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.

The 8 Stages of Leaving University

Leaving school can be scary, exciting and depressing. Sometimes all at the same time. Much like grieving, graduating university is accompanied by certain stages. Thanks to Jonny and Hannah for their perspectives and stories while writing this.

Stage 1 – Your last exam, paper or project

This stage is less exciting than you think it’s going to be. Usually your last milestone in 4th year is a thesis, or a major project. For myself, it was a group project that we submitted several hours after I had already left on a plane for Europe. Underwhelming indeed. The final submission is usually followed by a celebration with friends, or a bottle of wine to the face (we all can guess who’s celebration that was). The end of university is not like it was in high school, there is no “last day” where you all throw your papers in the air as the bell rings. We managed to have a night with all of our close friends (and my father), where we reminisced, told stories and tried not to think about how different everything was about to become. We also spent a few hours playing “Who said it” on the 98A Collingwood house twitter. (If you want a good laugh, give it a follow @shit98says, see if you can guess).

Group photo

Pictured above: Our last night. Laughing at something wildly inappropriate James said.

Stage 2 – Ignorance is Bliss

Stage two begins one of several ways. Some dive right into the working world (Ha, no thanks). Others spend a few weeks “recovering” with some Netflix and their parents’ couch. Jonny and I as most people are aware decided to take our ignorance of the real world on a 5 week trip of Europe. The important part about this stage is that it hasn’t sunk in yet. Your brain believes this is just a hiatus, before you return back to the comfort of school. This stage can often ensnare people for weeks, or even months; spent in the comfort of home, or travelling for months on end. Most people live in this stage for the few weeks between the end of school and graduation

Stage 3 – Graduation

Excuse the term but shit just got real. You got your grades back, you passed (praise the exam gods) and it’s time to don that gown and hood. I for one found out I had passed (albeit not spectacularly) while in Amsterdam, about to set out on a pub crawl. You can use your imagination about how that went.

Graduation day is finally upon you. It is at this point where you may be tempted to run once they hand you the diploma in fear that someone may change their mind. 36 hours prior to my graduation I landed in Toronto after my whirlwind trip of Europe. I was so jet-lagged that all I remember about my graduation was having to duck because the associate dean was short and she had to put my hood over my head. If it wasn’t for the dozens of pictures my mother took, that would likely be my one memory of one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. This stage is bittersweet, as many of your friends won’t come to graduation due to travelling, or not wanting to fly back across the country. Regardless of how you celebrate, this is it. You did it. 4 years of all-nighters, group projects and exams. It feels a little like one of those “My dad went to Arizona and all I got was this lousy t-shirt” type moments. Except the t-shirt is a piece of paper that says you are now ready to enter to real world.

grad

Pictured above: Jet-lag in human form, my real world certificate and two of the people that got me there.

Stage 4 – Employment (Or lack thereof)

This stage is the biggest variable in the process. Some people reach this point prior to stage 3. Others won’t reach this milestone for a few weeks and will likely fill the meantime with part-time jobs, more travelling or general “what am I going to do with my life”. I can safely say that by about 6 months out from graduation, nearly all of my friends had jobs. Each one of us experienced this stage differently. Hannah started work May 1st on a summer internship that she later turned into full-time employment (Yay Hannah). Jonny pulled every string on every connection that began to sound like the beginning to a Freaky Stories episode (a friend of a friend of mine) before landing a sweet gig working with another friend of ours Peter. I had completed two co-ops terms with the company I now work for, and had signed my contract back in February. That meant that within 5 days of receiving my real world certificate, I was off to start in the working world. This stage is accompanied by giving a lot of people your SIN number, hearing terms like RPP, RRSP, TFSA and EI over and over again and having to look up your new postal code several times. Which, by the way leads us to:

Stage 5 – Relocation

Whether you are relocating from school back home, to a brand new city or down the street from your parents, this step is definitely the most encompassing of all of the “feels”. You feel excited; oh my gosh, I have my own apartment, I never have to wear pants at home again. You feel depressed; one of my paycheques each month barely covers rent. For some people this is the first time they have really ever lived alone. You lived with your parents, you had 3 or more roommates at school. If you didn’t wash that dish or take the garbage out, don’t worry, James will do it. Now if you leave that dish in the sink, it’s there. Waiting for you when you get home. Staring you down, judging you for your inability to complete the simplest of grown-up tasks until you finally take the 30 seconds it takes to wash, dry and put it away. Some people take to making the place their own immediately. Others, like me, live in a sort of denial world. It took 7 months before anything was even hung on the walls in my apartment. In time it has begun to feel like home.

Stage 6 – Comfort Zone

The comfort zone is what come after the first few weeks of re-adjustment. You realize you’re friends are still around, you start to hit your stride at work and things in your new home have their “place” now. Some people will never leave this stage. They may move to a new apartment or buy a house. Maybe find a new job, or move to a new city, but the comfort will remain there. In some ways I envy the people who stay in this stage. In other ways, I do not relish the idea of being satisfied in where I am in life at 22. For others, like myself, this stage is temporary. The comfort is more in knowing how much is still out there, than being where I am now. Being in your early 20’s is about pushing past the temporary comfort zone you find yourself in. Even if it means reaching the next stage.

Stage 7 – Quarter Life Crisis

Pushing the limit past the comfort zone leads to the next stage, where most of my friends and I currently sit. Crisis may be a bad term for it. I would describe it as the feeling of being in limbo. Most of my life I never really thought about what came next. University, getting my degree had always been the goal. Once you attain that goal, and go through these stages, you come out the other side questioning everything. The overwhelming feeling that one wrong decision could ruin everything hangs over your head. Maybe you have already made that wrong decision, or maybe it’s barrelling towards you like a freight train. The important thing about the “crisis” is that it begins to give you perspective. You begin to realize that you are not the only person who doesn’t have a clue. Nearly everyone around you is in the same boat. Your parents were in the same boat at your age, and they turned out fine. I mean hey, they raised you. The one thing this stage has taught me more than anything is the importance of the perspective it gives. That perspective can lead you to the final stage

Stage 8 – Figuring it Out

The final stage. Figuring it out. It all sounds so simple, we are all hopeful that someday we just know how it all works. The definitive problem with this stage is that you will never leave it. Once this stage begins, we remain in it forever. The realization that there is no one in this life that has it all totally figured out is the most important realization that a person can have. Granted, someone in their 40’s with a family and a career, or a bookshelf full of stories from travels and experiences, likely has it a hell of a lot more figured out than we do at 22. I defy anyone at any age who claims that they have their life entirely sorted. What we have to make sure we remember whenever we start to regress back to Stage 7 is that everything prior to now gave us the ability to sort out whatever comes next. The point I’ve been building to all along is this: It is more important to trust that you will figure it out, than it is to have it all figured out. Success will not come from having everything sorted out, it will come from being able to sort it out as you go. Your success is not defined by anyone but yourself.

“I believe that we are who we choose to be. Nobody’s going to come and save you, you’ve got to save yourself. Nobody’s going to give you anything; you’ve got to go out and fight for it. Nobody knows what you want except for you. And nobody will be as sorry as you if you don’t get it. So, don’t give up on your dreams.” – Barry Manilow, Sweet Life: Adventures on the Way to Paradise