The Road East

“Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.”
–Mahatma Gandhi

Merry Christmas to everyone at home and abroad, and wishes for a Happy New Year as well!

Picking up where my last post left off, I was very happy to leave the (cozy) confines of my Serbian hostel room in Nish and get back on the road to Bulgaria. I had been attempting to get there a few days earlier, but got held-up with a nasty bout of strep throat, so when I finally hopped on the train for Sofia the anticipation that had been building was well rewarded.

The train was smoky, as usual, with entire cabins occupied by moving Roma families with bags piled floor to ceiling, but this train had an extra twist: a cigarette smuggling ring. We were crossing the Bulgarian border, and into EU territory from a non-EU country, so I knew customs would be a hassle, but when I saw a sketchy looking lady start to pry the paneling off the inside hallway of our car, I got really worried. What the h*** was going on?! The Hollywood blockbuster began to unfold and I had a front row seat. Next a large (drunk) man singing a Serbian folk tune, with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth ran past my cabin with a ladder, soon to return and toss it up against the wall in order to pull down the ceiling tiles and stuff up cartons of cigarettes. At some point a metal piece form the roof fell down and got tossed out the window of the moving train with just a shrug. “Guess they didn’t need that piece very much.” Just before we crossed the border the situation took an interesting twist, two of the head smugglers decided to come in and share my cabin for the passport and customs control. Great! Just what I need, to be mixed up with cigarette smugglers! The interesting bit was that the Serbian girl who had been with me in the cabin before, and who spoke excellent English, was able to relay the story behind this illegal operation so I could understand what was going on, and why. Turns out, this happens every single day so I had nothing to be worried about. Whewf! Sure enough, at the border both sets of customs officers were extremely lenient with the smugglers and only confiscated about ½ of all the cigarettes they found. They just didn’t care. Bribes were paid to the ticket officers to look the other way (literally as the guy with the ladder hauled down what remained of the cigarettes not even a meter away), and as soon as all officials were off the train the race began to sell everything before we got to Sofia. The smugglers looked pretty sketchy, but other than that, like normal, middle-aged people, the majority of whom were women. I found this surprising, but it turns out they had all worked for state run companies back in communist era Yugoslavia (modern day Serbia), until the company had sold out to an international corporation and they had all lost their jobs. Without other training these people had been left to fend for themselves in a country with an economy in poor shape, and an even worse social system. The only option they saw was to smuggle cigarettes across the border to make ends meet. They weren’t proud about it, but they did what they had to do to supplement their 80euro (about $115) a month income. Welcome to reality for so many people in the East.

Into Bulgaria I saw a country filled with contrasts. The rugged rural landscape and farming history are a shock against the urban concrete monstrosities left over from the Communist days. Within the capital of Sofia there are beautiful buildings, and old churches dating back to the early AD years, quite often these are in better shape than the newer apartments that are already peeling and crumbling. My favourite places in the city were the farmer’s market, which stretched for many city blocks and was chock full of all the grown, collected, dried, or butchered goods I could have ever imagined, and the Cathedral of St. Nicolas. The Easter Orthodox church towered above the ret of the city and inside the detail in all the votives and murals was astounding. There were chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and in the dark interior all you could smell was beeswax and incense with a healthy dose of dust for good measure. The floors were marble tiles and the altars were veritable thrones with regal Bulgarian lions standing guard. Unfortunately I couldn’t even sneak a few photos to show you, so I’ll leave it up to your imagination with the guidance I’ve given you, but be sure it was truly breathtaking. By the time I left, I was ready to continue my journey and head to Istanbul, the gateway to the Middle East (or so I thought).

Istanbul is a gem of a city with a history that makes it all the more intriguing. Population 18 million- yes, that is about half of Canada in one city- the metropolis didn’t feel that overwhelming to me. Each little neighbourhood had its quirks and it was very easy to maneuver around… provided you weren’t driving on the roads! Everything was loud in Istanbul, that’s the best word for it. The store owners shouting at you from their doorsteps, the colours in all the bazaars, and of course the streets. Monuments were truly “Istanbul-sized,” like the Aiya Sofia and Topkapi Palace, the food had flavour to spare, and the tourist rip-offs were Istanbul-sized as well. After six days I had explored enough for this trip and was ready to move on, even if I didn’t know where to.

Leaving Istanbul, the rest of my time in Turkey was a whirlwind through the beautiful and unique landscapes of Kapadokya, then south to Antarkya for a night before crossing the Syrian border with a fresh mind (and much needed patience) in the morning. This was my first ever visa hassle, so I was thankful that I was traveling with someone else who had already done some of his own traveling around the region and knew what to expect. I got bumped around from room to room meeting, but of course not being introduced to, all the military captains, generals, supervisors and their commanding officers. Each time I would get the same questions: was I married? No. What was my occupation? Student. Why did I want to travel in Syria? Tourism. And on, and on, and on. The hardest answer for the (all male) officers to accept was that I was not married. To complicate matters further, I was traveling with an Australian guy, and it was very difficult to convince the border guards that we were just friends, somehow that would get lost in translation every time. Being the only younger woman in the entire building, I think part of the reason they held me for so long was so everyone could get a look at the foreign girl, oh yeah I felt great being stared up and down repeatedly. Finally after a tense 1.5h and a lot of arguing on the part of our amazing bus driver, they let me into Syria- with a 48h transit visa. That was not what I was expecting, or what I had paid for, since I had already paid the fee for a full one-month visa, but they didn’t really bother to refund that, and I didn’t have the time, or the social status, to argue. Now what?

Aleppo. Aleppo is Syria’s second largest city, and it was my first stop in the country. It’s a dusty, dirty, old maze of a city, mixed with all the traffic hazards and the crescendo of car horns that I’ve now come to associate with the Middle East. I really enjoyed the full experience of the city because it was something totally new to me, and turned out to really be my kind of city. Crossing the street meant taking your life into your hands, and it was there that I came to the conclusion that Syria might be the only place in the world where the horn in a car wears out before the brakes do. The city felt like a big ball of chaos, but somehow Aleppians manage to weave their way through the daily mess and create some kind of order in their lives. The best part about Aleppo for me was that after a multi-hour trip to the Immigration office, I got an extension on my visa, and I didn’t have to curb my plans to visit Syria.

I left Aleppo heading south to Hama, wondering what Syrian adventure I would get into next. Hama isn’t as big as Aleppo, but it certainly makes up for that in hospitality. The people there were the kindest and most open of anywhere I travelled in Syria. A couple friends and I met the most amazing group of women one evening sitting in a park that overlooked the city. The women were very conservatively dressed in long, black, burkas, one woman, with only her eyes exposed. This was the woman who struck up a conversation with my friends and I after hearing us speaking in English. What made this extraordinary was that my two friends were men, and she began talking directly to one of them. I’ve been in similar situations before and usually local women will prefer to talk to other women as opposed to male foreigners, so this came as a complete shock to me. We got to know the women through Safra, the youngest, and most conservative, because she spoke excellent English. They were curious about our respective countries, the differences to Syria, what we thought of Syria and of Islam as well. Safra is 19 and married, but still attending university studying international tourism and had taught herself English and Italian. She’s incredibly intelligent and outgoing, but it was clear that she placed her religion ahead of everything else without conflict and took pride in all of what we, in the West, would see as restrictions in her lifestyle.
I spent most of my time chatting to Safra’s mother in a mix of the little Arabic I understood and the few English words she knew, with lots of hand gestures thrown in for good measure. It was amazing everything that we could communicate. She was an Arabic teach in a primary school (just like my own mother in Canada with English), and her husband and two sons were doctors and dentists that had gone to work in Saudi Arabia because it was more profitable. She had made friends from all over the world and loved entertaining international guests. We talked and laughed for hours until the sun began to set, and the women had to leave. As we said goodbye I was once again reminded of the many joys of travelling and all the magical moments that come along with it.

Moving out into the desert, I spent one night at the oasis of Palmyra. The city was small by Syrian standards and it felt like it. I nicknamed the place, “one-horse-town, Syria style,” because that’s exactly what it was, complete with tumbleweeds blowing down the streets. All the buildings were new and the streets were actually planned, so everything was in a grid pattern and became as much of a maze as any old city, because all the square concrete houses and shops looked exactly the same! The main attraction to this place was the ruins. The beautiful remains were of the ancient temples and a sandstone city that was once an envy of the ancient world. At sunset everything starts to glow pink and gold against the saturated blue of the sky, and dusty beige of the mountains, making it that much more impressive. The only drawback to these ruins which seem to go on forever, are all the jewelry peddlers, and men on motorbike who stop you every five minutes to ask if they can take you somewhere or if you want a ride. I was even offered to ride a camel out into the ruins! One evening spent amongst the skeletons of the ancient city was enough for me, and I managed to make it back to town before it got completely dark. One other unique thing that I saw in the desert for the first time, were the Bedouin. They’re an old nomadic, tribe that moves around from camp to camp in the desert. I didn’t expect to find any encampments so close to populated areas, but I could often see them from the highway as we sped along in the bus. Their tents were modern and heavily tarpped down, some even had a portable water tank sitting outside. They lived their lives moving constantly whenever that weather or season demanded it. That was hard for even me to imagine.

My final stop in Syria was the capital of Damascus. I arrived amidst the craziest weather possible. There was snow everywhere in the city and it was piling up on cars and streets making everything messy, but just to make matters worse it had started to rain so snow that was on the ground, was now turning into freezing slush. The main highways in and out of the city of about 6 million, were flooding because the drainage system was not equipped to deal with freaky weather, and this was wreaking havoc everywhere. To give you some perspective of how unexpected this was, it was the first time it had rained in Syria in 3 months, and the people had been praying for rain, but it was also the first time it had snowed in Damascus in 20 years. Welcome to Damascus! Life was a little crazy for a while, but since it was the end of December I enjoyed the wintery weather and had several snowball fights on the streets. Someone even made a snowman’s head with a plastic carrot nose, and olives for eyes. Everything got wet, but so what, everything could be dried. The weather soon cleared up and it was back to highs in the high teens, early 20s,- not bad for December! The hostel was great, and I was a little sad to leave, but happy to be getting on with my trip, and soon to meet my mother for Christmas.

I had an overnight stay in the glittering city of Beirut, Lebanon. That was a shock to my senses. I had become accustomed to the Syrian grunge and chaos, but in Beirut, everything sparkled. There were Christmas trees everywhere and I could have gone to buy a Prada purse right next to the Gucci store. Even the university area was strange. MacDonalds, Pizza Hut, and lots of other fast food chains reigned supreme on Rue Bliss, which ran along the main entrance to the American University in Beirut, one of the most prestigious schools in the Middle East. In this district, English was spoken as widely as Arabic, and there were university kids running around everywhere, doing typical “American” university kid things. I felt like I was home again, but in some place that didn’t feel familiar at all. It was so entirely strange that I was thankful to leave early the next morning to fly to Cyprus, so my brain could readjust itself before I had to come back in the New Year.

It’s been an interesting and very challenging trip so far in the Middle East and Turkey. I’ve learned to “turn off” my Western mind at times when things get frustrating, and always remember that I truly am the outsider and I need to be more open than usual to strange and sometime what I would consider demeaning customs. I didn’t talk about it a lot in this post, but the way I was treated as a foreign woman varied widely in Syria and Lebanon, depending on where I went and who I was with, Turkey was very different so it can’t really be counted. I rarely felt unsafe, knowing that I could use my own wits to get myself out of sticky situations; it was more just coming to terms with being less comfortable on a daily basis. I was conscious of the customs and I think that helped a lot, but of course locals could spot me a mile away as a tourist. Since I’m heading back into the Middle East I am prepared for it to start all over again, and only get more challenging as I head in Egypt (which I have been warned and cautioned about many, many times by other travellers). Despite any challenges I may face, this area of the world is certainly worth travelling and seeing for yourself, since everyone leaves with a different souvenir.

From the beautiful island of Cyprus I send everyone, everywhere Holiday greetings and in true Canadaian fashion, I hope that the weather is as nice for you as it is for me, even if you don’t get to spent Christmas lying on the beach, but that will be my next post. As usual it’s been fun putting all my experiences in order and down in type so that I can share them with you, and expect another post early in the New Year on my mother and my Cypriot adventures. I promise the next post won’t be near as long!

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all!
Shukran, sahdir (transliterated Arabic)

P.S. I have also just put up a photo album on Facebook, so here is the link, and I’m sure this one will work even if you don’t have a Facebook account. Just copy and paste the link and it will take you directly there!



Balkan Beauty

"The world today can be a scary place, it's hard to keep your faith in the human race;
We're running out of trees and we're running out of space;
But we'll never run out of good people." - Great Big Sea (Good People)

From the moment I stepped off the plain in Zagreb I knew I was in for a different experience. Let the currency changes, total unfamiliarity, and language barriers begin!

I don't think I could have picked a better starting point than Zagreb. Most people spoke decent English so it was an easier transition to the very first country that posed a true language barrier. The city itself is very beautiful, with a lively cafe culture and vendors roasting chestnuts on every corner. I would have never believed that concrete could be elegant, but the crumbling facades and mock 19th century architecture proved me wrong! Walking around I noticed that people generally kept to themselves and didn't concern themselves with anyone else on the street, but they still carried themselves with a relaxed air... a far cry from the Parisian attitude. The Croatian capital also gave me my first taste of the recent and violent history of the region. Outside the national theatre, I stumbled across what I thought was an art exhibit, but turned out to be so much more. On well-lit boards were photos and stories of survivors whose loved ones had been killed or simply disappeared during the 1990's conflicts. There were 15 photos to represent the 15,000 Croatians who are still missing. For me the most chilling realization that I took away from the display, was that I was learning about a war where my generation were the ones left orphaned and alone. It certainly gave me new perspective when I wasn't thinking about grandfathers, or great grandfathers who would have been fighting. Walking away form the display, I had a hard time not trying to imagine what every person I crossed on the streets here had lived through, but somewhere on that walk I made one of the most important realization that would carry me through my travels here in the Balkans: Life goes on. This was the true meaning behind the cliche. Standing in this vibrant, colourful city, surrounded by warm hospitality, I would have never suspected this regions tumultuous past.This one moment, so early in my time here in Eastern Europe defined much of what I would experience over the next few weeks.

From Zagreb I headed south along the Dalmatian coast to the ancient Roman city of Split. The Croatian coast is known to rival the French Riviera... and I would agree! White marble streets (that are very slippery when wet) and palm trees everywhere. Not to mention great seafood! After a short, but fun stay in Split I moved on to Dubrovnik at the southern-most tip of Croatia. The landscape all along the coast is breathtaking to say the least. Rocky cliffs seemed to spring up from the turquoise blue Adriatic; this made for a very beautiful (6h) bus ride to Dubrovnik. The city itself is similar to Split, if much more touristy. The walk along the ramparts was definitely the high point of my time there. The entire "old city" is surrounded by high ramparts that overlook the sea and the city below, but the most amazing part about this ancient city, is that much of it isn't ancient at all. During the 1990's conflicts the city was heavily bombed and virtually destroyed. Since then many, many stone masons and construction crews have worked to restore the city to its original state. Today, visitors would have difficulty telling the difference between the old and the new!

As I am quickly learning my Canadian spatial sense is doing me no good over here. Distances on road signs are clearly measure "as the crow flies" and travelling between cities seems to take forever... even worse when there's a border involved! So after Dubronik I ventured inland to Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina (yes, I learned how to spell that... if anyone reading this wants to know how to say it, it's "her-tze-go-vee-na"). Here began my love affair with the tiny, "heart-shaped nation." the countryside is rugged and beautiful, just like the people who live there. Language barriers were nothing to overcome, even if people spoke every language BUT English and French. Walking down the well-lit streets, Mostar has an eerie sense about it; I would pass bombed out buildings that stood next to colourful cafes and rebuilt shops. The sidewalks were in need of a little work, and locals only used them in emergency situations, like when a car would drive down the road. Mostar was also my first taste of the immense Turkish influence in the region, which was under Ottoman control for many centuries.

Next stop was Sarajevo, where I can say with certainty that I indulged in plenty of Bosnian/Balkan specialties and learned how to properly drink Bosnian Coffee. I made (and re-made) some great friends and had many unforgettable moments. My favourite had to be my last night there. I climbed up one of the very steep hills surrounding the city, just to get into the residential areas, but was treated to the most spectacular sunset I have ever seen. The sky was glowing orange and pink, and I could see the entire city below me. Just as the sun was dipping below the hills all the minarets started their call to prayer, and almost simultaneously the church bells began to ring. That was when I knew I was in love with this city, and this country as a whole. The only word that will do it justice is... magic.

Belgrade was a sharp contrast to the warmth and charm of Sarejavo. Once the capital of communist Yugoslavia, this sprawling concrete jungle felt more like it belonged in Western Europe than the Eastern half. When most capitals in this region don't top 800,000, Belgrade, with a population of 1.7 million felt immense, and anonymous. Two days was plenty of time for me here.

I continued my adventure south, to Skopje, Macedonia, once again adjusting to a new language and currency... hooray! Great food was easy to come by, and very cheap, my greatest delight was that you could get vegetables... even salads! As a side note you can also get beer in 2L plastic bottles and every hostel owner and their neighbour has their own home-brewed version of the local alcoholic potion- Rakia. My taste of Macedonia was limited, but I can still say that this is one of the most under-developed countries I've seen yet. Not the absolute worst, but still a very simple lifestyle where manual labour is the tool of choice for things like agriculture, and even road building! But if I though Macedonia was rough... a day trip to Kosovo gave me a new perspective. One of the world's newest countries, Kosovo was officially created in 2008, but it still isn't recognized by Serbia as an independent state (... and I had my Kosovo passport stamp crossed out at the Serbia border to prove it). Anything outside the capital of Prishtina is best described as "third-world." Paved roads don't exist and international military installations are common- as is evident by the posted highway speed limits for tanks. The capital city is better developed and is centered around towering EU/UN buildings. This country truly feels like another world entirely.

On my way to Sofia, Bulgaria, I made an unplanned pit stop in Nish, Serbia, where I have enjoyed the scenic views of my hostel dorm room for the last three days thanks to a nasty bug of some sort. Bed rest, chicken noodle soup and tea have done wonders, and I heading off to Sofia tomorrow. From there I'll continue east to Istanbul and into the Middle East. Let the adventure continue!

The Balkans have been an amazing experience., The sights and magnificent, the history is intricate, and the hospitality is the stuff of legends. I can't count the number of times I've been adopted by older women on train/bus trips, despite complete language barriers! This place is truly wonderful and I'm thankful everyday for all the experiences I've had and those yet to come.

Hvala Vam

As usual... I will have photos up on Facebook shortly so here's the link if you want to go check them out :) This should be a public link, so even if you don't have Facebook you can still see the photos!



The French Adventures- Part 2

"Life is a long lesson in humility." -James M. Barrie

Life really does make the best teacher, and all of the lessons have a distinct purpose, even if we don't realize it at the time.

... So where did I leave off in this French saga? Brive, or rather getting to Brive. This was the day I officially named the "Day from Hell." Leaving Montpellier I was anxious and excited to go back to familiar territory, see my lycée friends, but most importantly, see my host family that I had lived with during my exchange in 2008. (Most) of whgom I hadn't seen in over 2 years. Emotions already amuck, I got to the train station early, and until then hadn't had any problems with the periodic train strikes. Well, after a series of unfortunate events, I got kicked off the train by the conductor because there was absulutely no room. I was left standing on the platform alone, as I watched the only train (indefinitively) that would make the connections to Brive, speed down the tracks, without me. Pissed off doesn't quiote cut it. The ONLY time I actually have someone waiting for me at the other end of the journey, just my luck. At that moment it felt like the end of the world.

From that point, the journey was taken in stages, usually with me sitting on the floor or standing with my heavy pack because there were no seats. Finally, late that night I arrived in Cahors, the closest I could get to Brive (about 1h by car). Michel (my host father) was going to meet me there. Exhausted, I waited in the very empty train station, content, until in stumbled a drunken bumm- great, just what my day needed. In slurred French he proceeded to ask me 1 million questions and tell me how beautiful I was, every 5 min. moving one seat closer to me. Late at night, there was no one around. However, just as I started to actually become concerned, Michel arrived to save the day! Officially the day from Hell.

Brive was an amazing experience. I stayed for a whole week, and loved every minute of it, surrounded my family and familiarity, home-cooked meals, time to relax, and visit with the family that I hadn't seen since I left France for the first time back in '08. Just the feeling of being home, and totally at ease did wonders for me. It was also the very first time that I actually noticed that I've grown up. I'm an adult out discovering the world on my own. Leaving was tearful as I said goodbye to everyone, with promises to return before I head back to Canada.

Next stop was Limoges to visit Coraline and more friends. Leaving there was more complicated as the train strikes had gotten worse, to the point that the company didn't even know which trains would run the next day until 6pm the night before. Reservations anywhere were impossible, so it was flying by the seat of my pants as I headed to Paris with no idea where I was going next. I ended up in Brittany, in the city of St. Malo. The region is gorgeous and the city is a medieval fortress on the Atlantic coast. It was amazing, but unfortunately crawling with tourists because it was the start of nationwide school vacations in many European countries, including France, and there was a huge catamaran regatta in port preparing for a race all the way to Guadaloupe that would start the following week. At the hostel I met some really cool Quebecois, and sure enough, had difficulty with there accent at times (in French), but thankfully, not very often.

Next was over to the North and actually into Belgium, because the hostel I had been trying to get to in Lille (France) was still booked. The next week was spent touring through almost all of Belgium, with stops in Bruges, Antwerp, and Liège (I missed Brussels). Belgium is a beautiful, but in my opinion, confusing country, with multiple lanuages that vary by region, and thus multiple names for everything! Chocolate shops, waffle and fry vendors were everywhere and pubs/bars were on every street corner. The countryside is incredibly green, even at the end of October, and is dotted with lots of little farms and brick homes. I often had difficulty finding accomodations because of school vacations, but everything worked out in the end.

Then it was back to France, to Dunkirk (north of Lille), because Lille, and the entire countris of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, northn Germany, and Northern France were entirely booked up. I'm not kidding, there was NOTHING.

Halloween day I arrived in Lille (finally), and the weather felt just like being back in Ireland. I passed through many famous areas surrounding the city, and in the end forgot what the huge draw was in the first place. Regardless it was a very enjoyable city.

Back in Paris, the next stop will be an entirely new part of my travels as I fly to Zagreb, Croatia on Nov. 3.

Amazing, difficult, but ultimately the most rewarding experiences of my life. Travel, and life, really do make the best teachers.

à la prochaine- Bisous à Tous!


"La vie est un leçon dans l'humilité qui dure longtemps." -James M. Barrie

La vie est le meilleur enseignant de tout, même si tous les lçons ne sont pas biens compris au moment, ils ont tous un but uniques.

... Alors où est-ce que j'ai terminé ma saga française? Brive, ou plutçot comment je me suis arrivée à Brive. C'étiat une journée que j'ai nommé, "La journée de l'Enfer."

De partir de Montpellier j'avais senti beaucoup des emtions; l'anxiété, l'anticipation, et j'étais heauresuse aussi de finallement revoir ma famille d'acceuil. (Le plupart) De qui je n'avais pas vu depuis que je suis rentrée au Canada. Donc avec un coeur trop chargé je me suis arrivée à la gare bien en avance. Jusqu'à ce moment je n'avais pas eu des problèemes avec les grèves de le SNCF, donc, selon moi, la journée dû derouler toute simplement. Mais non. Apès une série des événements qui n'étiaent pas de tout prévues... j'ai râté le train. Le contrôleur m'a fait desçendu du train car il n'y avait pas de la place pour moi, même si j'ai un billet dans le main. J'etais la seule laissé sur le quaiavec aucun prospêt de prendre un autre train qui faissait les connexions jusqu'à Brive, indéfinitvement. Merde. "Ennerver" ne suffise pas pour exprimer toutes les emotions que j'ai senti. La seaule fois que j'avais quelqu'un qui m'attendais à l'autre bout du trajet- violà, ça peut arriver qu'à moi.

Dès ça le voyage était fait en plusieurs étapes, d'habitude je n'avais pas une place assise dans les train, sinon c'était assise sur mon sac-à-dos ou par terre. Mais j'étais quand même contente d'être sur les trains. Enfin je me suis rétrouvée à la gare de Cahors à 21h, où il n'y avait personne. Je serais été contente de rester là, tranquille, jusqu'à Michel est arrivé pour me chercher, mais non. Un homme totallement bourréeétait entré dans la gare et il s'assoyait à côté de moi. Il avait commencé de m'embêter serieusement, quand Michel était vénu. Voilà la journée de l'Enfer.

A Brive j'ai passé un bon moment et j'ai rester là pendant une semaine entière. J'ai adoré chaque jour, chaque moment, et même chaque seconde que j'ai passé là. Je me suis senti comme une enfante gâté, entourné dans toutes les affections de l'amour d'une famille, mma famille. En plus je connassais déjà la ville, presque mieux que les Brivistes (peut-être). La cuisine maison, le temps pour me reposer, et une soirée avec "les amis"; c'est difficile d'exprimer toutes mes emotions, mais le meiux que je peux faire est de dire que j'étais "chez moi." Il y avait un autre côté de ma séjour à Brive aussi, je me suis sentie pour la première fois que j'avais grandi. Que maintenant je suis une adulte qui voyage toute seule dans le monde. Les aurevoirs étaient dûrs et j'avais les yeux pleines de larmes à chaque fois. J'ai dû absoluement passer par Briver en revtrant du Canada l'année prochaine. Donc ce n'étaient pas forecement les "aurevoirs," plutôt les "à juins."

Le prochain arrêt était à Limoges pour visiter avec Coraline, voir son apartement, et aussi de rencontre les amis de qui j'avais entendu parler de depuis longtemps. et voilà j'ai passé encore des bon moments à Limoges et c'était dûr de partir (surtout à 6h du matin)!

Pour partir je ne pourrais pas faire les réservations à cause des gèves et car je n'avais aucunes idée quel trains circulerait. Le plan était de partir pour Paris et après pour Lille, mais le plan était completement refait à Paris car l'aubèrge à Lille était complet. OK, donc... à St. Malo! Il y avait la place dans l'aubèrge puis il y avait les trains qui circulent, Parfait! La Bretagne et très belle et la ville est une ancienne fortresse Medéivale au bord de la mer. C'etait dommage que la ville était pleine des touristes qui viennent soit à cause des vacances scolaries (qui juste viennent de commencer dans plusieurs pays Européens, la France incluse), soit pour un concours de batreau entre le St. Malo et la Guadaloupe qui partira la semaine après. A St. Malo j'ai rencontré deux Québecois qui étaient vraiements géniales et tellement drôles. C'était bizarrecar pour la première fois que j'ai rencontré quelqu'un de mon propre pays, je ne me suis pas rendue compte qu'ils étaient forecment "canadiens", plutôt "québecois." En plus, en français j'avais eu de defficulté avec leurs accent, mais heureusement, pas trop.

Le prochain déplacement m'a fait traversé le pays et enfin rentré dans la Belgique, car Lille était encore complet. La prochaine semaine j'ai passé en Belgique avec les arrêts à Briges, Anvers, et Liège (j'ai manqué Bruxelles). Un très beau pays, mais difficile à navigué car il y a plusieurs langues et plusieurs noms pour tous les choses (les villes incluse). Il y avait les chocolatier et les petits vendeurs des gaufre et des frites partout, et aussi il y avait les bars/pub sur chaque coin. Le paysage est encore très vêrt même si c'était le fin d'octobre. Par contre j'au eu beaucoup de difficulté à trouver les aubèrges de jeunesse à cause des vacances scolaires, mais enfin c'était bien passé.

L'Halloween était arrivée et finallement je me suis rétrouvée à Lille. Le temps m'as semblé que je me suis rentrée en Irlande, mais ça. Enfin, la ville et le paysage était très jolis, mais je ne sais pas qu'est-ce qui m'attirais si fortement à cette ville.

Maintenant je suis rentrée à Paris pour commencer la prochaine partie de mes voyages. J'ai un vol à Zagreb en Croatie le 3 nov.

Merveilleux, difficile, mais enfin les plus belles expériences de ma vie. De voyager, et la vie, sont les meilleurs enseignants.

A la prochaine- Bros Bisous à Tous!


France Part 1- Paris et le Sud

“Home is not where you live, but where they understand you.”- Christian Morgenstern

Coming back to France has definitely felt like coming home, even if I’ve never been to the city before, there’s always something slightly familiar that I just can’t put my finger on. Despite initial language worries, it has actually been easier travelling here than in Ireland/UK. The reasoning is a bit hard to explain, it’s partly being able to recognize all the foods when you walk into a grocery store, knowing where to go to buy things, and how to navigate the bus/train network. Other than those concrete things, there’s certainly a feeling that this place isn’t so foreign after all.

Paris was stop #1, after a 21h bus trip from Edinburgh that arrived at 6am! *(Ouch) I wandered around the beautiful streets in some (finally) gorgeous weather. All the leaves were starting to change colour and the air smelled like a true autumn day. Paris was as beautiful and romantic as ever, I decided, as I strolled down the riverside boulevards feeling happy to finally be someplace familiar.
In Nice my body got a much needed vitamin D boost from the sun and warm shorts-and-tanktop weather. Clothing and towels finally dried that had been wet since Scotland! This was someplace I had no desire to leave; the city of Nice is absolutely beautiful, cornered between the Mediterranean and the Alps. The Old Port has kept much of its character with brightly coloured streets and the cuisine is amazing! The best part of Nice though wasn’t the city, or the beach, or the climate- it was the amazing people I met there. I felt like I was part of a true family, even for a few days, as I toured around the area with our little international troupe. I soon discovered that Nice is also a great base to do lots of little day trips from to the surrounding villages and beaches. I have no officially seen the rich, deluxe, lavish side of the world after touring Monaco and Cannes; it’s days like this that make the travelling life pale in comparison to material possessions. That thought usually passes pretty quickly though.

Next stop was Marseille. It’s a city I had read about in a magazine, years ago and since then have wanted to visit. The sunny city is right on the Med. and the old port opens out onto a bay spotted with rocky islands (including the Island of If that was immortalized in Dumas’, The Count of Monte Cristo). Walking down the streets everything had a yellowish hue and I could really feel the history seeping from the walls. Out in the newer parts of the city I quickly learned to keep my wits about me as being approached by strangers (even security guards!!!) and hearing catcalls was common. Despite this uncomfy feeling, I put on my Parisienne face (the biggest, baddest scowl I could muster up and a distinct sense of purpose in my steps), and everything was fine. Travel is such a learning experience.

Next came a small city that to me was just a dot on the map, turned out it had been Picasso’s home in France for a while and, surprise there were a couple of Roman coliseums to check out. I felt slightly out of place, as most of the travelers there were at least triple my age, but hey, maybe it just means I’m ahead of my time? Montpellier was next, and I managed to find a friend of a friend through Couchsurfing to start off my time there. A beautiful, cool, hip, funky, VERY clean city, Montpellier had a great ambiance about it. I could actually see myself going back there and staying for a while.

Next stop Brive. This is home for me, since I lived there for a while back in High School. It’s hard to even imagine right now, truly coming home to someplace that feels just as comfortable as returning to Canada, where people already know me, and for once during this year I will no longer be a traveller or a tourist, but a visitor coming home.

P.S. if you want to check out photos, they are on my facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/album.php?aid=293293&id=511087593&comments&po=1¬if_t=photo_album_comment


Car je suis en France, j’ai dû practiquer mon français un peu donc cette édition de ma blog va être bilangue. Je dis désolé en avance pour TOUS les fautes de grammaire!

« Domicile n’est pas où tu habites, mais où les gens tu-comprends. » -Christian Morgenstern

De retourner en France m’as donné le sens de vraiment être chez moi, même si c’est ma première fois dans une ville. Il y a quelque chose que je me sens, mais je ne peux pas comprendre. J’ai trouvé qu’il est beaucoup plus facile pour moi de voyager en France qu’au Royaume Uni ou Irlande, même si (d’habitude) on parle la même langue. C’est un peu difficile à expliquer, par exemple, ça me met plus alaise quand je rentre dans un supermarché de savoir que je connais tout les diffèrent types d’alimentation dedans, ou le savoir où je pourrais acheter les choses si j’en ai besoin, ou la connaissance de comment faire marcher le réseau de transport dans le pays. C’est juste quelque chose.

Paris était mon premier arrêt en France, après un voyage en bus de Edimbourg, qui avait prit 21h et était arrivé à 6h du matin. J’ai baladé en ville pour profiter du beau temps (finalement du beau temps) ! Toutes les feuilles avaient commencé de tomber et de changer couleur, l’air a senti aussi comme une vraie journée d’automne. Paris était belle et stereo-typiquement romantique comme tout, j’ai décidé, en marchant au coté de la Seine, enfin contente d’être quelque par familier.

À Nice mon corps a reçu une injection de vitamine D grâce au soleil et le temps qui fait si beau que je pourrais porter des shorts ! Les choses qui étaient mouillé depuis Écosse ont finalement eu la chance de sécher. Nice était vraiment un place que je n’avais aucune envie de partir ; la ville est tellement belle et il y a tout un rayon des couleurs partout, sur les murs, les toiles, les rues. En plus il y avait la mer et la culture qui était également vibrante. Le vieux-port a gardé beaucoup de sa caractère et les traditions sont encore vivants, et la cuisine était superbe ! Mais le meilleur partie de mes experiences à Nice n’était pas le climat, ni la mer, en effet la meilleur partie était les amis j’ai fait et les bons moments on avait passé ensemble. Ca m’a senti d’être dans une petite famille internationale touts les jours quand on a fait les excursions aux villages justes dehors de Nice. Maintenant j’ai vu les plus riches du monde à Monaco puis à Cannes et il est les jours comme ça que j’ai envie d’avoir un grand bateau et d’habiter dans un château au bord de la mer, mais ça sensation se passe très vite.

Le prochain arrêt était Marseille. C’est une ville que j’ai lu un article à propos de quelques années avant, et depuis j’avais envie d’aller voir. La ville en plein soleil est sur la côte de la Méditerranée et le port s’ouvre à une baie remplie des Iles Calanques (qui incluent l’ile D’If qui a fait partie du Comte de Monte Cristo de Alexandre Dumas). En promenant dans la vielle ville j’avais l’impression que l’histoire se suinte des murs, et toutes les choses ont avaient un teinte un peu jaune, mais peut-être c’était le soleil. En sorti de la vielle ville j’ai appris rapidement d’être toujours consciente de toute qui se passe autour de moi, car d’être approché par des gens m’arrivé plusieurs fois (même un homme de sécurité dans un magasin). N’importe ce sentiment de mal alaise j’ai mis mon « visage Parisien » (le plus méchant que j’ai pourrais faire), et tout est bien passé. De voyager est vraiment une expérience d’apprentissage.

Après était la petite ville de Arles. Pour moi c’était qu’un point sur la carte de sud de la France, mais en effet elle était la ville où Picasso avait habité pendant des années et il y a des arènes romaines en plus ! J’ai senti un peu hors de la norme car tous les autres touristes avaient triple mon âge ! Peut-être je suis toute simplement en avance de mon époque ? Montpellier était après, et j’avais la chance de retrouver une amie d’une amie avec le Couchsurfing. Une ville très jolie, au courant, TRÈS propre, et diverse, je l’ai bien aimé. En l’avenir ça peut être une ville où je pourrais penser d’habiter .

Maintenant le prochain déplacement va être vers Brive. Cette ville est absolument « chez moi » et même à ce moment c’est difficile d’imaginer de rentre chez moi, à une ville qui est si confortable que Little Current en Canada. C’est un endroit où les gens me connaisse déjà, et pour une seule fois pendant cette année que voyage, je n’aurais plus un voyageur, ni une touriste mais quelqu’un qui rentre chez eux.


Ireland and the United Kingdom- The Learning Stages


"You must do the thing which you think you cannot do." - Eleanor Roosevelt

These frist three weeks have been amazing! Life lessons galore, and I can only expect more to come for the rest of my time abroad. I feel like I've learned so much, simple things, but still important when you're travelling alone:
#1- Be assertive at all times. Which goes hand-in-hand with...
#2- Sellf-confidence = survival!
#3- Listen more, learn more; meeting amazing people has been a huge part of my experience so far, and it's always great to walk away with a sense that I've really learned something new.
#4- Solo, young, female traveller= people magnet; sometimes this is not so good, but 99% of the time it's great. A smile works wonders to smooth things over and make language barriers easier.
#5- (Something I like to think I knew all along that's just been reinforced) People are people no matter what nationality they are, and everyone has a unique point of view. That to me is facisnating, and the whole reason I am travelling... besides seeing the world!

~London was a bit of a blur, the biggest thing I discovered was a tour company that operates all over Europe's major cities called "New Europe Tours." They're great and the best part about them, they're free! The guides operate on a tips only basis so you get a great, enthusiastic walking tour.
~Liverpool was more of a cultural experience. Coping with strong accents I managed to hear some amazing stories and meet cool people, including a man who had seen the Beatles in Liverpool before they were big, only becuase his frind was playing in a band that was playing ahead of them at teh open mic night! It was a little difficult to figure out how to leave (ferry to Dublin), and spent the better part of a day wandering around in circles from various different directions. In the end the confusion was explaned by the fact that everyone was sending me in search of a pier that had recently sunk... oops! Eventually found my way and met plenty of great people along the way. Liverpuddlians (as they are called) are extremely friendly, I would ask for directions and someone would walk me to where I needed to go. Everyone was so kind that it really left an impression on me and I know that I will be back someday.
~Ireland (for the sake of people readfing this I will attempt to condense it a bit). Saw a few places in teh Republic and then Belfast in the North. Everywhere I went I found the most amazing landscape, welcoming people and a taste of culture. I took a couple of day tours, into the Wicklow mountains and then to the Aran Islands, both were great and the views were spectacular. In the cities I learned about Irish culture, past and present, but there was one moment that really stuck out for me. I was in Galway (pop. 90 000) and walking down a posh street when I came across this line of people stretching down the sidwalk for blocks. Inside the building it was packed, so I stopped to ask what it was. The mad replied, "The Dole office." With a little shock and embarassment I thanked him. These were the people from the city that were currently unemployed and living off what we in Canada would call welfare. This was no special day, it was like this every day. For me it was a bit of a shock, I knew the recession had hit Ireland hard, but with little in the way of primary or secondary industries to offer a buffer, the economy had hit rock bottom. This was the first of I'm sure what will be many perspective shaping moments on this trip.
Belfast in the north provided a great history/culture lesson which was apparent when I walked out into the city. Stepping out of the bus station was a huge mural with a masked paramilitary gunman and union jack with the words, "Welcome to the Loyalist heartland of Sandy Row..." Wow, reality check, that conflict is not ancient history! Other than the murals dotting teh city, there was little evidence that this was a hotbed of conflict the people's demeanor, everyone I met was kind and just as friendly as their southern Irish counterparts.
~Edinburgh was another great city, it was what I had imagined London to be like-twisty back alleyways, beautiful centuries old buildings and cobblestone streets. It had a friendly atmosphere and everything a traveller could want to do, shopping hiking culture, day trips, you name it they did it. I liked it so much I decided to stay longer than anticipated, but why not?! That is the beauty of not having to stick to someone else's schedule.

So far I've had many great experiences, met new people, discovered new cultures and foods, even built up enough muscles to hoist my heavy backpack! What a great start to this adventure, and I can only hope that I learn as much in the rest of my trip as I feel that I have already in these first few weeks.


P.S. If you'd like to see photos check out my facebook page, I haven't figured out how to post them to my blog yet!


London Calling

"Hey somewhere... You threw your fears in the sea of no cares." -Great Big Sea

Day 2- London, UK

Before I left Cananda, my usual reply to anyone who questioned me going solo was, "Oh I'm sure I'll meet people." As confident as I may of sounded, I was still a little doubtful, but within hours of beginning my travels, sure enough I had met people. Here and there people who support what I'm doing and even someone who's doing the same thing (well sort of).

I landed in Keflavik, Iceland (just outside of Reykjavik) for my 10h layover between Toronto and London, but that may have been my favourite part of the journey so far. Going into the city I met Cassie, who was on the same flight to London. We spent the day wandering around the city, which isn't that big for a capital (180,000 ppl), but what it lacks in population, it certainly makes up for in culture. Everyone has their own individual style and fashion sense, the narrow hilly streets are navigated by an even mix of Asian, North American, and European cars, and EVERYTHING is centered around efficiency. With the summers in 24h daylight, almost all buildings have large, east-facing windows to maximize the sunlight. MNost buildind are relatively new by European standards, and contemporary art plays a huge role in the society.

Outside the city the landscape is barren; there are no trees or shrubs other than at sealevel because the country is too far north. Instead the ground is rocky and covered by long, flat grasses and mosses. It all makes for a very alien effect with the volcanoes and hot springs smoking in the background.

Overall Reykjavik was amazing and seen in good company. Landing in London was a bit of a hastle through customs and the airport, but eventually I got through and back to my hostel. That trip did include minor detours through all Earl's Court with my VERY heavy backpack as I walked in circles trying to find the hostel late at night! Got in and met my roommates, 2 French girls, 1 girl from Hong Kong, a girl from Italy, and an Aussie.

Now I'm beginning to explore the city and my new freedom. I'll keep you posted.



Reality Check

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn't happen at once.” –Albert Einstein

Time. Some days it passes quickly, others it seems to take forever for each minute to pass. Well, this was one of those moments where time all of a sudden caught up to me. Lying awake, I finally counted the days until I leave on this crazy mad adventure. I’d been putting off counting since the one-month milestone so the total gave me a long awaited reality check. 15 days. Just over two weeks and I will be across the pond in the home of The Beatles, fish n’ chips, and of course the right-side steering wheel. It will be totally new and different, but that’s exactly what I’m after.

The to-do list is getting shorter, and now I’m faced with the reality of this trip that has been so long in the making. I’ll be on my own for the first time in my life, in a foreign country, no limitations, restrictions or schedules. Total freedom. Everything I’ve been so excited about is suddenly terrifying. Regardless of any doubts or inhibitions I may have now, my plane ticket says I’m going, so in 15 days home will fade away out the window of a 747, on my way to London.

So here’s to the adventure and every new experience to come. Welcome to my blog and I hope you’ll enjoy reading about my experiences as much as I will sharing them.

‘Till next time.