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

SOL: Coyote Ugly, Joie de Vivre & Having It All

The past six weeks have been a chaotic whirlwind but all of it has been worthwhile, if absolutely physically draining.

Coyote Ugly

Working hard or...

Working hard or…

I am glad that I have friends who have no qualms about calling me on my shit. “You need a social life outside of hanging out with a five year old boy,” one of my close confidantes told me, “You’ve referenced Spiderman twice in this conversation.” Fair point, considering after five weeks of living in Spain I was resembling a hermit more than someone on vacation. Spurred on by weeks of inactivity, I dove headfirst into creating a social life and signed up for no less than three language exchange boards and replied to handfuls of job postings on the Spanish equivalent of Craigslist. The job board was a mistake and I ended up going to a shady area of Barcelona to be interviewed for a questionably legal job of pawning bar-crawl tickets to boozed-up tourists. Needless to say, I was offered the job but I went with my gut and declined. After considering working for a French cosmetic company (and therefore having to file taxes) I ended up being referred by my hosts to a job in the neighbouring town of Calella at an English-style pub. After drafting up a cover letter and preparing to email my resume I realized that I had already applied for the job in January while I was tucked behind my desk in Canada. As luck would have it, this time I got an interview and the job, which is how I have found myself working at a bar in Spain. I am all for life’s little ironies as long as they are happy ones.

At my first shift I decided to jump into it whole-heartedly which resulted in working nine hours, doing shooters with customers and going out with coworkers afterwards until 5AM. I channeled my inner Coyote Ugly (it’s been my dream for a decade) and I did more “chupitos” than any one person should and ended up being a hot mess; it was standard night that included eating overnight oats in a bar bathroom, twerking to Spanish music and flirting with anything that moved. It remains to be seen whether I will actually keep the job over the summer, but as of now it has been a sweet reprieve and has allowed me to meet tons of people. Not only that, but being a bartender in a tourist town means you drink at every other bar for free, and frankly I am not going to decline such a privilege.

Do not give the Canadian alcohol...

Do not give the Canadian alcohol…

My friend came to visit the last week of May and while we made our rounds of the discos in Calella we were running into people I knew everywhere; at which point she noted that not only are the people incredibly welcoming here, but the men are of a much higher calibre than in North America, or as she put it later while we were walking in Barcelona, “Let’s just go back to Calella… Even the garbage men are beautiful there.”

On that note, Spanish people party harder than anyone I have ever seen and going to the disco requires a gut of steel. Viva Espana…

As for the language exchange boards, I had such an influx of people willing to help me learn Spanish (and probably other skills) that I deleted two accounts and focused on one exchange site. I have been able to meet several people my age and my Spanish has improved immensely. It makes a huge difference being able to understand the conversations around you and I have swan-dived into Spanish culture in order to learn all that I can in the shortest amount of time. I have fallen so absolutely in love with Spain that I will forever be tied to Barcelona.

Joie De Vivre

Pond-side view of the cathedral.

Pond-side view of the cathedral.

My view on the way to work :)

My view on the way to work 🙂

Little Visit to The National Museum of Art in Catalonia

Little Visit to The National Museum of Art in Catalonia

Located right next to Sagrada & the best pizza I've had since living in Napoli!

Located right next to Sagrada & the best pizza I’ve had since living in Napoli!

Life as of late has been a happy balance of au-pairing, working, hanging out with new friends and basking in the sun. While my friend from Canada was here for the last week of May it ended up feeling like a vacation for me as well. We spent our morning visiting tourist traps and indulging in local cuisine and our nights were spent soaking in Sangria and oogling the beautiful Spanish men. It was great to have her here and I have not laughed so much in ages. I am more aware than ever of how lucky I am to be here and have this opportunity. A few highlights from the last few weeks include: trying paddle-boarding for the first time and absolutely loving it; drinking too much sangria at a hole-in-the-wall bar in the depths of Barcelona, stumbling back giggling through the streets and eating the best damn cupcake of my life; spending my best friend’s birthday lounging in a spa; experiencing the full charm of Spanish men (truly potent); realizing I have learned Spanish well enough to argue in it; witnessing the celebratory aftermath of FC Barcelona winning a championship game, complete with running up La Ramblas from riot police and avoiding pellet bullets (I’m okay with not repeating that experience); spending a leisurely afternoon in the Gothic district wandering in and out of shops and refueling at patios.

It was advertised as "Barcelona's Best Mojito" so we had to do a taste test...

It was advertised as “Barcelona’s Best Mojito” so we had to do a taste test…

When Spain celebrates a "football" win they go all out!

When Spain celebrates a “football” win they go all out!

It has been a hectic few weeks but I am so overwhelming happy with this experience that I look forward to the next months in this amazing country. I have adopted ownership of this country and have a local’s disdain for the hordes of tourists descending upon the beaches. As my Spanish friend has told me, “You aren’t a tourist because you live here, and look- (as he points to my arms), you aren’t a lobster like the tourists here, you’re brown like a local.” I will take the small victories as they come.

Having It All (Maybe)

I am well aware that I am lucky in life. While I may not have gleaned fame or wealth, I do not truly struggle for anything and I am aware of how blessed I am for this luxury. After graduating from my university program, I tumbled right into a full-time job in my field which is relatively unheard of in Toronto. I held that job for almost two years after graduating but ultimately resigned in order to start my first half-year trek around the globe. I was lucky enough to be offered the same position when I returned last September, but I knew when I left this time I would not be so fortunate as to waltz back. I understood the loss of the job security but accepted it as a side-effect of seeing the world.

That said, I have since been given the opportunity to go back to the same job this winter, along with a candy-coated offer I simply cannot refuse. My boss had warned me I couldn’t keep leaving for six months at a time (which is fair), so we have reached a “wanderlust contract” of sorts. For every nine months I work, I will be given three consecutive months off to travel the world. I am a traveler at heart, but a deep part of me yearns for stability, routine and a home-base. I feel a bit like a sell-out accepting a job again, but I think it is a sound decision that allows me to balance a career with my passion for travel. Once again, I find myself insanely lucky with the people in my life who support me in my endeavours! Now that I know there is an end date for my time here, I am only spurred on to embrace every experience I can.

Looking forward to the summer months, I plan on working as I please and taking small sojourns to new cities during the week – on my radar are Athens, Marrakesh, Porto and London.

I have never been happier with the life I live or the people in it.

Safe travels,
AS

SOL: Taking A Break, Dino Sheets & Solitude

SOL: Taking A Break, Dino Sheets & Solitude

After a hectic 62 hours, I arrived safely back at my host house in Laroque des Albères. It was my hope that the mini-vacation to Spain would recharge my batteries and let me finish the next two weeks of WWOOF-ing with renewed zest. It seems like it has – the daily tasks were not so painful, although now I’m the only worker as the two other girls jumped ship. I’m looking forward to sticking it out here and completing the one month stay that I promised myself and my host. It’s hard to believe that I have become accostomed to snakes in the pool, compost in the toilet, frogs as an alarm clock and early mornings at the market but alas, it has happened.

Part of getting “home” after the Spain trip was unpacking my bags and reorganizing my things. As I was changing the sheets I found the motherload – a Jurassic Park duvet cover! I have a slight (read: all-consuming) Dino obsession and these sheets were enough to perk up my morning. It’s the small things, right?

I had the entire day to myself, as my host was completing errands and left me to finish my tasks as I saw fit. After over two weeks of constant company and interaction, being able to toss on some headphones and garden resulted in a very zen-like state. I’m trying to refocus my travels onto self-discovery, and as a result I’ve deleted two social media accounts (SnapChat and Instagram) in an attempt to distance myself from my life back home. The constant reminders and updates were distracting from the NOW. Baby steps.

Happy Thursday everyone,
AS

SOL: Four Days Out

SOL: Four Days Out

Four days to departure.

It feels incredibly surreal to finally be on the cusp of the adventure I have been planning since last summer. I honestly don’t think it has fully hit me – it’s possible it won’t sink in until I’m there.

I don’t want to preach this trip as a “dream come true,” because as of yet I’m not sure if it is. But I can attest to the fact that this trip is one thing in my life that I have worked towards and have prepared for entirely by myself. In that sense, I am deriving a huge sense of pride already. I set numerous goals before leaving on this trip and I met each one. The sense of accomplishment in the simple act of leaving is indescribable.

I’m scared, of course. I’m bottling up my fear and trying to be brave. I’m desperately trying to tune out the voice in my head that is reminding me of what I have already lost, and what I may lose, and instead focusing on what I have to gain. I am hoping to create a character metamorphosis on this trip. I hope that I shake the nagging depression that has been clinging to me like a wet towel for years. I know it will be hard. I expect to break down. I fully intend on crumbling into heaps of rubble and wanting to blow away. I just need to know that I am capable of picking myself back up. I need to feel that rush of joie de vivre again. I want to stop focusing on finding love with people and falling in love with my life.

I’ve been creating packing lists and looking at maps since last July. I’ve been packing and re-packing for months. I’ve booked hotels through Hotwire, trains through Rail Europe, planes through IcelandAir and established a host through WWOOF France. I’ve been shopping like a maniac and purchased everything under the sun that I could possibly need. Yet I have not mentally and emotionally prepared myself to leave home for months.

There’s a funny thing about leaving. In the past few months there has been a mass purging of my relationships. I noticed that technology, and especially social media, has allowed me to keep unhealthy relationships in my life. I want to cut ties and rebuild. I want to allow myself to be selfish.

In a few weeks, I will be celebrating my 23rd birthday. Looking back on my 22nd year, I can see the changes that lead me to take this trip. I graduated from university and college. I ended a relationship and declined a proposal. I dated people I shouldn’t have and had my heart broken by people I didn’t expect to care about. I both started and left my first real job. I got into my first serious car accident and managed to walk away unscathed. I learned the ups and downs of casual relationships and serious relationships until I realized the only relationship I want to be in is the one with myself. I got my certification to teach English as a second language. I realized that you should always tell people how you feel about them when you have the chance (even if it hurts). I got blackout drunk and woke up hours later with a black eye and a “missing” wallet. I discovered that at the end of the day it’s you that has to live with your choices. I realized that accepting blame and responsibility for your actions is a shitty but necessary feeling.

In my 23rd year, I hope to evolve. I hope to stop wearing my skin like a suit of armor. I aspire to make a home out of my body – to live and love within it. I hope I start being more honest with myself about what I want. I pray I have the courage to walk away from anything or anyone that attempts to belittle me. I hope I can understand that I don’t need to have everything figured out. I hope I learn to stress less and enjoy more. I hope I wake up every day looking forward to my life. I hope I become more independent. I hope I write more and feel inspired. I hope to nourish my soul. I want a passionate year (& life) and I refuse to settle for anything less.

There will never be a trip like this one again in my life.
I promise myself I will make this trip as positive as I can.
I promise to write as often and as honestly as possible.
I promise to be safe and use common sense.
I promise to see and live and explore and thrive.

Safe travels,
AS