the undeniable warmth of the Moroccan people I encounter.  There is an evident sweet spot I experience in the last days of travel, where I am so comfortable in the movement and daily activities that I naturally begin meeting people on a deeper level and having really meaningful conversations.

In Essaouira it was the lawyer turned watercolorist, the two Arabic surf guides from Agadir, the fisherman gearing up for his day on the boat, the gentleman who saved a turtle from a chlorinated pool, a young man riding a horse at sunset, and Mourad the friend I needed to find on a recommendation from Marina in Marrakesh.  Each of these conversations were about life choices and expectations, and how any experience can be affected by the energy a person walks with.  The confidence and value we all can have in other people.      

A lot happened in Essaouira.  I embraced an authentic hammam experience all wrong but with compassionate and patient women around me.  I met a friend who I will always be in touch with, and a possible plan to go back and visit very soon.  I decided that the energy and desire to live in Morocco at some point in my life still felt very alive at the end of my trip, as it did at the beginning. 

One thousand chokram, Morocco.

Chefchaouene (April 4)

International Travel, Life Learning, National ParkLaura FortuneComment

I was anticipating a 2.5 hours bus ride, but it was 5 hours.  We had a pit stop and another lady asked if I was traveling alone.  We chatted candidly about female solo travel and it was easy to find common ground immediately.

Once the bus arrived in Chefchaouene, we shared a taxi to the medina and exchanged information, later having dinner together. 

After dinner we wondered around the square and in every direction, the streets were completely flooded with young Moroccan men.  I mean, shoulder to shoulder--this is a small mountain town--where are all the boys and young men coming from--what the hell is going on?  My friend thought maybe it was some dating ritual, but I didn’t see any girls around.  I bailed, preferring a quiet rooftop.

I grabbed a bottle of tonic water and a snack to sit on the rooftop of the hostel I was staying in.  I popped the metal top off of the tonic water and it rang like a champagne bottle.  I was in the dark, and the cap smacked me in the face and bounced around the floor.  I touched my face, glad it didn’t hit my eye, and after a few sips saw the blood on my fingers.

Bottle cap face wound.  Got 'em.

The next morning I woke before sunrise so that I could watch it.  I stepped out for a walk to take some pictures of the Blue City, only feeling like a d-bag for creeping around in the early morning with a camera while the kids are headed to school or people to their work.  Chefchaouene is the most photogenic city I have ever seen. It’s small and compact and the colors are out of control, so it didn’t take long to feel satisfied with photographs, and I bailed quickly.

I spent the day hiking to the Ackours Waterfalls in the Riff Mountains with some other people I met.  Green mountains and farmland that appear untouched was a welcome scenery change from busy medinas.

On my last morning in Chefchaouene with my sketchbook and watercolors with me, I found a quiet corner to sit and look at some blue doors.  I feel sensitive about invading the privacy of home fronts, so I sat off to the side and it seemed a very quiet spot.  After a little bit a man came to sit with me.  He is an artist too, and later I was able to admire the drawings he did of his small town.  He wore a NY Yankees cap like so many men I saw throughout Morocco.  I’m still wondering if 'Jay-Z made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can', but I digress, it is a popular hat though. 

The young guy left me to tend to his shop and then another young boy came by and hung over my shoulder watching me and gesturing so happily, pointing to himself, the house and my drawing.  Two girls came to the do same, and it turned out it was their home.  They were so sweet about my place sitting in front of their home.  We went over the colors of my watercolor set in English and in French and later another young girl came out from one of the homes and sat so close, almost on my lap to watch me.  She said, “beauty” and she pulled out a phone to show me pictures she had taken of her little city at various times.  I’m sure the tourist invasion gets old, but it was sweet to find a way to capture a place rather than taking a photograph, and to share it with a young group that is well aware and enamored with the beauty of their own front steps and in their backyard.

Fez (April 1)

International Travel, Life LearningLaura FortuneComment

I found my compartment for the train ride to Fez and another young lady was there eating breakfast, no chitchat, I got that.  I opened my backpack to get my book and a moth flew out of my bag.  We both laughed at the sight and I bashfully apologized she said it was okay.

Everyone I spoke to in Marrakesh confirmed that Fez is much different.  I always asked how they are different,  “Marrakesh is for tourism, Fez is for culture,” always the response.

I felt it immediately.  Fez seems more relaxed and getting lost in the medina feels more manageable.  I sat at an outdoor café filled with men for a coffee, to do a drawing and for some Wi-Fi connection.  When I went to pay, the man asked if I would like to see a lookout of the tannery.  Another man led me through a series of dark tunnels and eventually to another man who took me to the top. 

I didn’t buy anything but that smell stayed locked in my nostrils as a souvenir.  After another few stops at workshops I was thoroughly lost and very hungry.  I bought a sandwich from a street vendor and with my first bite I could taste the smell that was rolling in my head.  Camel meat.  I’m not a picky eater and I was so hungry, I made my way through that snack.

I found my way to the Prospect Park of Fez, Jardin Jhan Sbil.  It’s a beautiful park with floral gardens and a lake with all Moroccan families enjoying the landscape and young people on dates and boys.  My affirmation was confirmed that my best life is achieved when avoiding boys the age 14-24.  They are the ones with no filter and nothing to lose. 

I walked up to watch the sunset at the tombs of Mérinides.  I watched more little boys torment pigeons and throw rocks at things, and saw the sky light up and the wind pick up and I had a sinking feeling of anxiety.  How can I live this life on the regular?  I want to experience all of these places again and there are so many more to see.

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