After one year of seemingly endless travelling, I am proud to be able to say just that: mission completed. I am happy about how I have been able to put this project together, excited about how I made it come true and grateful to the people and circumstances that allowed me to fulfill this dream. What else is there to say, looking back on one entire year of travelling?
I can`t think of any one year of my life in which I actively and consciously learned as much as I did during this trip. The total number of pages on the Us Europeans website by themselves would be largely sufficient to release an encyclopedia-size print edition. Still, it`s peanuts compared to all the ideas, insights and impressions that I collected throughout this year.
.. happy to be home again (photo Eline Vergunst)
I have been amazed by people`s willingness to help me on my way. By they support to the project, in whichever way they contributed. By allowing me to stay over at their place, by telling me ? a complete stranger ? about their lives, by showing interest in the project and by more than once praising my initiative to undertake this project.
Leaving home also meant that I had to leave friends, family and colleagues behind. Still, I am sure that I would not have been able to collect courage for this project without their support and confidence. My attempts to keep regular contact with everybody have not always been the most successful, but I have tried my best. Having a different rhythm of life from just about everyone I know didn`t always make it easy to keep up with people at home, or with people I met on the way. I hope this will serve as enough of an excuse to those I may have disappointed with slow responses.
I have never run a marathon (only a half one, back in 2006) but think the concept of a marathon is in many ways similar to the Us Europeans project. Both require courage and mental strength, followed by a good physical condition and some healthy discipline. If anybody doubted that I used this marathon to run away from daily responsibilities: I can tell you I did not. Never before in my life have I been forced to be responsible as I had to be this year ? up to the point that it must have bored some of the people I met. I don`t believe in travelling as a way to run away from life. Instead, I am convinced that travelling throws life straight into your face. I think it did that to me too, but not in an unpleasant way. Saying that I felt entirely happy and full of energy all along this trip would be a bit of an exaggeration. I can however say that I have felt at ease with myself, with most of the people I met and with the places I visited. I have come across many different people with many different ideas and many different personalities. Feeling comfortable with so many new impressions is one of the biggest achievements I made throughout this year.
My perception of time has changed quite a lot during this trip. Time never flew, it always just passed. The year has been as long as it has been short. I can bring back to life any single day of this trip and think about it as if it were yesterday. There were times when I needed to hurry, others when I had to be patient. Catching a train in the next five minutes, then having to spend no less than six hours on the same train. Making sure I got a good portrait photo before the sun set, making sure that I found enough people to interview and making sure that I did not get behind on the articles. Two hours of writing a day is doable, but if I could`t fit it with everything else that needed to be organised? it quickly turned to four, six or even eight hours a day. Without being able to let go with the regular daily obligations. Think cooking, washing, groceries, trying to get newspapers and politicians to pick up the project, socialising with friends at home and socialising with people who had been helpful in places that I passed earlier on the way.
I believe that the limitations brought about by the project have made me more conscious: of time, of space, of money, of nature, of luck, of people`s intentions and their characters. Traveling like this made me realise that time is I know how much I can do in one day and how much I cannot do in one day. I know how long it takes to get places, and I know how many single Euros together make 30. I also know what things cost in different countries and how annoying it can be to see shop windows full of nice-
I also know that consciousness, even more so than effort, is decisive in how people lead their lives. I am thinking about separating garbage, which barely costs more time or energy than just dropping it on a big pile. I think of people cycling instead of taking a car. I think of destructive habits that go against the people`s personal dreams. I think of people or even entire national cultures who keep biting their own tail ? always thinking about some distant future or far away countries but unconscious about the opportunities they could find one step ahead. Coming back to the marathon example: if you think about the number of steps it takes to complete one, it doesn`t even make sense to start. If you think about just falling forward on the next available foot for a couple of hours, the whole challenge already seems a lot easier to handle.
I hope that the experience and, arguably, wisdom I collected during this trip will give me confidence to face other challenges in life as well. I don`t mind using this project as a statement or even a proof that my ideas are not as crazy and loose-ended as they sometimes seem to others. I would like to tell others the same: believing in something is the first requirement to get it done. The second one is breaking ambitions down to easy-to-swallow bites and the third one to ask the right questions. The answers all lie scattered wherever the questions take you. Finding them give you the necessary inspiration to keep looking for the main goal. Life is not much different from playing Pacman.
My next objectives will be to find ways to make information derived from the Us Europeans project available in a print release. Apart from that, I would like to dedicate at least a good share of my time to promoting cross-cultural understanding: whether by providing training programs or by simply collecting internationally-minded people around me, make them understand each other, and encourage them to collaborate on realizing their dreams. That may sound vague, but it will all be more practical and down-to-earth than I can describe in a couple of sentences.
Thanks by name
This year of traveling would have been far less enjoyable if I didn`t get so much support from so many people. Here`s a list of people I would like to thank:
People at home:
Katie for supporting me in being crazy and thereby making me come up with this idea in the first place, Sanne for all her support and confidence, Bas for all of the previous travels and discussions, which helped me get to this point, my mum for being so courageous enough to travel along for one week when I was in Austria/Czech Republic, my father for the gradually increasing confidence in my mission, my younger brother who thinks he is cooler than I am for the visits, my sister without any specific reason, Mark for arranging my little wireless device and supporting me along the way, Peter for actually providing it, and for believing in my ideas, Kees for pushing some colleagues to come visit me in Prague, Niels`s parents for taking care of my racing bike while I was away, my grandparents for the mental support.
People I met on this trip more than once:
: Barbora, Anastazia and Marian (4x: Klaipeda, Riga and 2xBratislava), Pavel and Lenka (3x: Killarney, Dublin, Pardubice), Angela (3x: Limerick, Dublin, Bad Breisig), Carmen (2x: Londonderry, Madrid), Charlotte (2x: Cork, Angoul?me), Vilda (2x: Kaunas, London), Etienne (2x: Rovaniemi, Paris), Alexandr (2x: Riga, Tallinn), Spiros (2x: Riga, Thessaloniki), Tiberiu (2x: Bucharest, Sibiu).
Friends I visited on the way:
Ireland: Sin?ad`s parents. Scotland: Katie, Nikki. Spain: Sigrid, Susana, Enriko, Jalima. France: Diane, Arjan, Olivia, Claire, Claire. Belgium: Fredrik. England: Sipke, Sin?ad and Alex. Italy: Lorenzo and Carolina. Romania: Iudith. Poland: Kamila`s parents, Kasia, Gosia, Magda, Natalia. Germany: Eik, Denmark: Camilla, Annemarie.
People who hosted me: (the ones mentioned above are not included again)
Northern Ireland: Mark. Lithuania: Vilda, Latvia: Sandra and Anda, Nils and Lelde. Estonia: Tarmo and Anni. Finland: Teemu, Johanna, Panu, Jani and Trish, Mari, Jussi, Philippe, Leena, Susana. Sweden: Elin, Jenny, Mats. England&Wales: Derek, Bob, Leni. Portugal: Helena, Ivo, Rui. Spain: Willy, I?aki, Simone, Asier. France: Pierre-Emmanuel, Clarisse, Doudou, Fran?ois, Elena. Belgium: Caroline, Hatim, Valerie, Damien, Bart, Stef. Cyprus: Dino. Italy: Livio, Andrea, Annie, Federico. Greece: Maria, Maria, Maria. Bulgaria: Stella, Sylviya and Peter, Martina, Melina. Romania: Radu, George the Transsylvanian dentist. Hungary: Dora and Nora, Viktor, Adam, Joszef, Csaba and Anna, Angela. Slovenia: Spela. Croatia: Sorry guys forgot your names but thanks for the wonderful wine and home-grown lavender oil. Austria: Manuel and Yvonne, Michael, Rupert and Evelina. Czech Republic: Martina and Michael. Slovakia: Jan, Katka, Milka. Poland: Robert, Hanna, Mateusz, Piotr. Germany: Andi, Michaela, Leif, Jule and Chris, Daniel and Michaela. Denmark: Samui, Brian and Stinne, Troels.
Beside this long list of people, I would also like to thank all other helpful, friendly, inspiring and helpful people along the way. Also to the people who created media attention for Us Europeans in the various countries or for those who dedicated mentions to it on their homepages, blogs and websites. For those of whom I have contact details: allow me some time to write you a personal message, I will soon do that.
Thanks also to the more than all the readers of my lengthy reports. Not only visitors of www.useuropeans.com but also the ones who followed my stories on the Blogging section of Euractiv or through any other access method. I don`t know how many unique people visited the PhotoLogix-websites during my trip, but the total number of visitors over the last year amounts to almost 25,000. It`s been encouraging to receive so many positive comments, know that so many people were reading and travelling along with me.
Thanks for all of that! To anyone whose contact details I do not have but who would like to stay in touch with me while I`m not travelling anymore: my contact details will remain the same. I will be happy to hear from you. Also, I will resume the daily reports on www.dailyphoto.nl.
That was really all then? Hope to see you all soon!
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