Sorry for the overused, hashtag-ery title but it’s more than fitting for this post and, try as I may, there’s no better way to describe the theme of these past two weeks. I embarked on a true journey when I got on board the Viking Star and not just one about travel. It turned out to be two very pivotal weeks in my life that were shared with people that will continue to inspire me for years to come. Naturally, I have to share with you all how this went down, and how it came to fruition in the first place.
A month ago I was offered the opportunity to join another Travel Influencer (Mr. Scott Eddy– I’d been following him for over a year) on a two week press trip. Two weeks on a luxury ship stopping in eight different countries (seven of which were new to me and always high on my list), all with compliments to the power of social media influence. My travel buddy, Scott, has the luxury of taking multiple of these trips per year and I was lucky enough to join him this go-around.
Could this offer have come at a better time though, really?
You all know by now about my recent heartbreak and mini-breakdown, and now I get to share the healing process, which was really sped up by saying YES to this trip. It felt like a gift from the universe at exactly the right time. You know what they say (and THEY are usually right), “When one door closes, another one opens.” This was one of my new doors and I skipped on through shamelessly calling myself a “Reborn YES Woman.”
Broken as I may have felt when I initially flew out to Bergen, Norway on the 30th (instead of my flight back to Cape Town which was booked that same day), I quickly found every beautiful distraction a girl could dream of. As the plane touched down, I felt a surge of life inside of me that hadn’t been there for the past 6-7 weeks. Dare I say I felt genuinely happy again? I thought to myself: Is this even allowed when you’re completely utterly heartbroken? Is it even possible?
We were greeted at the airport by a friendly local driver who waited holding a sign with our names on it. He drove us in a Mercedes SUV through Bergen and to the ship, stopping on the way so we could get pictures. I’d only been in Norway a few minutes and I was already falling in love again…this time with a place instead of a person (a much safer bet).
When we got to the port where the ship was docked, I felt another surge. Life! Happiness! Freedom! Maybe I CAN heal quickly from this. Maybe, just maybe, I can be happy again sooner rather than later. Do I have to spend a full year healing from this, like my previous breakups? It’s so time consuming…life sucking. Maybe I don’t have to do all that this time. Maybe, just maybe, this time can be the exception. Maybe I can make a choice to…I don’t know…”grin and bear it,” as they say.
We checked in and boarded what was the most beautiful ship I’d ever seen. I’d been on cruises before, sure, but they were Carnival or Norwegian- NOTHING like this. This…was luxury at it’s finest, and I felt like an out of place Princess, not wanting to show how sad I really felt inside.
What proceeded to occur after boarding this ship was one amazing moment after another. Clearly, I was in a very special place and time in the universe and it was rewarding me. “You’ve paid your dues, honey. You deserve this. Enjoy it.” My Mom encouraged me and I gave my best attempt at listening. I listened to her, and then I listened to everyone around me- their stories, their jokes, their banter.
I listened, and I learned and I soaked it all up, and I came out of it all with a deep understanding about the human race: EVERYONE has a story. People are never what they seem on the surface, and if you dig deep enough you’ll find a friend, or at least something that you recognize as human, and relatable- making you feel less alone in this sometimines bitter, cold world.
Everyday on the ship I’d experience a deep personal connection with a new friend here, there and everywhere. I heard inspiring stories from people I would never have had the opportunity to meet had I not said YES to this trip. Couples surrounded me that had been together years and years. They reinstated a sense of hope for my romantic future. Prior to boarding this ship, seeing couples stung me inside and pulled at my heartstrings. It left me feeling sad and even jealous, but not here.
On this ship, where the average age was about 60, and couples had been together forever and a day, I found hope. I found beauty in their love, their stories and being around them made me genuinely happy. There it was again…happiness creeping through. Everyday I met someone(s) that blew me away. When’s the last time you said that about your surroundings? This ship was full of magic, I tell ya!
I promised I would not name names, so I’ll just describe a few of these people to you, because I can’t not…
The first night at dinner where we opted to do a “shared table,” we met a couple from Texas. He was 91 and she was 78, and they were newlyweds. It’d be normal to assume they’d been together their whole lives, but after hearing their story I knew otherwise. They’d both lost their partners the same year and then met each other on another cruise, only to reconnect a year later and get remarried to each other. The thought of losing a husband/wife is one of the worst to fathom, and here they were rebuilding their lives together, totally happy and cute together. It made my heart swell with pride for the human race and our ability to recover after a loss. Naturally, I thought to myself: If these two can move on from something as traumatic as a partner dying and move on to find happiness, then I certainly can too. Shake yourself off, Heather. You’re going to be FINE.
At that same table there was another couple (also from Texas) who seemed too picture perfect. “We’ve actually only been married for 4 years. We met on Match.com believe it or not!” She was adorable, with her southern belle appearance, and him a strong southern gentleman sitting next to her with pride. Looking at them at first glance, you’d never think they’d have a problem in the world. We shared dinner and the wine kept flowing, the stories getting better and better. Then he got a phone call and left the table. Her, being a southern lady apologized for his absence and poor table manners. “Please excuse him. He has to be on call because his Mother is dying…” And then we found out he had to put his Mother in hospice that day.
We were lucky enough to have dinner with this couple again, and on our second dinner date, they shared more. He was clearly trying hard to keep it together, like a strong southern man does, possibly suppressing the pain. I just wanted to give him a big hug. His wife watched out for him and showed us how valuable a partner is in this life can be when the going gets tough. He was doing the best he could, and I found great respect for this man. To be able to stay on that ship and try to be happy for his wife who was clearly really looking forward to this trip. When I asked him how he was doing it, he said: “You’ve got to just be happy. What am I going to be able to do for her there? I can’t help her, and she would want me to be happy today, so I am here and I am going to be happy here on this ship with my wife!” He took another sip of his drink and that was that. RESPECT.
I couldn’t possibly have stayed on the ship and put a smile on my face during something like that. I wouldn’t be so strong. I’d be a wreck in those circumstances. This man taught me something important that night: You always have a choice in front of you, no matter the circumstances. You can choose to be happy, or you can at least choose to try.
So I kept on trying…and it seemed to be working. Everyday I felt a little lighter, brighter and full of life. Everyday I continued to meet inspiring people.
There was a couple from Boston celebrating their 45th anniversary. Forty-five years! Can you imagine? And they totally still
liked loved each other. I watched them happily dance and hold each other under the stars one night and almost cried tears of joy for them. They had two children and both had successful careers. They made it through life and onto retirement a strong, solid duo who genuinely still loves and cares for each other. More hope for the future surged through me and I was assured: if these couples can do this, so can I someday…with the right person. So what if I have been hurt and betrayed a few times. If these people can do this, it means it (true love and partnership) exists and I can find it too. As cheesy as it sounds, I think if you can dream it, you can achieve it. If you can visualize and clearly see where you want your life to go, you will naturally gravitate in that direction.
And then there was my favorite couple- possibly of all time…
On the second day of the trip, I said to my travel buddy, “I miss hearing the South African accents, I will admit it. I don’t think there are any South Africans on this ship…” I swiftly ate my words. “Yes there are,” he said. “How do you know?” I asked. “Because I just met one…”
Two minutes later (literally), a gorgeous blonde woman in her fifties walks into the bar. She sat down next to us and ordered her wine. “Chardonnay please!” A few minutes later, her South African husband joined us. BOOM. A South African on the ship, in Norway. They were absolutely adorable, totally in love. We quickly connected over all things South Africa, and then over everything else.
This man spoke about this woman like she was a queen, and she spoke of him as her king. They’d been together twelve years. He had a previous marriage and two children. She had a whole life before him full of career climbs and milestones. She was the ultimate woman, and he found her a bit late in his life. They didn’t meet in society’s ideal way (early in life). No. These two found each other after they’d already lived very full lives. That’s what makes their story so special- the fact that they decided to be together after such lives intensely lived. As anyone knows, the longer you live and the more experiences you’ve had, the greater your needs and demands can become- and the lesser your tolerance for b.s.. As we get older, we realize we can have our ultimate, “higher self” version of reality, but we have to surround ourselves with likeminded people. They found that reality in each other and now it beams off of them like rays from the sun. They were ” a glow.” It was truly magical to see two people so in love and so in synch…and after twelve whole years.
Meeting these people refocused me and rebuilt my hope. By one week in, I was no longer feeling pain. Instead, I was feeling strong, focused and giddy.
Then there were the destinations….oh my GOD.
Bergen, Eidfjord and Stavanger, NORWAY
Our stops continued to get better and better, leaving me totally in love with this planet again. (If you have taken notice recently, we live on one gorgeous planet folks! Get out and go see it!)
By the end of my time on the Viking Star I was constantly smiling like a girl who’d just been asked to prom, even though I’d recently suffered the worst heartbreak of my life.The heartache no longer had power of me. I did. I was noticing the good in every setting and making strong attempts to ignore the bad. I was healing more rapidly than I ever had before and I owe credit this trip and the people I met. These people, and the people I found in each port, injected life into me.
My “Viking story” is one of hope, love, loss and happiness- and the best part? So was the theme for every other person I met on this trip. Hope. Love. Loss. Happiness. We all go through each of these nuances at some point in life, and we have the ability to come out on the other end stronger, should we make the effort to do so.
Life goes on, and so will I. We all do. We can all choose to be happy, wherever we are in the world, and I was lucky enough to do so in beautiful places like Norway, Denmark, etc..
Thank you to everyone I met on this trip, and thank you to my travel buddy Scott for inviting me. These were two of my favorite weeks ever. I will cherish them always. Thank you, thank you, thank YOU!
Where am I off to now, you ask? Next stop: NEW YORK CITY!!!