We live in a hectic world. Time is a precious and valuable commodity, and when it comes to travel it’s tempting to try and pack in as much as you can. I’ve been guilty of this, particularly when I lived in Canada where holidays are fewer and far between. Getting to places like Europe is not as quick as a weekend away.
I’ve done a few trips where we moved at an absolutely breakneck pace, spending 48 hours or less in as many places as we can cram in. While it’s great for seeing a lot in a short time, frankly, it’s exhausting. Don’t get me wrong, there are times and places for moving fast, but taking it slowly becomes a completely different kind of adventure.
The best example of this for me has been a 5-day trip my girlfriend and I took to Tallinn, Estonia. You might think you don’t need 5 days to see a small city like Tallinn, and you would be correct. However, can you spend 5 days there and enjoy it? Hell yes.
If push came to shove we probably could have done everything we wanted to in two days, based on what we’d researched beforehand. Having extra time meant we could not only explore a bit more but even give places a second try if we truly loved them.
And let me tell you, we fell in love with a cider. It was a short travel fling, the type that only ends in heartbreak but boy did we take advantage of the time we had together. The cider in question is locally made at the Hell Hunt brewery and pub in Tallinn and it’s simply delicious. We first discovered it at a restaurant and bar called Humalakoda in one of the newer areas of the city and continued to enjoy it wherever we went. Ever since we got back we’ve been trying to find it. Alas, it’s a love that was meant to be fleeting.
The main reason we set out for Tallinn in the first place was for the Christmas market. Set in the Old Town square, it was about as beautiful as the wintertime in a city can get.
Oh and the food, like I wasn’t going to get to that. Estonian cuisine isn’t exactly a worldwide phenomenon but when you’ve been wandering around in the cold for a few hours, boy does it hit the spot. The best meal of the trip had to be at a place called Vanaema Juures, which translates to “at grandma’s”.
The restaurant is located in a little basement in the old town. It’s decorated exactly like you’d picture a Nordic grandmother’s house to be decorated. We had dishes like elk stew and smoked fish that were incredibly like a home-cooked meal. If in Tallinn, this place is certainly a do-not-miss experience.
In the immortal words of Mr. Ferris Bueller; “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Having a chance to take it all in and experience Tallinn properly has made it a favourite of mine. Perhaps if I’d spent longer in other places and taken the time to appreciate them properly, it would have made those places all the better. Oh well, guess I’ll have to go back and try again!
Are you a fast or a slow traveller?
P.S. if you go to Tallinn, please bring back some of that cider. We miss her.
I have a habit of holding on to things. Cards, concert tickets, little gifts and memories collected over time. Back in Canada, I kept a shoebox full of these little things and in the UK they somehow manage to be scattered all about my one bedroom flat in London. Occasionally I seek them out, looking for comfort in a tough time, but other times I stumble upon them in the most random of moments.
In this case, I was looking for my council tax account number in a pile of papers, when I stumbled on a stack of cards. They represented a significant moment in my life, the day nearly three years ago when I said goodbye to my friends and family and moved across the Atlantic. The messages were of jealousy of my new adventure, well wishes for my travels and promises to keep in touch. None of them mentioned how hard it would be and at the time, I certainly had underestimated the adventure ahead as well.
I recently listened to a podcast where several seasoned expats discussed candidly their own experiences of living abroad. As I listened to familiar sentiments, I had no choice but to reflect on my own experience. The voices came from several different countries worldwide, spoke of experiences of moving to New York, Berlin, Singapore and Beijing. Despite the wildly different experiences, it was remarkable how common the general sentiments were from each of the guests, as well as how much they rang true to my own experience.
The first lesson is that making friends as an adult in a new city is really f*cking hard. The last time I’d had to set out to make new friends had been my first week at university, and London does not have an orientation week, let me tell you. I am extremely grateful for the friends I have now, most of which at some point took pity on a lonely Canadian and invite him along to a party or a concert. This does not take away from the fact that the first six months were extremely hard. I went from living within a half hour of a dozen of my best friends to a foreign city with no one to call on a Friday night. The benefit now is that I’m completely comfortable on my own. I’ll go to the movies or dinner by myself and not give two thoughts about it.
Next, is that there are no greener pastures. One of the writers on the podcast mentioned that you cannot truly call a place home until you’ve thought to yourself “fuck this place” on a delayed Monday morning commute into work, like a local. There are days where I can’t bear to leave my flat and face the hoards of Londoners, that is balanced with moments such as walking across a bridge over the River Thames that I can’t believe I live in such an incredible place. When I first moved here I was taken by an impression that the UK does everything better. After three years, I’ve learned that different does not always mean better. Some things from home, such as the wide open spaces, friendliness of the people and being able to watch my hockey team play at a normal time of day can never be matched. On the other hand, the ability to travel to so many countries in Europe for the weekend and the vast and rich cultural history of a place such as London itself are tough to beat. No pasture is greener, but it doesn’t hurt to explore them both anyways.
The third and probably most difficult lesson of all is that you’re going to miss things. Living abroad opens up a whole new world of opportunity, but life at home still keeps going. I usually make it home at least two weeks a year, but that leaves 351 days that I miss and a lot happens in that time. I’ve missed holidays, birthdays and special occasions, all that made me close to hopping on a flight even just for a weekend despite the cost. The most difficult choice I’ve made was to remain in London this year for Christmas. As hard as it was on me, it was my decision and therefore much harder for my family. Tough decisions are common, but by not going home for Christmas I was able to be home for a week at a cottage this past summer and travel to Estonia for a week before the holidays, both of which were great trips. I probably speak to my parents on the phone more then I did living an hour away in Toronto, but it’s still not quite the same. The actual lesson here, I think, is that it’s okay to miss people, things and home and still enjoy yourself on your adventure, but to expect to not be homesick at all is unrealistic, even after three years.
Knowing what I know now, would I still have gone when I did? Absolutely. Would I recommend everyone does it at some point? 110%. It’s a life experience that broadens horizons, build self-sufficiency and self-confidence. The issue is, often all you read about and see on Instagram are the good moments, the ones that make people jealous and wish they did the same. Rarely does anyone talk about the hardships, but I suppose no lesson is earned easily.
Somewhere in Croatia, between Plitvice Lakes National Park and the Slovenian border is, to most, an ordinary back road. It winds through forests, past farmhouses and even through villages still bombed out from the war of the 1990’s. The route is nothing if not beautiful, the true embodiment of taking the scenic route.
This road, however, is known to four people by a slightly less…err…elegant name. These four people are, of course, my family, and leave it to the Elliotts to turn something majestic into a road now known to us as the Chundy 5 Hundy.
How did it get this name you might ask?
Chundy, is first, short for the slang term “chunder” which my brother and I had recently picked up having spent a week on a boat with several Australians and Kiwis. Urban Dictionary defines this particularly pleasant word as:
“Chunder means to be sick, it originates from old seafaring days when sailors would get seasick and stick their head out of the porthole in their cabin. As they did this they would shout “Watch Under” to warn people in lower cabins of the forthcoming puke. Over the years this has evolved in Chunder.”
5 Hundy is, of course, a reference to races such as the Indy 500, which, although we did not get lost enough to do 500 laps, was an apt enough description of my fathers driving through this particular stretch of back roads.
Amusing? To my father and myself in the front seats, as I had my GoPro out the window taking videos of the scenery zooming past, abso-f*cking-lutely.
To my brother and mother turning green in the backseat? Unlikely, regardless of how apt a description the Chundy 5 Hundy became.
Now if you’d asked me a mere couple years prior to this trip if I’d like to have spent two weeks of my holiday on a road trip with my parents, like an average teenager I probably would have looked at you like you had two heads. However, age comes with perspective, as does nearly three years of living abroad, and here we go, I’m about to get emotional.
I miss my parents.
I’m not ashamed to admit it, anyone who lives three thousand miles from their family is lying if they say they don’t. At the time of writing, it’s two weeks from my mother’s fiftieth birthday and a little less than a month until my father’s fifty-fifth. Smack in between the two is my twenty-sixth, all of which won’t be spent together because I live on another continent.
Even in the age of FaceTime and Skype, I still miss a lot. I traded in those birthdays and family holidays to selfishly create my own memories elsewhere. However, out of that, it’s created a whole host of new memories that we otherwise wouldn’t have had. Silly ones like the Chundy 5 Hundy, beautiful ones like hiking through the serene lakes of Plitvice, and the unforgettable meal we had in Ljubljana.
I haven’t quite come around to the humour in my dad’s attempt to embarrass my brother and I at every given opportunity, but he’s right, we’re never going to see that waiter in Piran again so maybe I really should “give less of a shit” as he so elegantly puts it.
One thing I’ve certainly learned is that if you happen to be lucky enough to be able to travel with your parents, do it while you can. It will test you at times, and patience is indeed a virtue. But they changed your stinky diaper, so yes, you better goddamn wait for them to catch up when hiking up the side of a mountain.
But does there necessarily have to be some deep and meaningful lesson buried in all this about travelling with your parents and how rewarding it can be?
Could it simply be the lesson that we shouldn’t let my father drive manual on a winding road in rural Croatia?
But if you asked me if I would pass up the opportunity to do it with my family all over again?
It doesn’t mean necessarily to go where no one has gone before – not everyone can be Captain Kirk – but to go where most people don’t. Sometimes it means going where the locals are and sometimes it just means skipping the tourist attractions in search of something a bit more authentic.
If you key in the word “travel” on Google you will end up with an endless result of “Top 50 beaches to visit” or “Can’t miss sites to visit in Berlin” and more city and country guides then you could imagine. These guides inevitably feed into the open top bus driven, audio guided, fanny pack wearing tourism industry that generates an absolutely whopping 9.8% of the world’s GDP which equates to roughly 1 in 11 jobs worldwide.
Going off the beaten path is, by its very definition, among the minority. While 9.3 million people are lining up for the Louvre annually, there are a small percentage of travellers out there who are intent on finding something more. As you can imagine, as previously unexplored areas get discovered, slowly but surely the tourists move in. Many travellers will tell you that In many cases this has proven that to go off the beaten path is something that has to be earned, it is no longer as simple as walking a few miles down the beach to the lesser inhabited stretches. If it is that easy, you can assume it has been done before.
But what if it that isn’t necessarily true? What if it was possible to explore the same areas as the tourists but find hidden gems among the signs advertising “authentic” local cuisine and expensive day trips. Every city has locals that have their favourite restaurants, bars and ways to spend their days not at work. I grew up fifteen minutes from Niagara Falls, one of the biggest tourist attractions in Canada, and I can tell you I was not spending my weekends eating at T.G.I.Friday’s on Clifton Hill.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the best way to find out where the local hotspots are is from a local. What does take some creativity is figuring out how to find a local that can show you. Enter these guys. We Hate Tourism Tours are an outfit of locals in Lisbon founded on the very idea of an off the beaten path experience. They offer a variety of tours ranging from having one of their guides actually cook you an authentic Portuguese lunch in their home to customized tours of Lisbon and the surrounding area catered to suit.
The first time I visited Lisbon a year ago, I missed out on getting to check out the world famous surf of the Atlantic coast so this time around I was determined to test out my skills on the waves. The tour we (we being myself and two friends from back home Chloe and Marty) decided to check out after Marty found the company online was the Lisbon Surf Experience. We liked what we read about the philosophy of the company and after a few e-mails back and forth we were all booked.
The tour met early in Rossio Square in the heart of Lisbon, and having done several organized tours previously I was pleasantly surprised to find that out tour group would consist of only ourselves and two others plus our guide. Pedro, a local from across the bay in Caparica where our tour would be headed turned up and immediately we knew we were in for a good day. Piling into the van, the obvious culture of the company became evident. The back ofthe driver’s seat had printed on it “The driver sucks but this van is cool”. Right from the get go we got a sense that not only was the company true to it’s idea but it was easy to tell that Pedro truly enjoyed showing us his city.
Most surf lessons out of Lisbon take you north of the city to Cascais, a well known tourist area and full of surf schools. Our day however was to begin to the south of Lisbon just outside the beach town of Caparica. Anyone who has visited the Iberian peninsula can attest to the fact that the locals are not typically early risers. This was made abundantly clear as we rolled up in our van to the beach around 9:00 to find it completely deserted with the exception of the locals running the surf school we would be participating in. Our experience was all the more authentic as our lesson was occasionally required to be translated from Portuguese to English by Pedro if our instructors words and charades-esque demonstrations didn’t quite get the point across.
In no time at all we were in the salty Atlantic getting battered by the ocean as we learned the hard way what a breaking wave does to an unattended surfboard. Eventually we pushed past the break and out into the swells where we were afforded a break from the struggling and allowed to relax for a short while. Now the true test came. The three-step motion from flat on your stomach to standing and riding a wave seemed so easy on land, yet somehow when you are attempting the same feat on a crashing wave one’s brain has a tendency to revert into state akin to a deer in the headlights. After a few attempts each, all three of us managed to ride at least one not-so-spectacular wave nearly all the way in without falling off. Considering this a success, the time called for a cold beer.
It was at this point that the true benefit of a tour such as ours was made abundantly clear. Pedro had taken the time to get to know us a bit and instead of a set itinerary, he was able to suggest a few options for the afternoon. Perhaps it was the vast amount of salt water we had ingested, but food was very much a priority. It was decided that we would venture back into the town of Caparica to dine at a local favourite called A Merendeira. The restaurant serves up a delightful special of stone over baked bread filled with chorizo alongside a local soup of the name Caldo Verde. I can’t say I’ve ever had a Portuguese meal that I didn’t like but this one was especially delicious.
The afternoon consisted of a drive down the beach road to a small fisherman’s village where we explored the small side streets that zigzagged in among the houses and enjoyed a glass of the famous Portuguese “vinho verde” graciously provided by our guide as we lounged on a beach on the edge of town. With the exception of a few locals, we had the beach almost entirely to ourselves. Here we were on one of the nicest beaches we had ever set foot on, with not another tourist in sight. In those moments, it is impossible to feel anything but relaxed and I must say I had one of the most serene naps of my life.
The last stop of the day was a personal favourite. No matter where I visit I feel the need to find a high point to get a proper view of the area I am exploring. Pedro did not disappoint as our van turned a corner and suddenly we were on top of the world. Here we were, truly off the beaten path as we had a view that most tourists would kill for, all to ourselves. After a half hour to revel in the beautiful sight before us and reflect on what a great day was had experiencing the area as only a local could, we loaded back up into the van one last time and headed back to Lisbon. Along the way Pedro provided numerous recommendations for places to eat, bars to visit and lesser known sights to see. Although I ran out of time on this visit, I made sure to note each one, knowing I would be back to check them out.
Portugal is a country that I have fallen in love with, and I would recommend a visit to any person travelling through Europe. The people are some of the friendliest in the world, the food is to die for and from the beaches of the Algarve, to the surf of the Atlantic coast and all the way up to the wine country surrounding Porto, there is something for anyone and everyone. But once you’ve tried a pasteis de nata, sipped a bit of port wine and danced the night away in Bairro Alto, put down the guide book and take a step off the beaten path.
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.
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.
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.
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.
8 years ago, in the back of my chemistry notebook I scrawled down an ambitiously long list of the things I wanted to do in my life.
Today I get to cross one of that list.
Living in another country had always been something I had thought about since I started travelling. The idea of forgetting the comforts of home and heading out to see how they do it somewhere else both terrified me and excited me. I wish I could catalogue the reactions I get when I explain myself for why I moved here. So far it has ranged from:
“Oh you want to travel, that’s cool”.
“Jesus christ, that takes a lot of balls, why on Earth did you quit your job?”
I guess the latter of those reactions never really occurred to me. I haven’t really thought of this whole adventure as being ballsy at all. To me it would’ve been more of a risk to not go because I would’ve been terrified that I would’ve regretted it. The one thing that took all fear away when I made the decision to make the jump, was that no matter what happens, it’s an experience. If I don’t like it, I can always go home. The real fear would be in not going, waking up one day when I’m 35 and wishing I’d done it when I had the chance.
In terms of my list, this is a big one. Re-reading the items, some of which is nearly a decade old, this one is more than just a destination. Snorkelling the Great Barrier Reef, visiting Antarctica or hiking Mt Kilimanjaro are somewhat ambitious, but they don’t seem nearly as daunting as starting a whole new life. Give me hiking boots and a backpack and I’ll set out fearlessly. Ask me to make a who new group of friends in a foreign country where I barely know anyone? Someone pass the scotch please because this is going to be a tough one. How people move to a new country that is an entire different language is beyond me altogether.
I’m already beginning to experience a bit of a struggle. Not in actual difficulty, but I find it to be a bit of a struggle between adopting the way the UK does it, and maintaining my Canadian identity. I know what you’re thinking, it’s only been three weeks, but you’d be surprised how many new things can happen in 20-some-odd days. It helps to have a large community of expat Canadians here. Every once in a while I can meet up with some of them, go all “super Canadian” like Robin in How I Met Your Mother, and then get back to trying to understand the rules of cricket (seriously, if someone has a “Cricket for Dummies” book, send it my way)
So here I am. My name is on a lease, I’ve got three pretty cool British housemates and for the next year of my life, this house is my home. I’d also appreciate it if someone could please explain the rules of snooker to me, because I spent an hour and a half watching it last night and I don’t have a clue. I do however think I can turn it into a drinking game, so I might just survive yet. I’ve yet to introduce any of them to a proper hockey game but they will all be Leaf fans by the end of this year, I promise you that.
Hopefully soon I will be getting back to my travel writing, as soon as a job is signed I am hoping to get away for a week or two and get back to my happy place, whichever city that may be this time. Until then, one item down, several thousand to go.
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.