Birthday beginnings

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

― Albert Einstein


It seems crazy to think that another year has passed: it’s time to celebrate my birthday again. This time last year, I was strolling around the Temple of Literature in Hanoi wondering why it had taken me so long to get there. Today has been ever so different… I awoke to a text message informing me that my visa for India is ready for collection and to celebrate, I promptly went to my first Barre Bootcamp class at my new gym, enjoyed a delicious smoothie with a friend and found myself strolling home with a huge, happy-as-can-be smile on my face. Small, meaningful moments.


In the last year I have been hit by the full force of the travel bug. In addition to travelling around Vietnam, I visited Cambodia, Thailand, Turkey, my beloved Iran, France and in a few days, I will finally venture towards India. I had intended to spend my birthday in Rome but life takes twists and turns: I got a place on an academic course (which I applied for in February) and had to postpone my trip as my passport was being held hostage at the consulate.


So now, I’m sitting here at home reflecting on this year and everything feels so surreal. I finished university, submitted my applications, travelled to countries I had longed for and, most importantly, connected with myself for the first time in many years.  I joined a gym and started to put myself, my health and my desires first. With my dreams and reality; I made peace with my past and acknowledged my future whilst staying grounded in the moment. As an organiser, I’m often planning ahead – thinking about what do next, where to go, what to eat but, finally, I’ve come to realise that often the most important thing is the here and now and, even with planning, change is constant, necessary and often wonderful.  This has been a year of transformation: a moment to stop pushing against what feels right to me just to conform to what societal pressures.  It has been a year of realising the full degree of my own personal strength.

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It wasn’t all rosy though. At one point, I messaged my friend Andrea, told her I was quitting and couldn’t deal with seeing another Kanji. Japanese consumed my every thought and I just shut down. I’ve never been under so much pressure. But, never one to dwell on the negative, I got through it and celebrated over pistachio gelato with Andrea. A week later, my childhood friend completed her Masters exams and we toasted each other with champagne over a 5-hour lunch! Women achieving in every direction!

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I returned to Paris for a few days and, for the first time, the city had no hold over me. Yes, the architectural magnificence is still there in all its glory but that’s where it ended for me. I am passed the point in my life where I need to pretend; I loved my visits to the churches, the Louvre and to see my dear friend Gail and her crazy cat, but beyond that, Paris has nothing for me any more. Change where you least expect it. I went to L’église de la Madeleine for the first time since 2011. It shone like an angel. You see, I have always been fond of Saint Madeleine but, sadly, my association with this church was rather negative. I used to go there at least 4 times a week, to pray in fits of anger, suffering and sheer confusion as to why my life was as it was. As I walked in this April, I wept profusely. For about 40 minutes I just knelt down and wept tears of gratitude and understanding. Everything made sense.

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Of all the highs this year, travelling to Iran topped every possible list. That feeling of wonder and innocence as I walked around Yazd hasn’t left me. It was my first time in the desert, and it felt otherworldly. Entering the beauteous Shāh-é-Chérāgh mosque in Shiraz rendered me speechless with its ornate turquoise mosaics and endless grounds. The sense of security and the warmth of the people left me in a befuddled state; why wasn’t I scared? Should I have been? I questioned my subconscious endlessly: did I, liberal-lover-of-people, expect to be endangered? By whom? Muslims? Huh, don’t be ridiculous.  Why did Iran, a country I cannot claim lineage to, feel like home? How could everything I had been told about Iranian people be so wrong?  I loved every moment and every person and would return in a heartbeat. And whilst I know that my adventures as a 2-week tourist are not indicative of the experiences faced by millions of local people and those with dual nationality (which Iran does not recognise), and there is no debate on Iran’s abhorrent human rights record, I remain grateful and changed by all I encountered there.

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This has, undoubtedly, been the most successful year of my life. I have never been happier. However, my personal happiness is against the backdrop of unnecessary and excruciating pain within our world which often makes me question what I am doing.  I haven’t blogged as often as I could. This is, in part, because I struggle with the idea that I’m sitting here eating chocolate and sipping sencha whilst millions are under siege, starving and lost. How is it 2016 and girls and women are being sold as sex slaves, and our governments are more concerned with their legacies than helping the lives they had an active role in destroying, all while I’m sipping matcha lattes and taking photographs of my manicure. It’s not pretty but this horrific reality seems particularly pronounced in recent years. But onwards we go, right? There is no other way. So yes, I’m celebrating a year of achievements, embracing this blissful moment of my life and looking forward, and I am also invested in the plight of my fellow human beings. When you’ve always blogged about scones, fashion and travel in a carefree manner, it is somewhat challenging to change the direction and feel of one’s blog. But, if not now, then when? I am different, I have changed; my travels are no longer solely about bikinis and martinis. I love this term Travel Deeper – this is where I am, combining travel experiences with geopolitics whilst wearing pretty nail polish and maybe the odd bikini. I no longer care about curating a life that looks good on the exterior but feels empty. I’ve been there, and it wasn’t right for me. In a world where people are still judging each other based on the colour of their skin and their religion, I need to engage more about such meaningful subjects. If this year has shown me anything, it’s that we – the people – have to put our voices forward. It’s not always comfortable and some people prefer to us social media for other, less-controversial topics, which I like to see popping up in my feed. That’s good, that’s their choice. It’s just that I want to mix it up a little – good coffee, politics, the ballet, the plight of refugees and the mess that is Brexit.  I need to follow what feels right for me. Changes are afoot.

This year will be different: I have booked another trip to India for the winter (which will be purely pleasure) and then it is time to focus on my professional goals. There will be little time for travelling to far-flung destinations but I still have my eye on Scotland, Italy, Spain and maybe even good ole France. But right now, I am happily focused on this week: reading the required literature for my course starting on Monday and trying to learn a little Hindi… My year is off to a great start!


  1. Kamila
    20 July 2016 / 02:38

    Dear Milla, I read your post with great attention and as almost always I can completely empathise. I think I know how you feel, I’ve been there. For me the last two years were really hard. I was on my own for the first time in my adult life, becoming more and more dissatisfied with Japan as it represents much of what I don’t believe in. I value integrity most of all, just like you mentioned the sense of disonance between drinking matcha lattes and showing off your manicure and caring about the state of the world I have been feeling that I am focusing my energy on wrong things, living in a place which is not challenging in the way I need it to be, is uninspiring intellectually and spiritually and doesn’t let me fulfil my potential. Finding my direction has taken its time but finally I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I feel tired but at the same full of energy for the future. I have something – a plan – to focus on. So I believe we are now at a very similar moment in our lives, where we are finding happiness, focusing on our needs which are tuned to what we want to give to the others. We are finding our balance and staying hopeful for many years to come.
    I wish we could meet face to face once in a while and just chat about whatever would come to our minds, over sencha or umeshu 🙂 I hope sooner or later we will do just that.

    • Not Just Another Milla
      22 October 2016 / 09:42

      Such beautiful, honest words. Thank you, Kamila.

      It’s that sense of feeling lost which I struggled most with, as you mentioned. I now have a firm grip on my plan and my individual happiness, and it feels wonderful. I’m really excited about your move and academic challenges going forward. As we are now both focused on a move abroad, let us remain courageous in the face new and unusual experiences, contentment and learning.

      Looking forward to catching up over sencha one day soon.

  2. 3 August 2016 / 18:29

    Hi Milla,

    A bit late in the day, but Happy Birthday! I’m enjoying following your travels around India on Instagram. Your travels this year have been an inspiration to me. We must get together when you get back!


    • Not Just Another Milla
      22 October 2016 / 09:25

      Months later… Thank you, Brian! You seem to be doing your fair share of jet setting around the world these days. Enjoy!

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