Seven years ago I went to Slovenia for the first time. It was part of my Eastern Trekker tour with Busabout, during the six weeks of summer that would alter the course of my life. The Busabout internship came at a time when things looked great on the outside, but weren’t quite right under the surface. I was living in London, a place I had repeatedly referred to as my favorite city, but it didn’t feel like my favorite anymore. I wasn’t the 22-year-old girl who emerged from the Piccadilly line at Barons Court station, intimidated but stimulated at every step. Although I loved studying travel writing at Kingston University, the rest of my life was subtly splintering off in a direction I didn’t want to go in: a relationship that wasn’t really working for me and a growing debt that I was too overwhelmed to tackle.
During that Eastern Trekker tour, I traveled with a group of about 20 people (mostly Australians) who I’d never met before. My head was reeling because I’d met someone a few weeks prior who had turned my world upside-down; yes, this is something that happens in real life and not just the movies. On that trip I was able to have the type of spill-your-guts conversations with complete strangers over wine in foreign places; it was exactly what I needed. One of the many things I love about travel is that it lets you step outside of yourself and see your situation from a different perspective. My new friends knew nothing about my life, my friends, my relationships, or me; they listened, and gave unbiased advice, and I did the same for them. By the time our bus pulled into Bled, Slovenia, the whole bus knew the back story of the person sitting next to them.
Bled was beautiful, a glassy lake set amongst Alpine mountains with a church isolated on an island. We rented large wooden rowboats and took turns rowing and swimming to the island, slightly chilly but reveling in the sunshine and blue skies. Inside the church is a chamber with a large bell; visitors can pull a rope to ring the bell, and tradition dictates that if you make a wish at that moment, it will come true. In fact, the Bled tourism website explicitly states that “Every wish can come true. Ring the wishing bell and believe.” I don’t make this stuff up.
Obviously, I rang the wishing bell.
For lack of a more specific goal, I wished for everything to work out, particularly with the Aussie I’d met in Bruges.
It did – I married him six years later. I got through the sticky bits of detaching myself from the familiar and recalibrating my life so it was headed towards a future that made sense. I graduated with distinction, paid off the debt and segued out of the complicated (but rewarding) period that was my mid-20s.
I thought I’d also closed the door on Slovenia, but I was wrong.
This October, my college friend Alexa will marry her fiancé at Bled Castle, overlooking the church that houses the wishing bell. Since I’ll already be in Chicago for three weeks this summer (!) to celebrate my sister’s wedding, I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to make it to Slovenia. On one side: saving money and vacation days. On the other: knowing that we’d regret not going, but would never be sorry we’d made the trip. The second argument won, easily, and I have not doubted our decision for a second (except to wonder if we should have taken a few more days off).
We’re making the most out a long journey with 24 hour stopovers in Bangkok each way – a chance to stretch our legs, stuff our faces with Thai food, and fit in some shopping. There’s also an overnighter in Zurich on the way there, the impracticality of it mitigated by the promise of late-night fondue. Then, 9 days in Slovenia with a hire car and a wedding to attend. I’m so excited to go back to Europe, with my husband, to see one of my favorite people get married, only 2 months after we’ll have been in Chicago, seeing two of my other favorite people get married.
I am different now than I was in the summer of 2008. I know the answers to the questions that swirled in my head during that trip. I know the outcome, I know that my wish came true in more ways than one. It makes little sense, but I feel like I’m going back to tell that girl that it’s all going to work out. That she’ll get through it all and come back in 2015 for a full-circle moment, and that life will never cease to amaze her.