Only one day behind schedule, I successfully managed to travel around Europe by way of the alphabet: 26 places, each beginning with a different letter and each in a different country. From A to Z, Germany to Netherlands, I covered over 10,000 miles using only trains, buses and boats.
When I set off in March and headed to Argenbühl-Eglofs in Germany, my wardrobe consisted of sweaters, long pants and a jacket. During the following months I shed layers, and by the time I reached the middle of the alphabet, I wished it were legal to walk around naked. Temperatures in Mostar, Bosnia, reached 42 degrees. By Zandvoort in the Netherlands, it was cooling down again. A day at the seaside meant wearing a windbreaker.
Landscapes in Heronia, Greece were dry and rugged, and in Girokaster, Albania, they were lush and green. In Perg, Austria, it's surprisingly flat, whereas Encamp, Andorra, is surrounded by slopes. In Cullera, Spain and Ventspils, Latvia, the beaches are far-reaching and golden.
People’s personalities changed as much as the terrain – from rather creepy Italians in Frattamaggiore, Italy, driving SMART cars, to kind and hospitable Serbians in Leskovac, Croats in Našice, Turks in Istanbul and Bulgarians in Jakaruda didn't hesitate to invite a complete stranger into their home, or onto their horse and cart. There are folks who, in my opinion, shouldn't be allowed outside their own countries. Then there are those I couldn't get enough of because of their contagious enthusiasm and bright spirits.
I slept in four star hotels and budget hostels, camped out under the stars by myself in Xertigny, France, and in a bivouac (tin hut) located at the top of a mountain in Austria (when we eventually found it in the midst of the fog at four in the morning). I tried my hand at windsurfing in Croatia; rock climbed in Austria, and was presented to 60 children in Quarten, Switzerland.
In the beginning, I admit, I thought Europe on an Alphabet would be easy. After all, I'm a confident, outgoing, hardworking, resourceful person who's had many years of figuring out problems and ways around situations. Traveling alone has never been an issue for me; I can talk to just about anyone. As the weeks went by, though, I felt my confidence, as well as my ability to communicate, disappearing. My vocabulary, which some months ago I thought was quite extensive, seemed to slip into monosyllabic words and phrases.
I met many people with stronger dispositions than mine. They seemed far better suited to the life of a vagabond. What I did was really not that extraordinary.
On occasion I was envious of those people I met who had no plan except to simply wing it. Many times I just wanted to give up, curl up in a ball, thrust my head back underneath the covers and remain there. By Riga, Latvia, and Senec in Slovakia, I was all for saying, "screw this". If it weren't for the alphabet, friends, family and bloggers constantly telling me not to give up, I'd have stepped off the roller coaster a long time ago.
It's been one week since I returned from Europe On An Alphabet, and I'm still trying to dig myself out from under the pile of receipts and information I've been mailing back home to myself over the last five months. It seems to be never ending, and heaven knows what I'll do with all the knowledge once it's been filed away. I'm toying with the idea of throwing everything in a box, and half-heartedly hoping I never have to look at the stacks of brochures and leaflets again.
First things first, though, I joined the local gym. Even after the walking, climbing and biking, not to mention schlepping a 25-kilogram backpack around, I gained plenty of weight and practically rolled off the Eurostar train at Waterloo.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "You should do the thing you think you cannot do."
Well, I did it. Now I just need to face everything else I can't do head on.