SOL: Top Travel Destinations in Europe

As things seem to be rapidly descending into Covid-related chaos once again (or still, for some), let us allow ourselves a moment to forget the omnipresent threat of a second wave of lockdowns and look forward to exploring new travel destinations. Budget airlines are still offering reasonably priced flights within Europe, so for those looking for a new destination to explore, here are my top three picks!

Budapest, Hungary

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Hungary’s capital is not to be overlooked! Budapest is a vibrant tourist destination; during the winter there are numerous Christmas Markets where you can sample mulled wine and local food. In the summer you will find an eclectic and experimental gastronomy scene with unique bars and restaurants where you can unwind. Talk a walk along the Danube, admire the statuesque Parliament building and the city’s impressive architecture. Budapest is famous for its “ruin bars” and its most famous, Szimpla Kert, is easily reached from the city centre. Take note that Hungary’s currency is Forint, not Euro!

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Széchenyi Thermal Bath, Budapest

For some downtime after exploring the city, a visit to Széchenyi Thermal Baths within the city is a definite must. Here you’ll have your choice of indoor and outdoor pools, as well as multiple steam rooms and saunas. When I visited in November it was packed with locals and tourists alike; Széchenyi has a sprawling layout and I got lost several times! You can easily spend a half or full day here.

São Miguel Island, Azores, Portugal

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Lagoa do Fogo, Azores

The São Miguel Island in the Azores archipelago is a bit off the beaten path but easily accessible by plane from both Lisbon and Porto. It has been nicknamed “The Green Island,” and is relatively undisturbed by hoards of tourists. Visiting São Miguel will give you time to explore and disconnect from the stresses of the outside world.

The island has numerous natural tourist attractions and you will have your choice of thermal baths, hot springs, lakes, waterfalls and hiking trails. The island is reasonably priced, and it is easy to rent a car or scooter to help you get around.

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One of the beautiful miradouro’s on the island!

The locals mainly speak a dialect of Portuguese, but many speak English and are more than happy to give tips on what to see on the island.

Malta

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Churches in Malta > Days in the year

Malta, an archipelago of three islands, is often overlooked as being an extension of Italy. Located just south of Sicily, Malta used to be a British colony but has been an independent country since 1964. Thanks to the British influence, locals speak both Maltese and English, and the island is full of expats and tourists, so have no fear of a language barrier. The food in Malta is cheap and delicious; many restaurants pull inspiration from local goods with influences from neighbouring countries. Be sure to try the pastry pastizzi and Cisk, the local beer.

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Blue Lagoon, Comino, Malta

The islands boast a beautiful Mediterranean climate year-round. Malta is also home to three UNESCO World Heritage Sites. With breathtakingly clear waters and a beautiful coastline, the islands are also hugely popular for scuba diving. If you tire of the main island of Malta, the smaller island of Comino is home to the Blue Lagoon, a must-see for tourists. The island of Gozo is a quick ferry ride away; here you can discover wonderful Maltese wines, local food and even stay in a renovated Gozitan farmhouse.

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Stunning views in Gozo.

When choosing your next trip, be cognizant of the fact that each destination will offer you a different vibe! Malta has beautiful architecture, great swimming spots and a hot climate year-round. Budapest has the energy of a big city with numerous bars and restaurants to sample different cuisines. In São Miguel, you’ll be able to slow down and enjoy lush greenery and the tranquility of the island. Of course, before you plan your trip be sure to check any Covid travel restrictions that may be in place and make sure that you are fit to travel.

For Covid updates within the EU please click here.

SOL: In Vino Veritas

What if, when I had you in my grasp
I pinned you against the sandstone walls?
Poured cheap red wine over your flaxen hair, your voracious mouth
Your intoxicating body – let it spill down your skin and
Drip onto the mosaic tiles, filled myself to the
Brim with your frame, aching for release.
What if I had dropped my guard?
Brought you home?
Drank you in?

3AM Thoughts // AKA “Toeing the Line of Common Decency.”

SOL: Extinguished

You drain light from me so well
I start to love it, begin to crave your angry fists
Hammering either side of my head, I want to flinch
When your finger twitches, feel the decibels of my
Heartbeat increase with each violent speech
You make me weak, I start to miss it
Insufferable power struggles until your teeth
Eat my lips when we kiss, until you
Plunge into white skin, leaving purple flowers as a gift

3AM Thoughts // AKA “He Said Goodbye With His Fists, I Said Goodbye With My Lips.”

SOL: Commemor-8

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I have been wracking my mind for days trying to decide how I can possibly write a succinct review of the past eight months. On my last day in Spain I was in a state of detached shock and felt incapable of being able to summarizing my time here.

I was asked if I regret any experiences while I’ve been here and I can honestly say that I would not change a thing about this trip. While there have been several terrible days and weeks, and a few instances where I wanted to pack up and leave, ultimately I can say without hesitation that while I have been here I have felt more alive than ever before. Whereas during my trip to France last year I felt that it was a metamorphic experience it was extremely static; I spent the majority of my time alone, whether it was running, reading, or working, I was isolated without realizing how detrimental it was to my happiness. Within Spain I allowed myself to open up to the world and as such I have had the luxury of witnessing the best and worst life has to offer. In Spain I created a slapdash life and while it was messy, chaotic and at times completely ill-advised, it was entirely my creation and therefore I have cherished each moment.

At my core, and it is perhaps one of my most reprehensible traits, I find I am a selfish person. I fiercely guard my independence to the point that I often shut others out without the intention of being malicious – I simply feel I am better off accomplishing my goals on my own. While in Spain I spent my working hours constantly interacting with people of all ages, nationalities and from multiple walks of life. I left several ill-advised love affairs in the past and focused my time and energy on including another person in my dreams and my life. Most importantly, I have been making the conscious decision to do so. In making these choices, I am learning to accept full responsibility for my fuck-ups (there have been many) and my small mistakes. Self-awareness has taken chunks out of my ego, however I think acknowledging our shortcomings keeps us grounded and perhaps more likely to exude caution in the future. I feel as though each month here has brought me a new lesson, sometimes in the form of a curse and other times as a blessing.

In April, I feel that I tackled my irrational fear of children. When I told people that I was going to be teaching English to a four year old, many looked at me with thinly veiled surprise and some expressed the general sentiment of, “Don’t take this the wrong way but… I can’t see you being good with kids.” Fair point all around, I don’t think I’ve spent time around kids since I’ve been one myself, and even then I found it painful. It took all of April and most of May before the child began to understand me, and after that we fell into a happy balance of him testing his boundaries and me being easy-going enough to let him get away with most of his insane antics. I doubt I will ever fill an au pair role again, but while I was teaching him English, he in turn was teaching me to be more patient, more nurturing and more playful.

In May, I learned the value of trust and honesty. I often view life as a highly idealistic and romanticized version of reality, and in my second month of Spain I realized the error of my ways. Upon departing for a six month sojourn, I expected to stay involved and connected with someone back in Canada. Upon discovering the perceived monogamy was (and had been) extremely one-sided, I immediately severed contact and realized that by harboring feelings for someone in Canada I had eliminated the possibility of meeting someone in Spain. In the beginning of May I applied online for several language exchange boards and was inundated with people willing to help me practice Spanish and probably several other skills. After weeding through the weirdos I came away with a few people who improved my Spanish and filled my social calendar. By mid-month I had gone for two job interviews and by week three I was training at a restaurant in the neighbouring town. I was lucky to finish my second month in the country with a visit from my best friend so I was able to show her what little I had gleaned of Spanish nightlife and the major tourist stops in Barcelona.

In June, I would like to say I learned about love but really I learned about lust and the mistakes we make in the pursuit of companionship and self-serving happiness. In attempting to forge connections I embarked on several haphazard and shallow endeavours. After realizing that European men are even more indifferent to fidelity within relationships than their North American counterparts, I decided to forego Spaniards and try my luck with Frenchmen (hey, it worked for my mom!). Gross miscalculation on my part, as I had a Frenchman declaring love and proposing marriage within weeks of meeting. I prefer to avoid confrontation when possible however I was forced to inform him I did not see us raising les enfants in the north of France. He did not take it well, and I learned a valuable lesson about ensuring your partner is emotionally and mentally stable before inviting them to stay with you. The more you try and push yourself towards someone the less likely a relationship is to flourish; the best connections seem to happen when you least expect it and are barely paying attention. Such is life.

By the time July rolled around I was learning a valuable lesson about time management. As my young charge finished school in the end of June, in July he spent his mornings at summer camp but I had him for an extra two and a half hours every day. The decrease in free time left me biking to work at the café in the morning from and then biking back to Sant Pol to ensure I was ready to pick him up on time. In the evenings I tentatively began to devote my time to visiting a British native in the next town over, which meant hopping back on my chariot of choice (yes, a mountain bike) and spending nights and mornings at his place. As a result of this wildly irregular schedule July passed in the blink of an eye and I was extremely burnt out by the end of the month. I spent several days in Paris and the change of scenery gave me a bit of a second wind vis-à-vis the traveler’s life.

In August I learned the importance of moderation. The month started with a drunken late-night dip in the ocean and a man choosing to abscond with my belongings (namely my keys, cash and brand new cell phone). I can chalk that lesson up to numerous factors – never spend $600 on something that can be taken that easily, never leave your clothes out of reach when you’re in the sea at 5AM and probably don’t drink to the point that you can’t chase down the dude who stole your shit. I had three weeks off from work with the child, so I filled my time with several beach days, more shifts at the bar and trips to Lisbon and Madrid. After nine-hour bar shifts I would typically bike home to nap for a couple of hours, then bike back to party with coworkers until six in the morning and then repeat the following day. In Lisbon I met up with a group of fellow traveler’s and once again drank to excess, which resulted in several afternoons in a haze of tequila sweat and hugging porcelain. Self-control has never been one of my strong suits, and August was yet another wake-up call that the emphasis on alcohol on nights out will never bode well for me. As such, this month was my “party month” and it passed me by quickly, greased as it was on its alcohol wheels.

As the summer months ended and life as normal resumed, I found myself being taught a lesson in levelheadedness. I was thankful to be able to resume a fixed schedule with the child in September as he started school the second week of the month. After realizing how quickly the summer passed I decided to quit the bar mid-month in order to have free time on the weekend again. After several unexpected events unrolled, I noticed my penchant to completely fly off the handle at the slightest inconvenience or unexpected occurrence. I was lucky to have my Brit throughout it all who was able to keep me as rationally calm as possible, and in overcoming obstacles I discovered the importance of inner strength. I don’t believe there are any insurmountable problems, it is simply necessary to maintain calm amidst the chaos.

By October I was being lulled into the steady rhythm of a rigid work schedule during the week and ample free time on weekends. Just in case life got too boring, I taught myself a valuable lesson in stepping outside my comfort zone. By the second week of October I had booked flights to take me and my Brit to Asia. The rest of the month resulted in me over-googling travel alerts for Southeast Asia and him reminding me to simmer down. As such, we both took a huge leap of faith and are hoping to continue our adventures together on the other side of the globe. I was initially torn between the safer option (relocating to Spain permanently and finding a job, apartment and all the other adult necessities) and this wild card draw. As it is, I’m glad to have someone who is encouraging me to feed my travel addiction and I can’t wait to finally cross that off my bucket list.

It seems fitting that my last month abroad resulted in a culmination of all the previous month’s lessons along with a few final twists to keep me on my toes. I walked away from my eight months abroad realizing that the most important thing you can do to overcome life’s little obstacles is to roll with the punches. In November I truly recognized how important it is to surround yourself with people who genuinely and unconditionally support your choices. The quality of the relationships you bring into your life have a huge impact on your quantity of happiness. While it is crucial that your close family and friends have a positive impact on your life, entering a romantic relationship with someone who constantly inspires you to be the best version of yourself is a huge factor in determining the direction your life will take. More than ever I realize that I am surrounded and supported by amazing people who will stand by my every inane endeavour. I am slowly, albeit reluctantly, accepting that for all my over-planning I cannot control everything that life will throw at me; at times I simply have to accept that I will be dragged through good and bad scenarios, but it is up to me to glean the lesson and move on.

I started writing this post on my train from Barcelona to Paris; I edited it during my flight from Paris to Toronto and now, safely ensconced in my cozy house in the suburbs of Mississauga, it seems insane to me that only a few days have passed since I left Europe. I feel like pieces of my soul have been perpetually scattered this summer and I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet such amazing people in such a beautiful country.

I will never forget the past few months spent in Spain. My character and the very fibre of my being remains forever changed as a result of my trip. As I resume life in Canada for the winter, I am already dreaming of Bali beaches…

Safe travels,
AS

SOL: SE7EN

Where does time go?

I started my trip to Spain full of trepidation and fear. In April, I spent much of my flight to Europe cowering in my seat, choking back sobs, believing myself in love and willing to jump ship (or bail out of the plane) in order to create the life I thought I wanted.

Seven months later and I’m glad I stuck it out.

As my return flight to Canada looms in the not-so-distant future (count ‘em, 38 days) I notice myself reflecting more on the person I have become over the course of these past few months. I truly believe people are in a perpetual state of change and I feel the subtle nuances of character evolution that have become the norm to me will be a stark difference to those back home. Such is the effect of long-term travel; I’ve lived, loved and lost within this country. Through a traveler’s mentality and a vagabond’s neurotic persistence, I have carved out a life here in ways I truly could not have imagined pre-departure. Through risk, through sacrifice and at times against my better judgement I have allowed myself to experience everything life has to offer.

Nights in Spain

Tres Amigos

Having an adventure is sometimes just a matter of going out and allowing things to happen in a strange and amazing new environment – not so much a physical challenge as a psychic one.
// Rolf Potts

Travel changes you in ways that are difficult to articulate. I truly fear returning to Canada and facing the dreaded, “I want to hear your stories!” I don’t have many anecdotes that will please audiences or allow me to paint a vivid image of experience; the most precious moments, the smallest nuances, and the infinitesimal seconds between a good time and a great night cannot be expressed through words alone.

Lisbon, Portugal

Lucky Number Se7en: Telling Lies, Perpetually Learning & Moving On

This is officially the longest I have ever been traveling. It has come with countless positive experiences but just as many negative events that have led to bittersweet lessons.

Since my last update a lot has happened. August was a whirlwind in all the best and worst ways. I had the entire month off of childcare which I immediately substituted for working extra hours at the bar and spending many nights in the discos in the neighbouring town. The temperatures soared throughout August and I spent many days working in suffocating and sweltering heat. Spain tries to murder you in the summer – there were several days where I was worried I would asphyxiate while lying on the beach. I took a bit of time off and spent a few days bumming around Lisbon and fell head over heels in love with the city and all its crumbling architecture and hidden charm. I hit the main tourist spots but sadly did not make it to a beach. Luckily the hostel I stayed at was not short on travelers and I met up with a group of people who were more than happy to go out and experience Lisbon’s nightlife.

Lisbon, Portugal

Torre de Belem // Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon Streets

Bairro Alto // Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

Belem // Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

Night Out in Lisbon

Santa Justa Lift / Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal

The week following Portugal (and with me barely recuperated) I was on a train from Barca-Sants to Madrid. The three hour train was incredibly easy, and luckily the station is in the city centre. Once again I made it my mission to pound pavement and walk to all the major tourist destinations. While I enjoyed walking through Madrid it didn’t captivate me like Lisbon or Barcelona. I made sure to go to the Museo Nacional del Prado and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, two of the bigger art museums in Madrid, both of which had free admission on the nights I was in town. I decided that I wanted more of a rustic taste of Spain, so on my second day in the city I booked a train to Toledo, a medieval walled city a half-hour train ride from Madrid. I spent my day admiring monuments and tripping over cobblestones, so it was well worth the detour.

Madrid's eco train station.

Madrid’s eco train station.

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Toledo, Spain

Toledo, Spain

Toledo, Spain

Toledo, Spain

Retiro Park // Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain

Retiro Park // Madrid, Spain

After the rapid pace of August I decided I wanted more free time to simply relax and enjoy my time. In mid-September I gave my notice to the bar and reclaimed my weekends. For the past month and a half I have been taking small day-trips to neighbouring cities, spending weekends at my friend’s place and simply enjoying the fact that I have nowhere I need to be and nothing I need to do. I still do childcare throughout the week, but it is less of a hindrance when I have so much spare time.

Tossa del Mar

Plaza Catalunya, Barcelona

Canadian Thanksgiving in Spain

September Swim

Once the dust of my summer months settled and I started looking at cash and budgets, the amount of money I burned through while here made me want to gag. Though I could beat myself up about reckless spending, truly I worked hard to save the money to come to this country. I am lucky enough to know that money will come and go but I will not ever truly go wanting. The experiences and memories that have come from my spending will last a lifetime, so I can hardly beat myself up over it. I consider myself lucky to have an ongoing support system back home and an education I can rely on to get me a job, any job. I do not take this luxury for granted.

A Canuck’s Ignorant Promise Versus a Persistent Brit

Upon telling people I was going to Spain for a summer sojourn, all the women in my life swore up and down that I would fall in love. Though I did entertain the image of a Spanish Lothario lisping his way through his c’s and sweeping me off my feet in the process, I was steadfast in assuring people that I was going solely for the experience. After becoming aggressively single a month into my trip, I will admit I dove into the Spanish dating scene with the panache of a spastic whale (read: noticeably and not at all subtly). My tendency to behave impulsively and spontaneously often comes back to bite me in the ass, especially in my romantic endeavors.

Relationships are strange things, whether they are platonic or not. I am always puzzled by the seemingly randomness of connection between different people. When you truly click with someone you should cherish it. I can lust over chiseled babes until I die, but as I get older I realize that being with someone who accepts you, makes you laugh and encourages you to pursue your passions is a rare find indeed – even if they are nothing like the person you expected. That person is special, regardless of how much you try to avoid it.

Halloween, Spanish Style

Against my expectations and arguably my better judgement I ended up sacrificing a bit of my independence. Jaded to the core, I truly believe relationships at my age are a waste of time and more of a hindrance than anything… And yet, I find myself in one.

Those Who Can, Do. Those Who Can’t, Probably Shouldn’t Teach.

I’ve had an eclectic assortment of jobs while here; since April I’ve been an (almost) illegal ticket hawker, a bartender/server, a summer camp counselor, a nanny and an English tutor. Arguably I didn’t intend to fall into any of these jobs, but when you work towards a goal the universe seems to toss curve balls your way.

I’ve agreed to tutor several people in English, mainly because the Spanish school system fails to teach English at a native level so it always sounds stilted. The last person I was referred to was a nine year old who wanted language practice for a few hours a week, so I agreed to bike to a neighbouring town and chat with her in a casual setting so she could get used to hearing the language.

True to form, while trying to find the house I got horribly lost so I arrived late and wet from the surprise rainstorm. The girl’s nanny opened the door, said a brusque “Hola” and then promptly got the hell outta there. Charming! I took over as a tutor/surprise-pseudo-babysitter and prepped to go over some vocabulary with the girl; instead she came into the living room and told me in Spanglish that she was going to have a shower before her mom got home from work so I resigned myself to waiting while she showered. What happened next was a butt-naked nine-year-old dragging me into the bathroom while she showered and insisted I run through English vocabulary so as not to waste time. Pardon? Unfortunately the only words I could muster to teach were “boundaries” and “awkward” so our first and last lesson was short-lived.

Perpetually Planning & Looking Forward

I have many mixed feelings about going back to Canada in December. I could bitch and moan but I know that at the end of the day an eight month break from the real world is more than sufficient so I’ll keep my whining to a minimum. Spain has stolen a bit of my soul and I know I will eventually return and live in this country. I find this country rewarding and captivatingly beautiful like no other – I will always come back for more.
After I booked my ticket to Canada, I was hit with a wave of depression and knew I had to set a timeframe to be in and out of the country. Entering a relationship with a British native may have had something to do with this; it didn’t help when he came over to my place and said, “What are your plans for April? Do you want to come to Thailand with me?”

I said yes.

As it is the Asia dream has hit a few speedbumps but I am trying to accept life’s challenges. Is there ever such a thing as an insurmountable problem? I’ve wanted to go to Southeast Asia for years but never really summoned the willpower to make the dream happen. I am insanely excited and eager for a new cultural experience. Life is meant to be lived and I’m happy to have a new goal to work towards. I think that traveling Southeast Asia will offer me more cultural and spiritual perspective. I have some reservations about certain countries, but I will chalk everything up to a learning experience.

38 Days Later

The pressure is on to mentally prepare myself to re-enter my life in Canada. I have slowly started the arduous task of packing up my vast accumulation of belongings from the summer and whittling out what I will have to leave behind. I am cautiously optimistic that assimilation will be easier this time around as I will be immediately going to work, visiting family and friends and then booking it out of the country a few months later.

A critical flaw of my nature is my tendency to overthink and plan to excess. I like to have complete control, which usually spirals into insane shenanigans where I have no control. Such is life, but during my next trip I want to try and live within the moment. Had I not incessantly planned ahead while in Spain, I easily could have solidified several jobs, a place to live and probably a few plants and a dog to round out the entire experience. By living in the future I robbed myself the joys of the present, as well as the possibility of staying in Spain longer without panicking at the possibility of the unknown. As it is I have solidified my fate for the next few months and I will take it as another lesson learned.

Safe travels,
AS

SOL: Day Trippin’

If there is one traveler’s sin I’ve committed while being in Spain (though in reality there have been many) it is the foolish mistake of becoming too rooted in one place. While residing in Sant Pol I have barely ventured north up the coast of Spain even though the train system makes it easy and painless. Thankfully one of my friends is going as stir-crazy as I am, so yesterday we went to a nearby village to rent a moped for a jet up towards Costa Brava.

After taking the train from Sant Pol to Pineda, we paid a 30E deposit and another 45E for nine hours of moped freedom. While our front signal light was held together by tape and the back tire was of questionable quality, this 125CC bike may as well have been a white chariot to freedom.

Maresme Map

We left Pineda and immediately went north through the other coastal tourist towns until stopping in Lloret de Mar for a walk along the beach. The further north we went up the coast the more coves we passed and the beaches became more secluded and beautiful. After a half hour trip on the moped (with me hanging on for dear life) we reached Tossa del Mar, situated evenly on the coast about 100KM from both Barcelona and the French border. We wandered through the quaint cobblestone streets and up through the old castle where we were able to take in amazing views of the city.

Tossa del Mar, Spain

Tossa del Mar

Tossa del Mar

Tossa del Mar

Tossa del Mar

Tossa del Mar

After stopping for a late lunch near the beach, we left Tossa and continued north and went up into the mountains before heading back to our stomping grounds. Getting away from Sant Pol for the day and seeing new sights was exactly what we needed; it’s too easy to get wrapped up in the day-to-day drivel and let it stress you out. I was happy for the excursion, but equally happy to arrive to my house without being maimed on the back of the bike. I have a little more than two months left in this beautiful country and I am determined to make it count.

Safe travels,
AS

SOL: Four Months Later

Last week marked my fourth month in Spain, a milestone that three months ago I wasn’t sure I would make. I’ve been lazy in updating this blog and for that the only excuse I can offer is that I have been letting myself be consumed by life. I am learning how to simply exist and for that reason I have been negligent.

I can’t even begin to describe the events since my post in June. After the hectic week of my friend’s visit the last week of May, I decided to dive headfirst into working at the restaurant and focusing on improving interaction with my young charge. Many days I feel I am caught between two worlds; one of perpetually over-indulgent, snarky travelers and boozed up German tourists and the other of creative play with a four-year-old and testing out my maternal instincts. I wouldn’t have it any other way and both jobs provide a respite from the other. The restaurant has offered me exactly what I was looking for – cash in hand and a social life (arguably too much of a social life sometimes). The tourist season is drawing to a close and so is my contract, but I derive sweet happiness from the summer months spent as a bartender and server in Spain.

It’s hard to try and put into words the massive changes I’ve undergone while being here. I find it simultaneously rewarding and isolating to know that the people who have supported me for years will never truly be able to grasp what I have gone through. A phone call cannot describe every nuance, a picture will never encompass a night in Spain, and a message cannot use poetic words to explain each silly sentiment. I will keep these months nestled within my memory and revisit them often. In April, I thought myself foolishly in love with someone in Canada, to the point that my to-do lists were titled, “What To Accomplish While You’re Stuck in Spain.” Seriously. I promise I am not entitled, though perhaps I am a bit jaded. I am amazed at how rapidly my mindset has changed and how my priorities have rearranged themselves. While I never relish the concept of loving and losing, I have begun to see the upside of loss as a doorway to new experiences and new growth. I find myself perpetually in awe of each happy coincidence of the universe and I truly believe I am exactly where I belong.

Following that train of thought, in mid-July I emailed my boss in Canada and declined his offer to come back to work. I breathed a sigh of relief and allowed myself to melt into a European pool of possibilities. I floated on the cloud of realization that I could be here for as long as I wanted without a care in the world.

That lasted for all of twenty-three minutes until I received his response.

As it is, I do feel loyalty to the company that has fostered my growth and encouraged my travel since I was in third year of university. That said, I will be returning to Canada to complete my contract as agreed and then we will sever ties with mutual respect and understanding. Over the past few months I have realized that I am terrible at walking away from things (and people) even though I know in my gut it is time to move on. In this instance, while I am grateful for everything the company has offered me, I feel a calling elsewhere in the world and I know I would be foolish to try and ignore it. Ultimately there comes a time when you have to be honest with yourself and make choices that will potentially upset and offend. It is important to live as you want and be brave enough to pursue your dreams; life is far too short to contort yourself and try to meet someone else’s ideals. I do not for a second believe that I have my life figured out, but after years of feeling like I have been living in a cloud I finally feel free. I constantly find myself in awe of life – through good experiences or bad. I am caught between perpetually swinging forces of life and I am okay with it; I am slowly learning how to deal with each curveball and lesson thrown at me, difficult as it may be.

Case in point: two weeks ago I was in Paris eating a lunch of baguette and brie while sitting on a bench smack-dab between the Louvre and the Tuileries. I wanted to take a picture but instead I sat in awe and realized that no photo could ever do the moment justice. Fast forward to this week, where I had the sickening experience of watching a man run away with my purse, phone, keys and cash while I was helpless in the water. Not the best scenario, but amazingly I didn’t curl into a ball and sob like I would have done a few months ago. I dealt with it, learned the lesson of my own ignorant carelessness, bought a new phone and moved on. Life will never be smooth-sailing, but once you learn you possess the strength to handle each storm, it gets better.

I’m still learning something every day, both about the world and myself, and in many ways I feel I am gleaning more knowledge than I did in the past few years. It is not an exaggeration to say that my character has changed while here; I am doing, saying and wearing things that I would never dare to in Canada. It’s liberating, it’s exhausting – but every experience is wholeheartedly mine and for that reason I adore it with every fibre of my being.

In connecting with a friend from university, they pointed out that my life as I portray it on social media looks like one giant beach trip with tourist sojourns sprinkled in. In truth, it is easy to create a false aura of grandeur online and I want to emphasize that this is not something I am trying to accomplish. I have shitty days here. There are some days when I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning. There have been days – weeks even – where I felt I simply could not stay and wanted to pack up and fly back to Canada. I am preaching happiness while ensconced in Spain but it isn’t one constant high. Not every day is a beach day.

I am happy for the events that lead to bringing me here. I’m grateful for all my experiences thus far and for the people I have met. Let’s recap, shall we?

Celebrating Sant Joan and Trying Not To Shoot My Face Off

Spanish people love fire. Spanish people love being loud. Ergo – Spanish people love fireworks.

Enter the Festival of Sant Joan, a midsummer holiday celebrated with relish in Spain. On June 24 everyone in Spain turns out in hordes and floods the beaches to drink, sit around bonfires and set off fireworks. My friend warned me that I was not prepared for the rambunctious celebrations, and my god he was right.

People congeal in the streets, piling makeshift bonfires high with planks of wood, kitchen chairs, tables – anything flammable, really. Coca de Sant Joan, a pastry, is also sold and eaten this night. I’m sure there is a long religious and pagan background to this event, but I will explain it to you as a local Spaniard explained it to me, “We eat. We drink. We play with fire.”

On the night of, armed with a veritable treasure trove of fireworks, we marched to the Sagrada Familia where bangers were being shot off with zero regard for safety and the pops of each new sparkler were competing to overpower the acrid smell of smoke that hung in the air. At 11:30PM the Sagrada was lit up by lights and the remains of a massive bonfire burned in the centre of the square. It was, to put it mildly, sensory overload.

Sant Joan Arsenal

Fireworks @ Sagrada

We spent a solid half hour shooting all kinds of fireworks into the centre of the square and trying to dodge the flying sparks. My friend bought terrifying fireworks with names like “XXL Destruction” and “Rampage” so I was genuinely worried about shooting my finger off. After he set off one of the huge fireworks my hesitation evaporated and I was throwing exploding firecrackers into the street with wild abandon until he had to tell me to simmer down. We were kids in a candy shop and giggling while setting off firework after firework, much to the glee of the children around us. He explained that due to the crisis in Spain people do not spend as much as they used to on fireworks, but on big nights such as Sant Joan, they will still indulge. We exhausted ourselves at Sagrada, so we wandered down to the metro to reach Barceloneta where we were hit with a mass wave of 20-somethings drinking on their way to the beach parties. Everyone piled off and hit the beach, where people were dancing to live music, drinking, watching fireworks and enjoying the night. I have never seen a celebration like Sant Joan and every Canada Day parade has paled in comparison. Why does Canada even bother trying to celebrate national holidays? Spain truly has us beat. The Spanish culture has such huge joie de vivre that the enthusiasm and pride is contagious. The night ended with vodka, falling asleep on a beach, and finally leaving Barcelona at 8AM while the city tried to recover from the night.

Sant Joan at Barceloneta!

Paris, Je T’Aime (Even When You’re a Frigid Salope)

July was an incredibly demanding month. I started working extra hours with my kid because he finished school; I took on morning shifts and full weekends at the bar and I stumbled into a job as a camp counsellor for an English summer camp, because why not?

It should come as no surprise that I was incredibly burnt out and cranky by the end of the month.

Enter Paris! A quick three day visit was exactly what I needed to do to recharge; luckily I was able to rendezvous with a friend who had never been so I stepped into the role of an inept tour guide. We managed to hit all the main tourist stops in three days, so it was well worth our time there. I love the city and I am perpetually drawn to the Eiffel Tower, however I will always be a tourist in the city, never a resident. Paris is a lover, but Barcelona is a love affair. As always, the mini-vacation went by far too quickly but it was a welcome excursion.

My favourite.

My favourite.

Somewhere In Paris...

Somewhere In Paris…

Urban Love

Macarons are better, bigger.

Macarons are better, bigger.

Follow Me...

Follow Me…

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

Candids in Paris

Candids in Paris

Tuileries Garden

“If we dressed up like Quasimodo and Esmeralda I bet we would make a lot of money.”

The cost of being a tourist in Paris is much higher than Barcelona. The train from the airport to city centre is 10E, more than double the cost of metro within BCN. Luckily my travel buddy is as low maintenance as I am and was perfectly content scouring the supermarkets for cheap couscous, baguettes and brie. The only downside to our trip was the weather – we left Barcelona on July 27 while the weather was 60% humidity and about 32 degrees. We landed in Paris in our tees and shorts and did a double-take at each other – it was about 15 degrees. The entire time we were there it hovered the low-teens so I was constantly buying sweaters, but we agreed it was better to be a bit cold than sweating our buns off.

I booked my flight through eDreams.es and ended up flying with EasyJet on the way there and AirFrance on the way back. Online check-in is a godsend so I was able to slide through security and boarding without any problems. The trip back, between transport to and from the airport, boarding and flight time took about six hours, so I was exhausted and sweaty by the time I arrived in Spain, but also happy to be “home.”

Pièce de Résistance: Sex, Men, Nudity, Love & Spain

Quiero Un Amante…

I pointed out in one of my first travel posts about this trip that Spanish people are incredibly sexually liberated creatures. At my French hippie resort last year I thought I had seen it all, really, I did. I witnessed a bit of liberation and politely declined, curled up with my book entitled Healthy North American Shame and left it at that.

Enter Spain.

In a country where people are more attractive than the norm; where the language itself fellates your ears; where the liquor is cheap, the cigarettes are heavy, the beer is light and the local bars stay open late and play sensual music all night long, I suppose it should come as no surprise that everyone walks around perpetually erotically charged.

North American men (all men, really) need to take lessons from these Spanish Lotharios. With faces like damn deities and a purring language that could melt chocolate, these guys know exactly how to woo women. They are near experts at maintaining the proper balance of flirtation, compliments, confidence and eye contact. I dare any woman to come here and not perpetually swoon. A downside to this incredible seduction technique is that they simply do not know when to turn it off, and as such, it is imperative to ask mid-seduction whether or not they have a significant other. On the plus side, they are always honest, but a slight downside is that most of them already have a girlfriend and they simply don’t care. Tread carefully.

Boob Burn & #FreeTheNipple

Let’s revisit my book shall we, the one I held on to like a life preserver in France that focused on the benefits of shame and how it has been drilled into all North Americans with Puritan rigidity. I understand the logic behind decency; I know that private parts are private and the general omnipresent insistence that we keep women’s bodies sexualized only when it’s convenient for the male gaze. As such, I have become a happy deserter of N.A. shame and a firm believer in European nudity.

It doesn’t hurt that every beach along the Maresme coast has a nude beach and even the “clothed” beaches are more often than not spotted with naked people. To be honest, I’ve become desensitized to seeing nudity, an event that has likely spurred on this laissez-faire attitude. I believe we should treat our bodies less like commodities and more like our own property. Free the nipple ladies (but only if and when you want to).

That’s Amore

I truly thought I would fall in love while here. I’m actually surprised that I haven’t given the calibre of men around me, but instead I find myself in love with life and drowning in lust with everything else. I’m happier, to be honest, that I have not tethered myself to another person and as such I have been able to retain absolute freedom and independence. For all my poetic musings, I find myself a little bit in love with a lot of people, a situation I have grown to simply accept. There are too many wonderful people in the world that I have yet to meet.

Coworker Lovin'

Coworker Lovin’

I try to be suave, but at the end of the day I am still a Canadian trying to adopt European culture and as such there are a few hiccups. For instance, would a born and bred Spaniard start a romance with a Frenchman she met at work, invite him to stay with her, realize once he is at her place for three days that she loathes him, allow him to fall in love with her and then physically shove him on a plane back to his homeland?

Probably not

She would also likely be indifferent when he shows up at her work a month later, professing his intentions and offering to start a life together. A homegrown Spanish girl would handle it with an air of unaffected cool – I handled it with alcohol and anxiety, but to each their own.

Looking back, the past few months read like a menagerie of mierda, and to some extent, they have been. I wouldn’t change them for anything and I’m looking forward to what life will throw at me in the next few months.

The Motto

The Motto

Safe travels,
AS