My background is anything but straightforward. I understood Afrikaans before I spoke Dutch. I no longer know a word of Afrikaans. My best friends hail from all corners of the world, from Bangladesh to Germany. Said Bengali friend was my very best friend when my family moved to The Netherlands while I was still a wee bairn. She was the first friend I made in this new, strange world full of snow (which I’d previously never seen), torturously painful looking wooden shoes and cheese. So much cheese. I loved cheese. Many kilos were gained.
I was fiercely protective of said best friend; we’ll call her “S” shall we? S and I would spend our afternoons at Café Big Ben fantasising about being older (why?) and all our dazzling future plans. There may have been a bit of boy talk sandwiched in there too (AKA all the time). S was impossibly witty and charming. She had lived in The Netherlands much longer than I had, and boasted an array of friends besides me. This riled me up. What did she need other people for when she had me? We lived a stones throw from one another, and were practically familia. I referred to her mum as “Amu” (mum in Bengali) and her mum told me I was just like her second daughter, so why this pesky insistence on other friends? Other friends were overrated, I thought childishly. One such friend who loomed over our friendship was one Lara Olivia.
Lara, I learned, was Portuguese and Norwegian, really fun, always got top marks in class, and had recently wowed in the talent competition with her dance routine to the Backstreet Boys ‘Everybody’ (Backstreet’s Back). “Enough about Lara already”, I thought. Lara was in fact a ghost. Like many students in our International School, Lara was a Third Culture Kid whose family moved around a lot. Her family had in fact upped and left the Netherlands a matter of days before I arrived. Essentially, I “replaced” Lara in our group of friends, and anybody who’s clapped eyes on Mean Girls, knows how important friendship groups are to teenage girls. Though she was no longer around, memories of her lingered, and my friends would often recount fond tales where she was concerned.
I admired Lara from afar for many years, and eventually our group disbanded and we returned to our relevant homes or sought pastures greener beyond The Netherlands. New careers were pursued and new friendships were forged (I can happily report that I eventually outgrew my juvenile possessiveness of S). I had been living in London for a while and was about to embark on yet another journey, this time to Panama (yay). Before taking off, it came to my attention that Polkadot Passport and Girl vs. Globe, one of my favourite bloggers and sometime fellow Londoner, was hosting a London meet up at Intrepid Travel’s headquarters for travelling ladies (sorry boys). This, I saw as a prime opportunity to meet the witty hostess, as well as mingle with other bloggers and influencers. The day consisted of a presentation, a social media competition (won that bottle of Prosecco, thank you very much) and chitchat with the other ladies.
One particular lady who piqued my curiosity and was an elegant figure, clad in a black coat with her hair pulled back. While introducing herself to the group, it seemed like she was actually telling the story of MY life, and I couldn’t pinpoint what her accent was for the life of me – something I’m often accused of myself. My golly, this was that Lara Olivia in the flesh, standing right before me.
Lara and I hiking in Hawaii, 6 years apart – (near) matching outfits and all
This experience was one of those bizarre moments that remind us just how tiny the world is, and how travel enlarges your world while simultaneously compressing it. Our life experiences share some striking similarities too: we had both never lived in one place for longer than 5 years prior to moving to London, our Hawaiian topophilia knows no bounds, we speak multiple languages, albeit none perfectly, and grew up in countries other than where we (and our parents) were born. We also pursued corporate careers for a tad (too long) until we answered the call of writing, setting up travel sites roughly around the same time and eventually finding ourselves at the travel writer meet up in April.
Being Banyan tree huggers in Hawaii
Lara is a portmanteau, a word blending the sounds and combining the meanings of two others, for example, motel or brunch. She’s Norwegian and Portuguese, and lived in 6 countries and attended 10 schools, including mine. It then stands to reason why she named her lifestyle and travel blog Miss Portmanteau. In her blog, she combines her rich cultural experiences and serves them up on a scrumptious plate with eloquent finesse. I urge anyone to exercise caution when you visit Lara’s site: you will leave hungry for the mouth-watering food experiences she writes about, and thirsty for a decadent new adventure. Her Instagram @miss.portmanteau is similarly an eye-watering invitation to the good life: from cocktails at the Mandrake Hotel, to octopus at Marina de Cascais. Her blog has been nominated for the UK Blog Awards 2018 (vote here right now – voting ends 22 December).
It’s a beautiful feeling when you meet someone that you feel you’ve known for years. It’s a tremendous feeling when you connect with someone from another culture who wholly understands your experience of the world. Travel makes that happen. Read Lara’s side of the story here and follow her adventures on Instagram @miss.portmanteau.
Rosie Bell is an international travel writer, author of the book “Escape To Self”, and content editor for Club Elsewhere. Follow her on Instagram @TheBeachBell.