Sitting still is not one of my strengths. I can only go for so long without hopping a plane, train or automobile. I like that thought. I like knowing that whether or not I plan it, I will end up somewhere different soon, even if it’s just a visit. I love the freedom and the anonymity of travel. I love being disconnected from any sort of home, having no obligations save whatever whim flits across my mind in any given moment. Most of all, I love wandering.
Twice I’ve been to Edinburgh and I still entertain the idea that I’ll spend at least a full year there sometime. I think the only way to really visit a place is to live there, experience the seasons, walk, bike, meet people and do all the other things you do in a place that is home. The closest I had was staying with my best friend growing up, who was at university there. A few years later when he told me he would be moving to Sarajevo, I though I had better squeeze in another visit while I had a place to stay.
I had been craving the trip for years so much the whole town might as well have been made of chocolate and sweet potato fries. The Life Pursuit had come out the year before and I couldn’t hear it without thinking of cobblestoned streets, green hillsides and giant castles. My fried worked during the day while I went off gallivanting around town and we would meet back at his place for dinner. I knew the city better now than the first time around, but there were still nooks to be discovered and old steps to be retraced.
On my first visit, I had taken a simple approach to getting lost and wandering aimlessly: each time I saw a Starbucks, I would turn and walk in the opposite direction. This pretty much led me to the edge of town within an hour, which is how I ended up at the infamous Crags and King Arthur’s Seat. Now, on my second visit I spent most of my week going on photo walks while listening to Belle and Sebastian. I think even the band got sick of me by the time I left.
My one mission was to climb the Crags (the hills just outside town) and spend an afternoon lost in a good book. It was surprisingly difficult but I managed to track down a copy of George Saunder’s The Brain-Dead Megaphone. I climbed up the rocky hillside slowly, taking in the view, the yellow flowers, the stunningly blue sky (it was May), and photographing everything like I was a toddler and photos were my first words. I had taken my headphones off because for once, I wanted to refrain from separating myself from the world. I was content to listen to the soundtrack around me, I didn’t need to make my own.
I stayed up there for a long time. I thought I would finish the book that afternoon but I think I spent a good chunk of time relaxing into the view. There were boys below playing soccer, little blue and pink dots running around an arbitrary corner of the endless green field. The city was spread at my feet, washed into the horizon by the afternoon sun that slowly dipped into magic hour. I leaned back and looked at my new pair of green Converse. I decided they would be my travel shoes. I would wear them wherever I went, and when they wore through it would be time to move to Portland, where I had wanted to live for ages.
They climbed that hillside and wandered Edinburgh with me. They scuffed on streets in Budapest, tore here and there in Austin, and kept my feet warm on various trains and buses in various countries. They drove across the States with me (several times) and got soaked in rivers and creeks in Oregon, Washington and every body of water in Israel except the Dead Sea (I did that barefoot). They even brought me a few good friends, since apparently green converse are a real conversation starter with awesome people.
One day I got a phone call from a friend in Portland asking if I would like to move there, a space was opening up in her house. The timing seemed right, I had been thinking of making the move more and more. I looked down at my sneakers. They were worn through; the soles had detached, there was a hole in the canvas, and the insoles had ripped away in places.
So I went. I hung up my traveling shoes and thought, I’m home. Now, a year later, I’ve moved again and it seems long-term Portland living is still down the road. As romantic as it is, I guess ultimately I’m the one who moves my feet, not my shoes. I still have them and will keep them as a reminder of all the places they’ve been with me. It may be time to hang them up but it may also just be time to get a new pair.