ICELAND

thursday: jet-lagged eyes make their way into a small café. we fill our plates with salt. we drive forward, dipping our hands into the earth along the way. the land is always in transition here; constantly becoming and unbecoming. a waterfall greets me from afar.

friday: a haven by the lake; half kitschy, mostly home. we watch the glaciers meeting the ocean, introducing one another like a ceremonial song. i count how many ways water can look: 1. falling from above 2. bigger than the horizon 3. floating patiently 4. abandoned on the shore. i lose count.

saturday: after eating scallops on a patio, we go to a place that made me think i was seeing light for the first time. it looks like an indoor sunset, the visual version of wind chimes, a mirror for someone’s heart. i take note that nobody here plays music just to fill the silence.

sunday: our skin is caked with the sea. i give up trying to describe the colour “blue,” letting the word rise up in steam for a while. we have butter, croissants, and a latte with our backs against a window.

monday: we try to beat the sun, but it wins 18-6. the world is overexposed.

 

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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!

LONDON

I’m taking a break from the writing game for a little bit, but here are some photos from my trip to London. I had the most wonderful time with my roommate, and her gracious friend Stefanie who let me stay at her place the whole weekend with her wonderful housemates! I spent lots of time at the markets and met loads of great people, including this British guy who came up to me on the dance floor, yelled, “WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT THE LONDON GRIMES?” and then proceeded to freestyle rap at me until his friend dragged him away and apologized for him being too drunk. Cheers to London!

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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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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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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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