Amsterdam

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1. I took my first real solo trip to Amsterdam over the weekend, and it was frustrating, but I also think it was a necessary and important experience for me to have. My luggage didn’t make it with me on the plane, so I had to go a few days with only the things I had in my backpack. I could only buy the bare necessities, because my credit card wasn’t working and I left a majority of my cash in my luggage (super smart, I know), so it was a very minimalistic weekend. Regardless, it was good for me to be alone for a few days. I could take everything in at my own pace. I could process everything on my own time. I’m a lot more emotional when I’m on my own, and I think everyone needs to have the space to feel what they need to feel and stop when they feel overwhelmed. It was annoying dealing with the luggage situation without any help and scary taking on a completely new city without someone by my side, but at the same time, it was also nice to adventure without the pressure of filling time or going to the “must-see” things.

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2. The main reason I chose to come to Amsterdam this particular weekend was so I could see one of my favourite artists, Owen Pallett, perform live. He’s been on the top of my list for the past 4 years, and the show was definitely the highlight of my trip. I couldn’t believe how incredible the venue was. The concert was in a small lounge area at the top of the Muziekgebouw aan’t IJ, which is a glass contemporary music space that overlooks the canals of Amsterdam. It was intimate, with couches and hanging lights in the background, and it was probably one of the most beautiful venues I’ve ever been in. I was blown away by how Owen Pallett live loops, swooned by the gentleness and dissonance of his violin fingers, and surprised by his dry sarcasm. The night was cosmic and ethereal, and I’ve never cried at a concert before this, but it happened (like I said, I am much more emotional when I am alone, haha).

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3. I was really impressed by the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, not because there were a bunch of famous paintings, but because it gave a really a visceral perspective on his life. I love the way he paints as if people were made of earth, the way he compared himself to a monk or a nun in his dedication to art, and the way he believed that hands were the most expressive part of the body. My favourite part of the museum was where you could listen to letters that were written between Vincent and his brother Theo, who was his most trusted confidant. You could tell how much he loved his brother, because he spent time picking his words the same way he mixes his paint colours until they are just right.

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4. The Amsterdam floating flower market is one of the dreamiest places I’ve ever been to. The first thing I saw were these huge pink floral clouds hanging from the ceilings and I couldn’t believe it was real. Everything smells so fresh, and you can buy just about everything flower- and plant-related… including a Grow-Your-Own-Weed starter kit, ha.

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5. I spent most of my time wandering aimlessly through the streets, bridges and canals of the city. Amsterdam is really just a great place to walk through, because every building is so unique, but somehow they all fit together. There are plenty of cafes around to duck into if you’re tired or cold, and I think it’s been the best city I’ve been too aesthetically. You literally can’t go 30 seconds without seeing a bike or something on a bike, which makes everything even cuter, but also more dangerous as a pedestrian, because instead of watching for 2 lanes of car traffic, you have to watch for 4 and sometimes 6, because of the bike lanes and tram lines.

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6. The last thing I did in the city was go to the Anne Frank House. It was an incredibly sombering experience, and there was one video of her best friend talking about her experiences with Anne at Auschwitz that really broke my heart. I liked that at the end of it all, there was hope for better things to come – for healing and for things to be different. My favourite quote I heard was this:

“Her would-haves can be our reality. Her would-haves are our opportunities.”

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7. The first thing the receptionist said to me when I arrived was, “Be careful of the stairs! They’re dutch!” All the stairs were very steep and narrow, and for the most part, they’re like that in all the buildings in Amsterdam. It makes sense, because all the houses are also very tall and narrow. And when I thought about it a bit more, maybe that’s why the Netherlands have the tallest people in the world (the average for a man is 6 ft!). It’s like how fish grow bigger when they are put in bigger bowls, so I guess this might be true for humans too (but don’t ask me to back up my theory with scientific facts, haha). Maybe if I stayed there a little longer, I would grow taller as well.

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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!

ERICEIRA / NAZARÉ

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone that I’ve jetted off yet again to another country. I’m doing my last big trip before heading home, but the past few days have been much, much different than the way things have been for the past few months.

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1. It’s safe to say that I’m tired. Travelling has been an incredible experience, but going to 5-hour classes Monday through Friday, dragging my luggage to school so I can head to the airport as soon as the weekend hits, and then jam-packing an entire city or even multiple cities into 3-4 days has been overwhelming and leaves me hungover in more ways than one. So it’s been about time that I took a real, down-to-earth vacation and found some rest in the midst of trying to see all of Europe in 3 months.

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2. Three days ago, we packed our bags and got on a plane to Lisbon. But before hitting up the big city, we decided to rent a car and road trip to a small surf village called Ericeira. We stayed in an Airbnb facing the ocean, slept in till whenever we wanted, and spent a lot of time relaxing. The first night, our power went out, so we ate a home-cooked dinner by candlelight, wrapped ourselves up in blankets, and drank hot tea. It was the coziest I have been for a long time.

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3. Ericeira is evidently a summer town, so during our stay there, it felt absolutely deserted. Despite that, it was still nice to wander the sleepy streets and crooked pathways. A lot of the houses had pure white walls with colourful detailing (kinda how I imagine Greece looks like); others were patterned like ceramic dishes. It was such a quiet, but beautiful place to be.

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4. After walking through the Old City, we spent the rest of our afternoon driving along the coast and beach-hopping. It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a car, and I forgot how much I love road tripping. There is something different about getting into a car with a bunch of people you love, turning up the music, and going your own way through the countryside. It offers a different perspective of a place, and you have so much more control over where and when you want to go, stay, stop, and leave. We stopped at multiple beaches, climbed a lot of stairs, and watched surfers dance through the waves. I’m always amazed at how brave they are when the waters are freezing and the ocean can be such an unpredictable force.

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5. This morning we drove north along the coast to watch waves in Nazaré. Apparently, the waves there get up to 30 meters high!!! The tide wasn’t that crazy when we were there, but we were up on the cliffs and we could still feel the ocean spray on our skin. Again, the little village was dead silent, but I think the raging waters made up for it in movement and noise.

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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.

SWITZERLAND

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1. An excerpt from a letter I received right before I left for Switzerland:

“‘He climbed a mountain and invited those He wanted with Him. They climbed with Him.’ – Mark 3:13

So many significant things happen when Jesus goes to a mountain – the transfiguration, the sermon on the mount, the temptation by the enemy. But so many seemingly ordinary things, like praying and simply being with His disciples. I want to pray this image over you today.”

I never thought I would miss seeing mountains so much, but it has always been nice looking up and seeing something constant; to know that there is always something sacred within your peripherals.

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2. We trained through 4 cities in 4 days, but we spent most of our time in Interlaken, which is a quiet little town that is simultaneously retirement paradise and every adrenaline junkie’s dream. The town is wedged between two of the most turquoise lakes I have ever seen, and when I got out of the train station, I did a 360 turn and everywhere I looked, there was a mountain in sight. It’s a different kind of paradise.

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3. We hiked up to Harder Kulm, and it was 3 hours of uphill sweating, snow slipping, and heaving breathing, but we went through golden forest, rolling green hills, and fields of snow, and the view at the top was insane, so it was definitely worth every step. On our way up, we met a very cute Swiss couple who had just come back from a trip across America, had done exchange in Australia, and were heading to Bali next week for a year. They’re not the first people I’ve met on this trip who’s goals are travel-oriented. I’ve talked to Australian backpackers (so many Australian backpackers!), an Irish woman who fell in love with Southeast Asia, and a Frenchman who’s dream is to move to Chile – all of them always thinking about where they are heading next. And I often feel the same. My next month’s itinerary is packed, and I’m already thinking about where I’m going to jet off to next year. But one thing is for certain: the place I’m most excited to travel to is Vancouver. It doesn’t matter how many mountains I climb or how many places I see the ocean from, home is special and I think my home has the best mountains and the best ocean.

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4. Usually I pass out on trains, but while we rode through Switzerland, I couldn’t help but try to battle the window reflections and attempt to catch a few shots of what we were passing by. It’s HaRi’s dream to move here for a few years, and I see that dream in full force now. Every time I looked up, it was a change of scene, and I couldn’t believe how this country is a postcard come to life.

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5. We met a girl named Sofia on one of our train rides. She was a violinist who had left home to chase her dreams of becoming a professional soloist, and she was travelling to Switzerland to take a master class.

Chasing a dream like this will kill you if you don’t love it. You have to love it.”

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6. Zurich is a city that feels like Christmas. It is so full of light and life, and I love the way how people still insist on sitting outdoors even though it’s freezing out, so restaurants and cafes leave blankets out for their customers. We warmed our hands with hot coffee, even though the waiter laughed at us for ordering espressos instead of gin and tonics at 9 pm (“The cows go to bed after 6!”), and we filled out stomachs with fondue in the coziest bistro. On Sunday morning, Zurich was slate grey with overcast skies and a silver lake, and it was still beautiful but it was the first time I have ever seen a place more colorful in the dark than the light.

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Becoming Home

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1. Some places become home without you noticing. It starts with the first time you get a good night’s sleep. And then one day, you find yourself saying, “I’ll be home soon,” or “I come home next Wednesday.” Sometime home looks like a thief in the night stealing away all the things that made you feel unsafe. When you wake in the morning, it smells like hot coffee and tastes like fresh bread, and you realize that when you weren’t looking, everything that kept rest from smelling and tasting like that has been taken away. Home comes when you start to trust instead of recite, and you are welcomed with arms of empathy instead of fear. It sneaks up behind you and you catch yourself thinking: “This is what it’s supposed to be like.”

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2. No matter how many times I order coffee here, I’m always surprised that it comes in tiny cups.

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3. Have you ever noticed that vintage stores smell the same no matter where you are? A lot of people hate it, but I’d like to think that it’s what stories and history smell like – like old books or a musk that can only be created by time.

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4. I almost deleted this photo because there was an out-of-place body, but I kept it because I liked how the surfers look like birds on a wire, but out in the ocean instead of the sky. We were watching a group of surf students warm up on the beach, and somebody pointed out how you could tell how eager they all were to get into the water. They reminded me of toy cars all wound up to be released, and when their teacher finally said, “Go,” they were let go like cannonballs into the sea.

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5. This is the garden of our house that we’re not allowed to go in. I often stand on our balcony and dream about having breakfast in the garden or having a candle-lit party there like we sometimes do at Anna’s. There are grape vines that crawl all the way up to the second floor, and I think about whether the world’s greatest love story would have changed if Juliette had been brave enough to climb down the branches instead of waiting for Romeo to come up to her. Today while I looked down, I wondered why we are so fixated on forbidden fruit and why the heart longs for the things it cannot have. But in this case, the grass is literally greener on the other side.

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6. It’s been nice unravelling Bordeaux bit-by-bit. I’m so used to shotgunning cities like freshman beers – trying to drink it all as quickly as possibly, but usually half of it slips past sloppy lips and ends up on the concrete. But here, we live in a paradox of having all the time in the world and having only 4 short months, but it is a good paradox to be in. We meander through newly discovered streets, and make “next time” lists, knowing that “next time” could be tomorrow or next week or maybe even never, but at least the possibility of sooner than later keeps the list ever-growing. This is often what hope is: a list that knows it will probably never be completed, but keeps growing anyways.

SCHOOL

After two weeks of extended summer vacation, I’ve finally had to trade in my afternoons at the beach for 8:30 am classes. Here are a few thing about school so far:

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1. The name of my school is Kedge Business School. On our first day of orientation, we were told that a “kedge” is a small anchor, because they want to teach us core values that keep us anchored as we go out into the business world.

2. My classes are on a sequence system instead of semesters. We take 1-2 classes every cycle, and every cycle is one month. The first two weeks of the cycle are classes, then we get one week off, and then exams. Yes. I get one week off every month, which is pretty much every exchange student’s dream.

3. For reasons I still can’t comprehend, every morning, we gather in front of these big tv screens that tell us where our classes are going to be. It’s not because we don’t have enough classrooms, because we do, and it feels like nobody, including our professors, knows why we do this.

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4. This is my favourite word that we have learned so far. I somehow fluked my French placement test and winded up in the most advanced class where we were watching the French news and talking about politics in French. I was a little in over my head so I switched classes, and now I’m in a class where we act out scenarios of people ordering coffee.

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5. We rise with the sun, and I’ve switched my routine so I can take slow mornings on the balcony with coffee and cream, yet we still always find ourselves running for the bus. Today, I had to stop mid-sprint to snap a photo, because it looked like the sun was saying hello.