“A journey is best measured in friends, not in miles.” – Tim Cahill
You’re going to miss the first impressions, the first handshakes, the polite offers to cover taxi rides to the airport, and not having any clue of what could transpire with these strangers for the next 17 days.
You’re going to miss rubbing your eyes after waking up from an uncomfortable budget flight, the jitters of landing in an unfamiliar country.
You’re going to miss the dismay that some would experience missed and cancelled flights getting here, recalculating your internal GPS in finding other ways to get them back on the road, guessing which train to take 12 people from the airport and pretending that you know what you’re doing, the unfamiliar walk to the hostel guided by an offline map, the settling in unfamiliar beds, the first group meeting with unfamiliar people, and making up silly icebreakers and hashtags before setting off for an unfamiliar town.
You’re going to miss the day trip to the upstate suburbs, visiting offbeat museums and distant castles that inspired your middle school Shakespeare.
You’re going to miss believing that an entire Michelin-starred restaurant would serve only you, gastronomical highlights rivaled by immersive conversation that lasted into the night.
You’re going to miss the first ride overseas, the initial shock that this vessel was about to become more of a resort on a rudder than a simple “ferry”, and the temptation to toss yourself in countless possible adventures on a 16 hour journey.
You’ll miss shamelessly taking over an entire dance floor, meeting foreign strangers who will prove to be something more (but you don’t quite know it yet), and then waking up only a few hours later to watch the fjords and unite in a collective mutter:
“that was it?” (well, you might not miss that)
You’re going to miss setting off on a blitzkrieg mission to see all of “The Tiger City” within 12 hours, including the random excursion to a nearby peninsula so you could see ships over 1300 years old.
You’ll miss becoming inspired by Malala’s story at the Nobel Peace Prize museum, enjoying drinks with locals while watching a music festival, and singing “A Whole New World” together in front of amused Norwegians before boarding an overnight bus to Stockholm.
You’re going to miss arriving into “The City On The Water” at dawn, our army walking through empty streets as if for a moment, we owned them all.
You’ll miss feeling how real the struggle was at a hostel that didn’t quite know its own opening hours, before setting off to Old Town and watching your fellow monsooner give free public performances on random pianos on the street.
You’re going to miss navigating endless winding passageways to reach the top of the tower for panoramic views of “The Venice Of the North”, before singing your heart out in the first of many karaoke moments of the trip.
You’ll also miss the separate day trips and sharing stories when you returned, the impromptu tour of Stockholm’s famous underground metro, searching for a place to eat past 10pm, and then dancing afterwards into an early dawn.
You’re going to miss the second and final rally on a cruise overseas, getting together for drinks on the sundeck before kicking it in the sauna/jacuzzis in the decks below.
You’ll then miss taking over the ship’s public karaoke, cheering on your compatriots to “My Heart Will Go On” before foxtrotting the night away to a fairly creditable DJ while surrounded by random foreigners too curious where we all came from.
You’re going to miss sailing into Helsinki and checking into a college dorm-turned hostel, recalling your nostalgia for twin-sized beds in oversized rooms.
You’ll also miss gallivanting through a city famous for beauty and design, with the long stroll to Sea Horse and frivolous barhopping that included bribing a doorman to let us all in.
You’re going to miss the day trip to Suomenlinna, stumbling upon The Shire, and having Estonians watch us “ne ne”, before enjoying a splendid night with dinner, drinks, and an impromptu college dorm party to cap off one memorable week together with 25 new friends.
You’re going to miss the morning brunch goodbye that would last longer than brunch itself, especially the hugs and tears over “Time To Say Goodbye” in the background, and the surprise of not knowing how much 11 people had meant to you before they departed once and for all.
You’re going to miss the slow shuffle to the fast ferry to Estonia, the sight of Scandinavia fading behind you, and the excitement of approaching even more unfamiliar lands.
You’re going to miss searching aimlessly for late night dinner in Tallinn’s Old Town, only to come across a restaurant that seemed to have been designed perfectly for your group (except for the misogynistic drink menu…that was pretty bad).
You’re going to miss strolling across cobblestone streets the next morning, the thrill of shooting rifles from the hip, and the eeriness you felt when you got lost in a real Soviet gulag.
You’ll then miss welcoming the last monsooner of the trip later that night, taking him in as if he had been with us all along.
You’re going to miss the lively bus ride to “The Paris Of The North”, and being impressed by the charm of its even lovelier Old Town.
You’ll also miss having drinks at the top of the Radisson Blu, losing badly at its casinos, and the group effort to troll your humble writer as he fell into a deep slumber.
You’re going to miss the sunny afternoon tour through Riga, spying beautiful art nouveau architecture high above wherever you could find it, the endless cheap finger food in Europe’s largest market, the panoramic views over Latvia, the twilight battle as the ladies contended with the gentlemen over who could have a better time before reconvening at none other than the country’s first western restaurant — McDonald’s.
You’ll then may or may not miss almost starting World War 3 between USA and Russia, the small altercation afterwards to retrieve 2 of our monsooners taken for a free pedicab ride around the city only hours before their morning flight, but you’ll miss it anyway because who wouldn’t want to miss a story with a happy ending?
You’re going to miss setting off for an ambitious one day itinerary to see the off-the-beaten-path Hill Of Crosses, and the collective awe in disbelief when we approached the wonder of it all.
You’re going to miss a third and final walk of a Baltic Old Town at night in one more and last desperate search for food, the lazy breakfast over delicious blynines the morning after, followed by a blitzkrieg DIY tour through Vilnius before reconciling our liberal views with the temptation to join the NRA at one more Baltic gun range, all while hanging out with you gun instructor’s brave and totally badass 4 year old son.
You’ll miss passing out on the ride back to witness a glorious sunset over “The Athens Of The North”, before cheering on the countless marathon women running through the streets of Cathedral Square.
You’re going to miss our last official day together, the pride you felt as an American when you stood your ground at the bus station and argued against disrespect and poor customer service, and having all of that swept away when you laid eyes on a beautiful 14th century castle.
If cold hearts have yet to miss anything, you’ll at least miss overlooking a castle at sunset while enjoying one of the best meals of the trip, knowing that the meal was worthwhile only because you were sharing one with a remarkable group of people.
You’re going to miss the last few hours together, going hard before going home, rallying one last time with local Lithuanians for another karaoke battle to the bitter end.
You’re going to miss the final rounds of shots, the final rendition of “I Want It That Way”, and how we massacred “Bad Romance” and “Bohemian Rhapsody” in front of astonished Vilnius locals. Most of all, you’ll miss the final walks home, after a whirlwind night that reminded us of the reasons why we all travel in the first place.
You’re going to miss the final hugs goodbye, the ambivalence of continuing your travels without your newfound family, the strife in crossing over from Lithuania into Belarus, and the culture shock of transitioning from enchanting Western European old towns to stolid Soviet-era blockbusters.
But like all first impressions proven wrong, you’ll miss the quiet, poetic way that Minsk opened up before your eyes at sunset, an alluring denouement to your 2 week journey.
And you’re going to miss all this long after when we had said goodbye . . . that moment when you finally realize that nobody else for the rest of your life will be able to understand the 17 unforgettable days you spent with 26 other strangers and new lifelong friends.
Therefore you’re going to miss most of all, each other; the company of diverse personalities united by a perfect marriage of camaraderie and wanderlust, and the way 6 monsooners in 5 different time zones rushed to help you when antiquated international law wouldn’t let you onboard your plane, as if it was meant to be that you should be reunited with another monsooner in Vilnius before finally heading home.
And you’ll look back one day and ask yourself: “did we really do all that?”
“Yeah we did.”
You’re going to miss it long after when we say goodbye . . .
. . . because I already was missing it when we said hello.
“ … Because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.” – Jack Kerouac