7 years

Yesterday marked 7 years since I arrived in Sweden for the first time. And I think it was and still is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. When I looked back, I often wondered, how the hell did I even have a courage to start a new life in a completely new environment, knowing barely anyone. I don’t know actually if I still have the same courage as the 23-year old me if now I am asked to uproot myself again.

I started this blog 7 years ago, hoping to document my ‘life away from home.’ But after 7 years, where is home, really?

I was once heard that ‘home is a feeling.’ I am not sure I understand what it means. But if home is a feeling, then what I would call home is the place where I feel most comfortable. And at the moment, that place is here.

So… happy anniversary to me. Thank you for surviving this roller coaster ride.

Stockholm’s City Hall and Old Town

Eid Al Fitr 1442 H

Another eid amid the pandemic. However, I feel much much better than last year. I got to meet my family, and also the extended ones from both of my parents’ side (virtually). Even if it meant I sacrificed some sleep. (Although I was better presented for the later session)

Funny enough, when I showed up, it seemed like everyone was talking at the same time I could barely register what they were trying to say 😂 It was lovely, though. One of my uncles even played the guitar during our video call 🎸 Although the same one also ate the eid dishes in front of me. How dare he 🤯

Some people asked me when I would come back, and I always said, when I have got the vaccines, which I don’t know when. I ‘admire’ people who dare to do such a long journey in the middle of a pandemic. Perhaps it was necessary for them. I could not bring myself to do so. It feels too risky for me. Even though this year is supposed to be my year to travel to 🇮🇩

Sadly, one of my uncles was (is, perhaps until I write this) hospitalised when we had the video call. So dear friends, please pray for his speedy recovery and may we all be granted health and happiness for years to come 🙏🏼

I did not bother cooking traditional foods this year. But I did get some sweets for Eid. I ordered this Eid box from @iinabakar on IG. It consisted of 6 macarons, 6 cake pops, 6 chocolate-covered strawberries, 6 chocolate-covered dates, and 2 chocolates. My favourite was the dates, although I am never a huge fan of one. But this one was covered with dark chocolate, so it was not overly sweet. And the seed was replaced with nut, so it made a nice surprise 😋

Eid box from @iinabakar

Anyway, enjoying my long weekend now. Even though I should probably be working given that I just got my 8th rejection from the journal. But my supervisor was kind enough to say that I should celebrate Eid first, so…

Eid Mubarak! 🧕🏻

2020: My own reflections

On the new year of 2020, my friends brought a Greek New Year’s cake (Βασιλόπιτα) for us to cut at midnight. By divine providence, I got the slice which contains the coin 🪙, and it is believed that those who got the coin will get lucky 🍀 So I entered the year, believing that 2020 was going to be my lucky year.

Now I don’t have to tell you what actually happened in 2020. But despite everything, I still held on to the belief that this was my lucky year.

And indeed, I have so many things to be grateful of.

My residence permit extension was approved in time at the beginning of the year, so that I could meet my mother, even only for one day, during her Eurotrip in Paris.

My first PhD article was also published at the beginning of the year, after more than 2 years of working. It was relatively well-received, albeit in the middle of a pandemic (and everybody’s mind was probably not exactly on mental health/injury). I also got the opportunity to speak to some journalists about my study (in Swedish! Example here), something that I know will not happen everyday in the life of a researcher. 👩🏻‍💻

That paper was also published just in time before my half-time seminar. Although I know it is not a prerequisite to do the half-time seminar, it kind of lift the burden slightly (because I have been working for 2 years plus – having something to show feels… liberating in a way). But that is not the only thing to be grateful for. I got a nice and helpful half-time committee. And even though I connected to my half-time seminar (it was completely online) feeling like I was about to be grilled alive, we ended up having a nice discussion along the way. A lot of friends also joined in and I was so happy to see them all 🤗

The only picture I had for my half-time 😅

This year also marked the time I did my Ramadan fasting completely alone. I think there was a day or two when I completely skipped the sahur (pre-dawn meal) 😂 But thankfully I survived. The perks with this year’s Eid was that I was able to connect with my extended family through video conference. It’s been at least 5 years since I joined the Eid gathering with my family. So that was nice.

I think Eid was the first time in after the pandemic started that I put up some makeup again (didn’t even do that for my half-time)

As the weather got warmer for the summer, I spent quite a few times outdoor. I also got new bicycle, as you probably know. Although… I rarely use it now 🙈 I’m afraid it’s gonna be another short-lived interest of mine.

I also got a new, nicer viola, which I called Icarus, although he’s actually German. I also joined an orchestra (God how much I missed playing with an orchestra), although it was of course short-lived and we turned to Zoom rehearsal in the end. I really hope I can have a concert with them someday.

The piece I’m currently learning. Can you guess what is it?

I also wrote a book! Together with some friends in Sweden. It is now available here. Here I’m writing about my experience on getting into a PhD program in 🇸🇪

Of course 2020 was also supposed to be an interesting time because I turned 30! It was of course not an ideal situation but I tried my best to make the most out of it.

Can you believe that these balloons still stand until today? (The helium one started to deflate, but still floating, nevertheless)

I also got a small grant, which I am inherently grateful of. Never, in my 3 years of doing a PhD have I ever won a grant. Even the travel grant, which everybody seems to be getting 🥲 But anyway. Another blessing for 2020.

To top it off, we had a white Christmas this year! Finally! After 5 years or so!

And of course I could not have gone through the 2020 without my near and dear. So if you read this, thank you very much for helping me survive through this weird year. Here’s to a better future for us!

Alicia is turning 30!

If anyone ever asked me what the most important day of the year is, I would not hesitate to say ‘my birthday.’

So you can imagine how I felt when I figured out that big celebration was out of the table for this year. I mean, I’m turning 30! It’s big! When else could I have a 0 in the last digit?

In the beginning I did not plan anything for my birthday. My idea was that I could have a nice photoshoot at home, with balloons, donuts (my favourite), cookies (so that it will last longer – no birthday cake because who would eat it?), and flowers. It was not difficult to arrange. The difficult thing was to stop myself from going overboard. Initially I wanted to have green number balloons and green round balloon. But the green number balloons were 81 cm and I won’t have enough space to display them. So in the end I settled for smaller balloons 🎈 I also found Jojo’s cupcakes account on Instagram where I ordered my donuts and some of my cookies and Kakupplevelse where I ordered my music-themed cookies 🎼

However, when I talked to my supervisor about a week or so before my birthday, she said that I should celebrate with my friends! Wow! Which supervisor had ever encouraged you to celebrate your birthday? 😂

I started thinking seriously about having some celebration after I talked to a friend of mine. But of course I was still confused. How should I arrange this? Online? Offline? Hybrid? Where? What day? What time? What should I do if it was online? I could not share cakes with my friends. Should I send them cakes in advance? How? There is no motorcycle taxi service here where I could send things fast and cheaply. In the end I just invited people for an online fika without giving any goodie bags even though I really wanted to, just like what my friend did for her son’s online birthday.

Of course me being me I kept on thinking on how to make things interesting. Perhaps I should have a breakout room so that my friends could talk in small groups (assuming that there would be many people coming). Perhaps I should ask them to sing happy birthday. But would it be cringe? I heard that it’s not suggested to sing together in Zoom because it could be so confusing and loud. Perhaps I should have a mentimeter quiz about me! But would it be too narcissistic? Maybe I should get a party hat! Yes, my overthinking side almost took me over the day before my birthday but my friends assured me to take it easy (thank you, friends 🥰)

The day started out well. It was cold but sunny ☀️ I almost cried receiving all the lovely messages from my family and friends 🥲

I had a meeting with my supervisor and the first thing she asked was if we should discuss work or not (!!!) By then I was already in my green dress and had the balloons on my background so I was clearly in the party mode 🙈 We ended up discussing 30% work things and 70% non-work things. She even sang a birthday song in Greek!!! 🇬🇷 OMG!!! I am really grateful to have her as my supervisor 💚

The time then came for the online birthday fika. Many of my friends joined in. Some of them I haven’t seen in ages. Some of them even joined in from abroad. I thought it would be awkward for online fika but my friends were very kind. They even sang happy birthday to me! So I blew a virtual candle too! Hahahahahaha 😂

But the surprise did not even stop there, because apparently, some friends had prepared a mentimenter quiz about me!!! 😍😍😍 I could not even believe it! How did they even know about that details about me? Strange enough, I did not even win in the quiz about me!! 😂 How is that even possible??

All in all, I had a wonderful birthday, despite everything 🤗 I am so grateful for the chance to be alive up until today. I am so grateful for my family and friends, who kept showering me with kindness and grace. Some people did come for a short time during the fika. Some people joined later. Some people took time to write to me if they could not make it. I am so grateful for them all. I hope that we all will remain happy and healthy until the time we meet again 💚

So please welcome the latest member of the 30’s club now 😄

Latest member of the 30’s club. It took me 200 try to get this one right photo 😂
My expressions during the online birthday fika

Komodo trip, a year later (Part 5)

If you would like to read the previous posts on this series, you could do so here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.

Although my liveaboard trip had ended, it did not mean that my adventure at Komodo National Park had ended. As I mentioned in the first post of the series, I also wanted to visit Rinca Island, another island inhabited by komodos, which was not covered by the liveaboard trip. So I arranged another day trip with my hotel, Le Pirate to visit that island.

You might wonder why I chose this specific provider. Apart from the obvious reason (practicality), I also found that it was rather difficult to find a tour operator which arranged a day trip to Rinca Island. Most of the tour packages which were offered included some kind of liveaboard experience (similar itinerary like I did but exchange the Komodo Island with Rinca Island). And this one was one of the few that offered day trip only. So I decided to book this tour.

On the day of departure, I was shocked to find out that it would be only me and another Austrian tourist who joined the tour. I mean, it was July, definitely a high season, and the boat could fit up to 8 (or 10) persons, I think. So where were the rest of the tourists? 😰

Later on, I found out from the crews that it was not usually like that. In the previous year, they were fully booked way until October. But ever since the government announced that they were planning to close the National Park, the number of tourists dropped. Just like that. Even though it was not even in that year (2019) that the government was planning to do so. But I see that it might be confusing for upcoming tourists to plan ahead if there was no clear information anywhere to be found (honestly… I was also being asked by several people prior to my departure whether the Komodo National Park would be closed at the time of my trip). It pains me to think about how it is now, amidst all the health situation 😢

Anyway.

We went to the pier and went on board. The boat was a small beautiful wooden boat. Very different from the phinisi ship that I used the previous days 😄 I noticed also that this was a slow boat (as expected) and it took us 3 hours (almost?) or so to reach the island.

The boat from Le Pirate on the dock in Rinca Island
The interior

Rinca Island: Seeing the komodos in their (more or less) natural habitat

Upon our arrival at Rinca Island, we had to walk a bit to reach the ticket centre. I was a bit cautious during the walk because I was worried that we would encounter komodos all of a sudden in the middle of the road 😅 (we didn’t). But this island was indeed felt a bit… wilder (?) than Komodo Island.

So after we bought the tickets, we met our guide, who explained that, apparently, apart from komodos, we could also find wild monkeys 🐒, wild boars (?) 🐗, a variety of snakes 🐍, and crocodiles 🐊. He also added that, if we were lucky, we could probably see them all (or if we were extremely unlucky, I must say 😂😂).

We only had to walk a bit before we encountered our first komodo that day. Which was currently laying under the shade. Probably after enjoying some delicious meals.

So cosy

It was also the first time I saw baby komodo (or maybe komodo kid? Or teenage komodo?)

Baby komodo

It was surprisingly fast. The guide told us that the young ones usually stayed on the trees for some time until they grow up because the older ones might hunt them, too. Wow. Tough life?

We found three more komodos just around the corner. This time it was outside the kitchen of a house. It seemed like komodos were often attracted by the smell of the foods and so it was not uncommon to find them there.

Our guide somehow spotted another one just several meters away. I had no idea how he could spot it. I mean, the colour was really like the soil, don’t you think? (I guess after some time you’re trained to do so)

Under the shade

Our guide offered to take another picture of me with the komodo. I almost got a panic when the komodo moved the head 😂😂😂 As much as I love them, I don’t fancy being attacked by one.

Again, I don’t know why the angle had to be like this 😅

We continued our path to the forest. It was so hot and dry. We climbed a small hill. Or I don’t know how I should explain it, actually. The landscape was unlike anything I have ever encountered before. After some time, we reached the top. There was a clearing there and a small gazebo. There we could see pretty much 360 degrees view of the island.

The savannah?
View from the other side

The way down was a bit challenging. Again, it was sand and gravel all along. But we made it.

Kelor Island: Again

I honestly did not expect to visit this island again. But here we were. It was completely empty. So different than when I visited the first time. Here we just enjoyed the beach, basically.

View from Kelor Island’s beach
That fateful hill 😅

Manjarite Island: Snorkelling for real

I did not realise that it was the same island that we visited on the first day of the liveaboard trip. It looked so different under the sunlight. I was actually ready to just stay on the boat and doing nothing 😅 But the guide encouraged me and said that I had to see the coral reefs. He also said that he would guide me on the sea, so yeah, let’s go!

I really regret that I did not have any pictures during this time, because the view was soooo astonishing! All the colourful reefs and small fishes in between. It was such shallow water that I kept worrying that I might accidentally destroy the reefs 🙈

So yeah, that was basically the end of my Komodo trip because I departed back to my city the day after.

I think solo travelling was ok, but I felt like I did not have the same courage as I did back when I was young(er). I wish I were more cheerful throughout the journey. Maybe did more socialising or something. But given all the circumstances, I think I did pretty well 🙂 I hope the 🌏 situation would get better soon, somehow.

Until then!

Komodo trip, a year later (Part 4)

If you would like to read the previous posts on this series, you could do so here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

This was the last day onboard and we started the day a bit more relaxed than the previous one. The weather was also nice and I could pretty much chill and enjoy our voyage to the next destination(s).

Sea view

Manta point: Where you could swim with mantas (supposedly)

I think the name was pretty obvious, but I was still perplexed, because… where could you tell that this was the exact spot to find the mantas? The sea looked all the same to me! 😂 But we were lucky that day because wow yes, they were there!

I was honestly a bit scared in case they came and hit me accidentally. But luckily no such incident happened. I just hoped they were not too stressed seeing so many of us, too 🐻

Taka Makassar: No words, just beautiful (in my eyes)

I don’t know how I could describe this spot. It was basically a pretty tiny sandy island in the middle of what it seems like nowhere. But God, it was just gorgeous.

When I first catch a glimpse of light blue in the middle of dark blue waters, I could not help but wonder, what was it that we saw? So, of course, I was super delighted to find out that it was our next destination.

Taka Makassar from the distance

As I said, I’m at loss for words, so for this point, I would just post the pictures 😂 (I really love our time here) 🥰

The view from one end of the island
The view from another end
Our phinisi ship from afar. As usual, we had to take the small boat to reach the island
With some of my travel companions 💚
Another picture with my travel companions 💚

Kanawa island: Last snorkelling for the day

We were nearing the end of our journey #sad So I said why not to the snorkelling on this island, even though it was a bit cloudy back. It turned out not to be very long snorkelling either. We just ended up enjoying our time on the beach eventually.

I don’t actually remember where this was taken but this is pretty much how I looked like during snorkelling 😁

And here, at this very last spot I did something very stupid actually. I dropped my snorkelling gear to the open water on our way back to the boat that one of our guides had to deep dive to fetch it 🙈🙈🙈🙈🙈 so shameful. I’m sorrrrryyyyyyyyy 🙈🙈🙈🙈

The journey back to Labuan Bajo felt long to me. We arrived only after the sky turned dark.

On our way back

When we arrived at the pier, a staff from Indahnesia asked me how my trip was and if I was ok to be alone. Then one of my travel companions came and answered,’ She was not alone! She was with us!’ And honestly, it warmed my heart 💚💚💚

So that was the end of my liveaboard experience. I hope you would stay tuned for my next story on the day trip to Rinca Island afterwards.

Take care!

Komodo trip, a year later (Part 3)

If you would like to read the previous posts on this series, you could do so here: Part 1, Part 2.

I honestly think this is the actual highlight of the trip because this was the day we visited Komodo Island and the famous pink beach! But of course, we visited more places than that, so read along!

Padar Island: That well-known postcard view

We started the day really early. Like, really. By 05.00 we had to have our breakfast (the first for the day, which I did not know), and by 05.30 we had boarded the small boat to reach the island.

I was worried when I realised that we had to climb, again. But luckily, there was a better path on this island. It was more stairs-like than hardcore climbing. But unfortunately, my happiness was short-lived 😂 After some minutes of easy climb, the stairs were gone. And people just went on climbing. It was really challenging because it was still dark and I kind of lost my travel group so I did not actually know when and where to stop.

After some time, there was a small clearing where people seemed to stop and sit. I was already tired by then (lack of exercise, naturally). So I also just stopped and sat. By then the sun had started rising.

Picture from my first stop

By then I also said to myself, ok this is it. You could just stop here and enjoy the view. It’s fine. It’s ok if you’re tired.

But me being me (wild, crazy, and reckless) felt challenged when I saw people did not stop climbing even though the path was just gravel and sand at the edge of the hill. It would still be an uphill climb and again, no safety rails whatsoever. I had to admit that I was afraid of height but something in my mind told me that, no you should continue. It seemed like I had to prove something to myself. That I could do this journey alone. It sounds silly but I did get up and continue my path.

And I did not regret that. Because this was what I saw:

Padar Island

At that point I just realised, oooh… so this is where you could see the famous view of Padar Island. Now I see. Why didn’t anybody tell me? 😂

At that point, I saw my travel companions and the guides again so I was super relieved. Even though I was super scared as well at the same time (height, you know). But really, if I could turn back time and do it again, I probably would.

Sunrise view from Padar Island. The best that my phone could capture
One of my travel companions was kind enough to take this picture of me. He also taught the trick of taking this kind of picture (use your panorama-mode).
With my travel companions 💚

Long Beach: Have you seen a beach with pink sand?

The second place we visited that day was Long Beach, which has pink sand. I was super looking forward to going to the beach because, you know, we don’t get to go much to the beach in Stockholm 😂 It’s so weird because I almost never considered myself as a beach person, but ever since I moved to 🇸🇪, I always cherish the idea of going to the actual, proper beach on a sunny day 😂😂 (this is lack of sun talking, perhaps).

Of course, it did not disappoint. I probably haven’t travelled that much around the world, but I am ready to fight to say that Indonesia has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world 🇮🇩🇮🇩

I mean, yes, hello? This is Long Beach calling
Some sea ASMR
Not sea creature

Pink Beach: Not as pink as Long Beach

I know, I know it sounds so weird but that was true. The beach that was called Pink Beach (which we visited later on that day), had somewhat a paler shade of pink than the previous one and far rougher (sand-wise, more corals). And we did not go there to enjoy the beach, actually.

What happened was, we were supposed to go snorkelling in the area surrounding the beach (which was why I did not bring my phone and hence, no picture, unfortunately). But the waves that day was quite strong and I was easily separated from the rest of the group (again). Luckily, I was with another friend so all the time I was holding her hands, literally. It was difficult not to get panic at the sea (for me, at least) so I was glad I had a companion.

We did not do the snorkelling for long (thank God). But here something interesting happened.

So we often had to take the smaller boat to reach our destination because our actual ship was very big and this time was no exception. But on the way to the ship (we were on this smaller boat), another boat approached us. There were 3-5 kids (like, literally, I guess they were all below 10 years old) tried to sell some souvenirs for us. They sold small wooden komodo (magnets?) But what astonished me was that they literally sailed on their own, in a wooden boat (which, as far as I saw back then was not even a motorised boat – I think I saw one of them holding an oar), in an open sea. I would have easily got a panic attack but I guess they were used to that (and probably have to do that). I still regret until today that I did not buy anything from them.

Our phinisi ship. See the smaller white boat tied on the back?

Komodo Island: Meeting the long-lost friends (not)

Finally, finally. Later that afternoon we arrived in Komodo Island.

After a short briefing with the island’s guides, we started our search for komodo, which, surprisingly did not take that long 😅 The komodos were just literally stood still behind the first restaurant that we passed.

Yes? Is it me you’re looking for?

The guides encouraged us to take turns in taking a picture with komodo. What we had to do was to give our phone to them and we had to pose behind the komodo. I don’t know why but it seemed that the guides liked to take the pictures from a certain angle to make it looked bigger than it actually is 😂

The guides said that in the late afternoon the komodos usually were not that active since they had meals and needed time to digest. Oh how I relate so much 😂😂😂

We went deeper into the forest afterwards. And luckily, we met another one 💚

Alright, I’m out

So yeah. That was it for the third day. It was a long day, but definitely, a memorable one (otherwise I wouldn’t have written this blog) 😂 See you in my next post!