November 25 (A travel story)

Today's date…November 25th. Not a super creative blog title, but a significant one.

My brain obsesses over dates (the calendar ones, I mean…haha). When a specific date is mentioned in a book or movie, without even meaning to, my mind will figure out where I would have been and what I might have been doing. Where did I live? How old was I? Was that before or after I moved to Calgary? In the same way that birthdays or anniversaries are meaningful and memorable, I hold onto dates for all different types of reasons. 

November 25th has become one of those days. I have been thinking a lot about it, remembering the November 25ths of years past. It wasn't a significant date until 7 years ago. 



I was newly divorced. It had been such a difficult year. I had been through so much and was feeling like I was finally emerging into a new season of life. In the spring of that year I opened an email featuring travel deals (I don't know when or why I had signed up for that email list but I am sure glad I did) and read about a deal to travel to Iceland. It wasn't a place I had ever thought about, and certainly never imagined going there. I read the email, clicked and read more of the details of the deal, then deleted it. It didn't cross my mind again. Until…I got another email. It was listing that same deal and a few others. After that second email I remember doing a little research, just for the sake of my own curiosity. I read about the natural beauty, the culture, the art. I was intrigued but again, I was just curious. It wasn't until the third email a couple weeks later, the subject line reading “last chance” and something in me didn't want to miss out.

I called the company and remember asking what the catch was. The deal seemed too good to be true so I was suspicious. I made the poor person on the other end of the call explain and re-explain and specify exactly what a person would be charged if they should happen to book this trip. I asked all my questions and wanted to think about it. But it was the last day of the deal and time was nearly up - their closing time was only minutes away so if I was going to do it, I had to do it. I was actually shaking when I pulled out my credit card and gave them my information. What the heck was I doing?! 

Once the trip was booked, I had to wait 7 months before actually going. I realize now how much joy I get from both the experience of travel, and the planning and preparation before travel. I spent many hours looking things up - restaurants and art galleries and must-see things. I had practically memorized the layout of downtown Reykjavik. I was going! To Iceland! I would mention it and people would ask me two things - who was I going with, and why was I going? I was thrilled to be going alone (and got a not-so-small bit of delight from people's surprise at my solo travel plans). I felt strong and brave and totally empowered…just what I needed after a difficult marriage and divorce. And why was I going? I took great pleasure in saying “well…why not?!”

And the trip? It was amazing. I would love to return. Iceland is an overwhelmingly beautiful place. It also felt like a victory declaration. Life had knocked me down for a while, but I got back up and I was okay…in fact, I was better than okay. I walked around Reykjavik for hours, stopping in every little shop that caught my eye, lounging in cafes with cappuccinos and people watching, marvelling at waterfalls and geysers and a landscape that was otherworldly. I soaked in the blue lagoon. I went out into the blackest night to the middle of nowhere on a bus full of strangers, all of us hoping to catch a glimpse of the northern lights. When they appeared, wispy and ghostly white, dancing across the sky, I stood there shivering in the cold, with tears streaming down my cheeks and a huge smile on my face. It was absolute magic. 

November 25th. The day I went to Iceland all by myself, 7 years ago. 


I'm not quite ready for all the story-telling pizzazz on how this one came to be…give it a few years and I'll be ready to put more of it into words. So the short version… As the world slowly and cautiously opened up again after the dumpster fire of 2020 (and beyond), there were travel deals to be had. I was dating someone (let's call him Mr. Adventure) who had his ear to the ground on flights and such and he invited me to join him on a fall trip to London. After working out the details and using up all the points I had been collecting for years on my credit card for my flight, it was official. I was going to London! 

I was very nervous. I hadn't been on a big trip in quite some time and in the time since my last one, I had been dealing with some pretty severe anxiety. The biggest anxiety attack I ever had was on a road trip a few years before. If that was how I reacted on a road trip, how would I manage an overseas trip? I had some strategies and tools, and thinking through what I might do if I felt the anxiety rising helped me feel prepared. 

Technically it wasn't my first time in London. On a layover on the way to Uganda back in 2009 (that should probably be another blog post one of these days! Travel story time with Sara-Mae!), I ran (literally) to as many sights as I could with a group of friends in a couple hours. It was exhausting and a little crazy but so much fun. So while I had been there, I hadn't really been there. 

I was completely enchanted. The history, the architecture, the museums and galleries, the fish and chips… I had a fantastic time. I absolutely loved Westminster Abbey, the National Gallery, and Carnaby Street (especially the most magical shoe shop in the world - Irregular Choice - where I purchased my sparkly rainbow shoes).  I ate and drank a lot. I saw the Phantom of the Opera. I  walked around the neighbourhood Jack the Ripper had terrorized over 100 years before. We enjoyed the Victoria and Albert Museum so much that we went 3 times! 

November 25th, 2021. Nearing the end of a week in London, having pushed past my anxiety and travelling again.


The year after the London trip I was still seeing Mr. Adventure. We had talked about the possibility of another trip and he wanted to surprise me with the location. I knew the when and the who, I just didn't know the where. We had to do some negotiating…I wanted to know well before we actually left (see above…the joy is in the experience and the preparation!). I think he'd have been happy for me to know nothing at all until we arrived at the airport, and that idea has a certain romance to it, but that just isn't how I roll! 

I kept trying to guess where we were going. He had given me a few clues and I had narrowed it down to southern Europe. I thought it was Croatia and was convinced he was lying to me when he said that was not the location. Finally I guessed “Malta?!?!” and that was it! Malta! How fabulous!!! 

And my friends…it was. It was such a beautiful and amazing place! In true Sara-Mae fashion, I spent hours and hours researching in the weeks leading up to the trip (once I knew where I was going!). I wanted to know all the great little spots. Malta was a place I knew almost nothing about, so I was intrigued to read about the history of this tiny island. 2022 had been incredibly difficult, and it was a much needed bright spot toward the end of the year.

We arrived in the evening, made our way to the Airbnb where we were staying (that was GORGEOUS), and started wandering around the steep streets of downtown Valletta. That first night, they had turned on the Christmas lights that were strung up everywhere for the first time and there was even a little parade. I remember hearing the marching band in the distance…I could hear them playing “All I Want for Christmas is You” and following the sound until we saw the crowd gathered and went to join. Then it was a traditional Maltese dinner (rabbit…it was delish, I don't care what you say) and time for bed after a long day of travel and the first little glimpse of Malta.

I absolutely loved Malta. The history is really quite incredible and I enjoyed expanding on what little I had learned prior to the trip. Trips to the Cathedrals, museums, and galleries were highlights, and so was just walking around, grabbing a ricotta pastizz (a delicious little bundle of flaky pastry and ricotta cheese, sold on almost every street corner every morning) and cappuccino and seeing what we discovered. Valletta was the most beautiful city I have ever seen. I also loved visiting the ancient walled city of Mdina, and of course dipping my feet into the Mediterranean. It was all so charming, it almost didn't seem real. 

As if I wasn't already the luckiest little duck in all the land, I also got to experience a day in Rome and the Vatican on this trip. Mr. Adventure had been planning a day trip to Sicily (which is quite close to Malta and a popular destination by boat) but discovered that he could book us flights to Rome for a shockingly low price. So early one morning (like…3:00 am) we got up and made our way back to the tiny airport and flew to Italy, traipsed around the Vatican on a half day tour (wow. Just….WOW), ate some pasta, wandered to some major sites in Rome, and caught a few hours of sleep before hopping on another plane back to Malta for the last couple days. Then, a few cold, dark hours in old Frankfurt (and the most delicious schnitzel in my belly to warm me up) on a layover, then back home to Canada. 

November 25th, 2022. The night I arrived in Malta.


I have felt a little bit of sadness as I have been remembering all these trips. Iceland feels like a lifetime ago. Things ultimately didn't work out with Mr. Adventure of the London and Malta trips, and while it's for the best, I still feel sad. I think that's inevitable when you've spent a lot of time with someone and cared deeply for them. 

And honestly? This year felt like a bit of a bummer, realizing that the previous two November 25ths were so darn magical. This year…it's pretty ordinary. But also not so ordinary.

My life is vastly different than it was a year ago. The relationship ended. I left my long time job and am living basically a totally different lifestyle. And loving it! Substitute teaching is actually the best (even though it can be pretty challenging and is definitely not for the faint of heart). I have been able to spend so much more time doing things that I enjoy, including making all kinds of weird and wonderful things that I am selling at markets. That's what I was up to today. I was in Cochrane at a lovely little market. I met some great people, got to chat with other vendors on and off all day, and had my proverbial cup filled up with beautiful and meaningful connections. 

When the day was done and I was on my way back to Calgary, I had to pull over and marvel at the most incredible sky as the sun dipped behind the mountains. I stood on the hill, freezing in the cold wind, tears streaming down my face. Much like that night in a dark field in Iceland, on a different continent, breathless in wonder at a completely different but equally beautiful sight. Just because it wasn't a day of exploring in a faraway place, doesn't mean it wasn't a good day. 

November 25th, 2023. Today. I'm alive. I'm growing. I'm grateful. 

And who knows where I could end up on November 25th, 2024…



*but in the interest of manifesting, I would be completely okay with ending up in Norway, Portugal, or Austria. Just to put a short list out there. Okay, that's all. 

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