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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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.

HAMBURG

Even though I was in Europe for less than 2 weeks, I decided to go out on a limb and take a solo trip to the beautiful city of Hamburg! Unfortunately, my trip had to be cut short, because Air France went on strike during my time there, so my 5-day stay pretty much turned into a 3-day one, which was not enough to see all that the city has to offer. I still tried to make the best of it, and here are some stories and photos:

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1. The Reeperbahn Festival – I was missing Canada a little bit, and oddly enough, flying to Germany brought me close to some west coast sounds. I saw some of my favourite Vancouver and Calgary bands play, and was super stoked to see Brian work his magic on the cello! There is something about seeing a familiar face in an unfamiliar place that makes a city feel both brand new and like a place that’s recognizable.

The Reeperbahn is a street filled with bars, strip clubs, and other questionable things, and it’s famous for having Hamburg’s Red Light District. It was super cool to see the whole area turned into a festival for concerts, film, art, spoken word and other creative ventures. I should have made better use of my ticket, but the time that I spent wandering in and out of venues seeing artists from all over the world was incredible. The air was electric, and in every corner (and even underground), there were bands playing from every genre. It’s crazy that all these people come to see artists they’ve never heard of and are completely receptive to it. A lot of the bars were jam-packed, and for one of Jordan Klassen’s shows, there were listeners lined up outside the window just to catch a few hints of melody. Not to mention, it was so great that even in a foreign city, there was a group of Canadians belting out the lyrics to all of We Are The City’s songs, and it all felt like an extended deja vu – the kind of “I’ve seen this before” that is good and familiar.

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JORDAN KLASSEN

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BOREAL SONS

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WE ARE THE CITY

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2. One of my favourite areas that I explored was Sternschanze. My friend Anna wrote me a guide to Hamburg before I left, and she described it as, “the place where all the hipsters live,” haha. There’s a dreamy coffee shop there called Kaffee Elbgold, and tons of cute little boutiques and unique stores that specialize in things like cabinet knobs and buttons.

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3. If you ever want to meet one of the most genuine human beings in the world, you should meet Max! He and his family hosted me for the weekend, and I was blown away by what Germany hospitality looks like. I was so well taken care of this week, and my heart is full of gratitude. There were so many mishaps like empty bike racks, broken elevators, and endless ways fate was being unkind to us, but we kept telling ourselves to look at the bright side, and it still ended up being the best day with the best beer and the best food. It was not enough time to look at everything in depth, but if you only have a short glance at a city, it’s always good to have someone by your side who looks at his home through rose coloured glasses (meant in the best way possible!) and used to study some history. We went through HafenCity using every means of transportation possible – we biked, we drove, we walked, we bussed, we trained, and we took a boat, and I think a day in Hamburg with someone so positive, sacrificial, and has a heart of gold is better than a week there alone.

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4. It’s hard not to fall in love with a city with so much water in it. All of Hamburg is laced with rivers and revolves around the Alster Lake, and Max told me that it’s the city that has the most bridges in the world (this still needs to be fact checked). I really believe that cities like this aren’t built; they’re grown from the bottom up.

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5. “If you had a boat, what would you name it?”

“Fernweh.”

“What does that mean?”

“You know the feeling of being homesick? It’s the opposite of that.”

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6. I ask to stop while we are riding to try to snap the red brick walls and glowing waters of Speicherstadt, but my hands are too shaky to capture the light. A passing by photographer lends me his tripod, and I try over and over again, but it still doesn’t look right. We walk away and Max says to me, “It’s okay, we’ll just save a photograph in our minds.” And I think about how it feels like a well-kept secret that only we know what this place looked like at this specific time. Sometimes there are better places to store images than memory cards, and sometimes our hands are too clumsy to catch the light, but it doesn’t mean there aren’t other ways to do it.