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.

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

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.