Who says Postcrossing is only traveling on your imagination? Postcrosser Felice Hutchings proves it isn’t. She decided that for her 50th birthday, she would do a trip in Europe, and that the stops would be her Postcrossing friends!
It went splendidly well, and we are happy that she shared with us her country hopping adventure in Europe. So here’s how it was in her own words – enjoy it!
When I joined Postcrossing last year, it wasn’t because I wanted to collect postcards. It was always about the people and the words. It was the possibility of the unmet friend. I love to collect vintage cards but the real thrill for me is to make connections with people in places, some of which I know nothing about until I get the card or the address. It’s always exciting to see a new place with all it’s beauty, but the most memorable travel experiences are those about the people I have met along the way.
Over the past year, I became pen pals with four women: Isabelle from Germany, Anya from Denmark, Suzanne from England, and Loona from Estonia. To Isa, I sent my very first postcard and when I came to Germany in December, she organized a Postcrossing meeting in Cologne with 10 others. It was so much fun, and after that we continued to write letters and emails. Then I began to think about planning a trip for my 50th birthday in May. I wanted to do something really special, so I decided to let Postcrossing create my itinerary. It seemed important to visit everyone this trip, even though they were spread across the continent. I started in Paris, one of my favorite places, traveling for 8 days with a good friend from home. On the fifth day, two other good friends arrived to surprise me and stayed for my birthday! Then I took a train to Antwerp and met Isa and her husband Norbert who had driven two hours from Germany to meet me for the afternoon! They picked me up from the train station and we went to explore the old town together. They brought me some delicious chocolates and took me out for a wonderful lunch for by birthday. We walked around and shopped for postcards while Norbert documented the afternoon with camera. Sadly for me, they had to get home to their children so our visit was short but wonderful. I was so happy that they made such an effort to come and see me!
I flew to Copenhagen to meet Anya. At first it was really strange. Suddenly all the writing became a real live three dimensional encounter and it was awkward for a short time…Oh no, what do we talk about?!? In a short time, we relaxed and discovered our friendship beyond the written word. I am her first American friend and she is my first Thai/Danish friend. We went to Malmo, Sweden for two days, of which my favorite thing was the art museum in the castle. Our last day was in Copenhagen where we spent the evening in Tivoli, a magical amusement park, taking pictures, going on a ride, watching a ballet and a concert and having a wonderful dinner serenaded by very enthusiastic Romanian musicians. Of course there was also postcard shopping and writing. I was so grateful to meet Anya! She is planning to study fashion design in addition to her master sewing degree and since I work for a fashion designer, I have this little dream that one day she will come to Chicago and work for our company! Three days went too fast.
Next I flew to Tallinn, Estonia, to meet Loona. We spent three days in the city where we took both bus and walking tours and went to a beautiful open air museum. Then we went to the small rural Island of Kihnu for two days with two of her friends, where we: rode bicycles; discovered rare flowers, dead snakes and beautiful birds; ate barbequed meat; were eaten by mosquitos; killed mosquitos; drank beer; drank vodka; laughed a lot and took a million pictures! Back in Tallinn, Loona took me to a rather crusty local bar where I sampled their legendary secret recipe shot called a “Jellyfish”, which one could only be sure contained tequila and hot sauce. Never in a million years (if not for Loona) would I have discovered that bar and tried that drink. In fact, I probably would never have gone to Estonia or the Isle of Kihnu! Although Loona speaks English very well, I am her first American friend and the only one with whom she practices the language. And so, I got to represent America in Estonia to a few people.
I then flew to London to meet Suzanne. She and her husband had kindly offered to fetch me from the airport, an hour’s drive from their hometown of Alton. I sauntered up to passport control with this false sense of confidence. After all, I was entering a land without language barrier. No worries. I was required to provide an address of where I would be staying in England and unfortunately, I had not brought Suzanne’s address as I knew they would be greeting me at the airport. I explained that I was staying with a friend and the next question was: “Have you ever met this friend before?” Oh god. I got that instant flash of doom. “Well, no.” “Have you ever spoken on the phone?” “No.” “How did you meet?” “Postcrossing, a postcard website.” “So you met on the internet…” Suddenly, all that was beautiful and cosmic had been misconstrued as sleazy. I was then drilled with many humiliating personal questions. I gave her Suzanne’s cell and she walked away. When she returned, she said that she spoke with my friend and our stories matched. She let me know that I was a complete idiot for taking the chance of visiting a stranger. She stamped my passport and when I walked up to the baggage claim, my bag was sitting alone as everyone else from my flight had been long since set free. So let this be a warning to all my Postcrossing friends: “Do not attempt this stunt” without an address and the confident story that you are meeting a friend that you have known for years!
Suzanne had been very ill for the past year we’d been writing each other. I was worried that my visit could be a challenge to her health, but instead I found her to be feeling relatively fantastic. She was clearly happy to have me there. Her husband, Adrian, had taken a couple of days off work to drive us around! We went to Portsmouth and around Alton, we went to Jane Austen’s house and a few beautiful cemeteries. I met both Adrian and Suzanne’s mother, who were lovely, and had the opportunity to answer the questions of their 17 year old son, George, and his friend about what it was like to live in America. No, we don’t all have a swimming pool, etc. (Oh, television.) I was especially grateful for the home cooked meals which become more of the luxury when traveling for so long. They really went out of their way to make me welcome and I loved staying with them. Once again, we are mutually the first friends of our individual countries. I spent the last 5 days alone, exploring the coast of Cornwall. I sent postcards to myself from each place, offering a story of the day as a kind of travel log.
What I feel is most special about Postcrossing are the random acts of kindness that happen as a result of this project. It is joyful to try and send a stranger something that will make them happy. It is healing to receive these little gifts in the mail box at the end of the day. These friendships I have made are like discovering treasure! I believe there is a reason that we find each other but now it’s just a little easier to find each other anywhere: across countries, oceans and continents. I have many antique postcards from 100 years ago. I always wonder what they would think if they could see us now.