Inspiration has been hiding from me, but I caught a whiff of it today when I read Véronique’s latest post. She was writing about youth and feeling happy without any possessions or plans while living abroad in her twenties. A lovely kind of nostalgia: so nearby, yet such a faraway time and age.

Inspiration is funny. If you read Véronique’s post, you’ll see that all of this comes down to an empty gas station actually.

Anyway, back to my story.

Living in small rooms without many possessions – it reminded me of how I’ve done that too, and how those years were very happy years for me, just like they were for Véro.

Whether it was traveling to Greece for half a year with only a cabin bag for luggage or touring Italy for months by myself with no itinerary, it was always an adventure. Whatever happened, it just added a nice notch on my travel belt.

Florence was my HQ for a moment

These adventures sometimes involved my family, too. During my French days, my mum traveled to Paris to help me move all my possessions by car. We rented a Chrysler minivan and drove all the way to Nice, spending a night in Lyon. I didn’t end up staying in Nice for as long as I thought I would. Such a hassle, you might say. But it was an adventure. Unique and ephemeral.

In France, in my twenties… I guess Montpellier and Paris hold such special places in my heart because they were the places where I truly became independent as a young adult. All those experiences were new and there was a certain thrill to it.

Like Véro was saying, I didn’t need much to make me happy. I just wanted to be there and experience it all.

At one point, I was sharing a flat in an old, old, old stone building in Montpellier with two Finnish girls I had just met. There was no heating despite it being winter, and we could see our breath – the air was so cold you could cut it. We were absolutely freezing all the time. So cold that we started wearing layers upon layers of “pulls” (sweaters) and beanies and scarves. Indoors. Sometimes we’d sleep with our coats on. Sometimes we’d exercise just to get warm.

One of the girls had lived in the flat longer than me and the other girl. It was an unfurnished flat but she had found furniture on the streets and made some herself. She’d made a living room table from an old, worn wooden door by putting some boxes underneath as legs. It looked really cool and I envied her sense of style. There were candles stuck in empty wine bottles with the wax dripping out onto the table, making the make-do candle holders stick.

She had created the kitchen table in a similar fashion from another door she had found. The door had little glass frames painted in a wonderful Mediterranean blue.

There was only one bed. The original girl had it. I slept in a sleeping bag on the floor.

The third girl was new. I remember when she arrived, her first evening. She was scared of everything. I thought she would get over it but it turned out living abroad just wasn’t her thing. She was jumpy. We didn’t get along very well.

Montpellier had some gorgeous Medieval streets in that area of town – I don’t know how old that building was. Its staircase was like the ones at old cathedrals from the Middle Ages that you can visit, like the Notre Dame: a steep spiral, no handrails, so tiny only one person could walk there at a time and if you were tall you would have to hunch over. The steps were so worn out they had become uneven, sliding towards the spot people had treaded on for decades, maybe even centuries.

Medieval Montpellier with a disposable camera back in the film and paper days

But this wasn’t my first flat in Montpellier nor was it my last. Before this, I had stayed in a 17 sq.m room in a student residence. It had been a new building, modern and nice. I’d met other foreign students there and made friends. There were dinner parties, jogging dates, Mexicans making sangria, Canadians planning road trips and Dutch students cooking their own kind of fondue.

My third flat was a tiny dollhouse, two stories but probably no more than 30 sq.m altogether. I shared it with a Dutch girl and a Belgian guy. We had a grid on our window because it was street level and there were many nightclubs on that street. Someone was always knocking on our window.

For a brief moment in this life, I lived on the street to the left with roommates

In Paris some years after Montpellier, I lived in the 14th arrondissement in a slightly bigger flat, by myself. There was mold in the bathroom and gas heaters which I had trouble turning on. I sometimes used the good old Montpellier trick and dressed in almost all my clothes to stay warm. In Finland, there’s always hot water in the shower and that’s a great way to warm up. But in my Paris flat, there was a limited amount of hot water.

The flat had at some point earlier in its history been a shop of some kind, it had been converted into a flat. So one wall was still a huge sales window. It was covered with a metal shutter all the time. Luckily I also had windows facing the inner yard so it wasn’t completely dark inside. The flat was full of art.

There was an old lady who I think was some kind of janitor. She kept track of me, whether I wanted it or not. During weekend mornings, very early, she would wind my inner yard window covers up and I had no curtains so I’d wake up to see her peering through the window at me.

My landlady lived abroad, but once, she decided to stay in the flat without telling me. She just walked in with her keys and asked me to go somewhere else for a while. I can’t remember what I did. Maybe I found another flat at that point.

I’ve lived in too many French flats to remember all of them very well. There was the moldy wall fraud flat in Levallois-Perret, where my shampoo went moldy every day between showers. I could hear the woman above me walk around in high heels all the time. Through my window, I could see an office building and watch faceless silhouettes of people work at their desks.

There was the posh flat in the 9th arrondissement where I couldn’t stay for very long because it was very expensive. I had no furniture so my landlord left me a table to use. It was a Moroccan table: a beautiful golden tray on wooden legs. I fell in love with that table.

There was the flat in Nice which I did furnish, only to end up selling the furniture and moving back to Paris six months later. It had a bakery downstairs and I was quite addicted to their pain au raisin.

There was the period where I shacked up at a friend’s tiny studio in Bastille (Paris). But she hadn’t told me that she was suffering from insomnia. At night, she would get up, get a snack from the fridge, turn on all the lights and start reading. I’ve never been able to sleep with lights on. So I moved in with another friend. Except she had a cat, and I’m very allergic to cats…

I didn’t really mind wherever I landed. It all seemed to work out, one way or another. Back then, all I needed was some sun and I was good to go!

45 responses to “Ephemeral

  1. I’m so glad you caught the whiff of inspiration. 🙂 So interesting to hear of your “wild” youth. You did it, you dared just leave and live as it comes. I can just picture your boys, wide-eyed as they listen to your adventures. 😉 I should explain to my dog one time that before Italy a month away from home was longest. And the home was in the same street for all my 40+ years before Italy happened. I bet he’ll be yawning by this point. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Gees!!!! How do you keep track? So many flats? So many stories?
    It all reminds me of the Klapisch’s trilogy. If you haven’t seen L’AUBERGE ESPAGNOLE, you must absolutely do that! Put that on you to-do list for tomorrow and skip the Presidential Gala!!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. So many wonderful experiences…you’ve lived in pretty cool places(both meanings of cool 😉) there are things we can only do when we are young, I don’t think I’d sleep on the floor anymore, plus love the Before movies, even the last one in Greece and absolutely love the triology Spanish apartment

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I also immediately thought of the Spanish apartment movies and Linklater “Before …” movies. Your stories and those movies bring back my own early wanderings overseas.

    What great memories you have – even though some of them sound rather uncomfortable to an adult who has gotten used to some creature comforts! Back then, it was the adventure that mattered, not the living quarters so much. And it’s always the little things we remember, like the mold, the high heels overhead, the “furniture” (haha – I laugh at what I considered decor back then!). Very fun to read about your former life!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. That is quite a lot of places and roommates. When I went to Nice I slept on the beach (only place I could afford at 19) and was woken up at about 4:30 am by the fisherman putting out to sea.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Thank you for sharing this story and the inspiration. In many ways reminded me of the different flats I stayed in when studying abroad. Ahh…being in the early twenties… 🙂 I miss that feeling (sometimes) – living a Spartan lifestyle, but being fettered to nothing. Thank you again, for the inspiration! I will also read the link you provided to the other blog 🙂

    Best wishes,

    Liked by 2 people

  7. That’s quite a varied experience, you’ve reminisced about. The things we could or had to do in youth that we’d hesitate about now, whether it be due to personal choice, health or family commitments.
    Not sure how I’d have reacted to having a janitor looking at me in bed in the mornings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeah, she was a bit nosy 😊 the janitory lady. All these apartment stories were ones that I chose and wanted to have. The blog post I was inspired by was saying how those were such happy times, and our youthful travels were quite similar in many ways 😊


  8. Reading this has reawakened my desire to travel to new places and live as the locals do. I’ve never been overseas for more than two weeks at a time, so to me it sounds amazing to spend months and months away – there is so much to see and do and learn!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ah, the nostalgia of youthful days. So many things I did then I wouldn’t do now. Sleeping on a beach in Spain, being flushed out by a lightning illuminated storm, and finishing the night in a shower cubicle with a one-legged traveler in the next stall. Or spending the winter in a stone cottage in the southwest of England where the only heat (ha!) was an open fireplace, and when it rained, water ran down the inside walls and occasionally the kitchen flooded. Golden days!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahahah!!! But without those adventures, maybe you would be feeling you missed out on something you were supposed to experience! Maybe you would have ended up somewhere else than Hawaii. (How did you end up there, btw, if you don’t mind me asking?) 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well we’re always experiencing some things and missing out on others. I find those kind of ‘what ifs’ fascinating – what if I hadn’t had that experience but had gone for a different possibility? And life is really a series of those kind of choices. Who knows what my situation might be now had I chosen differently? As to Hawaii, my wife and I were married here and when we thought about moving from where we were living we thought, ‘why not.’

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Love these kind of posts from you, Snow! Sounds like you really lived up your 20s to the fullest. So many adventures. I am surprised that you remember some of the details so well, like the Moroccan table. 🙂 What an adventure with your mum too! Your France apartment stories reminded me of this airbnb we had rented in Paris, which had no heating either! It was December and we were freezing all the time. I really value the central heating and hot showers hehe as a result of some of those experiences.
    I have moved quite a bit over the years too, but I’ve always hated packing and the process of moving. Discovering a new neighborhood, feeling lost in the city however are such exciting feelings.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I was reading your experiences in France and they reminded me so much to Dublin…. I haven’t lived in so many apartments as you… But I can relate to those with no heating at all during winter, or with limited hot water… putting all your clothes on, and blankets, and even the laptop, just because it was another source of heat…. the mold growing everywhere, turning the walls green and black… Oh, my! I don’t miss those things!! (and I’m not going to talk about the car and fire alarms in Dublin… crazy things!)
    How are these things in Finland?? I hope Finnish apartments are more like the Swedish, warm and cozy, unlimited hot water… the perfect refuge for the winter days!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Mercedes for reading! 💕 In Helsinki, there’s central heating, double layered windows and unlimited hot water at great pressure – no worries 🙂 In the countryside they might have electric heating sometimes and it’s quite expensive. I guess it’s the same for Sweden! Sweden and Finland are very similar.


  12. It sounds like a time of great adventure! What wonderful memories to be able to look back upon. Even with the negatives of freezing and floor sleeping (the landlady asking you to leave was a bit bold on her part), I’m sure they lend so much to the stories. Some of our most memorable family trips are when things went wrong. We weren’t thrilled about it at the time, but they leave a lasting story.

    Liked by 1 person

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