30 Days

A month is a strange amount of time. On the scale of your life, one month seems insignificant. For example if you live to say, 90 years old, one month is less than one tenth of a percent of your lifetime. It is a blip on the radar.

A lot can also happen in thirty days. For example, from experience, you can:

  • Move to a new country
  • Open a bank account
  • Find a place to live
  • Find a new job

Time is certainly relative. In my head, the past month seems like an eternity that flew by in a blink of an eye. In my first post a little over 3 weeks ago, I was discussing the little victories, and the mountains I had to climb still. Now I wouldn’t exactly say I’ve reached my Everest quite yet, but the air is certainly thinner up here, and definitely a lot clearer.

I have actually remarked to several people that things have been going well enough that I am, being the eternal optimist, sort of waiting for something to go wrong. It sounds bad but if you went back and told 6 month ago Ryan that within thirty days of landing he would have a new place to live and have signed a new job, he probably would have laughed in your face.

I’d love to say that it was all a part of the plan, and that I executed it to perfection. In reality, I’d probably comment on it a bit more like a hockey player does in the post-game interview. I was really fortunate to get the win out there, I tried really hard and just hoped for the best and was lucky enough to come out with the W. I couldn’t have done it without my fantastic family and friends (both home and abroad), they were the real MVP’s out there.

Now the fun can begin. My stress level is at the lowest point it has been in nearly half a year. I know where my next paycheque is coming from, and I even have friends! Imagine that, I managed to make friends. Who knew.

I can already feel myself falling in love with this city. I spent the better part of my free time exploring small record shops in Soho, the music shops of Tin Pan Alley, Blues bars in Shoreditch and everywhere in between. I have barely scratched the surface on one of the most amazing cities in the world, but I have certainly begun to feel its charm.

Thirty days is by far the longest I have ever spent consecutively in a country that is not Canada. I actually had to think long and hard about that to make sure it was true, but even while travelling, the most I have ever spent in another country is a fortnight.

Surprisingly, though I do miss my friends and family, I haven’t really had much in the way of homesickness. I watched a video today where dozens of people in New York city wrote on a chalkboard what their biggest regret was. I would say about 90% of people wrote about something they wish they had done, and didn’t. The way I see it, fear is going to ultimately decide what you do, but what you can do is choose which fear scares you most. Are you more afraid of taking a risk than you are of regretting not taking it 5, 10, 20 years down the road? I’d be willing to bet that on most people’s deathbeds, if you asked what they regretted most, it would certainly be something they wished they’d done and didn’t, and not something they did. And that, quite frankly, petrifies me.

In the end, you will add up those less than a tenth of a percents into a big old pile, and only you can decide which ones inspired you, which ones took your breathe away and which ones changed your life.

This past one, well it certainly did all three.

 

 

 

 

Crossing One off the Bucket List

8 years ago, in the back of my chemistry notebook I scrawled down an ambitiously long list of the things I wanted to do in my life.

Today I get to cross one of that list.

Living in another country had always been something I had thought about since I started travelling. The idea of forgetting the comforts of home and heading out to see how they do it somewhere else both terrified me and excited me. I wish I could catalogue the reactions I get when I explain myself for why I moved here. So far it has ranged from:

“Oh you want to travel, that’s cool”.
to:
“Jesus christ, that takes a lot of balls, why on Earth did you quit your job?”

I guess the latter of those reactions never really occurred to me. I haven’t really thought of this whole adventure as being ballsy at all. To me it would’ve been more of a risk to not go because I would’ve been terrified that I would’ve regretted it. The one thing that took all fear away when I made the decision to make the jump, was that no matter what happens, it’s an experience. If I don’t like it, I can always go home. The real fear would be in not going, waking up one day when I’m 35 and wishing I’d done it when I had the chance.

In terms of my list, this is a big one. Re-reading the items, some of which is nearly a decade old, this one is more than just a destination. Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, visiting Antarctica or hiking Mt Kilimanjaro are somewhat ambitious, but they don’t seem nearly as daunting as starting a whole new life. Give me hiking boots and a backpack and I’ll set out fearlessly. Ask me to make a who new group of friends in a foreign country where I barely know anyone? Someone pass the scotch please because this is going to be a tough one. How people move to a new country that is an entire different language is beyond me altogether.

I’m already beginning to experience a bit of a struggle. Not in actual difficulty, but I find it to be a bit of a struggle between adopting the way the UK does it, and maintaining my Canadian identity. I know what you’re thinking, it’s only been three weeks, but you’d be surprised how many new things can happen in 20-some-odd days. It helps to have a large community of expat Canadians here. Every once in a while I can meet up with some of them, go all “super Canadian” like Robin in How I Met Your Mother, and then get back to trying to understand the rules of cricket (seriously, if someone has a “Cricket for Dummies” book, send it my way)

So here I am. My name is on a lease, I’ve got three pretty cool British housemates and for the next year of my life, this house is my home. I’d also appreciate it if someone could please explain the rules of snooker to me, because I spent an hour and a half watching it last night and I don’t have a clue. I do however think I can turn it into a drinking game, so I might just survive yet. I’ve yet to introduce any of them to a proper hockey game but they will all be Leaf fans by the end of this year, I promise you that.

Hopefully soon I will be getting back to my travel writing, as soon as a job is signed I am hoping to get away for a week or two and get back to my happy place, whichever city that may be this time. Until then, one item down, several thousand to go.

“I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list”.

 

 

 

 

 

The Little Victories

6 days ago, I set out on the biggest adventure of my life so far. In the previous weeks, I obtained a 5 year visa, I quit my job, gave up my great apartment in Toronto, said goodbye to my friends and family and booked a flight.

I have travelled all over Europe, even been to London prior to this, but this time it certainly feels different. When you only have a few days in a city, you rush to soak up as much as you can before you move on to the next adventure, not really absorbing much of the culture, or really adapting at all. So what do you do when there is no end in sight?

You focus on the little victories.

So far, I am literally celebrating the littlest of victories. We aren’t talking anything major, we are talking “remembered to look the correct way when crossing the street” victories. This list also includes:

  • Remembered to call the trunk the “boot” so my cousin’s 5 year old son wouldn’t make fun of me, again
  • Sorting out how to work the lock on the flat
  • Taking the tube alone and getting off at the correct stop

Ordinarily in my life this list would never have even crossed my mind. They were all pre-programmed and I was on auto-pilot. Well guess what, Ryan’s brain, there’s a software update and it’s time to figure out how to be in manual for a while.

I imagine these little victories won’t soon go away. Nevertheless they help to give the strength to go after the bigger victories. Thankfully, my visa did not require me to have a job to get here. That also means, I don’t have a job over here. Something I would’ve considered a large victory back home, is now downright scary. What if I’m not qualified, what if no one is hiring, what if they make fun of me. Okay that last one might have been a tad dramatic. If you dwell on it, it will consume you. Thus you have the importance of the little victories. They can sustain you while the big ones are beating you down.

Regardless of any kind of adversity, there are certainly things to be thankful for. Namely, in this case, I am overwhelmingly thankful that my passport has the word “CANADA” on it. There is a group online of Canadians in the UK, and I posted to introduce myself. Within a few hours, I had numerous well wishes from Canadians all over the UK welcoming me, offering to meet for a pint and advice about everything from finding a flat to places where Canadians tend to meet up. Other countries may make fun of us for how nice we are, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

All things considered, this is barely the first step on a long, long journey. There’s lots to achieve, and even more to experience living abroad. I can’t wait to get started, but for now the important thing is to remember that no matter what ups and downs may come, life is still good, eh.

 

 

 

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