“Come on baby ’cause, there’s no name for, give it up and I got what I came for” – Red Hot Chili Peppers.
It was a while back that I wrote an article called “The Fear of Settling Down” and I meant it. It’s a good article actually – have a read and that was exactly my thoughts at the time. I was scared to settle down, I had never bought a television or a wardrobe, I had forgotten what it was like to pay bills. I had no intention of settling down. I was a confirmed dead end nomad. As Noel Gallagher once said, I was “going nowhere on a train, growing older in the rain.” Half the time (or more than 50% of it) I didn’t know where I was going next. I followed nobody’s dream, nobody’s destiny. Yeah this was a cool blog, I know that and I’m proud of it and some of my followers still rave about it. But if you’re on the inside looking out, darkness prevails.
“Lightning strikes every time she moves” – Calvin Harris.
“For a minute there, I lost myself” – Radiohead.
But when I wrote that post, to “settle down” didn’t seem right for me. That was May 2015 I wrote that and I had no ambition to settle. 15 months on and I have done it, I am doing it. I am settling down. In the city of Gdańsk in Poland. Back in 2007, there was a spooky sign of things to come – Gdańsk, Augustow? Gdansk in August? Crazy stuff…
This week, I announced that backpacking and the hostel dorm life was over for me. It became too much. I’ve done it all haven’t I? I’ve been to cities you’ve never heard of, and countries without a name. It became a relentless soul destroying bandwagon. Some days I just wanted to be 15 again and ride bikes to the muckway to Cranley where Scott Callen used to live. Or play kerbsies with Peter Bell. Or steal exam papers with Paddy Campbell. Childhood friends, I’ve managed to keep in touch with. In 2014, I returned to the street where I grew up, Marlo in Bangor.
Everybody else had grown up. They got married, they had kids. Some of my friends, their kids had kids! And there was me, backpacking through Karakalpakstan like I was some kind of backpacking superhero. Such a moniker never existed. No need to ask Supergran, Batwoman or the Catmobile to move over. Northern Irish people drinking Guinness in China is just boring excrement. I didn’t even inspire myself anymore, what chance have you readers got?!
“The sky, so blue. The sun’s gonna shine on everything you do” – Lighthouse Family.
I was in a long term relationship and was engaged – let’s not forget. We sometimes talked about marriage but we were never really committed to it. Panny and I had arguments in the last year of our relationship. She featured prominently on this blog and was a popular figure. But you can’t control things when there is an obvious dead end. We had our fun and somehow, it was time to part ways.
This time last year, I was travelling alone again. I wasn’t used to being a solo traveller now, as I had met Panny in 2010. That was before this blog became professional and I was able to move around with freedom from my earnings online. But I got on with it, why shouldn’t I? I backpacked through Bangladesh, I did the Chernobyl Exclusion tour as well as writing about Adammia and Podjistan. Then, I got a cheap flight back to Poland in December 2015, which influenced my destiny in a ridiculous way. I only got a flight from London to Poznan that time because it was about £20 and I had never been to Poznan before. Then I headed east again – Ukraine, Chernobyl Exclusion Zone until suddenly it was Christmas in Kazakhstan!
I was really really happy again!! I got as far as Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan in late 2015 (in time for New Year’s Eve) and I admitted to a few friends, I was now “trying to find myself again, because I was lost.” I certainly pushed my backpacking repertoire to its limits again, barely flinching an eyelid when the sun rose over Afghanistan and I awoke to the sound of the door knocking and my breakfast delivered to my hotel room in Masar e Sharif.
The next few months, I toured India, Afghanistan, Karakalpakstan, Tajikistan, Gorno Badakhshan, Uzbekistan and the luxurious Andaman Islands! But when I returned to Bishkek, I spent another 6 weeks there, making it my home. I was still finding myself and I had 6 months of epic backpacking added to my experience and loads more stories to write, like the Holifest in Vrindavan, the Buzkashi in Afghanistan, the trip to Khorog, touring the former city of Stalinabad (now called Dushanbe).
BUT, my destiny couldn’t keep me in Bishkek though for two reasons:
1. My English friends (Lock in Lee, Millwall Neil, Shep, Darch, Austin, Patrick)
I wanted to see them all again so I met up with Lee and we backpacked Grodig and Salzburg. I toured the unrecognised Kingdom of Lovely with Millwall Neil and went joggin and volunteering in London city. I watched the Cherries (AFC Bournemouth) again twice – Everton away and West Brom at home.
2.Northern Ireland at Euro 2016
I waited 30 years to watch Northern Ireland at a tournament so of course I had to be there. I went to all four of our matches and loved it but that was temporary. A narrow 1-0 defeat to Wales had made up my mind – I was heading east and I got the next available bus into Belgium – to Brussells.
When I got to Brussells it was to clear my head and work out my next steps. I decided to spend a week in Belgium. A tour company offered me a free flight within Europe. I was never going to go north, south or west. My eastern European brain intervened. I narrowed it down to three options quite quickly. Countries – Kyrgyzstan, Poland, Romania. If I chose Kyrgyzstan, I would have to get the second flight myself, Romania somehow seemed like a pointless option, so I chose Poland. There was another catalyst on this decision and I have concocted a story about it for the future, as right now is not the time to tell it. I had been three times to Poland before and I had already been to Warszawa, Poznan and Krakow. So the flight to Gdańsk was up for grabs and I booked it.
I expected to meet up with a few of my Polish friends in Gdańsk, tour some of their region, Pomerania, then head to Warszawa and leave Poland again. That was the plan.
But some things intervened. My friends were all a bit too busy to see me anyway so I had time to dwell, I had time to think. The people I had came here to see had drifted away, two of them notoriously lied to me about our friendship, the hostel life became mundane, I had seen all the sights of the city, my friends in Warszawa were calling me back, my visa for Kaliningrad was declined. I even had a bout of depression again concocting all this in my mind. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure what to do. So I should leave right? No. I questioned myself again. Why am I leaving Gdańsk? Why do I need to leave Gdańsk? Why can I not find a flat here in Gdańsk and stay? I don’t like walking away from a situation that I have no reason to leave, so I stayed.
I realised that this city, Gdańsk was as close as I had to loving a city in a long time. It made no sense to leave, but I wanted to test if I really liked it and could make it a home. By this time, my local friends were too busy, the hostel was really wearing me down with the lifestyle, I went to Kaliningrad on what proved to be my last backpacking trip of this era. I came back from Kaliningrad, booked another few nights in the Hostel Cycle On, viewed a flat, studied more Polish, got an invite to a wedding and BANG. I decided to stay, in Gdańsk.
So come and see me in Gdańsk! I know this is a short, selfish Sunday post today but it’s how I feel right now. I will write more about my recent travels and my life in Gdańsk soon.
Don’t forget – the travel blogging and writing will NOT stop for me. It is only the backpacking that is stopping. Come and follow me, come and meet me and join my journey which is now stationary. I’m really humbled by the Polish and Northern Irish love on this journey.
Jestem irlanksim pisarzem. Jestem z irlandii polnocnej.
In a strange way, I love you all.
Jonny Blair (your Northern Irish travel writer)
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