LISBON

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1. We arrived in Lisbon without many expectations, because truth be told, we didn’t do much research before arriving. But I definitely fell in love with this beautiful city! Lisbon feels like a tight-knit community with a big city vibe. So much of it reminded me of Barcelona – how laid-back everyone is, the tapa bars everywhere, and a growing art scene. And at the same time, San Francisco comes to mind, because of the trolleys and how everything is built on waves of slopes and stairs. This is a photo of the street we stayed on!

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2. We only had a day and a half in the city, so knowing that it would be impossible to see all of it in such a short span of time, we took the trolley from one end to the other to get an overview. It was wonderful to see all the pastel buildings, catch glimpses of the ocean as we rolled along, and then wander back to where we started.

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3. Lisbon is definitely not an easy city to walk through. Because of all the hills and unpredictable pathways, we stopped often, but luckily there are so many viewpoints around that there’s always a good place to rest. It seems like as long as you’ve climbed upwards even just a bit, you’ll find a place where you can see the ocean and look at how every brown-orange rooftop has been kissed by the sun. It seemed like most people around us had the same idea and were just hanging out in the sunshine, playing music, and looking out at the horizon (because how can you not when it’s warm enough in December to not need a jacket?!)

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4. One thing we noticed while we were wandering through the city was that people would point us in the right direction even when we didn’t ask for help. We were walking down the street, and an old man stopped us and tried to show us something, but he couldn’t speak any English so he kept speaking to us in Portuguese. I loved that even though he knew we couldn’t understand him, he kept trying. Most people give up easily when it’s hard to communicate what they want to say, but I think there is something important about trying anyways.

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5. The last night in Lisbon, we had the most delicious dinner, and it was a perfect way to end the trip. I know the starters were just french fries and eggs, but there was something in the sauce that was incredible, and I swear I’m going to come back just to eat those frieds again. I’m so thankful that I had the most beautiful company this week! These girls are some of the most understanding people I have ever met, and it’s so great to find travel companions who are okay with just chilling, but also say, “Yes,” to adventure (and who love food as much as I do!). Thanks for the lovely time!

DUBLIN

Despite the missed flights, emergency landings, an accidental 10-hour layover and almost being homeless this weekend (seriously, I didn’t realize I had any more traveler’s bad luck left), I had the most incredible time in Dublin with my girl, Dora (if you read anything in this blog post, you should read the very last part about Dora, because she is amazing!!)!

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1. We met someone who told us that there are two types of Irish people – the junkies and the hospital Irish. We were lucky enough that even though we booked the wrong weekend for our Airbnb, our host was the hospital kind and still let us stay there. They even said that if the reservation change didn’t follow through, we could stay there for free! That was the best news to hear after I had travelled all day after an all-nighter, and Dora had taken the train and ferry from Birmingham after missing her flight. That night, we went to a pub for a hearty meal and to see the Dublin Friday night vibe. Every pub was completely jam-packed, the beer was dark, and the city looked like Christmas.

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2. Fun fact: There are more cows than there are people in Ireland.

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3. Dora and I are contemplating staying the city for our one full day in Ireland, but it’s been my dream for a really long time to see the Cliffs of Moher, so after 12 hours of landing in Dublin, we headed west. Driving through the countryside is like constantly being inside a Microsoft Windows 98 background. All the rolling hills are green and mossy, and we were grateful for catching the sun on a good day.

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4. The cliffs were one of the most incredible things I have ever seen. Parts of it are covered in limestone leftover from glaciers, and you can walk along the whole thing, although it’s not for the feint of heart, because parts of don’t have barriers. We hung our feet over the edge for as long as we could before vertigo and gusts of wind wavered our courage and ate seaside clam chowder in little towns along the Atlantic Ocean coast.

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5. On the drive back, I saw a fully-arched double rainbow for the very first time. It was so huge that it was impossible to fit into one frame, and I couldn’t believe that I could actually see the entire thing! I see where all the myths about leprechauns come from, and even though there wasn’t a pot of gold to be found, I think there really is something magical and mystical about this place.

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6. I noticed throughout the trip that every time we met an Irish person, they always asked us, “Why would you come to this shithole? The weather is terrible and the only way to enjoy it is if you’re drunk.” And we would laugh and tell them that their country is a beautiful place. We thought at first that it’s because of their sarcastic humour, but then we started to slowly realize that really, they just wanted to hear compliments about how great Dublin is.

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7. My favourite part about travelling has been how easy it’s been to meet people, and Dublin is a city made for that. A group of Irish guys walked us halfway home, making us laugh the entire time and calling out, “Love you!” when we parted ways. Another group of people offered us some fruit (which we politely declined), because they wanted to watch out for our health. There are always these small stories where our lives overlap, even if it’s just for a brief moment, with a stranger’s, and I’ve learned that really positive things can come out of it.

On my plane ride home, we had to emergency land in Birmingham instead of flying to Paris, because there was a crack in the window. I ended up having to stay overnight and catch a 6 am flight through Amsterdam to Bordeaux the next day, but one blessing in disguise that came out of it was I met this man from South Africa who happened to be a plane engineer. He was definitely a really good person to have assuring me that everything was going to be ok while the pilot was announcing technical difficulties. He was kind and bought me dinner, since I didn’t have any pounds to use in England, and he told me that where he lives, he can hear lions! It make me really want to visit Johannesburg.

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8. Sometimes, the light in buildings are so perfect that it just invites you in and you have to stay a while. It’s crazy how people who are architecturally gifted can do that. They make light look almost even more beautiful indoors.

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9. It’s kinda crazy how I met Dora. In 2010, I was volunteering at a tutoring centre in Hong Kong, and one day, she comes in. I went to talk to her, because she was a new face, and we found out we were both from Vancouver! A year and a half later, we saw each other at Wintercon in Vancouver, and now, we’re currently both going to the same school! I hate saying things are meant to be, but we both happened to be doing exchange this semester, and if that isn’t fate, I don’t know what is.

Dora has a habit of falling in love with everything and everyone. She sees that world as one big place to hold in her arms, and it’s been amazing watching the entire world fall in love with her back. Her heart is like an open book, and it takes people about 2 seconds to give into her smile, because somewhere behind it, I swear there’s a second sun glowing. There is something about the way people are the most brave when they have learned how to give and receive love in so many tangible ways.

ROME / NAPLES / POMPEII

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1. The most powerful experiences I’ve had so far on exchange is climbing up the Scala Sancta, which is the set wooden stairs that Jesus walked upon on his way to see Pontius Pilot. The steps are said to be holy, so you’re only allowed to walk up on your knees. It was solemn, but so humbling and crazy to see how real the Bible is. I have never seen such a dark sanctuary filled with so much gratitude. The woman beside me kissed every step as she went up, and I still get emotional about that image even when I think about it now.

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2. There is an insane amount of touristy things to do in Rome. In two days, we went to St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City (where the Sistine Chapel is!!), the Roman Forum, and the Colosseum, and there was so much more that would have taken weeks to go through. I’ve heard from people that they feel like the city isn’t really a reflection of what the rest of Italy is like, because it seems like all there is are famous landmarks, churches, and tourist traps, and I get that now that I’ve been. But there is also something about the way the sun sets in Rome that bathes everything in light and everyone, tourist or local, has to stop and watch the city turn gold.

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3. I’m going to remember this photo for a very long time, because as I was taking it, I got pickpocketed. I lost all my credit cards, ID, debit card, and everything else in my wallet in one go, and there was nothing I could do about it. The best thieves in the world are in major European cities like Rome and Barcelona, and it’s baffling that if they want to take your things, they’re going to do it no matter how well-prepared you are for it. But one thing I’ve realized through this experience (apart from the fact that it was very silly of me to keep everything in one place, ha) is how resilient I’ve become. After my wallet got stolen, I went straight to a cafe, called all my banks, let my dad know that getting money is going to be a bit inconvenient for the next month and a half, and then continued on. I wasn’t even that upset about it, but I know that in the past, I have been a lot less level-headed about much smaller problems.

Almost everything that I’ve feared before travelling has happened to me. My flights have been cancelled. I’ve gotten sick 3 times in 2 months. Somebody snatched my wallet. And I’m sure the traveller’s bad luck will probably continue as long as I keep travelling. But I’m learning that when these things happen, it’s okay to be upset, and you can go on blaming the plane companies, the cold hostels, the pickpockets and even yourself, but the only thing that makes things better is to deal with the problem. You just gotta keep going.

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4. During my time in Italy, I literally had gelato, pizza, pasta, and espresso everyday. I couldn’t believe how incredible authentic Italian food is and the advice I received was true: go for the shady places. The best restaurants don’t care much for aesthetics and serve your drinks in plastic cups with a side of snappy service, but handle your pizza dough with a labor of love. I think don’t know how they make their pistachio gelato so delightful or their espresso so strong, but whatever it is, it actually made me tear up when I was saying goodbye to Italy, because it will be a while until I taste these things again.

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5. After Rome, we headed south to Naples. The city is one of the most chaotic places I’ve ever been. Everyone just goes without looking, especially when it comes to traffic. There are mopeds diving through crowds of pedestrians, cars driving down impossible narrow roads, and I don’t need to play Frogger anymore, because I’ve experienced the real thing. But then on Sunday morning, the streets empty and everything is quiet. We had the perfect last morning in Naples – sipping on coffee and walking along the bluest sea. I think the sea is the ocean’s younger sister who’s fallen in love with the land. Like the ocean, she is dangerous and impossible to overlook, but she is warmer, easier to know, and eternally wrapped in her lover’s arms.

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Paris

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1. “The culture in France is, like, you will see women going to the office with a bright red lipstick, like I have, but with no other makeup on whatsoever. With bags under their eyes, not even a hint of mascara. Like, bare face, bright red lipstick, and off they go.” – Laura Mercier

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2. I’ve been told not to have high hopes for Paris; that it’s not as chic, romantic, and beautiful as I expect it to be. But that was exactly what I loved about it. I think I’m realizing more and more how much I love big cities filled with dirt, graffiti’d walls, and a sketch as hell metro system, and Paris was all that, plus a little bit of Chanel No. 5 and bright red lipstick.

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3. Did you know that in most places in the world, the bee population is dying, but Paris was named the urban bee capital, because there are so many flowers in the city?

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4. There is a place where all roads lead, and no matter where you look, the city looks like it is moving and breathing all around you. Paris is called the “City of Lights,” and in an age of skyscrapers, there are other places brighter than this, but when you stand on the Arc Du Triomphe with the roads full of life and the Eiffel Tower sparkling in the distance, you can’t help but believe that this is still true.

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5. I usually have a limit on how many “touristy” things I can do. I can only take so much of line-ups, people bumping into me, and having to take an extra 5 shots on my camera before getting a photo without an iPad in it. But if there is something touristy worth doing in Paris, it’s going to Versailles. The gardens are endless, and the palace is so intricately beautiful. Sometimes, you just have to suck it up and tell yourself that you’re not better than what a place is famous for.

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6. One of my life dreams has been to go to Shakespeare and Company, and I can’t believe it actually came true! This place has housed tens of thousands of writers and was opened in tribute to the original Shakespeare and Company that was a gathering place for tons of famous writers (like Ernest Hemingway!!) but was closed down during the German occupation. I loved everything about this bookstore – the warm lights, the way the stairs creaked, and every cozy reading nook. It was so perfect, and I bought a book of Shakespeare love sonnets (am I too cheesy?!) and a copy of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, because the store is right by the cathedral!

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7. The whole city feels like it’s in love. I have never seen more sneaked kisses and love locks in my life, and it’s not the kind of thing that makes you feel lonely or bitter or that the world is silly for being romantic, but it fills your heart with a river full of keys that will find their home one day.

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8. Gargoyles are made to look like monsters to ward off the evil spirits from churches. But legend also has it that the cherubs and other statues got tired of looking pretty, and decided to make ugly faces instead. I like the second reasoning better.

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Barcelona

Last week, I had the great joy of being able to meet my dad in Barcelona!! It was always my mom’s dream to travel Europe, and it feels like we are living her dream for her. I feel like our travels are made simultaneously selfish and purposeful to say, “We are doing this in lieu of her,” but I want to be hopeful in believing that some dreams are worth living out even when the dreamer is gone. For the past year, it has felt like my dad and I are figuring out how to orbit towards light when the sun has been taken away from us. But for the first time, we are choosing to learn from one another and walk through this together.

Four days ago, my dad boarded a boat named “Costa Serena,” like my mom, without knowing the name of the cruise ship before purchasing his tickets. I don’t want to give things more meaning than they should hold, but it has to be true that there is something special about this trip.

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1. I was super stoked to finally see La Boqueria market and all its hustle and bustle. The colours were an absolute dream, and all the food was so incredibly fresh and yummy!!

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2. Two friends recommended me a restaurant called El Xampanyet for tapas and cava. Our server never let our plates empty for a second, and I was amazed by how they could constantly be making food and charming customers at the same time. When we gave up our table for the people who were next in line, our serve yelled, “God bless you!” and gave us free tapas for being kind and patient.

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3. La Sagrada Familia absolutely blew my mind, not only because of how grand everything was, but because every detail was made with intention. It’s crazy to see that even decades after Gaudi has passed, the church is still under construction and how he planned everything in full knowing that he would never see it finished. My favourite part of the tour was when we learned about the stained glass windows, and Gaudi’s specific instructions for how they should be.

Most people would assume that the more light in a church, the better, but Gaudi insisted that the light be moderated, because both too little and too much light can be blinding.”

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4. “Can we see a menu?”

“You’re looking right at it.”

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5. My father’s heart belongs to the ocean. He cannot help himself but look over the shoulders of fellow fishermen, and his gaze is always locked on ocean. Like him, I am also learning that you only need to lift your eyes slightly over the horizon to set your sights on heaven.

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Korean Food Night

Eating out in Bordeaux is extremely expensive, so I’ve been slowly learning how to cook. Most of the time, it’s super quick meals, because it’s all I know and all I usually have time for. But Hari and Olivia came over the other day, and we made dinner for my roommates! Hari brought an entire suitcase of Korean food over from America (because Asian food is hard to find or extremely expensive here), and she is so dedicated to food that while we were making the meal, she ran back home to get sesame oil, because she said she couldn’t do without it. I am so grateful that she not only taught us how to make a few dishes, but that quality food takes time to make and time to learn. You have to burn yourself on the stove one too many times, put too little or too much salt, and cry a lot from cutting onions until you get it right. I’m making cooking sound brutal, but we had a guiding hand, and putting all the work into chopping potatoes, marinating beef, and pan-frying tofu made sitting down altogether at the table that much more worth it. I am so lucky to have these two by my side here in Bordeaux!

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Moments in Bordeaux

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1. I had my first day of orientation yesterday, and I felt incredibly lucky that I already had friends going into it. It was an exciting and tiring day, and here is a photo of some of my favourite people that I’ve met so far! They seriously look like they came straight out of a magazine

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2. If you Google a picture of Bordeaux, you’ll probably see the quintessential photo of the Miroir D’eau, which is a reflecting pool that mirrors the Place De La Bourse. Last night, a bunch of us exchange students gathered by the pool and soaked in the full moon over the river. It was an occasion to drink straight from the bottle, wander the city centre, and wonder how September can still feel like summer nights.

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3. Since school hasn’t started yet, we are taking every opportunity we can to hit the beach. Today we went to Lacanau Ocean, which is a surfer beach with higher waves, so we swam out until our bodies were just bobbing heads against the horizon and let the tide carry us back to the beach.

“What is the English work for ‘it never ends’?”

Infinite.”

Yeah, I think the ocean is infinite.”

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4. My lovely German friends have a garden in front of their flat, so they hosted us this evening with plenty of drinks and snacks to go around. The conversation was so warm that we missed the last bus home (whoops) and all the candles melted. We kept going around the table talking about how things are like in our home countries and translating words in English, Swedish, and German, and I kept thinking about what Isabelle said to me before:

“If there is one thing that is beautiful in this entire world, it is that everyone is different.”