Getting on the Flight / for Bliss Magazine Fall 2014 Issue by Amanda Oliver


When I arrived at the airport my backpack was filled to its red cord-tied brim with tank tops, t-shirts, sweatshirts, shorts, hiking attire, no less than four pairs of sandals, and every other “necessity” I would need for fifty days of travel. There was also my duffel bag. At twenty-seven, I was finally going on my long awaited European summer adventure, and I had more than sufficiently overpacked.

Washington Dulles airport is large and has a Ben and Jerry’s. These are the only two things I remember about Washington Dulles Airport because I had something of a complete and blinding meltdown during my time in it. Shortly after tipping myself over to drop the red beast off of my back and onto the checked baggage conveyer belt at Icelandair, I sought out a favorite airport comfort: ice cream. Situated at a metal airport dining table, I listened to two happy couples in their late sixties discussing their three-week vacation. They, too, we’re headed to Iceland and beyond, but this is where our similarities stopped. They had each other. They had wedding bands and children and shared bank accounts, they had decades of experiences together, they had reassurance that if they got lost or mugged or just needed to talk, they could turn to each other. 

I had my Ben and Jerry’s.

My brain and body started to race with anxiety and fears. What in the world am I doing, getting on a plane by myself and planning this haphazard tour of ten European countries? Who do I think I am? I’m not eighteen anymore! How much money would I be losing if I just went to Iceland and came back home? I can just kick out my subletter, right? Gone entirely was the gumption my blue-collar family raised me with, and any feelings of capability were replaced by cynical tears salting my cup of Half Baked. 

I had been carefully planning my trip for six months, selecting cities, booking hostels and Air BNBs, and savoring the process of finding locals to complete work exchanges with. I was set to work at a medicinal garden in Balaguer, Spain, a farm in rural Hungary, and an older women’s house in Helmond, Netherlands, not far from a day trip to Belgium. I had five days along the Mediterranean in Nice that coincided with the Tour de France, there was a studio in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona with a desk at an open window just waiting for me, and I had even worked up the nerve to spend one night at a party hostel in Amsterdam before relaxing in a cozy AirBNB along the canals.

In short, I had planned well and there was much to be excited about, but fear got the better of me. Fear is of course congenial, regularly inviting worry and doubt to the party, too. An internal meltdown of disparaging thoughts commenced. Was I too old for this? Was I being reckless by spending my two months off from teaching traveling instead of finding summer work to save money? Would my nephew ever forgive me for missing his first birthday? Would I really be able to manage all of these planes, trains, automobiles, and strangers? 

There were no answers. There would never be answers unless I got on the plane. Shaking and doubtful, I huffed my duffel bag thirty rows back into coach and took my aisle seat. There was no wise older woman or seasoned traveler sitting next to me ready to dispense advice or regale me with stories of life-changing travel at my exact age, ala the perfect travel essay or movie. There was just me, sitting with fear. 

The fifty days I nearly didn’t experience changed my life, as travel so often does. When I arrived in London, I donated the top layer of clothing from my backpack. Every city I went to, I left something behind. A tank top, a pair of shoes, a bit more fear. On a ninety-five degree day in July at the very top of a mountain in Montgai, a small province in Catalonia, Spain, I stood on rocks with women from Lithuania and Australia I had met two days prior. Before the words could leave my own mouth, one of them turned to say, “I’m so glad we all made it here.”

Hey Happy & Jam Cafe / Victoria, British Columbia by Amanda Oliver

Whenever Vancouver Island comes up back home in the states, anyone remotely familiar with the Island asks, "Victoria is there, right?" There are a lot of reasons Victoria is one of the only pieces of the Island outsiders know -- it's the capital of all of British Columbia, nearly half of Vancouver Island's residents live within its city limits, and the food, coffee, and shopping rival much larger cities.

Three weeks ago, I traveled from Nanaimo to Victoria for a weekday trip with my friend Carly. We ate a delicious lunch at Jam (try the Red Velvet Pancakes with cream cheese drizzle or The Charlie Bowl for something a bit more hardy) and, even though it was a Tuesday, there was still a line outside. There is always a line outside of this place. Thankfully, a table for two wasn't a wait! 

Carly cruising the menu

Carly cruising the menu

The Charlie Bowl for me, the vegetarian Huevos Rancheros for Carly

The Charlie Bowl for me, the vegetarian Huevos Rancheros for Carly

I'm kicking myself for not trying the Blueberry Lemonade Waffle on special, but it was a savory kind of morning. Next time!

After lunch we took a wander around the city and I spotted a hanging sign that said "HEY HAPPY" on it. I hadn't noticed it last time I visited Victoria and I checked with Carly, who used to live in the city and frequently returns for day visits, if she had seen it before. She answered that she hadn't and we popped over for a look. Inside, we were immediately greeted by one of the friendly baristas of Hey Happy Coffee. On the counter were a few bottles of cold brews and a glass jewelry case like holder for croissants, donuts, and other sweet options. Any place that values and displays treats like they would the Hope Diamond is OK with me! We were crunched for time, so I grabbed two bottled cold brews (they have a regular and a cherry-infused one -- it's only a slight flavor "Not Dr. Pepper coffee or anything" as the barista told me) and promised myself I'd be back.


Last weekend, Nicholas and I came down to Victoria and I was more than excited to actually get to spend some time in the cafe this visit -- they have gorgeous wood seating built into the wall opposite the coffee bar, a small area to buy beans, mugs, and other coffee things, and some of the friendliest city cafe staff I've ever encountered. Not to mention the menu options...Coconut Milk Iced Latte, Mint Julep Espresso, Honey'd Latte (with local honey)...

We watched from our seats as they prepared beans specifically for Nick's iced coffee from the the day's brew sheet and concocted my Mint Julep Espresso. For snacks we grabbed a chocolate croissant and a vegan cookie and patiently waited for our drinks.

My mint julep espresso came in an adorable little chalice? metal shot glass? and was delicious. Hints of fresh mint and a perfectly made shot of espresso over ice. I'm no coffee expert, mostly it just gives me the steam I need to face life as the opposite of a morning person, but I've never tasted anything quite like it...and that's definitely a good thing. Nick's iced coffee was exactly what he needed after a three hour cyclocross adventure on his bike.

Mint Julep Espresso

Mint Julep Espresso

Photo by  Nicholas Kupiak

If you find yourself in Victoria (ferries run from Vancouver, Seattle, and Port Angeles daily) be sure to check out these two places in the downtown area. Your belly will thank you.

Bucket List / Whidbey Island, Washington by Amanda Oliver

Kari slows Ruby, a red 1994 Volvo station wagon, to a stop on the narrow shoulder of the highway. Cars in the same lane as us have to swerve into the left. The young hitchhiker runs to catch up.

When the back door cracks open, I can smell him. Stale cigarettes and cleaning product hit the seat behind me with a thud. The scent confuses me until we find out where he is coming from.

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A Berlin Wall / Berlin, Germany by Amanda Oliver

Outside of my imagined scenarios, he winds up like he’s about to swing for a home run and lands the palm of his hand hard and loud on a pretty young tourist’s jean-shorted butt. Her mouth opens, soundless and horrified, as she bends the large map in her hands down a creaseless middle. She quickly moves her body against the wall of the storefront. I wait to see if she will say something. Put up her middle finger. Yell. Something other than press herself into a shady place like she does.

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