Hanoi

After nineteen hours of travel, a stop in Singapore, and an estimation that I had peed in at least 5 time zones in a 24 hour span (certainly a personal best), I was in a daze as I stepped out of the Hanoi airport to catch the no. 86 bus into central Hanoi.

I often find that people’s descriptions of places, especially first impressions, are rooted in hyperbole. Except Anthony Bourdain, he fucking nailed it. The smell of grilled pork in the distance mixed with the pungency of motorbike fumes and still somehow a tinge of fresh air. Parts Unknown was right on the money with this one, and it was only the beginning.

As the bus motored on down the highway, the “meep meep” of a scooter passing by could be heard as it got more and more regular entering the city centre. It was a rainy morning and the roads were slick but this didn’t stop families of three or four people, sometimes with the family pet onboard from motoring along on their little Honda scooter, taking corners at alarming speeds and weaving in and out of the natural flow of traffic.

Hanoi is a city that when viewed from afar seems like chaos of the highest order. Mopeds, trucks and pedestrians weaving in and out of traffic in a seemingly random set of rules. Vendors of all sorts of food, clothing and other assorted trinkets set up wherever they can find space, spooning noodle soup out of large cauldrons on the side of the road. Up close, however, the chaos begins to fade as you realise how ordered it really is.

Traffic, although seemingly random, has it’s methods and it’s, shall we say, guidelines to it. This becomes abundantly clear when you first cross a major street. Walk steady, with purpose and the traffic flows around you like water around a rock in a stream. The thing most noted is that although there is noise everywhere, very little of it seems to be aggressive in any way, just more of a simple “just letting you know I’m here” sort of way. Even on Train Street, where patrons set up stalls and break them down away from the tracks, three or four times a day when the trains role through, has an order to it that seems almost rhythmic.

4:20 Train arriving on train street

Shops appear random until you notice each little street has a theme. Flower streets, shoe streets, hardware and other DIY items, clothing and streets of nothing but restaurants and places that turn into the infamous Bia Hois at night (Bia Hois are a Hanoi institution where kegs are brought out by the street and served on the cheap to anyone sitting nearby in the hastily arranged plastic kiddie furniture that dots the city streets at night).

Bia Hoi in Hanoi

And the food, my goodness the smells as you walk past the stalls. Morning smells of beef broth from the simmering of Pho noodle soups, afternoons and evening smells of duck, pork and fish mixed with lime, red chili’s and fresh lemongrass in assorted different combinations is enough to keep you exploring the city just by following your nose.

The best Phô in Hanoi

Vietnam is a place that has only semi-recently become a common place for travellers to visit, especially backpackers and that is evident in the people who are friendly in a still-curious sort of way. Hanoi is certainly more used to Westerners due to it’s proximity to Ha Long Bay, Vietnam’s biggest tourist destination, but it seems to have not yet become weary of constant tourism like sadly places like Thailand and Cambodia have to a larger degree.

It is safe to say that thirty-six hours is not enough time to see all there is to see in a city of seven million people however, Hanoi, you have certainly captured me and I am certain that before long I’ll be back to you again.

Lessons After 3 Years Abroad

I have a habit of holding on to things. Cards, concert tickets, little gifts and memories collected over time. Back in Canada, I kept a shoebox full of these little things and in the UK they somehow manage to be scattered all about my one bedroom flat in London. Occasionally I seek them out, looking for comfort in a tough time, but other times I stumble upon them in the most random of moments.

In this case, I was looking for my council tax account number in a pile of papers, when I stumbled on a stack of cards. They represented a significant moment in my life, the day nearly three years ago when I said goodbye to my friends and family and moved across the Atlantic. The messages were of jealousy of my new adventure, well wishes for my travels and promises to keep in touch. None of them mentioned how hard it would be and at the time, I certainly had underestimated the adventure ahead as well.

I recently listened to a podcast where several seasoned expats discussed candidly their own experiences of living abroad. As I listened to familiar sentiments, I had no choice but to reflect on my own experience. The voices came from several different countries worldwide, spoke of experiences of moving to New York, Berlin, Singapore and Beijing. Despite the wildly different experiences, it was remarkable how common the general sentiments were from each of the guests, as well as how much they rang true to my own experience.

The first lesson is that making friends as an adult in a new city is really fucking hard. The last time I’d had to set out to make new friends had been my first week at university, and London does not have an orientation week, let me tell you. I am extremely grateful for the friends I have now, most of which at some point took pity on a lonely Canadian and invite him along to a party or a concert. This does not take away from the fact that the first six months were extremely hard. I went from living within a half hour of a dozen of my best friends to a foreign city with no one to call on a Friday night. The benefit now is that I’m completely comfortable on my own. I’ll go to the movies or dinner by myself and not give two thoughts about it.

Next, is that there are no greener pastures. One of the writers on the podcast mentioned that you cannot truly call a place home until you’ve thought to yourself “fuck this place” on a delayed Monday morning commute into work, like a local. There are days where I can’t bear to leave my flat and face the hoards of Londoners, that is balanced with moments such as walking across a bridge over the River Thames that I can’t believe I live in such an incredible place. When I first moved here I was taken by an impression that the UK does everything better. After three years, I’ve learned that different does not always mean better. Some things from home, such as the wide open spaces, friendliness of the people and being able to watch my hockey team play at a normal time of day can never be matched. On the other hand, the ability to travel to so many countries in Europe for the weekend and the vast and rich cultural history of a place such as London itself are tough to beat. No pasture is greener, but it doesn’t hurt to explore them both anyways.

Staying up until 3 in the morning to see my Leafs play

The third and probably most difficult lesson of all is that you’re going to miss things. Living abroad opens up a whole new world of opportunity, but life at home still keeps going. I usually make it home at least two weeks a year, but that leaves 351 days that I miss and a lot happens in that time. I’ve missed holidays, birthdays and special occasions, all that made me close to hopping on a flight even just for a weekend despite the cost. The most difficult choice I’ve made was to remain in London this year for Christmas. As hard as it was on me, it was my decision and therefore much harder for my family. Tough decisions are common, but by not going home for Christmas I was able to be home for a week at a cottage this past summer and travel to Estonia for a week before the holidays, both of which were great trips. I probably speak to my parents on the phone more then I did living an hour away in Toronto, but it’s still not quite the same. The actual lesson here, I think, is that it’s okay to miss people, things and home and still enjoy yourself on your adventure, but to expect to not be homesick at all is unrealistic, even after three years.

Knowing what I know now, would I still have gone when I did? Absolutely. Would I recommend everyone does it at some point? 110%. It’s a life experience that broadens horizons, build self-sufficiency and self-confidence. The issue is, often all you read about and see on Instagram are the good moments, the ones that make people jealous and wish they did the same. Rarely does anyone talk about the hardships, but I suppose no lesson is earned easily.

The Ten Commandments of the Hostel Pub Crawl

Let’s face it, as much as we all pretend based on our blogs, photos and Instagram posts that travel is constantly an enlightening endeavor of culture, history, food and scenery, once in a while (or more often depending on who you are) most young travelers want to let loose a bit and seek out a place to party.

Hostels clearly know this, as I’ve yet to check into one across Europe that didn’t immediately advertise that the pub crawl would be meeting that evening in the common area. Secondary to the inevitable hangover that these merry adventures into the local drinking culture provide, I do believe that they are an excellent way to meet and make friends with fellow travelers, especially when traveling alone. Nothing says new friends like being passed crowd surf style along a row of people you just met in the middle of a square in Nice or dressing up in a ridiculous outfit en-route to the famed end of summer party in Lagos along the Algarve in Portugal. From the many nights I remember, and the even more that I do not, I hereby impart upon to you, the ten commandments of the Hostel Pub Crawl

  1. Thou shalt not Pub Crawl the night before travel.

I’ll go ahead right now and be honest with you. I’ve broken this rule at least a dozen times, and every time I regret it wholeheartedly. The resultant hangover from a mixture of sugary shots, sangria and whatever godforsaken mixture of liquor that end up being ingested throughout the course of a night is bad enough when you can lay in bed or on a beach all day. When you must suffer through airport security or several hours on a train, it is a fate worse than death. Trust me when I say, those trains seem like a smooth ride until you’re sitting clutching your backpacking on a crowded commuter train and last night’s absinthe certainly isn’t the only thing with a tinge of green.

2.  Thou shalt not pre-drink.

There will not be a shortage of alcohol. I promise you that. Free beers, welcome shots, and all you can drink for an hour special will take care of that. This isn’t the college bar in your university town, those who pre-drink will not live to see the end.

3. Thou shalt not stray from the path

It happens every time. “I’m going to get some food.” “I need to get some cash out, be right back.” The path to the last bar is not for the faint of heart and those who stray are lost forever, or at least until breakfast when they inevitably complain that “you assholes left me behind!”.

4. A shot for a shot

It is a sin to allow your new friend to do that free shot of Latvian Black Balzam alone. You must revel in the pain together as it burns your throat in such a way that can be felt for days after the hangover subsides.

5. Carb load

Humans love carbs. Potatoes, pasta, rice, noodles, and bread. Thankfully that means wherever you are, you can make sure your stomach is full of carby goodness to delay the alcohol intake. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need to be told twice to eat an extra helping of pasta at dinner.

6. Thou shalt never walk alone

In all seriousness, don’t. The walk back to the hostel on your own might seem totally fine because you do it all the time in your home city, but in a new place after a lot of alcohol, it can be dangerous. You become an easy target for pick-pockets, thieves and possibly worse. Stick to the buddy system and don’t be a hero.

7. Thou shalt not be “too cool”

Pub crawls are meant to be a bit ridiculous, there is often games and other tacky activities meant to get people to get to know each other and have some fun. With that being said, there is nothing worse than the one person who is “too cool” to participate. We get it, pal, you’re an enlightened traveler who’s way too cool to get on board with a theme, can you please save your lectures for your wanderlust influencer blog? Because these pirate costumes are rocking and we’re going to make sure the rum is all gone before morning (for real, can we just collectively agree to make regular life pirate-themed too?).

8. Leave your passport somewhere safe.

Seriously, don’t fucking bring it. Like for real, you dumbass, leave it at the hostel. Locked in a cupboard is a much, much safer place for it than your back pocket in some dingy club in Prague. If you can, leave everything locked up. Phone, wallet, passport, camera, liver.

Leave. It. Behind.

Bring your hostel keys and some cash and you will be fine. Everything else is a liability and could not just ruin your night, but your whole trip.

9. Don’t be that person

Almost as bad as the buzzkill, is the person the next morning at breakfast who is insistent on reminding everyone of everything they did the night before. I hated that person in college, and I hate them just as much abroad. No, I don’t want to see the picture of the two people making out on the dance floor and yes, I’m perfectly aware I had to down an entire packet of mayonnaise during the pub challenge, please don’t make me re-live it.

10. Pace yourself

You know what’s more fun than doing those five tequila shots at 7:30 p.m? I can think of quite a few things, however, I can guarantee the list doesn’t include:

  1. Being back at the hostel puking by 8 p.m.
  2. Being in the bathroom of the first bar puking by 8 p.m.
  3. Waking up on a bench, in an alleyway, or on the gross couch of that same first bar the next morning.
  4. Pretty much anything that is the result of doing five tequila shots at 7:30 p.m.

I’ve never been on a pub crawl without plenty of drinks at each bar along the way. Calm down, turbo, you’ll get there.

I won’t lie, “The 10 Guidelines of the Hostel Pub Crawl” just didn’t have the same ring to it and, therefore, by no means must you listen to me. Do what you want and just enjoy yourself however you see fit. Pub crawls are not usually the most glamorous part of travel, nor are they ever the only reason I go traveling, but that’s not to say they can’t be enjoyed and new friends can’t be made. Nightlife is a part of any city’s culture, even if it’s not the most spectacular so why not check it out while you’re there. But, for the love of god, I said CARB LOAD!

What It Takes to Build a Parthenon

In my recent travels to Greece I learned of a saying that Athenian teachers and parents recount to their youth as a sort of moral guideline:

“You have to have your Marathon, before you can build your Parthenon”

Now anyone reading the news right now is probably thinking that taking advice from the Greeks regarding running a country or anything of the sort is a bad idea. In some regards, I would tend to agree. The statement above is more a metaphor for your own personal life than a country.

First, as is usually required when discussing metaphors inspired 2000 or so years ago, let’s get to the back story. Has anyone seen the movie 300? Okay so it turns out that Gerard Butler dying in a hailstorm of arrows “blotting out the sun” is actually only an important moment in Greek history because they managed to survive a much more important battle 10 years earlier. This particular event is known as the battle of Marathon (I know what you’re thinking, we will get to that). The battle was fought to the north east of Athens before there was ever a Greco-Roman empire, and when Athens was a mere city state. The Persian empire was growing and this was the first attempt for them to expand into the west through Athens. The Athenians were badly outnumbered but managed to fend off the attack from the Persians. After the Athenians repelled the first attack to the north, the remaining Persians attempted to flank the soldiers by sailing around Athens and attacking from the south port of Piraeus. The majority of the Athenian army was in the battle and the remaining soldiers in the city would be completely taken by surprise. The Persians would succeed in capturing the city despite the glorious victory the Athenians had achieved in Marathon

Now the Athenians knew that allowing Athens to fall would spell certain doom to the rest of Greece, and the reason this battle was so important is that if the Athenians had lost, it would have opened the door for Persia to expand through the west. We now know that this would likely have delayed or even completely stopped the development of the Roman Empire, which despite its faults actually developed and fostered at least the early ideas of nearly all of Western Civilization as we know it.

Now this particular bit of history is up for debate, and is likely exaggerated, but as the lore goes, a messenger within the Athenian ranks at Marathon ran all the way back to Athens to warn the city with his dying breathe. The distance he ran? 42 kilometres. I told you we would get to it.  The original versions of the marathons we run today were run from the city of Marathon to Athens to celebrate the triumph of the human spirit. Regardless, the messenger succeeded in alerting the city in time and the Athenians were able to hold the city yet again.

The metaphor speaks to the need to make sacrifices to achieve great things, and that major accomplishments often begin from one small event. Construction of the Parthenon began 50 or so years later and was seen as the peak of Athenian and Greek culture, a monument to the empire that would grow from the once small city state. We owe other such things as modern physics, philosophy and democracy to one soldier nearly 2 millennia ago as the basis of all these things were developed in the years to come during the golden age of the Greco-Roman Empire. Talk about your butterfly effect.

Personally I quite agree with this idea. Too often nowadays we see people thrust into good fortune, not having earned it. They do not have the value of what they have attained as it was not their blood, sweat and tears that attained it. More importantly, they do not appreciate it. There is a definitive study in the US showing that by the 3rd generation, most family’s fortunes passed down through inheritance is all but gone. This is a troubling idea as it shows a trend of youth inheriting the world from their parents and grandparents, who worked hard to obtain it, only to waste it. We inherit the Parthenon’s of our fathers and let them crumble while we forget the marathon it took to build it in the first place.

Obviously this is a small sample size, and speaks to certain cultures more than others, but it also emphasizes the importance of recognizing hard work. It is important to me that I retain this thought throughout my life as I am caught up in sort of a living example of the idea of a family benefiting from the work of the generation before them, and using that benefit to push to new limits.

For anyone who doesn’t know me that well, my mother is the owner of a large dance school in Niagara, that is successful in competitions all over North America and fosters an incredible attitude within its students, producing great dancers and even better people. This has not come without sacrifice, and the sacrifice began well before I was born, with the most selfless man I have ever known in my life, my grandfather, Peter MacIntyre.

He was a hardworking man who cared for what he did, whether it be teaching, coaching or raising his children and grandchildren. He obtained a degree from the University of British Columbia to become a teacher, which he paid for working hard jobs in places such as paper mills. In her youth, my mother’s family had a small cottage up in Northern Ontario that my mom and her brothers would spend their summers at with both my grandparents being teachers. My grandfather in particular loved the cottage and spent the summers boating and fishing.

Before the age of ten, my mother’s dream came true as she was accepted to the National School of Ballet in Toronto. Now with three kids, and two teachers salaries, it was not going to be easy. My grandfather made the decision to sell the family cottage, in order to make his daughter’s dream come true. To this day my mother has not heard the end of it from my uncles, but if you spoke to my grandfather before he passed about it, it was clear to see he didn’t have a regret in the world about it.

Fast forward 13 or so years later, my mother at the very young age of 23, freshly out of a short but successful career as a professional ballerina, purchases the dance school she once attended as a young girl. The school was operating at a loss with less than 80 students renting out a small church basement. At great expense to my mother, who was newly married and expecting her first child (yours truly), she worked tirelessly to turn her dream into a reality. She worked during the day as a waitress in order to pay her teacher’s salaries, while her and my father barely kept enough for groceries. My dad was a junior constable at the time which doesn’t exactly pay well either. Over twenty years later, with the hard working attitude instilled by my grandfather, my mother has turned her dream into very much a reality. The joy I see in her every day when she goes to work to teach some of the 500 or so students she has, at the over 4000 square foot studio she now has already outgrown is incredible. I like to think that my grandfather would be proud of what we have done with his gifts. My mother’s success allowed for my brother and I to pursue our own dreams, whether they be education, exploring the world or simply being able to find our own happiness. The emphasis was always on our ability to pursue our own dreams, as long as we did not waste the opportunity.

I had quite a bit of time to think about what not wasting these gifts meant as I travelled for the last two weeks. To me personally, knowing my grandfather, I do not need to leave a fortune in terms of money to the next generation. It would mean more to him to know that we continued to pass on his beliefs of hard work turning dreams into realities, and that everyone has their own happiness. I think that is where we lose it along the line nowadays. The focus is more on passing on a fortune than passing on the morals that are required to keep it. We have a saying in our family inspired by our grandfather’s favourite song, that “Lights will guide you home”. Well grandpa, it may have taken a bit of a history lesson from ancient Greece for me to fully grasp the consequences of your sacrifices and the grace of your lessons, but now and for the rest of our lives, you are the light guiding us home. If someday there is a Parthenon built by our family, it will be a monument to the marathon you gave us the ability to finish.

Athens and Mykonos Days 9-16 in Greece.

Yet again, I find myself sitting on an airplane somewhere over the Atlantic unable to believe that the last few weeks are over already. I fell in love with Europe all over again, adventures with friends old and new.

Spain will forever remain one of my favourite places, with Madrid now added to the list. However Greece far and above exceeded my expectations. I guess I partially owe this to news reports of refugees and debt crisis having dominated the headlines as of late. The important thing to remember while travelling is that there is beauty in every part of this world if you are able to look for it.

We arrived in Greece late sunday night after a short flight from Barcelona. Within a half hour of landing we were immersed in the culture of the city in the usually fashion on the Metro. An elderly gentleman and an elderly lady spent nearly the entire hour long journey passionately arguing about who had taken the other’s seat. I am not sure if any of you have heard two elder Greek people yelling at eachother but we were certainly scared of them both.

For our few days in Athens, we spent the time meandering through the city, hiking to the top of the mountain and the Acropolis and generally getting ourselves back into some sort if semblance after a wild few days in Spain. The food was a particular highlight, especially to Shawyan. I for one am always a fan of a good hike up a mountain to see a city from above. I find a sense of peace with being above the hustle and bustle and it allows me to take in the beauty of a city. I will post another blog later about specific things we learned while in the city.

Before we knew it we were shipping off to Mykonos, leaving Shawyan to depart from Athens for Brussels. 6 hours on a ferry later, Stephen and I arrived.

Or should I say we arrived in Paradise. I cannot imagine a better way to relax and drink a few cold ones than on a beach in the Greek islands. No internet, no phones, just a few friends, old and new, the notion that you don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to, and the most beautiful coastline i have ever seen.

Our time there was rather uneventful in the context of my usual type of travelling, but also a worthwhile experience in many ways. By arriving late in September we had missed the legendary Paradise Beach party scene that Mykonos is known for. I for one was not too upset having spent enough money in the bars in Barcelona. We spent our days relaxing by the beach, interacting with the locals and exploring the coast surrounding our beach. The nights were spent as usual in search of a place to party in and people to party with. There is a certain skill a lot of people my age lack, and that is the ability to interact with another human being without a screen. At least to meet new people that is. But once you take away those luxuries you are thrown into a sort of sink or swim situation. Either stay introverted and shy and waste the opportunity, or overcome it and reach out. Stephen and I certainly excelled at this over the course if the trip, having made new friends all along the way. Mykonos was no exception as nearly the entire time we spent chatting and partying with people from all over the world. As our last days wound down and we prepared for our final trek home, naturally we both became nostalgic for the experiences we had over the past few weeks. Personally all it has done is added more fuel to the fire inside of me to continue to explore the world and the experiences it has to offer.

Selfishly I look forward to seeing Stephen grapple with the travel bug alongside me as it is quite clear he has been bitten as well.

Europe 2015, you were quite the ride. Here’s to what 2016 and beyond has to offer.

Cheers,

Ryan

Independence, Football and Civil War. Days 6 7 and 8 in Barcelona

Oh Barcelona, yet again you have left me longing to return as soon as possible. Spain in general has got me itching to explore every corner of such a beautiful country. I find myself no longer content to just visit the big cities, but with a longing to explore the small countryside towns and everything in

Coming from a country as young as Canada, I am still fascinated by the history of European countries dating back thousands of years. Like Portugal, Spain’s history is spread worldwide, with it’s language being spoken in dozens of countries the world over. Particularly interesting to me on this trip was how much I learned about the history of the territory of Catalonia and it’s separatist movements similar to that of Quebec, as well as the history of the Spanish civil war, which due to the fact that it was during the same time as WWII, largely gets forgotten in the Western world. Both of these are greatly intertwined with eachother.

September 11. For most of the world, after 2001, this day has become synonymous with the events in New York and throughout the US. For the people of Catalonia, the day represents something entirely different, with a history dating back longer that even the USA has been a country. September 11, 1714 is the day in which Catalonia surrendered in its separatist war with Spain and conceded to remain part of the country. It is the reason that at every game played by FC Barcelona, at 17:14 into the first half, the entire stadium shouts “Independence” in Catalan. FC Barcelona has also been intertwined with the separatist movement throughout it’s history as we learned during our visit to Camp Nou. You may have noticed, September 11 coincided purely accidentally with our stay in Barcelona. The Catalonians celebrate this day as a sort of rebellion, albeit peaceful, against Spain and it’s reluctance to allow them to succeed from the country. It was also a symbol of resistance during the facist regime that engulfed the country following General Franco’s takeover during the Spanish civil war. During Franco’s dictatorship that would last until his death in 1975, speaking Catalan was illegal, as was celebration of any kind of Catalan culture as it was viewed to be a threat to the regime. People found speaking Catalan were often arrested and sometimes even shot on the spot.

During this day, we participated in a walking tour of the city, which for the day nearly doubled in population from the surrounding areas for the celebrations and protests. Over 5 million people were in the city for the day, which is roughly the equivalent of taking all of Toronto suburbs and having them all go downtown for the day. I imagine it is what it would be like if the Leafs were ever to win a cup again. Not that I am likely to get to compare the two. The biggest part of the day that resounded with me was how a population that has been discriminated against for so long, who feels their prosperity is feeding the rest of the country and not them, could be so peaceful and joyful during the celebrations. In North America, one small event of what can be viewed as racism sets off violent protests with shameless destruction. To me this speaks to the maturity of a country. Like with my previous comparison of Canada not yet being toilet trained and Portugal being the wise old Grandfather. Countries like the US react like children and bang their fists to demand what they want, regardless of the harm it will do to themselves. Countries like Spain, Portugal and others similar have the wisdom gathered through countless past events that they can draw on as a people. This allows them to understand patience, dedication and something as simple as pride in what you believe in can eventually lead them down the path they wish to follow. Now that is not to say violence does not occur, but it is not the first plan of action, it is the last resort.

It is easy to see how the pride in the culture and the deep roots that are engrained into the city itself is a cause for celebration. Barcelona as it stands now is a relatively new concept. The rebirth of the city truly took off when it hosted the 1992 Olympics. Money was spent on basically rebranding the city into a place that all want to visit. The cultural effect was similar to what Vancouver 2010 did to Canada, establishing an identity to the rest of the world.

All things considered, Barcelona remains to be one of my favourite cities, especially when you take a step off the beaten path. It’s not a real Tapas place if the server speaks English as far as I am concerned. Hand made breads, cheeses and chorizo, and of course you have to ask for one dish that you don’t know what it is just so you can try something new. Beautiful beaches, a booming nightlife and back streets and alleyways that can be explored for days on end if you allow yourself to see it through the right light. And of course, I cannot call myself content with my visits until I have attended an FC Barcelona match against Real Madrid with 100 000 passionate Catalonians.

Until next time L’Espana, I will be back soon.

Cheers,

Ryan

From Portugal to Spain, days 3, 4 and 5 in Lisbon/Madrid

“Make for yourself a life you don’t need a vacation from.”

I recently stumbled upon an article online that discussed this very sentence. I don’t think I could put into words a better way to describe what I want out of life. The past few days have merely reinforced this. The article looked at how our society, especially North America, appears to have our priorities out of line. The example it used was a short story about a business man who stumbles across a man in a fishing village while on vacation. The fisherman catches enough fish early each day to support his family, and spends the rest of the day with his children playing and spending time with his wife. The business man asks the man why he did not spend more time fishing so he could make more money. He goes on about a business plan about how the fisherman could expand his business and become rich. At the end of the story, the businessman finishes by saying once the fisherman had built up his empire he could spend every day relaxing with his wife and kids in a small village somewhere without any worries. The fisherman then replies, “that’s already what I’m doing, I don’t need a fortune for it.” That’s really the kicker, isn’t it. We get fed this idea that if we suck it up and be unhappy, it will eventually pay off when we have enough money to be happy.

The article went on to discuss how happiness in your life can come from different parts, such as doing what you love to do instead of settling for something safe, surrounding yourself with the people who make you a better person and leaving those who drag you down behind. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to sell the idea that we can all just bugger off and live on a beach for the rest of our lives. But there is certainly more to life than the 9-5 office job cycle that so many of us get stuck in. I spent 4 years and upwards of $100 000 to get my engineering degree because it was what I truly wanted to do. I worked hard, and found joy in it despite the difficulty because it made me happy to be doing it. I surrounded myself with people I truly loved being around and now have hundreds of memories to show for it. What this made me realize is that despite being scant broke, completing a degree that at some points was actual rocket science, I still managed to find joy in it. Why the fuck can’t I do that for the rest of my life too.

On the scale of my life, this trip is likely just a footnote, a box full of pictures that I will look back on in 20 years and remember travelling though beautiful cities with my friends. But the joy I find in wandering through a new city, meeting people from other countries and my own and not having a care in the world is not something easily forgotten.

Right, the trip. The reason I actually write here. My last post left off back in Lisbon on my birthday before a night out in the city. We had a bit of a messy night out with an Aussie and a Brit, and then spent my actual birthday on the beach outside of Lisbon. Let’s just say I’ve had worse birthdays. That night we went to an authentic Portuguese restaurant off the beaten path that Shawyan’s parents had stumbled upon in the city a few weeks earlier when they were in the city. A delicious meal of sea bass, salmon and chorizo was followed by a night out in Bairro Alto, a section of town where the bars are small and the party literally pours out into the streets. After a few pints we headed back to prepare for our flight to Madrid the next day. We flew out late in the day on Tuesday and arrived at our hostel in Madrid around 7 p.m. after doing battle with the city’s expansive Metro. After a quick nap and dinner we met up in the common room of our hostel for the nightly pub crawl. Although quite touristy, these pub crawls tend to be an excellent way to meet people. As is typical in Spain, the night lasted early into the morning, dancing and drinking away until I eventually found myself wandering the streets of Madrid and getting quite lost. I must say, if sitting on the steps of a beautiful cathedral, in a beautiful city with a beautiful Australian girl chatting about life, travelling and living abroad until the sun comes up isn’t happiness, I don’t know what is.

Our second day in Madrid began slowly, as you might imagine going to sleep at 7 a.m. leads to a less than productive morning. Shawyan, Stephen and I spent the afternoon strolling through the city, stopping a bars here or there to have a bite to eat or drink a pint. It was a wonderfully relaxing day, eventually returning to have a siesta before our last night. Not wanting to be a third wheel on Shawyan and Stephen’s wonderfully romantic night together involving a stroll through the park and tapas at a local bar, I went out for tapas and drinks with the aforementioned Australian girl, her friend and a guy from Peru that we had also met the night before. Yet another night spent exploring the city, bar hopping and general meandering about later and our time in Madrid was over. As I write this I am sitting in a hostel bar in Barcelona at a table that just over 15 months ago I was sitting at with Jonny, Chris and Alex enjoying a drink. Barcelona, I missed you.

Cheers,

Ryan

Beers, Bikes and Jetlag. Day 1 and 2 in Lisbon

Okay so, here goes. Our trip has finally begun and I couldn’t be happier about it. I am also very excited to be writing again and I hope to get a post up at least every other day.

Anyways, we flew out Friday night, the flight was pretty typical, crappy food, crying babies and no leg room. No need to bore you with the details. In short, plane went up, plane went over water, plane landed in Portugal. Once we landed, it was time to play two of my favourite travel games. Game number one is trying to communicate with the customs officer. 1-0 Ryan. Game number 2 is especially fun. I have a personal rule to always attempt to take public transit from the airport. It gives you a good idea of the city culture and helps get you oriented with the city. 2-0 Ryan. Our hostel is called Lost Inn Lisbon, which may be the nicest hostel I have ever stayed in. The name is also great because it sets up a groan inducing dad joke. We checked in and then went and got lost in Lisbon. Great right?

Despite the fact that we were all basically characters on the Walking Dead by this point, tired, smelly and unable to walk straight, we took a nap, showered, downed a red bull and headed down to the hostel common room to meet fellow travellers and decide where to head for the night. We met another Canadian and a few Germans and ended up heading to a bar called Rooftop. What the person failed to mention was this bar was on the rooftop of a parking garage. By far one of the coolest places I have ever been. It’s nights like last night that really drive home the importance of meeting people while you travel. The entrance to this bar was literally the stairs in a parking garage. The music was great, drinks were cheap and it was full of young people. It was an amazing bar and we would’ve walked right past it had the people we met not showed us.

Day 2 began late due to a combination of alcohol and the aforementioned jetlag. We decided to rent biked and pedal along the river to a part of town called Belem. Along the way we stopped to see some of the sights including a windrose and tower built in 1960 to celebrate Portugal’s contribution to the Age of Discovery, and their 500 year anniversary of being a Country. 500 years. If countries were people, Portugal is the wise old grandfather and Canada still hasn’t been potty trained. We also visited a Portugese war memorial which commemorated the battles in Africa during the 50’s and 60’s where Mozambique and Angola, former Portuguese colonies were fighting to become independent nations.

Tonight we had one of the best meals i’ve had abroad. There is a market down from our hostel which has to be one of the greatest ideas a city could have. Picture St. Lawrence market in Toronto, except each of the stalls is serving absolutely delicious meals you can order and a buzzer will tell you to come back and pick it up. We shared a Portuguese style steak and egg, pan fried shrimp and a cheese platter with chorizo and prosciutto. Including a pint of local beer the entire meal came to around €12 each. Yum.

Lisbon in general is a beautiful city with a thriving culture. Markets, night life that spills into the streets when the bars become full, and some of the most intriguing and widespread history of any city in the world. It was the hub from which it’s old world explorers conquered and explored the world stretching from Eastern Africa to the South China sea and most of South America. It is fascinating to learn how these people influenced so much of today’s culture around the world because 500 years ago a few men with a ship and a crew set sail to explore this beautiful world. Now one of the smallest countries in Europe, it’s language can be heard as far away as Chile, Brazil and Central Africa.

As I write this, Shawyan is pestering me to head down to the common room to drink some of the Hostel provided sangria and begin another night out in this beautiful city.

Until next time, cheers,

Ryan

Why You Should Leave Your Hometown

When is the last time you experienced something new? I don’t mean a new donut at Tim Hortons or a new pair of shoes, I mean something truly new and exciting. Do you remember how it made you feel? Nervous? Full of adrenaline? A bit of both? Either way, I am willing to bet it made you feel alive. Now I don’t know about you, but that is the feeling I find myself constantly seeking. I would not consider myself a thrill seeker, and I don’t need to bungee jump off a bridge to get the feeling I’m talking about. The feeling I am referring to is the one that makes you stop and say to yourself: “Damn, this life is awesome”. I have experienced it while standing atop a hillside overlooking the Mediterranean in Italy, building a house in a countryside town in El Salvador and while sitting on a patio with my friends enjoy a cold pint.

Path of the Gods: Amalfi Coast, Italy
Path of the Gods: Amalfi Coast, Italy

While these circumstances are extremely different, there is one very important common element they all share. These moments are now pictures on my wall instead of dreams in my head because somewhere along the line I decided the fear of new things wouldn’t stop me from experiencing life.

I grew up in a small town, where things rarely changed. My friends in kindergarten graduated with me from high school and the biggest change I can remember in my time there was when they opened a bigger grocery store. I love my hometown, but for some reason I always had the urge to leave and go explore what’s out there. The most important event in my time back home came in the eleventh grade when I participated in a trip to El Salvador to build a home for a family with Habitat for Humanity. I would be lying if I didn’t say that applying for this trip scared the crap out of me. I had barely been outside my province, let alone to a foreign country.

Building a house in El Salvador
Building a house in El Salvador

My time spent in that country ignited a passion for travelling and an appreciation for experiencing life that I didn’t know existed until I left home. I spent the entire trip in awe of everything I saw, soaking up the landscapes, the language and the culture. From the moment the wheels of the plane touched down back in Canada, I couldn’t wait to head off on my next adventure.

Many travellers joke about the “travel bug” that bites you and then you are hooked. I believe that the need to explore new places and experiences exists in everyone, the “travel bug” just brings it out. Once you are hooked, you begin to find out why some people leave home and never come back.

It teaches you how to deal with adversity

Travelling isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. Sometimes it gets difficult, and you have to deal with it. Learning how to calmly deal with a missed train, overbooked hostel or lost passport teaches you a valuable skill that helps both abroad and at home. It teaches you how to overcome obstacles instead of giving up, because often giving up isn’t an option. Once you have pushed your way through a few of these walls along the way, it begins to give you a confidence in yourself that you are able to deal with the circumstances the world throws at you. This is as important for travelling as it is for life in general. You can plan every single aspect of something down to the tiniest details. While planning is important, there is always going to be a wild card. The most successful people are the ones who have the confidence to deal with curveballs as they come.

chang

You learn how to meet new people

In a world full of social media and text messaging, people tend to get to know eachother via words on a screen versus actual face to face interaction. The skill of walking up to someone and introducing yourself is becoming more and more rare amongst people, especially young people. Travelling, especially alone, forces you to interact with others outside the confines of the digital world. Personally, meeting new people from all over the world is my favourite part about travelling. Locals, travellers from other countries and even fellow Canadians met on the road became some of the best memories and experiences of my travels. Some people you meet, you will never see or hear from again, and others can become lifelong friends. It’s like networking except instead of for careers, it’s for adventure. The ability to introduce yourself to a complete stranger and find things in common is one of the most beneficial human characteristics you can have. It helps with careers, making new friends and who knows, maybe it’ll help you find that special someone someday. As children we were able to make friends with anyone, and somehow through the awkward teenager years we seem to forget how. Putting yourself outside your comfort zone in a city by yourself means working up the courage to say hello to someone you’ve never met. While in Prague, I made friends with another traveller simply by giving him one of the extra beers I had so he could participate in the drinking game we were playing in the hostel. I have coined this term as the “friend beer” and I would highly recommend it as a method of meeting new people.

You learn to see the world in a different light

When people are at home, they often become immune to all the world around them has to offer. I grew up half an hour from Niagara Falls, one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world. To me, it has become associated with tourist traps, expensive gimmicks like haunted houses, and a general urge to avoid it at all costs during the summer. Every once in a while a friend will come to visit who has never seen the falls, and they are in awe of it. It always takes one of these visitors to remind me what an incredible wonder of the world I have not far from my front door. Travelling the world teaches you to open your eyes and absorb your surroundings rather than go through life with tunnel vision. What’s the point of spending a week in Florence if you don’t take the time to appreciate the beauty of the architecture and the atmosphere of the city? The same can be said for being at home. A city like Toronto is as vibrant, diverse and exciting as any city in the world and has so much to offer if you can learn to open your eyes to see it.

 toronto

Leaving your home is a scary and exciting adventure. Some people will do it once and never again, others will leave and never come back. The important thing to consider, is that no time spent learning about another culture or another place in this amazing world will ever truly be a waste. You will end up learning something about yourself, other people or the world that will change your point of view. Whether it makes you yearn for more adventure, or appreciate the comforts of home, seeing more of this world than our own backyards is a certainty to make you stop and say “damn, this life is awesome”.

scrubs

In Defense of Our Officers

Firstly let me begin by explaining myself. I do not usually write about so called “heavy” and political topics, it is not why I started this blog. Lately I find myself unable to contain my contempt for the way police officers are viciously criticized and scrutinized in both the news and on social media. This particular issue hits extremely close to home for my family and I. For those who do not know, my father is a police officer, and my grandfather before him as well. The fact that I was raised by an officer of the law does in fact give me a bias on the issue. I also believe it gives me a perspective of police officers that is very much unknown to the general public.

I am now, and always have been a proud son of a police officer.  Parent career day at school meant seeing my classmates racing to the police car to hear the sirens or flash the lights. I would be there, standing next to my dad, beaming with pride as my friends experienced a small part of what it was like to have a police officer for a parent. Whenever anyone asked what I wanted to do when I grew up, my response was “I want to be a police officer, like my daddy”. 15 or so years later, believe it or not, I did not grow up to be a police officer. There were many times, not just at a young age, where I considered it. The absolute truth as to why I didn’t choose that path is that I couldn’t do it. It’s not that I couldn’t physically do it. It’s that I couldn’t mentally do it. There are few people outside the families and friends of police officers and other first responders that understand what I mean by this. Growing up, my father was, and still is, my hero. To me, there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. With this in mind, I want you to picture the first time you saw your dad vulnerable. Some people may never have experienced this. Others may have seen it when a relative or family friend passed away. The first time I saw my father cry will forever remain engrained in my head. I was somewhere around the age of 7 or 8 years old. My dad had worked nights the night before, and as usual was sleeping in long past when my brother and I had woken up and started playing. At some point in the morning, much earlier than usual, my dad got out of bed. Curious, I wandered over to see him and saw that his eyes were bloodshot and puffy. Being a typical young child, I asked my mom why Dad was sad. To give my mother a lot of credit, she explained it in a much more suitable manner for an 8 year old than this, but what happened was that an officer my father had been roommates with in police college had been shot and killed in the line of duty. I did not fully understand what was going on at the time, but looking back, this was the first point in my life where I began to understand the burden police officers live with.

Now that I have added a bit of context, let’s get back to the issue at hand. When the issue of police brutality comes to mind, most people lately would immediately think of the incidents in Ferguson, New York or Los Angeles. In terms of statistics, this video (http://goo.gl/FcGXBX) gives some very interesting points for discussion. Let me be clear, I am not saying all officers are perfect, and as with any occupation, there are bad ones. There will always be outliers that skew the data. Unfortunately, what we see on Facebook and on the news are these outliers. When was the last time you saw an officer mentioned by name on the news for making a routine traffic stop, or helping an old lady cross the street. The reason we don’t see these stories, is because they are not out of the ordinary. Think about what I just said. Ordinary things do not make the news. What the media in general does not seem to discuss, is what it’s like to actually be in one of these situations. This is the inherent problem with the way this issue is debated. I would guess that a very small percentage, if anyone reading this, can speak from experience as to what it would be like to be in a situation where you have a gun pointed at another person, hoping they just listen to you and don’t try to pull a gun or knife. This video (http://goo.gl/GeAjQC) shows the dash cam footage of the reaction of a police officer after he shot and killed a civilian in the line of duty. Imagine being that officer, having a person disobey an order, reach for what very well could be a gun. In that split second, the officer has to decide if he is willing to wait and see if it really is a gun, in which case it could mean his own life, or to fire. Police officers are trained extensively on how to properly deal with these situations. The split second decisions they are trained to react and make are made to protect not only their own lives, but the lives of other officers and civilians.

At the end of the day, my biggest problem with how this whole situation is developing, is that it has made me scared. There have been many nights throughout my life where I have laid awake, thinking about the possibility my father may not come home the next morning. To anyone who’s dad is a doctor, a lawyer or an accountant, you cannot understand this the way I do. The reason you do not have this fear, is because men and women like my father do what they do. Society’s reaction to a small percentage of incidents, damning the other 99% who have done nothing wrong terrifies me. In the past months we have seen officers murdered, purely for having a badge and a uniform. Society does not condemn all doctor’s because one wrote a bad prescription. Why do we do it with police officers?

I’ll leave you with these words in hope that the next time you see a police officer, perhaps your perspective will be a little different. Try to see past the uniform, to see the man or woman behind the badge. The man or woman who just had to tell another mother or father that their son or daughter died. The man or woman who is doing what they do so that you can sleep easy at night while their family is awake worrying. The man or woman who at the end of the day, just wants to go home to see their little boy or girl who wants to grow up to be just like them.