Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Order up!

I'm happy to announce that Travels of a Free Spirit - Europe 2012 (the book) is ready for the world to see! Since landing in Vancouver, I have been plugging away at it slowly but surely and am excited to finally be able to share it with you.

The design approach was to take my audience on a 'journey' through the book as if they were travelling with me through Europe; Moving, experiencing, discovering, and uncovering. To achieve this, I kept the design clean and simple with focus on large photographs and journal entries. Can't forget the lovely white space I weaved in there to give ones eye a break and the supporting quotes to further inspire a potential journey of your own.

Creating this one has inspired me to create more photobooks that capture a more unique perspective of life so we'll see what other editions I decide to put out there in 2013.


To purchase, please follow this link:

Monday, August 13, 2012

Happy New Year!

While some people's "fresh start" comes with ringing in a new year, mine will come with my one year anniversary of being single - which happens to fall a couple of days after my birthday. And yes, I'll be celebrating - damn skippy! - but I'll also be reflecting on the year that has past and the year ahead.

At the beginning of my "new year", I was in a hole so deep, I sought therapy to try to get out of it. My heart had been shattered along with my hopes, dreams, and my direction. Who was I? What was I going to do with the rest of my life? How will I survive without my life partner? When you lose someone you consider to be your best friend and who you hold so closely to your heart, it feels like the world as you know it, has just ended.

As the months went by, I slowly picked up the pieces and (as you know) I decided that this would be the year that I would explore, make bad decisions, take risks, try new things, and get out of my comfort zone - along with getting out of my own way. Reflecting on that year, I can see where all of that has taken me, all it has taught me, all of the people it has opened me up to. From terrible choices and shameful mistakes (which I will not publicize) to euphoria's and moments of pride & gratitude, I have finally got back the person I had really lost...me.

Of course this anniversary, makes me think of my ex - who (according to a source) is happily in a new relationship. They seem to be a lot more compatible than we ever were too. Had this been months ago, I would have wondered "why not me?" but now I can't help but say "I'm truly happy for them." Being out in the dating world, I know the challenges of finding someone who you click with and is looking for the same things you are in life so I can honestly say, "Good for them" without being snide or hateful. I never thought I'd feel that way - EVER - so it's nice to know I'm moving past the hurt I once felt and wishing him the best in life. That comes with knowing who you are, what you really want, and of course, time. Had we met now, I hate to say, I probably wouldn't pursue a relationship with him due to the fact we want & need different things. Hindsight's a bitch.

I also realized, I didn't have to become single to do the things I wanted to do. Nor does anyone. I just had to be brave enough to choose it, to take the steps to achieve it, to not let anyone stop me. It's a tough thing to seize moments that you have always feared to face. I was lucky enough to get that window of opportunity.

"Sometimes we are forced in a direction we ought to have found on our own. What we do, does not define who we are. What defines us is how well we rise after falling."

So with this new year, I will ring it in with some good cheer, good friends & family, and with a whole new list of things to do, see, and learn.

The biggest epiphany of the year: Sometimes our biggest hurts are our best lessons.
And that life is one big irony.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Travels of a Free Spirit : The Book

Since landing in Gastown a few weeks ago, it has been a whirlwind of adventure and exploration. The European traveller in me has been reawakened and I am thoroughly enjoying the perks of being so close to so many amenities and friends, and truly appreciating my short, 10-minute walk to work.

While my weekdays are mostly filled with work, my evenings (during the week) are open to exploring the neighbourhood, shopping, sitting in cafes. My weekends tend to be a little more lively, venturing to other parts of Vancouver, having dinners, drinks, and letting lose at a dance club with friends. Life as a local is so carefree, simple, spontaneous; Everything my free spirit could have asked for.

With the spare time I have, I will be concentrating my efforts on a travel book that is a compilation of my journal entries, blog posts, and photos. And if all goes well with this one, I hope to create a Gastown edition.

But for now, here is a sneak peak of the intro page of the Europe 2012 book.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Home sweet home

There was a time not so long ago where I never felt settled in my home life. I never felt like I could kick my shoes off and relax the way I really wanted to, have friends over when I wanted, decorate how I wanted. The places I rented always felt "borrowed" and temporary - as if any minute we'd be picking up and moving somewhere else.

I absolutely hated this feeling.

I remember last spring I woke up one morning and said to my ex, "Let's get rid of everything and start fresh." Of course he didn't feel the same and felt it was wasteful or, worse, crazy. My justification was, "We'd be donating or selling everything so we really had nothing to lose." He still didn't get why we needed to put ourselves through all that hassle. Then again, he was always the logical (safe) one. Whereas me...well, I have crazy ideas and tend to follow them. In art class (for example), I would spend hours on a painting, see it to completion, and then white wash it so I could start again. For the record, my second "go" was far better than the first.

But I digress...

My point of view at the time was that the furniture we had been using, came from relationships past - hand-me-downs from a time when we didn't have the cash to buy something WE liked. We were older now, years into the relationship, and had some cash reserves in the bank. I felt it was about time to start building our home life the way we wanted. Unfortunately (or fortunately) we never got there.

Funny enough though, a year later, I still felt that need of cleansing myself and starting from scratch. So I did and decided Gastown would be where I settled. Not only is it minutes from work but it's around the corner from some of the best eating, drinking, and shopping spots in town. I start to wonder why I didn't do it before. But I know why I didn't and it's ok. The point is, I'm here now and I can't put to words how amazing it feels to be in a place that suits me so well. From the cobblestone streets to the colourful characters who roam those same streets, nothing has felt more right. It's eclectic, it's artistic, it's vibrant, it's home. Finally.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

One step at a time

In Europe I was taught to put one foot in front of the other instead of my usual pace of jumping leaps and bounds. There was really no other option but to live moment to moment.

Turns out this is true in life as well. Who knew?!

As my furniture was being taken away on Saturday, I noticed my cat was exhibiting some strange behaviour; Coughing, laboured breathing, panting. At first I thought it just might be a really bad hairball but since he hadn't touched his food, I knew it wasn't. After calling the vet to explain the symptoms, they told me to bring him in ASAP so I packed him up and flew to the ER clinic in a cab.

At the ER, they rushed him to the back while the front desk took my information. I had no idea what was happening but I got the sense it wasn't good. A few minutes later, the vet gave me a quote on what it would cost to diagnose his potential heart condition and get him back to good health since he was in very critical condition. I looked at the large number and was shocked at how much a little animal costs to heal. Even still, money was no object as I didn't know what the issue was so I agreed to carry through with treating and properly diagnosing him. It took all night and most of the next day to successfully stabilize his condition and be diagnosed with congestive heart failure. It's something he was born with, is 100% irreversible, and will shorten his life greatly. Luckily, he can still live a couple more happy years with the help of a daily medication. As she continued to explain everything I had to do to keep him in good health, I was overwhelmed to the point where I felt I was being buried alive. This little life was in my hands - literally. Without his daily heart pill, he will die. Talk about pressure!

My cat wasn't the only thing running through my head; I had just rid myself of ALL of my furniture. With the rest of my money going to take care of my Tucker, I had no monies left for new furniture. I was furniture-less - of my own doing too.

It's been an emotional few days but such as life I guess. Change is always hard - no matter what form it comes in - so I will embrace this adversity as I have previously and look forward to the opportunity to learn and grow stronger from it - one step at a time.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Heave ho and letting go

Looking at a room full of furniture you will be ridding yourself of, can bring up some interesting emotions.

When I was emptying out drawers, shelves, and breaking everything down for the junk removal guys, I had some weepy moments. I came to terms with the fact that I'm letting go of the life I used to have (and share) with someone. I'm letting go of the person I used to be. I'm embracing the life I've wanted for so long and transforming into the person I want to be. It's always tough to say goodbye but also just as exciting so the tears were that of sadness and joy. Who knew we could feel two opposing feelings at one time.

According to Louis L. Hay, 'In order to make room for the new, we must release the old and the outworn. This is true for physical items as well as for mental ideas'.

So I wonder what a room full of furniture equates to - other than new furniture? What new ideas, thoughts, and beliefs will come of this upheaval?

We will find out soon enough.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A New Beginning

After signing off on my last post, I figured this blog would be a distant memory until my next big trip. To tell you the truth, I started to miss writing in it. I quite enjoyed sharing my experiences and stories with people who took the time to read it so I have decided to keep writing. Even though I may not be in Europe, I am still travelling through life as a free spirit and always have a perspective or a story to share so I will continue to write until I have nothing left to say.

As you know, the plan was to move to Vancouver after I got back. Well as of June 16th, that's exactly what I'll be doing. I found a small studio loft in Gastown which will be a 5 minute walk to work and in the vicinity of some great food, great entertainment, and great friends. I can't believe it happened so quickly but when I decide I want to do it, it tends to happen sooner than later.

The dejunking has commenced which means some buried memories and feelings have come to the surface. It's like an archaeological dig. Some things you come across are wonderful finds while others are shattered pieces of something that once was and cannot be put back together. Most of the latter, I feel I have let go of as it no longer serves a purpose in my life. This also includes furniture that was accumulated when I was coupled with someone which no longer suits my taste.

Am I frickin' nuts?! Sometimes I wonder.

Getting rid of all my furniture seems a bit mad, yes, but maybe that's why I'm enjoying it so much? For the first time in a very long time I am following my crazy gut feelings, my illogical whims, my impulsive nature, just like I used to. When I didn't have someone hovering over me, criticizing my every move. It feels good to feed that beast because the curious cat in me wonders what will come of it. What will my new life look like? And there's the beauty! I can build it, create it, fashion it...any way I want.

And this, is just the beginning.

Monday, May 28, 2012

5:30PM - Rome : Day 19

My last day in Rome was spent at the Colosseum and Roman Forum. I didn't realize my tour included both so I was quite excited. The one good thing I do have to say about tours is that you meet people. The smaller ones even more-so.

There was a group of older folks from Seattle that chatted me up and asked me all about my travels as a single gal in Europe. They asked me to lunch but later abandoned me since the cab they hailed only carried their group of 4. Nice! So I cabbed back to the Vatican area with a young Australian couple and ended up having lunch with them. It was their first time in Europe too and were just starting their journey so we were exchanging tips and stories about our travels thus far. They had another tour in the afternoon so we parted ways and I spent the afternoon getting lost, having a cappuccino, and trying out some delicious desserts at a cafe. At this point, I think it's safe to say I need to buy some bigger pants when I get back. Mama mia!

I also think it's safe to say that I'm ready to come home. As much as I tried to take advantage of my days in Rome, to be perfectly honest, I'm exhausted. After 19 fun-filled, inspirational days and 1100 photos, my ability to go at full speed day-in and day-out had been slowly waning since Florence. Living out of my suitcase is also getting a wee-bit tiresome and I am starved for good old fashioned conversation and socializing with friends and loved ones. This can only mean one thing...I had the time of my life!

Just like ancient Rome was used as a foundation for the modern Rome we know today, I would like to think that my past experiences - as well as this trip - can act as a foundation for my life moving forward. As the religious man on the metro told me, "you need a foundation in your life". Well, maybe this was it? Maybe this was my "attraversiamo" moment where I leave behind all of my past hurts and failures and start fresh? One can hope!

To be honest, I'm not really sure if anything has changed since first starting this journey (except maybe my pant size) but I definitely do feel like the clouds have been cleared away and I'm more confident in myself and my direction in life. That's definitely something!

Since I won't have much to report on coming home, this post marks the last one until the next trip. I have a 5am start so it'll be an early night for me.

Thanks so much for joining me along the way. I hope you have enjoyed the updates as much as I have enjoyed sharing them. See you all when I get back.

Ciao amici!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

10:45PM - Rome : Day 18

I had an unusually lazy day today. I rolled out of bed around 8:30, ate my breakfast at a glacial pace, and headed out around 10. I passed the Vatican on my journey out and stopped to take in a small part of Sunday mass from the street. The bells tolled as the the sound of the choir filled every crevice for miles. It was a very peaceful start to my day.

After that, I walked around the city coming across some fountains and ruins, doing a bit of shopping, and reading a book in the park while making some interesting observations.

If Rome had one word to describe it, it would be LOVE. And it was full of it today.

Everywhere I looked, people were kissing, hugging, holding hands, making out. Even the book I picked up by Elizabeth Gilbert called "Committed" - the sequel to Eat, Pray, Love - is ALSO about love and the institution of marriage.

Am I being subconsciously influenced by my surroundings? Or am I grasping at straws trying to find a little hope for my own romantic future?

Being jaded by love, I find it hard to believe it truly exists. The hopeless romantic in me though, won't let me give up on the idea. Nor will Italy. Whether it's the Love Locks in Florence, the coin tosses in the Trevi Fountain, or the couples dolling out affections as I snap their photograph atop Duomos, it's a hard concept to ignore!

I told someone once that I was perfectly fine being on my own, taking care of myself, and that I didn't need anyone. While sure that may be true, he reminded me that needing and wanting are two different things - to which I would have to agree with. As much as friends and family are there to share life with, there is something to be said about having someone special in your life to share everyday moments with. This is what I truly miss about being in a relationship.

Then on the other hand, there are moments where I'm thankful for not being tied down to any one person right now. That was reaffirmed in Venice when I happened to overhear a conversation two girls were having at the table over from me. It was a full on, hour-and-a-half dish session about their crappy boyfriends. Complaints were dished out, justifications and excuses were made, and the conversation never strayed from this topic. These girls were absolutely consumed by their relationships and the downfalls. What's worse, is that they were in Venice - away from these boyfriends - and still consumed by them. This is what terrifies me about being in a relationship; The potential to get completely lost in love. More importantly, the wrong love.

The control-freak in me wants to think there's a perfect recipe for an ever-lasting love to which you don't lose yourself and you stay on course. If only you had the perfect partner, at the perfect time, under the perfect set of circumstances all would work out. But how would one ever grow from that? What would be the purpose of love if it didn't change you or throw you off course in some way - even if you do lose that love down the road? I know from personal experience, loving (and losing) definitely yielded me some wonderful opportunities that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. It has also given me a great deal of insight into myself and what I want for my future.

So really, in looking at it that way, one can't go wrong to find love, to fall in love. Maybe that's why the Italians are so big on it. It's an important part of your own personal evolution and...

...it's worth it.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

11:30PM - Rome : Day 17

There is a perk to sticking around your hotel room at night; Getting a beautiful view of the Dome of St. Peter's Basilica from your hotel room.

Earlier this evening, I grabbed some pizza for dinner, brought it back to my room, threw on a movie, and relaxed for the rest of the night. I also did some apartment hunting. Yes I'm moving to Vancouver when I get back! 

Why? Well, this trip made me realize a few things....

1) I really do hate commuting
My favourite cities in Europe were the ones that I could step out of my hotel/B&B and be a 5 minute walk from anywhere I wanted to go; restaurants, shopping, markets, museums, transit. I loved strolling and knowing that I didn't have to work in a commute time into my day/night. I didn't have to worry about making the train home or worry about late night bus schedules. It was very freeing.

2) New city, new opportunity
With each city I've visited here, I have had to bend, flex, shift, and adjust in order to make things work, to figure things out, to find my way. And I think I've done quite well so adjusting to Vancouver living shouldn't be all that different. More importantly though, had I stayed in one place, I would have never met the people I did, seen the sights I saw, get a taste for different foods, and experience the richness of each language. Moving to Vancouver will not only be a piece of cake in comparison but with it will bring a whole new chapter in life with new opportunities; Just like each European city I've visited. 

3) There's never a perfect time for change
I guess I had been waiting for something to happen for me to have a reason to move to Vancouver. I hate moving. It's such a hassle and it's expensive...bla bla bla. Excuses? Probably. As creatures of habit & routine, we hate change and tend to stick with what works and what's comfortable. Where I live now, was exactly that. Being out of my comfort zone for a little over 2 weeks has made me come to realize that there is no such thing as a comfort zone. It's all relative. Kinda like "home is where the heart is". So whether I'm in a city in Europe or Vancouver, it really makes no difference. Vancouver is where I work, where I play, and somewhere I've always wanted to live. I have the means and the opportunity to move there so why the hell am I not doing it? Why am I waiting for that "perfect" moment to make that move? If there's any "perfect" moment in my life, it's now. Carpe diem!

So there ya have it. An evening in my hotel room and a world of thought. Just for the record though, these realizations didn't ALL happen tonight.

After all, Rome wasn't built in a day!

5:45PM - Rome : Day 17

Il dolce far niente. Italian for 'the sweetness of doing nothing'.

That is what I will be practicing tonight after a full day walking tour through the Vatican, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Basilica. The amount of walking and sheer number of people I had to wade through today is enough to make me finished with sight-seeing for a very long time.

Our guide was pretty good. Very knowledgeable, very funny, and very Italian. He took no shit from the officers throughout the Vatican telling us to keep moving, 'shushing' people who were too loud, and telling eaves-droppers that weren't on our tour to carry on since we paid good money for a guided tour and they didn't. I loved it :) He also gave us a 30-second window to photograph whatever we wanted when we got into the Sistine Chapel even though we weren't supposed to. Of course I snagged a shot of The Creation of Adam.

Boy, it's a good thing my B&B served me a cart of breakfast items at my door this morning - cereal, freshly baked croissants, fruit, juice, milk, coffee - all of which I thoroughly enjoyed in bed. Had they not, I'm not sure I would have survived the day on just a cappuccino and croissant.

There was lots to take in today so I'm not sure I'll do much tonight. I think what I will do is research what I might do and see tomorrow since I have a whole lot of nullo going on until my Colosseum tour on the 28th.

Friday, May 25, 2012

9:30PM - Florence to Rome : Day 16

Arrived safe and sound at my last stop on this European tour - Rome!

It was a scorching 31 degrees today and my suitcase 'fix' didn't work as well as I had hoped so my "5 minute walk" to my B&B from the metro station felt like an hour, uphill all the way, in a parka! (That will be the story I tell my grandchildren.) Luckily my sense of direction has been much better on this last leg of the journey so I didn't lose my way which definitely helped things.

After I found my B&B, I chilled out a bit before heading out to roam the city (no pun intended). I didn't intend to really scope much out since the city of Rome is HUGE and I wasn't sure I could see much given how far everything was spread out so I just started strolling.

I made it over to one of the bridges and thought...'well I'm this far, I might as well keep going'. On to the Piazza Navona and thought...'well, I'm here. Let's keep going'. Then I got to the Pantheon and thought...'what's one more stop?'. Finally ended up at the Trevi Fountain and decided to turn back but not before a coin toss.

Coin throwing is a big thing at the Trevi Fountain. Legend has it, if you throw one coin into the fountain it means a return to Rome, a second coin leads to a new romance (some say with an Italian), and a third coin leads to marriage (hopefully to that same Italian). I'm not going to tell you how many I threw in but I'm sure you can take a guess :)

I took a different route back to my B&B and was led to some other interesting attractions like the Vittorio Emanuele monument and the Area Sacra. Both very beautiful and interesting. I love how the modern city of Rome is built up around the ancient parts: Like pages in a book, layered one on top of another.

For a plan that didn't include much of anything this afternoon, I sure walked a lot and saw quite a bit. I really should be saving my feet & legs for the two tours I have booked while I'm here; The Vatican which includes St. Peter's Bacilica and The Colosseum. As much as I hate tour groups, I really wanted a guided tour of these two massive pieces of history so I will endure the crowd just a little longer.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

9PM - Florence : Day 15

Well it was another fine day in Florence; The sun was hot and the day was open to do whatever I wanted. With my crowded, people-packed day yesterday, the serenity of the Boboli Garden was just what I needed so that's where I headed first thing.

As I wandered through the maze of greenery, I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland - anticipating a run-in with the Queen of Hearts and her card guards but to no avail. All I found was statues, flowers, birds, and a few museums. I could have spent all day there but I wanted to check out the rest of the gelato festival since I only got to visit one of the many piazza's it was being held in yesterday.

And I'm glad I did since the main piazza (which I missed yesterday) was where the master gelato makers from around Italy were sampling their most decadent flavours! A great way to cool off from the summer heat and appreciate what REAL gelato tastes like. A creamy, flavourful delight!

Later in the evening, I was feeling lazy so I decided hang out in my room and rig up my suitcase for tomorrow's travels. In one of the pockets, I found a long piece of belt-like material with two interlocking clips on each end. I assume it's to attach a smaller bag from the set, to the top of the suitcase. Well, now I'm using it as a handle so I can pull my suitcase instead of having to carry it.Yay! My suitcase blunders have been solved. It seems as though my shout-out for DaVinci's help lastnight paid off!

So yes, it's goodbye to Florence and on to my last city tomorrow - Rome. I have lots going on there so I'm sure the remainder of this trip will fly by. I can't believe it's almost time to go home! It's gone so fast!

Oh and if you aren't on Facebook and want to check out some photos I've taken along the way, please visit my travel photo gallery here. Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

8PM - Florence : Day 14

I spent the day at the Uffizi and Accademia Galleries while also checking out another DaVinci exhibit, the gelato festival, and an open street market.

It was a full day!

Even though I had pre-booked my tickets to both galleries, there was still a small line to get in and once in, it was VERY crowded. As much as I hate crowds, I took my time and eventually, with a little patience, I did get up close and personal with Botticelli's Birth of Venus and Michelangelo's David. I think I gasped when I saw both. Wow! Incredible.

How can one complain about crowds when you're in these galleries seeing pieces of work some can only dream of seeing?!

There was one that made it a point to complain. When the coat check person refused to check a lady's bag, she argued. When her bag continued to be refused, she complained the entire time we were waiting to get in about how ridiculous it was, how disorganized it was, how stupid the whole thing was, and that she just wanted to go home. I was going to say something but I didn't want a confrontation with an ungrateful person ruin my good time.

Then I began to think about how North American's are so used to being catered to and pleased that it's probably a shock when they come here and they don't get waited on hand and foot. I have to admit it was a slight shock for me when I asked for directions, complained about my WiFi, or ordered food, and received a cold, abrupt response. Their curtness came across as aggressive and rude but I then began to realize, it's just their way. This also rings true for the cities themselves, the art, the architecture; It just is what it is. Like it or leave it.

I have a friend who uses this phrase quite frequently and I could never quite grasp how one could be so accepting and carefree in their thinking. (Insert control freak going mental here) Seeing it in context though, I can now understand his point of view.

If something "is what it is", you most likely you can't change it so you have to adjust how you view, think, or react to it. Like the ungrateful lady, her unchecked bag possibly ruined her day. Maybe even her trip. Had she chose to react differently, that one insignificant moment wouldn't have got in the way of the significant one - seeing the art work she travelled so far to see.

Two weeks into the trip, it would be easy for me to express my exhaustion, my sun burned skin, and my tired old soles but I know those things are minor and temporary. I am only here for a short while longer and I'm not gonna let those temporary things get in the way of the things that are going to be long-lasting and meaningful. So off I go for a nice relaxing dinner to soak up a little bit more of Florence in one of the piazza's.

Until tomorrow...buona notte.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

8:45PM - Venice to Florence : Day 13

Despite the hundreds of tourists, annoying mosquitoes buzzing around your ear at night, and the earthquake, I was sad to say goodbye to Venice today. The smell of the ocean, the vaporetto's, the beautiful glass & masks...a beautiful city overall. I hope to return someday to see and do the things I didn't get a chance to.

On to another city though; Full of new experiences.

Unfortunately my suitcase broke on the way here so the handle no longer retracts. I may have to carry it the rest of the way. (Noooooo!) But my hotel in Florence is near the train station, right in the Piazza del Duomo which helps for now. It also made it easy to check out a mechanical DaVinci museum around the corner, Ponte Vecchio, and climb my way to the top of the Duomo. It was stormy today in Florence which gave me a perfect opportunity to snap this shot when I got to the top. This moment made it worth the climb up the hundreds of steps.

Compared to Europe we definitely have it easy with all of our elevators, escalators, and space. That's one thing I would say about travelling here; Pack light, bring good shoes, and ensure your accommodations are near a train station, a metro station, or in and around the places you want to see. It'll save you a lot of hassle.

Tomorrow it's the Accademia and Uffizi galleries.
I also hear there's a gelato festival going on so I'll probably check that out at some point too.

Good times!

Monday, May 21, 2012

9:45PM - Venice : Day 12

It was a gloomy, wet, cold day today but that wasn't gonna stop this West Coast girl from wandering to the island of Burano. Figured I'd give my museum-hopping a rest and do some island hopping instead.

If Murano is quiet, Burano barely has a pulse - I love it :) With Venice being so hectic and swarming with people and boat traffic, Burano was a nice change of pace. I could definitely see myself spending long weekends here if I lived close enough.

After a few hours there, I hopped on a vaporetto which I thought would take me back to Venice but I somehow ended up in Lido. I guess now I can say I've been to both islands and saw lots of scenery along the way. The boats are too much fun to putter around in though - even if you do end up on the wrong island.

When I got back to Venice, I was extremely soggy and wet so it was time to do some laundry and have a slice of pizza. Nothing does pizza like Italy! Mmmm.

And now, like a travelling gypsy, it's time to pack up and head out in the morning for Florence.
See you there!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

6:45PM - Venice : Day 11

I had a bit of a shaky start this morning after an earthquake rattled the northern part of Italy.

My plan was to get up early but I never expected to wake up at 4am to my bed shaking and the light fixture above my bed squeaking as it swayed back and forth. The shaking lasted for a minute and the aftershocks (& sheer worry) managed to keep me awake until 6. My "fight or flight" instincts kicked in and I wanted to pack up right then and make my way to Florence but the "fight" in me wasn't going to let an earthquake keep me from enjoying Venice.

After getting up around 6:30, I headed out for my usual croissant and cappuccino while looking over my map figuring out what I was going to do. My first order of business was to buy a transit pass and once I had that in hand, Venice was mine to explore - earthquake or not. I made my way to some museums including the Dali exhibit - which I wasn't too impressed with - and the Accademia Gallery - where the paintings were a little too biblical for my taste. Even still, I appreciated both for what they were.

As I'm realizing, no one does museums (or croissants) quite like the French. Having said that though, no one does pasta quite like the Italians!

After all the museum hopping was done, I decided Morano would be a nice place to spend the afternoon. While I was sitting near a gondola dock planning my route and figuring out which waterbus to take, the gondola operator chatted with me for a few minutes and gave me some directions to the nearest waterbus station. As I thanked him and walked away he said, "Ciao Butterfly". I gathered he saw my tattoo - hence the nickname - so I wasn't quite sure whether it was creepy (because he was looking at my chest) or sweet (because he called me by a nickname). Maybe a bit of both? Either way, I smiled and trekked on.

The vaporetto's are a great & fun way to get around the city. Once I was on the water, I had memories wash over me of days-gone-by when I spent time on my dad's boat. At that moment, I felt at home. I felt safe.

Murano was quiet and a nice getaway from the craziness of Venice. Lots of glass shops! Wow! I saw a demonstration at the factory and visited the glass museum. I have a new appreciation for glass which I didn't have before I got here.

It started raining so I came back to my room in Venice to grab an umbrella and a few minutes of downtime before I head back out again. A relaxing dinner and some people watching is in store for me tonight.

And hopefully, no more earthquakes. Let's hope that spin on the Turin bull will bring me some luck, in that aspect, for the rest of my journey.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

8:30PM : Milan to Venice - Day 10

I arrived in Venice this afternoon after a 2.5-hour train ride from Milan. When I stepped out of the station I wasn't expecting throngs of people. Yikes! It was overwhelming and I didn't really like all the dodging and weaving I had to do to navigate the streets.

The actual city, on the other hand, is beautiful! Bridges, canals, and no cars but lots of boats which act as buses. No underground metro here!

After I got to my B&B, I settled in and went for a stroll to figure out where things were so I could hit them up first thing tomorrow. I also stopped at a pasta place for dinner where I had the best vegetarian lasagna. Italian waiters though...I tell ya! They make them very cute and sweet here! Luckily I didn't get suckered into another expensive meal but I did, however, enjoy a cappuccino with cocoa powder in the shape of a heart for dessert. I think it's their "thing" but never-the-less, I couldn't help but smile.

On my way back to my B&B, I inquired about a gondola ride for one and was given a minimum price of 80€. The vaperatto's will have to do for now. I'll save the gondola ride for when I come back with the love of my life. Let's just call that an excuse to come back :)

It's an early night for me since I'll be up with the sun. I not only want to wander the streets & take some photographs of the city without people roaming them but I want to get to the museums before the crowd wakes up. A Dali exhibit is in town - YES! - so I'll be checking that out along with a few others.

Night all!

Friday, May 18, 2012

9PM - Milan : Day 9

If I were to describe Milan as a person it would be a well-dressed business man in a very expensive suit who takes life too seriously, is all work and no play. Strictly nose to the grindstone.

And to me, this is boring.

So as much as I hate to admit it, Milan isn't a city that I will be returning to. It has been less inspiring than the other cities I've visited thus far. I've spent a lot of time "filling time" browsing the shops for items I couldn't afford, going to the Castello Sforzesco, eating gelato in front of the Cathedral, sketching, writing in my journal, and doing a lot of people watching. I haven't found much to photograph that truly sparked my interest so my camera got a bit of a break. Having said that though, I still appreciated what Milan had to offer.

This evening I viewed the Last Supper. We only had 15 minutes and I spent every moment of that soaking it all in. It was larger than I expected. Needless to say I felt honoured to be standing in front of it, seeing it with my own two eyes. Absolutely incredible.

In a million years, I never thought I'd be seeing something that I only saw in books and studied in school - just like the Mona Lisa and other important works I've seen. I left with a smile on my face which nothing could have erased. It was a combination of pride and a wonderment of what else life has in store for me. Seeing these masterpieces in person was always a pipe dream for me which I never thought would be realized. Now after seeing these pieces in person and knowing it is possible, I am curious to know what else is?

I celebrated with a glass of Italian red wine, a dish of cannelloni, and of course, a cappuccino for dessert. As I sat and ate, I smiled with hope and excitement.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

7:30PM - Milan : Day 8

When I advertised my itinerary to my friends, a few of them asked me, "Why are you going to Milan?" I now understand why they asked. There's not as much to do here as I originally thought. The only thing I really had booked was the Last Supper and the rest of the time was left for me to explore and be spontaneous. But since I was unsure as to what to explore, most of my morning was spent figuring that out.

After my cappuccino and croissant this morning, I went back to my hotel to grab a few pamphlets that tickled my fancy, a metro pass from reception, and a map of the stations and attractions. I circled the places I wanted to check out and headed off for the day.

Went to the Plaza del Duomo and spent a bit of time admiring the Cathedral and strolled into the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II where I took a spin on the bulls balls. It is rumoured to be good luck!

After which I had the most expensive lunch of my life; Caprese salad complete with buffalo mozzarella, a bottled water (since they didn't have tap water), and a very LARGE cappuccino. 35€ later...yea like I said, most expensive lunch EVER! I blame the cute Italian waiter who served me. I'm such a sucker!... And hooked on cappuccinos! For a girl who hardly ever drank coffee, I have suddenly found myself craving one for breakfast and after dinner. I blame Peter...and the Europeans.

I wandered for the rest of the afternoon, went to the laundromat, and did some research online to figure out what the HELL else to do! There was a DaVinci exhibit (the Codex Atlanticus) at the Veneranda Biblioteca Ambrosiana so I HAD to go. I also read there was a great place called Luini's where they made the BEST panzerotti's so I checked that out too. It's like a calzone but made with a sweet-type of pizza bread. You can get it in a savory flavours as well as sweet. I had the mozza & prosciutto and it was absolutely delicious!! It was a cheap dinner since I completely splurged on lunch.

I had an interesting conversation with a man about religion on the metro in my travels today. He was dressed in a black suit with a black shirt so I assume he may have been a priest but I wasn't sure. He initially asked me a question in Italian, asking me for directions since I recognized a name of one of the stations, but of course I didn't understand him completely so I spoke to him in English. We started chatting about where I was from and he shared his adoration for Canada; The freedom and open-mindedness of the people, the acceptance of all religions and backgrounds, as well as its beauty. He went on to to ask me if I was married and why I didn't believe in God - per se. Two heavy questions that were too deep to discuss in a crowded train car. I get the sense that most people here are quite religious with all of the churches, cathedrals, and the like so I strayed from the conversation by saying, "Ah, two eternal questions to which I don't have answers for." He laughed and told me, "You need a foundation in your life. Whether you believe in God or a higher power." I smiled politely and said "Yea, I get that." Unfortunately we couldn't get into it further as I had arrived at my stop so he shook my hand, introduced himself as Mike, and I carried on my way.

Run-ins like this freak me out but interest me at the same time. Especially at a time in my life where I feel my belief system is broken and am not sure if it will ever be restored. But maybe it's not a matter of restoring it. Maybe it's more about building it back up, transforming it into something more unique, something better suited, something much stronger than what one started with? I like to believe there are no coincidences in life and that everything has a purpose, whether we know it or not so I guess I can't say I don't have any belief left in me. It might just be a matter of fanning the flame.

As the bells from the church down the street trickle in through my hotel room window, I can't help but think, 'what a fabulous place to do just that'.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

10:45PM - Barcelona to Milan : Day 7

Correction...when I say I recommend train travel, I only recommend it if there aren't any connections.

I had 4 transfers to make today. I had 20 minutes to make the one in Figueres, 2 hours to make one in Valence, and 1 hour to make my last one in Lyon. I was unsettled about the 20 minute transfer since getting lost has been the theme here and I wasn't sure that was enough time to find my train. When I arrived in Figueres, I realized my next train was across the platform. Phewf! Crisis averted. I was able to relax since my next transfer in Valence was a 2 hour layover and that, for sure, wasn't going to be an issue since we were on time.

Well, I spoke too soon.

After getting to Valence, my transfer train to Lyon was one hour late which would make me miss my transfer to Milan. I asked the information desk what my options were and at first they were telling me to travel to Milan tomorrow. But after saying something in French to one of the other information officers, he pointed me to another line which transferred in Chambéry - where I would have to transfer there to hop on a train to Milan. Not a big deal since it got me into Milan at the same time anyways. It was just a different route. I saw some beautiful scenery going through some national parks - lush greenery, waterfalls, mountains, blue sky. It reminded me of home.

It also made me think about my trip, thus far, and how it has been a great way for me to learn to let go of the steering wheel once and awhile - if not all the time. There are some things you just can't control so you just gotta roll with the punches and live moment by moment, one foot in front of the other. As my mom says, "all roads lead to home" so whether you're stuck in a train station in an unfamiliar part of the world, wandering the streets in many wrong directions, or completely unsure of your direction in life, one eventually gets to the place they need to be. It's just that sometimes, we're destined to take the more scenic route.

My life, for example, has had many scenic routes to which I am now grateful for. I never did follow the crowd anyways and the road less travelled has always been an ongoing theme in my life. But then again, maybe that's just LIFE. 

Either way, I'll take that scenic route over a paved, straight highway any day.

From Milan - buona notte!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

10:45PM - Barcelona : Day 6

If only these shoes could talk, they'd probably tell me to stop walking.

The miles I've covered in these shoes so far is incredible. The amount of stairs I've climbed in these shoes was unexpected. Staircases are prominent here whether it's in the metro stations, the museums, the monuments - no wonder Europeans don't gain any weight eating the delicious (calorie-ridden) food they have here. All they do is walk, climb stairs, and cycle. Rental bikes are huge too. They're everywhere.

It was my 2nd day in Barcelona and it was mostly spent outside, finding the museums I wanted to visit. Getting lost - yet again - I walked around in circles a lot. Even with a compass and map in hand. I have to laugh at myself. Why is it so difficult?! I seem to get disoriented when I come out of the metro stations so I end up going in the wrong direction 90% of the time or I'm going the right way but doubt myself, turn back, to realize down the road I was actually going the right way to begin with. I've done that too many times to count. Everything looks the same around here, I swear. Maybe it's just an unfamiliarity. Or because all of the alleyways are actually roads. Or because all the round-about's and three-way streets. Or, maybe I just SUCK at directions.

After I got my barrings, I visited the museums I wanted to see and missed one I really wanted to see since I thought it was one that was closed on Tuesdays. I pressed on though strolling the Ramblas, watching the performance artists, browsing the market, stopping at the wax museum on a whim, and having a bite to eat along the way. Overall it was a pretty relaxed day, even though I did just as many things. For dinner, I stopped at a tapas bar where one of the waiters swore I was French - even though I was speaking English to him. That's the second person who thought I was from France. Someone in Paris actually told me they thought I was French by how I spoke the language. I only said one sentence but hey, I'll take the compliment :) I felt pretty "at home" in Paris so maybe I'm bringing a bit of that energy with me.

But so far I haven't had much dialogue with many. Came across a few Canadians and Americans but nothing of real significance. I feel like I haven't talked to anyone since I got here - like I'm a mute or something. It can feel a little isolating but I'm hoping my full day train ride to Milan tomorrow will inspire some conversation.

Off to bed I go. I have an early start!

Monday, May 14, 2012

11PM - Barcelona : Day 5

Well...I'm finding Barcelona to have a very different vibe than Paris. A little more urban and edgy, a little more challenging to navigate the language. They're not into baguettes as much but they're very into their cafes, tapas, and expressing themselves very loudly when unamused.

After trekking out to the Gothic District today to find the Picasso museum - among others - I found out most were closed on Mondays so it was time to find alternative things to do. Since I was in the area anyways, I decided to check out the Cathederal. I'm not a religious person per-se, so I wasn't going to go in but then I thought, "I'm in Barcelona for crying out loud! I'm here. I might as well go in. I don't want to miss anything." So I did :) I appreciated the sacred space, the grandiose architecture, and ornate detailing. For that reason, I'm glad I went in.

I then made my way to find all of Gaudi's buildings; Casa Batlló, La Pedrera, and finally, taking the metro up to the Sagrada Família. All truly inspiring and all took my breath away. I love how Gaudi took his inspiration from nature and always designed with form, function, and style in mind. From lighting to air movement to ergonomics, everything had multiple purposes. At first glance you'd never know it. Except maybe if you were an architect yourself. I find his innovation and depth of design and thinking, absolutely fascinating. When walking around the Casa Batlló, I was amazed at how at ease I felt walking from room to room. No sharp or jagged edges. Everything was organic in shape and had a natural flow. Guess you could say I have an undying love for Art Nouveau.

When I stop to think about the things that I'm seeing, where I am, and what I'm doing, I can't help but get emotional. When I was in the Sagrada Família, I got a little teary-eyed. It was so majestic, so overwhelming large, and gorgeously designed, I couldn't help but feel privileged to be there. Gaudi's vision was incredible and awe-inspiring.

All in all, there was a lot to take in today so it's time to get a good nights sleep before I hit the pavement first thing tomorrow. One more day of sight-seeing and museum hopping and I'll be off to Milan the day after.

Good night all!

9AM - Barcelona : Day 5

Just arrived in Barcelona after a 12-hour night train and found a Starbucks to hang at while I wait to check in. Silly to travel all the way to Europe to sit at a Starbucks. But hey, the WiFi is guaranteed so gotta love 'em for that.

My train ride was fabulous. I highly recommend train travel through Europe. I was able to watch the sunset on the French countryside while enjoying a 3-course meal - FREE. Had a full bathroom with shower and a free breakfast this morning. No wonder my ticket was so expensive! I was travelling in style and didn't even know it. The waiters and train staff were extremely accommodating and sweet. My sleep wasn't the greatest but I got a few winks in which is enough to keep me going.

I found my hotel much easier than the first hotel and the metro (as well as the streets) are a little more straight forward than in Paris too so now that I've "survived the Paris Metro", I feel I can survive this one too.

Walking around a bit, I'm already inspired and excited! My hotel feels like a modernized church with marble, funky dome chairs in the entrance, spiraling stair case, and wrought iron detailing everywhere. I'm looking forward to seeing what my room has in store for me. The staff there are fabulous and extremely sweet. A far cry from the pretentiousness of the Paris folk.

I didn't have any fixed plans while in Barcelona except to see the Gothic Quarter and all that the Ramblas has to offer so we'll see where I end up.

Buenos días!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

3PM - Paris : Day 4

Hopefully no one is worried. WiFi in Europe is touch and go that I had to find a Starbucks to get internet. I did have WiFi at my hotel but the very next day it stopped working. When I went down to ask / tell them about it, they shrugged and shook their head.

It's ironic that Europe is more established than North America and yet it hasn't caught up with the technological advances but I get why that may be. There seems to be a certain kind of pride the city takes in keeping with tradition and history. Whether it's the brick apartment buildings with false balconies and wooden shutters, the cobblestone streets, and the shop owners who sweep the shop entrance before opening, everything has character. Old, yes. Dirty, to some. Yet absolutely beautiful. I think we have a lot to learn in not modernizing and upgrading everything. If it ain't broke, why fix it?

After spending the day in Montmartre, I fell in love with the pace of life there. The shops, the cafes, the Dali museum...but of course! And to come back to a place filled with tourists, makes me cringe a little. Not that I mind being a tourist but the monotony in doing the same thing, taking pictures of the same thing, experiencing the same thing as everyone else, is what makes me cringe. I take great joy in finding the unique and unexplored which is maybe why I really enjoy the understated and quieter part of Paris. To me, that's where the stories are. That's where the treasures lie.

Only being here 4 days, I feel like I've settled in quite nicely. I wasn't quite sure what to expect on my first day considering I had a confusing and frustrating start - getting lost and all. Now that I know it a little better, I have to say I'm sad to leave it. I enjoy speaking French when I can, waking up to freshly baked bread and coffee, taking the Metro to where I need to go, wandering the streets day and night.

But more adventure awaits.
Time to wander & savour Paris just a little longer before I head off to Barcelona.

See you there!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

8PM - Paris : Day 1

Here is my first room in Paris.

It's got a false balcony with windows that open wide to view the building across the alley. The warm breeze gently makes it's way in while the sun sets it's head down for the night - which is something I really need to do. After 30 hours of being awake, travelling, not to mention getting lost many times over, I could say I'm completely beat!

My first impression of Paris so far - overwhelming! And feeling completely out of my element.

When I first touched down at the airport I managed to easily make my way to the tourist information to pick up my transit and museum pass. After that, it was all a blur. The metro system is so complex yet so efficient at the same time. It's amazing how high off the ground the trains are. I wasn't able to make one because by the time I was ready to haul my suitcase up on to the train, the doors were closing. Luckily I packed light!! One really has to pay attention to where they're going or they'll end up on the wrong train going the opposite direction. Didn't happen to me, thankfully but it was a worry for a little while.

I finally made it to my stop and found my way out on to the street. I knew my hotel name, the street is was on, and that it was SOMEWHERE near the Eiffel Tower and of course I didn't print directions or a detailed map so I had no choice but to wander. I walked up a main street on one side of the Eiffel Tower (wow by the way!) and found a map. After which, I thought I knew where I was going but I was clearly lost so I asked a local - in French :) Of course she gave me an answer in French but was clear enough that I could understand. "Rue Columbie et gauche" Sure! Awesome! I was set. Until I couldn't find the street she was talking about. So I asked another local - in French. They sent me in the opposite direction. I was still lost so I asked a traffic cop - in broken French. He dished it out in the fastest French you could ever imagine. Each road these locals told me to take took me to a street I had just been on and I felt as if I was caught in a Bermuda triangle! Needless to say at this point I was frustrated, not to mention, tired, extremely hot, grossly sweaty, and crabby. Where the hell is a cab when you need one?!

I finally stopped into a market as I was thirsty and had been walking around in circles for about an hour. An English speaking Parisian told me where to go but unfortunately, I was just there. Finally, I decided to stop into a souvenir shop to ask one more time - in English. He spelled it out very plainly..."straight, 1, 2, 3 blocks...turn left, then 1, 2, then left again." His directions were perfect! I made it!

I check-in and lugged my suitcase up 4 flights of steps - to only later realize the lift was actually working! Another oversight due to a tired brain.

After showering up, I made my way downstairs to ask for a restaurant recommendation - a local brasserie / cafe and for dinner I had the Croque Madamme :) When dinner was all done I wandered the streets a bit and came across a really busy alley way that was full of markets, cafes, restaurants, and bars so I stopped to get a baguette, some macaroons, and some fruit for tomorrows breakfast. I got the finger wag bringing it back to the hotel though.

"This is not a restaurant."
"So you want me to eat it all now?"
"Ok well I can just leave it here because I can't eat this all now."
"Fine. Fine. But just be careful. We just renovated."
"Je comprend." (Geez!)

Tomorrow is the Eiffel Tower tour and some museum-hopping. Atleast now I know where everything is! Time for some shut-eye.

1:51AM - Amsterdam Layover

Touched down in Amsterdam and am awaiting to board my next flight on to Paris. It feels like I got here in no time at all yet my body and mind are feeling the effects. I'm sweaty, exhausted, crabby, yet so far...I'm loving every minute!! :)

My flight was nice and smooth but I was surprised to notice that the person sitting in the middle of our 3-seater never went to the bathroom once, yet she was drinking just as much as I was. Her poor bladder! And the flight attendants (yes, I am consciously being politically correct here), were super nice yet a little snobby about the curtain that closed off the business class from economy. [insert Seinfeld moment here]

For dinner we had a nice salmon pasta with a side salad and a warm bun. For dessert, I had Amarula liquer - mmmm, creamy! Breakfast came surprisingly quickly and was a spinach & cheese omelette with yogurt and fruit. Not bad! KLM rocks tha house!

To pass the time I threw on The Rum Diary but wasn't all that impressed. Now that I mention it, all I really remember was Johnny Depp. My sleep session was a total bust so I'm running on empty having been up at the crack of dawn yesterday morning just itching to get going and my grammar and flare for forming a sentence is dwindling quickly.

Next stop...Paris!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Let the creation begin!

Airports excite me.

The sounds of rolling suitcases, the multitude of languages flying around, the crazy motorized carts, arrivals, departures...it gets my fires burning and travel bug jumping.

From the time I can remember, I was always venturing somewhere. When I was 5, I went on my first plane ride to Edmonton. Not exactly exotic but a fresh, new experience for my young self.

Another cherished memory is being with my dad on his boat. He was a commercial fisherman so there were many summers spent boating up the coast of BC, hanging out at the docks in Prince Rupert, and working hard as a deckhand on the wide open ocean. If we weren't fishing, we were road-tripping every chance we got. Whether it was driving up to the Interior of BC to see family, flying to Disneyland, Vegas, or Ontario, touring Vancouver Island in an RV, and spending Spring Break driving along the West Coast down to California and back.

It's not a wonder why I can't sit still for too long, whether it's short travels or long ones. I'm at my happiest when I get to venture because travel is (and has been) a big part of my life. It's only now I realize how important it is for my soul and why I need to do it more often.

Speaking of which, it almost time to board!

Time to say au revoir.
Let's do this!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


...almost time to go!

I'm exhausted as hell right now. Had an extremely long and busy day at work today, followed by a very late dinner so I technically should be off to bed. Instead, I'm finalizing my packing.

I decided to take the smallest suitcase possible after starting with my largest suitcase and only using a third of the space in it. It's as light as air and will be great to travel with! My carry-on, however, is extremely heavy. With my camera, laptop, journal, and accessories, it's truly ready for any adventure.

Is it weird that as much as I love to go, I hate to leave? Saying goodbye to routines and habits are great but what kinda fun will I miss? Then again, how much more fun will I experience being away? I will find out soon enough!

Anyways, would love to chat more but I have lots to do tonight. My kitchen is a mess and there are many guide books and language apps to be downloaded.

See you at the airport!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

F**k It

After a good few glasses of Cabernet on Friday night, I was able to get some quality shut-eye and reset my sleeping clock. This time next week, I may need a bottle or two in order to calm myself enough to get me some rest for Wednesdays flight. In the meantime though, my suitcase is out, the "To Do" lists are being chipped away at, and I'm tying up loose ends at work and at home.

As ridiculous as it may sound, there's a very miniscule part of me that hates to leave the momentum happening in my life right now; Work is continuing to get more exciting and fun, new acquaintances have been formed and there is great interest in getting to know them better, and plans to move to Vancouver are in the works but will be on hold until I return. The upside to having so many positive things happening right before I leave is that there will be lots waiting for me when I get back. 

Now as much as this very small part of me doesn't want to leave, the rest (a very LARGE part) of me can't wait to get off the ground. As you've figured out, this trip isn't just a vacation for me. It, already, has a significance that is indescribable. 

I'm sure most of you can relate to such moments in life where you feel like you have nothing to lose. Where that one seemingly irrational thing seems to be the only thing that makes sense and everything seems to ride on that one moment as if it was a crux to which everything else would follow. This is such a moment for me. I like to call them, "Fuck It" moments. 

I picked up the "Fuck It" book almost a year ago in the hopes to find a new way to go with the flow, let go, and enjoy life. Since this trip will breach all my safety zones, the Fuck It "way" reminds me to just let go, let things be, and have an adventure. My savings account will be spent, the fear of being in a foreign land by myself will be faced, my daily routines will be interrupted, and friends, family, and home will be missed. Previous to this moment in life, all of these "breaches" would have be considered complete and utter chaos - and may have been the reasons I never ventured beyond it before. But now all I say to that is, fuck it. Life's too short to stand still.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The excitement is building

The countdown continues for something that feels like it has taken forever to get here but I know it will creep up on me so I've been taking care of some business. Talking to my bank about all my cards that I will use overseas, ordering Euros, confirming a check-in time for my cat at his "hotel", and making a list of all the hotels and tour companies to contact in order to confirm my reservation, not to mention a list of things I need to pack and take with me.

And being the organized freak that I am, I have already selected my seat on the plane. An interesting feature that KLM has now is a Meet & Seat feature, in which you can log in with your Facebook or LinkedIn account and find people who match your interests, language, even company profile. Some might think this is a bit creepy and has a potential "stalking" factor to it but the nice thing is that you can choose what to share or what not to share. Being a single gal, I just had to give it a try. It'll be another great way to meet people and have the flight be a little less lonely. Unfortunately, not many know about it so I was the first person on my plane to use it. Ho-hum. I guess I'll have to strike up conversation the old-fashioned way.

Now that the do-list items are being crossed off, I'm starting to feel the pressure, the stress, and the excitement of the big day. Because of this, I haven't been eating much, my work has been fully distracted by all the things I need to do, and my sleep has been broken by many midnight pee breaks, tossing and turning, and really early mornings. I thought this wouldn't happen until the night of but this trip is in my sights now as opposed to months away so I'm definitely feeling it all.

And on that note, it's time to try and get some shut eye - or at least get some good tossing and turning in.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Gone Fishin'

With 3 weeks left to go until take-off, I feel all that is left to do is twiddle my thumbs and watch the clock. Patience and timing are really front and centre right now and yes, it's killing me. The impatient side of me just wants to go already while the patient side wants to enjoy the next few weeks of finalizing plans, sharing my plans with others, checking things off the To Do list, packing, and preparing for the big day. It's all a matter of time now!

Maybe that's why I can't even piece together a decent blog post for you all. My head is already in vacation mode.

When I started this blog, my unwritten rule was to blog once a week leading up to the trip, then blog more frequently when I actually got to Europe. For some reason though, I just haven't been inspired by anything. I've been writing since Sunday, fishing for something interesting to write about and...look...nuthin'.

In the world of blogging, they say you should write something of "superior quality" even if it means writing, re-writing, and waiting to post it as opposed to writing & posting crap. But you know what...screw that! I'm tired of being governed by "should's" so I'm gonna make my own rule - write what's true and real as opposed to only writing about the best and most exciting parts. No editing allowed!

After all, what's the point of sharing the experience if I can't share it ALL.
So here's a whole lotta nuthin'...and a whole lot of waiting....

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Curiosity Coin Toss

Being curious can open up the door to an unlimited amount of knowledge, success, and happiness. It can also bring about great disappointment, embarrassment, and failure. Hence why we sometimes don't even choose to exercise the thought. It's a coin toss!

The big question is whether or not you let that fear of the unknown prevent you from even tossing that coin.

In recent months (this trip aside), I've been getting more and more curious about life and experimenting (responsibly of course!). These "experiments" include being more spontaneous or saying yes to more activities/events, eating new foods I've never tried before, exploring different places in the city, and even opening up my life, my home, and myself to new people. None of it, though, came without fear. Sitting 4 weeks away from my trip, I get butterflies as much as I get the sweats but there's a trick to making the fear take a back seat.

Someone once told me that in order to free yourself from being held back by fear, you have to put on your bravest face, get curious, and experiment with the possibilities. Of course with that comes great vulnerability, a feeling that most (including myself) aren't 100% comfortable with, but that's quite alright as it's part of the process and the excitement of it all.

A great Seinfeld moment comes to mind...

Who would have thought life could be summed up so simply...
Good ole Seinfeld!

By replacing that fear of the unknown with curiosity, it can be quite fulfilling and even gain some surprising results. But first you have to get curious and choose to flip that coin. See what happens if you do something a little differently or outside of the comfort zone.

Oh and don't forget to report back :)

Monday, April 2, 2012


Another week passes and now that the "grown-up" stuff is finished for the time being, it's back to the fun; The fun dreaming, the fun of wonder, the fun of getting lost in your favourite travel movies. My top three which I will get lost in over and over again are:

Midnight in Paris. This is one that I absolutely fall in love with each time I watch it. I, too, have the fantasy of stepping into an era where great painters and writers existed. How exciting it would be to sip a latté with Dali, hear the life story of Picasso, and most importantly, live in Paris in the 1920's. If only that cross-over was a reality, I would visit every night! But if I'm lucky enough, I can absorb a little bit of that inspiration from the city itself, knowing they walked the streets at one point in time.

Eat, Pray, Love. Another goodie of mine that I could watch again and again. Some days, I wish I could live in a completely different world and just wander, figuring it out as I go. As I'm starting to realize though, I'm more of a planner than I once thought. That doesn't mean I don't have a little bit of an explorer in me. This movie brings out that explorer and reminds me that life can be an amazingly wonderful journey - if I let it be.

One Week. This film is awesome not only because it's set in Canada, but it speaks volumes when it comes to "carpe diem" which really hits home for me. Over the years I have experienced many life changing moments which made me re-evaluate myself and my direction, again and again. From health scares to heartbreaking loss, the message being reiterated to me is live life to the fullest, at every moment, no matter what. Capturing dreams big or small, embracing what is, and letting go of what isn't or never was. And even though I may not be perfect at following this motto 100% of the time, I will always strive to live a full life whether it's eating a new food, making a new friend, taking a trip to somewhere new, and embracing the many more moments - good or bad - that lie ahead.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Joy in Lost

Well, now that all the fun stuff is outta the way, all that's left to do is think about is the "grown-up" stuff like bill payments while I'm away, finding a good temporary home for my kitty, and making sure I have all my papers, passports, money, and tickets ready to go.

Oh the joy...

As you can tell, this part of the process doesn't THRILL me so I haven't been on the euphoric high I once was when I started this blog, which means my craziness level reached an all-time high last week. The friends that have seen me in the last week, know what I've been like. My mind races and I stress myself out by examining every little detail to make sure I don't make a wrong move.

One of my friends told me to enjoy the process leading up to the trip because it's part of the experience too so I've been really trying really hard to enjoy all the moments - fun or not. And while I realize all of this stress and anxiety is self-made (as another friend pointed out), I feel I really need to bring it on and face all those uncomfortable feelings a little more often than I do.

When 2012 came around, I told myself that I would push myself to try new things, do new things, face any fears...basically scare the shit outta myself. Having been in relationships for the past 10 years (wow...crazy), it was easy to hide behind someone or find an excuse NOT to do things. This hindered the knowing of my own limits, my own desires, even my own fears. So now that it's all me, I will push those limits by asking myself two questions: Why? or Why Not? If I can find 3 good reasons why I shouldn't do something, then I won't do it. But if I can't find 3, then why NOT do it?

Finding myself firmly back on the ground this week (and less crazed), I have found the joy in this trip-planning again. I have come to realize that I can't possibly see or do everything nor can I expect perfection. I will miss certain things, maybe forget others, and I will make mistakes along the way. It's a given and it's ok - because this, too, shall pass. It's all part of learning to push yourself, getting a little lost, and finding your way back again with a better knowledge of who you are and what you want out of life.

Oh the things I will learn. I can't wait!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Sleep Tight

After endless hours of online research, reading traveller reviews, and virtually making my way through Europe, the last piece of the puzzle finally comes together with my hotel rooms being booked.

*Happy dance!*

Planning to go "budget" all the way, I booked a cheapie hotel in Paris northeast of the Louvre. All I needed was a place to lay my head and a pot to pee in. However, after reading some reviews on other budget hotels, I came across a few reviews for the one I had booked and found out I might be bunking with some friendly bed bugs or cockroaches. Needless to say I quickly cancelled my reservation and upped my hotel budget to "mid-range".

Here are the ones that made the cut:

Hôtel de la Paix (Paris)
This hotel was a nice compromise of budget and comfort. Two blocks from the Eiffel Tower and meters from the nearest Metro station, it will be convenient for me to sight-see day in and day out.

Praktik Rambla (Barcelona)
Virtually making my way to Barcelona, I found a minimalist, boutique-style hotel that sparked my creativity. They're in a central location and even give you a lomo camera to wander around Barcelona with. At the end of your stay they develop the photos and give them to you as a souvenir. I thought this was a nice touch.

Hotel Berna (Milan)
Heading into Milan I found a cool little hotel steps away from the train station. Since I will be arriving into the city around 9pm, I figured it was a wise decision to not have to run around and find my way through Milan late at night. It's also near historical buildings, the fashion/shopping district, and, of course, the Last Supper so it was a wise choice. What was nice about this place was that they asked what my preferences are for room temperature, pillow-type, drink choice, and offered many upgrades that might tickle my fancy including Italian cheeses, strawberries and wine, aromatherapy, and even a laptop rental (for a cost of course). Even still, I feel like a superstar!

Al Portico Guest House (Venice)
In Venice, "mid-range" price gives you a "budget" hotel so not only was it challenging to find a good rate for a decent place but most hotels were booked up. I considered staying in Murano or Lido but didn't want to be too far from the train station so I booked a guest house that would suit all my needs.

Hotel Duomo (Venice)
Florence was a little easier to find a hotel and much more budget-friendly. I was able to find one at a decent price (again) near the train station, right behind the Piazza del Duomo & near the Florence Cathedral.

Rome ApartHotel (Rome)
And lastly, ending up in Rome, I found this quaint guest house in front of the Basilica of St. Peter and near the Vatican Museums.

Going into this, I never knew so much research was needed to find a good hotel, in a central location, for a decent price. They say you get what you pay for and in Europe, it would seem, that you definitely do.

Word to the wise: read reviews, research the city & its neighbourhoods, don't go cheap - unless you actually DO want the bed bugs to bite.

Sleep tight!

Monday, March 19, 2012

All Aboard!

They say the devil is in the details but what they don't tell you is sometimes, as much as you plan and sift through those details, that devil cannot be avoided.

When booking my train reservations this past week, I found out the Barcelona to Milan night train was no longer available due to a change in schedule. My only option would be to take multiple day trains to get to Milan, transferring in cities like Figueres, Valence, Lyon, and then on to Milan. Being a tad bit upset I had to give up a day of sightseeing in Barcelona, my curious side wonders what a 12-hour train ride will offer. I get to stop in some cities I've never heard of and take in some of the sights and sounds there - if only for an hour.

This twist in plans is a bit ironic given my "place" in life right now. I have to weave my way through these unexpected and unfamiliar places in order to get to the other side. No one can do that for me or even tell me how to get there - I have to do it all my own and find my own way. I have to let go and let the flow of life take me to that place I need to be.

You see this whole concept of "letting go" has always been a challenge for me since I like to pursue and be pro-active, so I can achieve the goals I set out for myself and to not get thrown off balance in the process of doing so. But life is ever-changing and as it continues to evolve, I realize that there are some moments (maybe more than I realize), you just can't prepare for or control, as much as you want to. In those moments you have two choices: to scream and resist what you can't control, or let go and see where it takes you; To be open to the adventure, the lessons to be learned, and the new opportunities that await.

As William Shedd says,
"A ship in a harbour is safe,
but that is not what ships are built for.

So all aboard this crazy train and let's chart the course!

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Plan Takes Shape

So originally, my plan was to just book flights and worry about everything else when I got there. I was feeling euphoric, adventurous, even a little reckless. I thought, what the hell?! I had nothing to lose and a huge experiences to gain in doing so. I mean sleeping in a train station is all THAT bad, right?

Earth to Amanda!

After a little more thought, I came down from the clouds and realized I had a lot to learn about this unchartered territory. Co-workers of mine had gone to Europe and I was overwhelmed with their experiences. Planning seemed to be imperative to having a truly fulfilling (and stress-free) experience so it was time to get a little more logical in my thinking.

One co-worker lent me a few guide books as well as some local maps and I also picked up a book of my own to help educate me on the in's and out's of travelling to Europe. After reading the guide books, my original plan would have meant me missing out on some fabulous and awe-inspiring attractions like the Last Supper - for example. Art of this magnitude is required to be booked atleast a month in advance due to the demand. What a blessing that I came to my senses and booked in advance!

These books also talked about lining up to get into galleries and museums. It would be an awful shame to spend my whole vacation in line so I decided to book some of the other attractions I really wanted to see, before I left on my trip - like the Uffizi Gallery, the Sistine Chapel, even the Eiffel Tower. This will guarantee my entry and allow me to bypass all those big lineups.

So far, this new plan is shaping up to be a nice balance of whimsy and structure. It will grant me access to some of the greatest art pieces and structures in Europe while also leaving room for the unexpected and unexplored.

Friday, March 9, 2012

And so it begins...

Well, the countdown begins - 2 months until I take off for Europe - and I couldn't be more excited.

I won't lie, there's an underlying nervousness just beneath all the euphoric feelings that have come with planning a big solo trip like this. Delving into the unknown can be just as thrilling as it is scary but luckily my desire to take this trip, has outweighed my fear. And those nerves don't stick around long when I start to think of all the things I plan to see & do - and hopefully discover along the way.

This trip was always something I aspired to do but I was never sure when I'd ever get the chance to go or how I'd even get there. I was daunted by the details so I put the dream on the shelf and continued to hope of one day seeing the art that I learned about in school and immersing myself in the history and cultures.

Interestingly enough, 6-months ago, life forced me in a direction I didn't plan on going but I refused to let the Universe's plan define me or my new future. I was going to make the most of this moment while it was still present and do something significant - because this moment, too, will change and pass. That is when the dream started becoming a "near-future" reality.

Maybe it was kismet that this trip happened when it did. Had I done this in my 20's, I wouldn't have had the same appreciation for the sights that await. Had I continued to feel like I had life all figured out, I may have never felt the need to venture out and find myself.

From the Eiffel Tower & the Louvre; From the Gothic Quarter & Ramblas; From the Last Supper to the Uffizzi Gallery; And from the Sistine Chapel to the Colosseum; Great adventure awaits. This trip is where I hope to find a little inspiration, a break from the hustle and bustle of daily life, and to discover a new direction and life purpose.

My first purchase for the trip will be a handmade travel journal in which I plan to write in from cafes and river-sides, hoping to capture the spirit of my travels - along with receipts, sketches, and a signature or two from the people I meet along the way. A great travel companion for a trip of a lifetime.

I will also be blogging (when I can) right here so that I can share my experiences with those back home.

May 9th is when I leave with my first stop being Amsterdam - for a short layover - and then on to my first official stop - Paris!
Stay tuned for more updates as the trip gets closer.