60 Under 30 #7: Slovenia

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”

Sounds like something right out of a high school graduation speech to a bunch of teenagers with hopes that still feel like a distant dream. We dream of becoming pilots that fly rockets into space, doctors who cure cancer or famous athletes making millions of dollars to play their favourite sport.

The harsh reality that all but a very small percentage end up facing is that not everyone can save the world, be rich and famous or rocket into space. As we grow up, expectations become tempered and reality sets in. We take a job that pays well because it means security. Dreams become tangible goals such as buying our first house or getting that next raise. Every once in a while you’ll read about someone who quit their “ordinary” job to do something they’ve always dreamed of. To those people, I commend your courage, however, not everyone is wired that way. Some of us are just meant to be “ordinary”.

I promise this wasn’t meant to depress you. There is nothing wrong with ordinary. The wonderful thing about this world and being able to travel across it is that you meet people from all sorts of backgrounds and who possess a wealth of experience. Everywhere you go, you find a whole new definition of what can be seen as “ordinary”.

It’s during these experiences, that every once in a while, you’ll meet someone doing a job that they were clearly meant to be doing. These people take something ordinary and make it exceptional. Everything about the way they talk about their work, carry themselves while doing it and the way they interact with others conveys the feeling that they love what they do.

On this particular trip, I had been travelling through Croatia, Slovenia and on to Austria with my family. The previous stop had been Piran on the Slovenian coast where we had sampled some of the most incredible seafood in the Venetian city and were keen to experience the cuisine of the country’s capital, Ljubljana.

The Vander Restaurant is located alongside the Ljubljanica river. On this particular warm July night, my parents, brother and I found ourselves wandering the streets of Ljubljana after a day visiting Lake Bled. As we walked past the Vander, we noticed it’s lovely patio adjacent to the river and my brother, of course, noticed the delicious sounding steaks on the menu. Done deal. Almost immediately after being sat at a lovely table for four on the patio, we were greeted by the food and beverage manager, Matjaž.

I probably don’t need to tell you that Matjaž is the type of person I’ve been talking about all the way along. From the moment he greeted us he and his team turned an ordinary dinner into something exceptional. Not only was the food delicious but he took the time to ask about our tastes, making excellent recommendations that complemented the meal. Local beer and wine, an Irish whiskey that we still remember to this day, in fact, I have a bottle of the Irish whiskey sitting on my shelf in London.

 

The Meal

Of course, no dinner can truly be complete without food to match the experience and in this regard, there was certainly nothing to disappoint. Our appetizer (a recommendation, of course) was salmon marinated in rum with horseradish and red pepper oil. I honestly struggle to describe it other than an excellent way to start a meal. Guess you’ll just have to try it for yourselves. Make sure you ask for a local beer to taste as well.

For our main courses, my brother, father and I each had the Australian ribeye, while my mother tried the roast chicken fillets. Each was paired with deliciously recommended wines and cooked to perfection. Sometimes comfort foods just can’t be beaten.

We were on holiday so naturally we couldn’t possibly skip dessert, however, we did need to share as we were starting to feel our waistbands getting tighter. If you can only pick one thing, do yourself the favour of their signature Pavlova, and ask for some extra macaroons if you want an extra little treat.

Just writing this made me hungry…

Now I’ve worked in a restaurant before. For several years in high school and university, I spent my summers working at a high-end restaurant in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. I can say wholeheartedly and with a lot of experience that it is a tough job. High stress, on your feet all day running between kitchens, bars, dining rooms and patios often without a break for yourself. I’ve often said that everyone should be made to wait tables at least once in their lives and that you can learn an awful lot about a person based on how they speak to a server. Some people can be absolutely horrible to servers and often for things entirely out of their control. With all this said, I find it even more amazing when I come across someone in the food and beverage industry who is able to turn the ordinary into the exceptional.

So thank you, Vander Restaurant, Matjaž and your team, for giving my family an experience to remember by loving what you do.

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!

An Open Letter to Friends Made Abroad

It’s been said that airports see more tearful goodbyes and joyous reunions than anywhere else in the world. All over the Internet, videos of airport proposals, soldiers returning from combat tours and pictures of flowers, handmade signs and embraces can be found, showing the happiness of greeting a friend or loved one from a time away. 

Leaving, however, is a different story. Saying goodbye is never an easy thing to do, and travellers know this to be true more than anyone. We’ve all been there, leaving for the airport, luggage in hand and a sorrowful goodbye imminent. Hugs from hometown friends after another all too short visit, with a quick “See you at Christmas” that seems all too far away. Saying goodbye to friends and family that have been a part of your life for years and decades is enough to make even the most stoic among us feel that all too familiar lump in the throat as you round through Airport security and out of sight. As emotional as these moments can be, they are understandable. Leaving behind those that are closest to you to jet set off on another adventure is expected to be emotional. 

As the world has become increasingly traveller-friendly, with solo backpackers filling the many hostels scattered throughout any given city during all times of the year, and with increasingly flexible airfare, trains and car share services, travel has not only become about exploring the world, but meeting people from all over along the way. Hostels have changed dramatically from the barren youth hostels of our parent’s generation. What used to be a bed and a locker to store your valuables has been transformed into a lifestyle akin to living in a university dorm. Spacious common areas, organized events and so-called family dinners have completely revolutionized the social interactions of young people abroad. 

It is not uncommon to walk into a hostel common area and see people who met just mere hours or days before chatting, laughing and story-telling as if they have been friends for a lifetime. A funny thing happens to people when they are exposed to this environment; they become humans again. In a world where it has become increasingly difficult to meet people without the use of social media apps and the like, backpacking through hostels has become a refreshingly pleasant way to make new friends. 

I wrote in a previous article about how the joy in travelling is often found in the impact meeting people from around the world has on one’s own life. Time and time again I have found myself looking back over my shoulder after a goodbye with a new friend in a hostel, an airport or a train station, feeling like I’ve left a little part of myself behind, even after a few short days together. In constrast, these goodbyes should not yield the emotional response that the family goodbyes do, yet each time they still impact me more than I expect. 

When you travel, these little pieces get scattered along the way, mixed together with the contributions of others to leave a trail of shared experiences and adventures. Some contributions may fade faster than others, and to some your memory may have just been a footnote part of a larger chapter. For some, you will be part of their book, woven in and out of stories spanning across from beginning to end. Without all of these pieces, the story being told would never be as vibrant, full or quite as worth the read.

These memories, no matter how long or short they may be, leave a permanent ink on the page. A goodbye to a new friend, often with plans to meet up at another time in another country still can be a tough pill to swallow. When I think back to the memories from my own story, the museums, walking tours and church visits have often already begun to fade from memory short of the brief notes made in my journal. The people, however, remain as clear as the day I met them. When someone is engrained in a memory that made you feel something, that is when they have become a part of you. 

Certain parts of the world will always have their sites to see, and travellers will be drawn to them. London has Big Ben, Paris has the Louvre, Sydney has the harbour bridge and my hometown has Niagara Falls. These sites and experiences will always make up the framework of the story. They are the crib notes, the outline that starts the process. The colour, the emotion and the feeling that makes the story worth reading and worth telling lies within the part of the book that can’t be taken from a travel guide. 

Those parts of the story are written while dancing the night away in the nightlife of Portugal with a dozen people you met just that morning. It is written in the hole-in-the-wall Czech restaurant where you had the best meal of your life with two new Aussie mates you made when you offered them a beer in the hostel and it is written on a hostel rooftop in Milan where you turned up with a bottle of wine and a deck of cards and left with a lifelong friend.

We as travellers share a common goal. To write the best story possible, that will be cherished, re-read and forever remembered. Even the worst pitfalls of missed flights, broken phones and lost passports will eventually fade into memory as the moments that took hold of our hearts remain engrained on the page. The goodbyes will always be bittersweet and reunions as they come will be eagerly anticipated. As my own story continues to be written, to my friends near and far, old and new, that have helped to fill my pages with memories that can never be replicated I say thank you. 

Wherever we end up in our adventures, there will always be a spot on the couch for that quick stop in town, a cold beer in the fridge ready to be cheers’d and a new story to be written along the way. Whether I was a footnote, a page or a chapter in your story, thank you for being a part of mine. 

60 Under 30 #4: El Salvador; Why I Travel

Thirty thousand feet in the air, on a flight bound from London’s Gatwick airport to Barcelona, my third trip to the eastern Spanish coast in the last two years, I couldn’t help but think about how I ended up here. 3500 miles from the small Ontario town I grew up in; the south London neighbourhood of Brixton, where my day began, is now home.

Each traveller has their own reason as to why they pack their bags and catch yet another flight, pouring their savings into a new experience or another visit to a city that has captured part of their hearts. Travellers as people are driven by a personal want to experience the world as much as possible, and each person has their own personal reasons for doing so.

My love for Europe was born two years ago, when my first backpacking trip began in Glasgow and was made up of six weeks backpacking across Western Europe from Scotland to Italy. It is how I ended up packing my belongings into a suitcase and moving across the Atlantic to start a new life in London, to be closer to the continent that had stolen my heart. It was where my love of travelling was cemented for good into who I am, but it was not where it began. For that, I have to trace back even further.

Looking back now, I can pinpoint the exact moment it started. Not the love of traversing the globe at least, but the battle with my own brain that would eventually lead to that very discovery.

At the time, I had no idea what the symptoms of depression were, especially when mixed into a potent anxiety cocktail. I thought I was just having a bad day. I’d had a normal school day, followed by the myriad of basketball and other sports I was involved with at the time. I got home as usual, my parents were at work, my brother out somewhere with his friends. I sat down to eat the dinner left in the fridge by my mother and began to feel the onset of what I now know to be symptoms of anxiety. It doesn’t hit you all at once, it slowly creeps into your body and mind like an IV drip into your blood. It poisons your brain, fooling it into imagining all kinds of things, both mental and physical.

It began with a feeling of weakness. For that first night, I felt like I was coming down with the flu. Just getting up from a chair felt like a monumental task. I went to bed, hoping a good night’s sleep would abate the sickness and I would wake up feeling better.

Over the course of the next few days and weeks, as it progressed further, the anxiety symptoms were the ones that continued to present themselves physically. The first time I had a panic attack, I was sitting in class and all of a sudden started feeling short of breath. Developing a sort of tunnel vision, I excused myself from class in an attempt to find a quiet place to calm down. As I sat in the back stairwell of my high school, I began to feel scared.

What was happening to me?

Worried thoughts would compound the issue and over the next weeks and months, the attacks would come and go more and more often, always at the most seemingly random of times. Basketball practice, dinner with my family, at the movies. As is typical with most people experiencing these things, I was afraid to tell anyone. To this day, none of my friends at the time, or even my family know what I was experiencing back then. It was to no fault of any of them. I tried my best everyday to not give anyone cause for worry, making every attempt to hide the panic attacks and carry on as if everything was normal. I didn’t want to burden anyone with it, so the worries remained my own.

If anxiety is worrying, depression is frightening.

It’s frightening because you don’t realize it was there until you resurface from it.

If you resurface from it.

Everyone describes the feeling of depression differently. I felt that it was as if someone attached a boat anchor to my ankle and then told me to swim. Most days became an exercise in making it back home, into my room where I could stop putting on the fake smile and pretending like everything was okay. Depression is like having a person stand next to you, all day, whispering in your ear.

“You’re not good enough”.

“They don’t actually like you”.

“Why do you even get out of bed in the morning?”.

Now at 23, I can’t imagine what 16 year-old me could possibly have had to worry about that could’ve started such a downturn. I had just gone through my growth spurt, gaining nearly a foot in a little over a year. I was a straight A student, well on my way to getting into the engineering program of my choice and had a good group of friends to cause trouble with on the weekends.

That’s the part about depression that people who have never experienced it don’t understand. There doesn’t have to be a reason, it can hit, and hit hard even when you have every reason to be happy. One day you are yourself and the next you are wallowing at the bottom of a well of self-pity and despair.

The next few months would progress into a further state of misery, while gradually becoming better and better at putting on the mask in the hopes that I would not be a burden on anyone. After all, it was all just in my head right?

That is where I reached a fork in the road.

To the left was a treacherous path, paved with anxiety and the black shadow of depression as my only guide, leading me to places I can only imagine now.

To the right was a hike up a mountain where the air at the summit is so clear, the peacefulness drowns out even the most cynical of voices in your head.

If only we knew how important some of the decisions we have made were before we made them.

That day, there were two voices that pushed me down the correct path and one that urged me to the left. The first came in the form of our school’s unsuspecting secretary, making her daily announcements. Our school board would be accepting applicants for a new program, taking a trip to El Salvador to participate in a house build with Habitat for Humanity.

Like a devil on my shoulder, the other voice spoke up in retort.

“They wouldn’t accept you even if you tried”.

Thankfully, there was a third voice that day.

It’s incredible how your parents can come through for you time and time again, sometimes without even realizing that they have. I believe the term is parental instinct. Regardless of what you call it, that night I went home as usual, and mentioned over dinner about the program. I’m not sure if depression was hoping my parents would say no so I wouldn’t have to bother, or if deep down somewhere I was beginning to fight it’s tyrannical reign over my mind. Despite the fact that we had little to no information about the program, and the only information we had about El Salvador was a brief Google search, my mother and father decided that I should at the very least apply, guiding me towards the correct path, completely unaware at the time that it was some of the most important advice they would give me.

The application process became a distraction for me. It was a focus point amidst all the noise going on inside my head, allowing for brief moments of clarity. After submitting the application and progressing to the interview stage, it eventually came back that I had been accepted. There were to be 11 students, each from a different school that would be making the trip south along with 8 teachers, also from various schools across the region.

I had reached base camp.

Getting accepted to the program was enough to slightly restore confidence in myself. It was the first small step in a battle against the voices in my head that had withered away my mental state over the course of the previous months. Leading up to the trip which was to be at the end of June that year, we met each week to participate in activities that would help us on our trip. Spanish lessons, brick laying and information about the country we would call home for two weeks. These sessions became my escape, something I looked forward to each week and one of the few places I found myself actually smiling. The people were incredible, both students and teachers, joking and learning together as we attempted to prepare ourselves for our journey.

When the day finally came, I was in a better mental state than I had been in months. I was legitimately excited, a feeling I had rarely had in the previous year. Our flight was rather uneventful, and we landed safely at the Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero International Airport in San Salvador.

As we walked out of the airport we were hit with a wall of both blazing humidity and overwhelming culture shock. Outside the entrance were hundreds of El Salvadorans waving and smiling at everyone who exited the terminal. Some greeting loved ones and others seemingly just greeting every new visitor to their home.

The mountain awaited.

We spent the first day split between a morning playing with the most adorable children at a local orphanage and an afternoon hike up to the mountains with a breathtaking view over the tropical landscape. The immersion into the local culture was an experience that was completely new to me, and I was enjoying every second of it.

Our residence was to be in a small town outside of San Salvador called Zacatecoluca. The town was vibrant in both architecture and personality. Our first visit to the local market left such an impression that still, wherever it is that I visit, I am drawn to local markets as they often yield a more truly honest glimpse into the culture of a city than any other place you can explore. Our residence was a small compound of hostel-style rooms with bunk beds, cold showers and a wonderfully friendly man named Carlos who maintained the place. Throughout the course of the week, using our broken Spanish and his broken English, the language barrier was slowly broken down and we were able to communicate with our new friend.

If the town was a cultural shock, arriving at our build site was a complete revelation. Over the course of the ten days, it would draw emotions from us all, some that we didn’t even know were possible to feel all at once. We were there to build a house for a family of twelve. It would be far too easy on a trip like ours to pretend that we were there solely to help the family, that we were part of the greater good and that we were changing their lives. We were building a house no bigger than most of our garages back home for a family of twelve. This was to allow the family to move out of a house the same size that they currently shared with another family of twelve. Throughout the course of the trip, we all quickly realized that to assume we were there to help them and help them alone was not only wrong, but ignorant.

Each day on the site the family prepared meals for us at lunch, and afterwards we would break from our labouring to play soccer and other games with the children of the family. I can still picture their smiles and their laughter when I think back to it. When we surprised them one day with a brand new soccer ball, the pure joy that erupted from their tiny faces was, at the time, a happiness I was not sure I had ever experienced.

Depression is a fickle creature. Despite the joy surrounding me, the voices in my head made me feel guilty.

“All it took for them to be happy was a soccer ball, what’s your problem?”

No one ever said climbing a mountain was going to be easy.

The rest of the week would go on, as the house neared completion, so did the end of our trip. The final day, we said our goodbyes, and nearly every one of us was in tears as our van pulled out of the site for the last time. The effect the family had on us, sharing their culture, their joys and their love, left us all feeling a mixture of emotions ranging from guilt to thankfulness. They had expanded our small bubbles of existence to include a piece of their own world in it.

That is why we travel.

Each experience, each person along the way becomes a part of our own world. Shaping how we view the worlds of others, and how we live in our own.

Sitting now, staring out the window of this airplane, just as I was seven years ago on our way back home from our adventure, I can remember what it felt like to reach that summit for the first time. The realization that there was so much beauty in this world I had yet to see, and so many worlds of others left to impact upon my own, had conquered the darkness in my own head, holding it at bay.

The clarity would not be something easily noticed if it had always been there. The climb is never simple, and will surely have to be made more times throughout my years ahead. Each time it becomes a little easier, signposts left along the way, inspiration to keep pushing along, the memory of what it felt like to reach the summit.

But up here, at thirty thousand feet, it is joy. It is the joy of exploring a new city for the first time, a pint shared with travellers from across the globe and the joy of a brand new soccer ball, kicked back and forth across a dirt road.

That is why I travel.

60 Under 30 #3: Italy

Despite what the name suggests, pizza was not in fact invented in Pisa. Similarly garnished flatbread type dishes have been around since ancient times all throughout the Mediterranean, known to ancient Greeks as plakous, and the still favoured focaccia throughout many parts of ancient Italy and Greece. However, the greasy, tomato and cheese covered dish that has been adapted and recreated in nearly every corner of the globe was in fact invented five hundred kilometres to the south of Pisa, in Napoli during the late 18th century. It was common at the time for travellers visiting the city to venture into the poorer areas of the city in search of a taste of the local delicacy. 

Unfortunately for my travel companion Jonny and I, pizza was not our main concern as we got off the train from Florence to Naples. The day was beginning to wane into the evening, and despite the urge to seek out a slice of margherita that the city was famous for, we decided it best to continue on to Sorrento as quickly as possible. Not two days prior to our arrival in Naples we had listened to the warnings of some of our fellow backpackers at a hostel in Florence proudly state that they had “survived” the commuter train from Naples to Sorrento. At first this did not seem to be a feat worth boasting about until one of the revellers cared to mention that at night, the Stazione Garibaldi is one of the most dangerous places in Europe.  We didn’t exactly feel like experiencing it for ourselves.

After surviving the pick-pocket capital of Europe two weeks earlier in Barcelona, Europe had begun to lull us into a false sense of security. That is, until we stepped onto the graffiti-laden commuter train that was to take us the fifty-some-odd kilometres down the Italian coast to Sorrento. As a traveller, you begin to develop a sort of “oh shit” radar. You know the feeling, wandering into the wrong side of town, people glaring at you like they’d like to relieve you of your belongings and if you are especially unlucky; your kidneys. Let me tell you, five minutes into our little train journey, our “oh shit” radars were blaring like a fire truck on route to a house fire. After forty-five minutes of clutching our backpacks and nervously keeping our backs to the wall of the rickety train carriage, we finally arrived at the deserted Sorrento train station, belongings in hand, and happy to report that our kidneys were still comfortably internal.

Hardly has the word beautiful so utterly failed in in the description of a place as it does when talking about the Amalfi coast. A person could spin round in circles with their camera randomly taking snapshots along the way, and not one of the pictures would turn out badly. The following morning after our harrowing train ride in, we set out for the day from Sorrento along the coast to the next town. Nestled in amongst the mountainous landscape is Positano, with it’s brightly coloured buildings climbing the hillside like steps carved into a mountain path. It’s beauty is all the more appreciated after you survive the half hour long bus ride along a single lane, hairpin turn road from Sorrento. It’s charm was temporarily lost on us as we kissed the pavement, thankful to have our feet firmly planted on the ground without danger of careening over one the roadside cliffs.

Our first stop of the day in Positano was to be brief, for that day we had something else in mind. Earlier on our trip we had met a traveller who told us of a hike called the Path of the Gods, which traversed the hillside from the town of Amalfi to the East, along 15 kilometres of stunning views back towards Positano. I am always one to listen to recommendations from fellow travellers, no internet review or brochure could ever convince you to do something like the tried and true tale of another backpacker who has done it themselves. A few stops previously in Nice, an Australian traveller we met in our hostel had insisted that of all the experiences not to miss in Italy, this one was top of the list.

After yet another stomach churning bus ride along the coast up through Amalfi, we were let off at a roadside stop with a makeshift sign denoting that the start of the trail lay just up the hill. We traversed through what appeared to be the back gardens of some of the Italian farmers who called the mountainside home until we at last crested over the top of the hill. The view from the start of the trail just about knocked us back down as we finally understood what our friend from down under had meant. As I have said before, the word beautiful just does not do justice to the landscape that unfolds in front of you. Mountains dotted with colourful little houses and sprawling farms that overlook the sapphire sparkling waters of the Mediterranean. The air is as startlingly clear as the water, allowing you to see for miles out into the unending waters, dotted with sailboats and ferries full of sunbathers and fishermen alike.

I have walked fifteen kilometres or more many times in my life. Days spent wandering the spectacular old town of Edinburgh, a particularly miserable journey from Finch to Bloor street in Toronto during the worst rain storm the city has seen in several decades, and numerous other occasions spanning all over Europe and North America. It’s not exactly an impressive feat, but what was impressive to me about this particular day, was that I desperately wanted it to continue. It didn’t matter how far this scenic trail had been, we would have followed it for days if it had gone that far. Around every bend was another breathtaking sight to behold, and slowly as we approached our final destination in Positano, the rainbow coloured town grew bigger and bigger, with the sunshine illuminating it’s quaint beauty with an almost guiding light.

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View of Positano from along the Path of the Gods

As we reached the end of our hike, the trail transitioned into a concrete path, winding between beautiful fenced in estates perched on the hillside. The path eventually reached into Positano where we were led down the mountainside via staircases amounting to nearly 1900 steps in total. Midway down we stumbled upon a couple selling freshly squeezed lemonade, made with lemons from the trees growing in their very own back garden. Many would agree that a fresh glass of lemonade after a day spent in the hot sun is as refreshing as it gets, and sitting on the concrete bench in the courtyard, overlooking the sparkling blue water, listening to the many happy sounds from the town below, one would have to agree that in that particular moment, there was indeed nothing better.

60 under 30 #1: Canada

It’s early. Far earlier in the day then I would normally be awake, but at ten years old there is little that could get me as excited to be out of bed before sunrise as today. No one else is awake yet, my little brother is still well asleep in his Winnie the Pooh sleeping bag in the tent next to me. He never has been much of a morning person, regardless of the day. I climb out of my sleeping bag, putting on my biggest sweater and warmest socks. Despite the fact that it is the end of July, it is cold out on the lake in the early morning, especially before sun-up. As I struggle with my shoes, my brother stirs before rolling over. I don’t have to worry about waking him, he has been known to sleep through my mother vacuuming his bedroom.

I leave the tent and walk around front of my grandparent’s trailer, situated just across the old campground dirt road from Benoir Lake. Across the calm morning water, the beginnings of morning light are starting to rise from behind the small wooden cottages and the many trees surrounding them. This is my favourite part of the mornings here. The mist on the morning lake, where nothing has yet disturbed the water. Some mornings, if it is especially quiet, you can hear the loons calling to each other. I remember one particular early morning, out on the dock, seeing a moose swimming across the lake. One small disturbance trailing behind such a large creature, with it’s large antlers being the only real part of it that can be seen above the water.

This particular morning, there is not a sound, nor a movement anywhere to be seen or heard. It is peaceful, dark still, especially amongst the tall pine trees surrounding the trailer. I walk back from the dock towards the trailer just as my grandfather steps out. He is especially careful as to not wake my grandmother who is still fast asleep inside. Without saying a word, we both walk over to the shed to get out our tacklebox and fishing rods. We each pick out our rods, both having been set-up and cleaned by my grandfather the day before. We make our way down to the dock, with the smallest hint of the red sunrise beginning to peak over the trees at the far end of the lake. With the gear loaded into the boat, we slowly undo the moorings tying the small bassfishing boat to our wooden dock and begin to cast off. Quietly, as to not wake the neighbours, my grandfather starts the engine and we cruise out onto the open water, creating the first small waves across the lake.

The lake is small for cottage country in Northern Ontario. It is farther north than most of the Muskoka and Kawartha Lakes that Torontonians flock to each weekend, being just south of Algonquin park near the small town of Wilberforce. My grandfather knows the lake like no one else, having spent every summer for decades taking his children and grandchildren on the five and a half hour journey north from our home in St. Catharines.

We do not need to discuss our destination, as it has become routine on our mornings out on the water. Barely a word is spoken throughout the entire journey, but that is how we both prefer it. Morning fishing out on the lake is less about catching the fish, as is about beginning the day in the most relaxing way imaginable. We arrive at our familiar stretch of water, through the small channel separating the two parts of Benoir. Grandpa effortlessly guides the boat in towards the edge of the lake, careful not to go through the small patches of lily pads that will be our fishing grounds. He cuts the engine, leaving nothing but the calm sound of the wake of our boat as it collides with the rocks on the shore.

We both cast out our lines, with my grandfather’s gentle reminders of the proper technique being the only words spoken between us. The minutes pass, both of us taking in the quiet as we wait for the bobber tied to the end of the line to dip below the surface. Grandpa has promised that this summer I will learn how to use some of the other lures in his tacklebox out on Elephant lake which is connect to ours through a long and winding series of wetlands, but for now I am perfectly content to be out in our usual spot waiting for that red and white floating bobble to get pulled under by today’s first catch.

The lake system connected to Benoir is large, with Baptiste being nearly an hour away on the other side of Elephant lake. We do not usually venture much past Benoir, as we prefer the smaller of the lakes with our little fishing boat. We do however, on occasion, venture up the small river connected to the lake near our trailer. It is only on the most special of occasions that my brother and I can convince my parents to take us up the long and winding river in our canoe. At the end of the river is the most spectacular of playgrounds. High Falls, as we call it, is a cascading set of small waterfalls created by the river as it meets a large Northern Ontario mass of rocks in its path. The gentle angle of the rocks create a near perfect natural waterslide as opposed to actual falling water. Most summers, the rocks are a place to find other families enjoying a picnic while the smaller members of the clan are frolicking about in the water.

As my mind drifts off, with thoughts of petitioning for an afternoon canoe trip, suddenly I am brought back to the small patch of weeds I had been staring at. My bobber has disappeared and I can feel a gentle tug a the end of the line. I give the rod a small jerk to the side, as my grandfather taught me to make sure the fish is hooked, and I begin to gently reel in. By this time Grandpa has noticed as well, and has reeled in his own line. He grabs the net from the back of the boat and gets ready to help my bring in our first catch of the day. Based on the pull from under the dark and murky water, this might be the biggest fish I have ever had on the line, and I am extremely careful to make sure it does not get away. I get the line up next to the boat as we see a silver/green shimmer beneath the surface. Grandpa carefully guides the fish into the net and pulls it into the boat. It is a large mouth bass, the biggest I have ever reeled in.

With this being a momentous occasion in a young fisherman’s life, we prepare to pack up the boat and head back to the trailer to show off the prized bass. We will not keep the fish, merely store it in the livewell long enough to take a few pictures to show to my mother and father when they arrive later today. Afterwards we will release it back into the lake to perhaps be caught again next year.

We have been gone for well over two hours at this point, and when we arrive back at the dock we find Nana and my brother cooking breakfast in the trailer for all of us. I run off the dock, excited to share the news with both of them. Nana gets the camera and my brother runs back with me, just as my grandfather finishes tying the moorings back on to the dock. We both jump into the boat, and I proudly open the livewell door for my little brother to peer into. The fish flops around in the shallow water, slightly spooking my brother. Grandpa asks us to step out of the way so he can get the fish out of the well for a picture. He expertly grabs it by it’s bottom lip, causing it to lie still. Pulling it out of the well, he stands next to me as Nana snaps a photo. Afterwards, Grandpa gently lowers the bass into the shallow water beside the dock and allows it to swim free.

Later that afternoon, my mother and father arrive in our family car, carefully navigating the roots that cover the dirt road leading into the campground. Both my brother and I are excited to see them, having spent the last week with our grandparents while they were at home working. Around the campfire that night, I regale them all with the story of how I caught my biggest fish, Grandpa as always not saying a word when I embellish the story a tad here or there. My mother is particularly proud, having been quite the accomplished bass fisher in her childhood.

Once the embers have begun to glow, and it is nearly time for me to go to sleep, I sneak away back down to the dock where my day began. 15 years later, I can still remember staring across that small Northern lake under the starry sky. It is a gentle reminder that even while I continue to travel this vast world, the most beautiful place will always be home.

60 Under 30

Depending on who you ask, there are anywhere between 193 (United Nations) and 201 countries in the world, the latter would include places like Scotland and Wales being individual countries despite being a part of the United Kingdom. Due to the fact that I’d rather not argue with a scotsman about the fact that Scotland is not its own country, let’s say there are 201.

As I sit here, I can say that I have visited nineteen countries across North America and Europe. Granted, I am only 23, but that list also includes places like Monaco and Vatican City, which aren’t exactly stamps in my passport. As much as I cherish all of the memories of these trips both travelling by myself and with my friends, a few Caribbean vacations, and two backpacking trips through Europe are not exactly enough to classify myself as a world traveller. But I’ll get there.

Now as much as travelling is a sincere passion of mine, having moved to London to pursue it, sometimes you need to give yourself a bit more motivation. I like to say I am a competitive person, so here goes, my challenge to my future self.

Visit 60 countries before I reach the age of 30.

The caveat to this being that, as I now live on a continent with nearly 50 countries, I will add the following just to make it a bit more interesting:

The list must include a country from each of; North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania

 

Having added at least one item to my ever-growing list from each continent, I have more than enough interest in each continent to achieve this.

The question you all may be asking now, is why? Why not just travel as much as you can and be happy with that? My answer is simple. Why not? Why not have a tangible goal in mind while travelling the world. We as people have goals for just about everything we do, it’s how we help ourselves stay motivated. A certain GPA in university, a position at work, or to be married by a certain age, if that’s what you are after.

Travelling requires as much effort and planning as any goal would. It requires careful saving, making sacrifices in your day to day life to fund your journey. It requires networking, building a rolodex of contacts that help make your goals more attainable, and it requires dedication. Without goals you become complacent and routine. Although seemingly unorthodox, my goal just happens to involve a giant world map pasted on my bedroom wall.

I’d love to say I have it all planned out and I know exactly how I’ll accomplish it, but I haven’t the faintest clue. It’s a lofty goal, but achievable. 6 or so new countries a year, meaning plenty of adventures, roughly one new continent each year as well, meaning diversity of experiences. Sounds like plan enough to me.

19 down, 41 to go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

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.