By the time I was 15 years old, a little seed was carefully planted in my brain. I wanted to travel the world. I knew it would take me years to save up for this, so I started working weekends at the local Dairy Queen, and opened a bank account dedicated to travel funds. I said “no” to social events that were out of my budget, and worked hard to put away money each month for the next four years.
I refused to touch that account, except of course when text messaging took over the world, and I couldn’t resist dipping into those funds to buy myself a pay-as-you-go flip phone. But that didn’t stop me from my goal, and I had no problem cancelling my cell phone plan when I booked a 5-month solo Europe trip at 19 years old. I feel incredibly fortunate that I was able to have this opportunity at such a young age. I took half a year off school to travel, and since I didn’t feel married to my degree or the city I was living in, it seemed like the right thing to do.
Embarking on this trip, my 19 year-old self was a peculiar combination of brave and naive, neither of which I recognized at the time. I was prepared, I thought. I had memorized all the usual travel scams, and read countless stories about keeping safe when travelling alone. I felt ready, knowledgeable, and invincible.
When I was partying in Florence and Santorini, I felt a sense of safety that I rarely felt in my own city. I trusted the backpackers I surrounded myself with, was conscious of my liquor intake, and wore my money belt like a tattoo. But by the second month of my trip, I had arrived in Athens and quickly realized that I was in fact, not invincible.
I arrived in Athens by ferry at three in morning. This was the fall of 2011, and Greece was knee-deep in a debt crisis. That meant public services like the metro were undependable, and I was forced to take a cab from the docks. My naivety became apparent when I told the cab driver the name of my hostel, and his response was nothing but a blank stare. Nineteen year-old me expected GPS systems in cabs in Europe, just like in Canada. No iPhone or map on hand, the cab driver phoned his eight year old daughter and handed me the phone. Confused and lost, I talked to his daughter for a few minutes until I realized it was a losing battle. There was no way I was going to find this hostel.
I was dropped off in the middle of the most notoriously dangerous parts of Athens. The air was thick and with my heavy backpack strapped to my waist, my heart was pounding. As I walked in circles, snarling stray dogs circled my path, one of them mouthing my wrist. I jerked it back in fear, and looked up to see a group of men jeering at me, laughing, and beckoning me over. I asked three different men (there were no women around) the directions to the metro. All gave me different answers (the next morning, I discovered that the metro station was mere steps away, and the men had been lying.)
A switch in my brain flipped. I knew I had to get out of there, so I just walked. Fortunately I quickly found a hostel nearby that had a spare bed. I climbed to the top bunk and spent the entire night with my eyes glued open, staring at the ceiling. It was one of the most momentous experiences where I truly understood my vulnerability as a traveller. Of course, from that point on I never again made the mistake of getting into a cab without my own directions. But it was a scary wake-up call to my vulnerability, and a sad one too.
I wasn’t, and I am not, invincible. Not then, and not today. I don’t have to fly cross continental to experience the reality of street harassment. It’s right outside my front door. But even though it’s always in the back of my mind, it’s something I try not to let take over my life. After all, the only way to actually have new experiences is to push past the fear, and let your urge to move overcome your urge to stand still. And that’s why my incurable urge to travel hasn’t changed much since 19.
Savoury French Toast:
If you’re a fan of salty, buttery, finger-licking meals, then this savoury french toast recipe is for you. Sourdough bread is used to add some tang to a strong palate of creamy, buttery flavours. If you’ve never tried cambozola cheese and are nervous about delving into the stinky cheese club, don’t worry! This creamy combination of triple cream cheese and gorgonzola is more butter than bite. It’s a very approachable introduction to blue cheese. This savoury french toast could also be made ahead and reheated in the microwave. Just be sure to cut the avocados fresh. Enjoy 🙂
- coconut or vegetable oil, for frying
- 1 1/4 cup whole milk
- 6 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- pinch salt
- 1 loaf sourdough bread, stale
- 100 g cambozola cheese
- 1 avocado
- Preheat a cast-iron or non-stick pan (with some coconut oil for frying) over medium heat. In a shallow baking dish, add the milk, eggs, vanilla, and salt. Whisk to combine.
- Slice the bread into thick slices. Place a large plate off to the side for the bread after frying and preheat the oven to the lowest temperature (around 175 F).
- Working in batches, take a piece of bread and soak both sides in the egg mixture, then place it on the pan. Depending on how large the pan, you’ll likely use 3-6 pieces of bread per batch. Fry until both sides of the bread are golden brown (about 3 minutes per side) and place on the plate. Continue this process until all the bread has been dipped and fried.
- Slice the cambozola into thin slices, and divide it over the french bread. Place the plate in the oven for a minute or two to melt the cambozola. Slice the avocado, and divide it overtop of the cheese. Serve.