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: Champagne Problems

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Four days of relentlessly pounding pavement in Amsterdam have left me absolutely knackered. I’m fairly certain my feet have eroded and I’m hobbling on stumps at this point. My whirlwind tour was 110% worth it and my only regret is that I can’t spend more time here. I am already anticipating my future stays in this captivating city. Dank je wel, Holland!

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Considering I decided to be carefree and careless during my tourist session this is my dinner – thrice times super juice and green tea. I wanted to indulge in everything Amsterdam has to offer. Life is too short to not sample the coffee, stroopwafel and poffertjes! I regret nothing.

I have another hellish trip back to Paris on the night bus, arriving around 7AM tomorrow and then it is my LAST DAY IN EUROPE. The past few months have flown by; it feels like it was just yesterday I was planning this adventure as a way to pass time at work.

I want to thank everyone who has followed my posts thus far and to my friends and family who have supported me and kept in touch throughout my journey! I am so absolutely blessed to have such amazing people in my life.

Safe travels,
AS

SOL: Amsterdam Essentials

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I’ve been stalling packing for ‘Dam for days but this morning I had no choice but to suck it up and get it done.

Ét voila, the essentials as per Alexa:

1) eBags small carrier filled with tees, leggings and under-things.
2) One pair regular wash jeans, one pair black jeans.
3) French passport & monies for shenanigans.
4) Sturdy padlock for hostel lockers.
5) Eye drops for… Allergies.
6) iPhone.
7) Comfy Converse for trekking the city streets.
8) Leather jacket for fall weather and fashion.

Not pictured: my embarrassingly large backpack, the numerous tickets and maps I’ve printed out, my toiletries, iPad and Nikon camera.

I’m finding it hard to believe I have less than a week left in Europe! The past five months have been a blast and I’m looking forward to ending on a high note.

Safe travels,
AS

SOL: Tampons, Ice Cubes, Accents, PB & Boobs

There have been a few clashes between Canuck and French living in the past few weeks that I feel can no longer go unnoticed.

SOL: Tampons, Ice Cubes, Accents, PB & Boobs

Marcel Marceau I Am Not

For the past week Chez Quinta has had family staying over in the form of a daughter and granddaughter which has been a lovely addition for me since I am still the only WWOOFer here. The thirteen year old granddaughter reminds me of my sister so I’ve been attempting interaction with her in my broken French. She’s quite confused as to why I’m here, initially she thought I was my host’s daughter and then she assumed I was some sort of maid. Wrong on all counts doll, I’m just a lost and weary traveller… Sort of. She came up to me in the hall a few days ago and told me she had run out of pads and wanted to know if I had any to spare. Since I a) have not used a pad since I was 12 and b) would rather skewer myself than sit in a blood diaper, I had to search for the French word for “tampon” in my mental dictionary. I had seen the word tampon used on a printing store window, so I knew the exact translation didn’t fit, and since in the heat of the moment I’m not known for being too suave my mime skills took over and I was creating an elaborate finger-and-sound motion of a tampon. Needless to say she did not, in fact, take any of my tampons. I can’t say I blame her.

Ice Ice Baby

A slight issue, but an annoyance to me all the same – several Europeans have informed me that ice cubes are not popular in Europe. I seem to recall having this problem last time I toured France, but since I drink a lot heavier this time around, it has been a growing nuisance for me. I’m lusting after a big glass half-filled with clinking and cracking ice cubes, half-filled with tequila and tonic. Forget men; just give me frozen chunks of water in a jumbo cup of alcohol to satiate my desire.

Accents

I’ve always been a fan of accents. I’m envious of people who speak with Cajun peppering their words and honey coating certain phrases that sound bland coming out of my mouth. It never occurred to me that in France I would have the accent. Unfortunately I’m certain I sound like a valley-girl-hillbilly mash-up to the cultured French tongue, but when someone asks me, “And where is your accent from?” I die a little inside. I’ve been told that I speak very hard “English” French, and that when I’m drunk I sound like a Spaniard – must be the wine rolling all my R’s for me.

Where Art Thou Skippy?

Another slight cultural nuisance I have encountered – PEANUT BUTTER. If you thought my lust for ice cubes was borderline raunchy, don’t even get me started on Skippy. I have searched high and low, even scoured my beloved Carrefour, and all I’ve found is the smallest jar possible of PB for a whopping six Euros. What the hell? Namua has informed me that peanut butter is regarded as an exotic food and that my best bet is to try the bio health food stores – or to make my own. I have a love affair with peanut butter, which has peaked ever since I came home drunk-as-a-skunk in university, passed out and woke up only to find out that in my intoxicated state I had a little peanut-butter-party and covered everything in my room, including myself, with a coating of Kraft’s Whipped PB. I’m not even sure if I got any in my mouth, but it turns out it’s hard to get peanut butter out of hair. Where art thou Skippy? I’ll find you.

DD Dilemma

And now for the grand finale of cultures mixing – breasts.

Breasts are everywhere in Europe. On beaches, on magazines, on advertisements – there are bare breasts and bodies everywhere! I would like to think I’m not a prude by any means, but I’ve yet to yearn for the wind on my nipples at the beach.

“You know America was founded by prudes. Prudes who left Europe because they hated all the kinky, steamy European sex that was going on. And now I will return to the land of my perverted forefathers and claim my birthright… which is a series of erotic and sexually challenging adventures.” (Eurotrip, 2004)

It was bright and sunny here in Laroque today so after lunch I decided to sit by the pool with a book and try to soak up some sun. I’m just getting settled into the chaise when I hear an upbeat “Cou-cou!” I swing around to face Sabine, one of our guests, and my smile freezes on my face as I find myself making direct eye contact with her areolae.

Let’s get one thing straight – I have breasts. It’s not like I’ve never seen boobs before. But even among my closest girlfriends we have never once whipped off our tops devil-may-care and pranced around with our breasts flying in the wind. Goddamn these French people and their nonchalant attitude towards women being topless. I envy it! I also fear it. She resumed her tanning place and I felt compelled to caution her against nipple-burn, but decided against it. Just like drinking on the street, (banned in Canada, allowed here), the thought of sunbathing on a beach, or anywhere, topless just feels so naughty.

Cultural clashes aside, I’ve reached my one month milestone in France and I’ve loved every minute. The adventure is just beginning!

Namaste,
AS

SOL: Solo Travels

There came a point in my pre-departure lifestyle where amongst all the planning and saving I realized that I should probably start telling people that I was leaving. Those closest to me had known for several months, but as I told more people there was one sentence they would all invariably utter, “You’re going alone?

They’d lower their voice as they said it, as if taking this journey solo was too troublesome to say out loud. Alone – as if it was a dirty or unpleasant word. Then they would raise the topic of my safety, (because a young woman travelling alone is apparently a target) or tell me that I would get lonely and want to come home within a week. I politely listened to all of it, while within my head all I could focus on was the gentle, reassuring thrum that was pushing me out the door and propelling me to a foreign country.

I feel like it’s important to address these inaccuracies. I’m rapidly approaching my one month mark in France and I can honestly attest to the fact that I have not once felt lonely. If anything, I’ve felt swamped with company and I find myself constantly surrounded by friendly faces. I’m not sure if it’s an auric radiation or France in general, but even my quiet moments result in new acquaintances, whether it’s an elderly gentleman in a café (who overheard I was Canadian and promptly whipped out photos of his own daughter who is teaching in Toronto) or a young American woman (who heard my “accent” and quickly bonded with me over our mutual interest in Thailand and discussed the best places to get Thai food in France). Each interaction leaves me feeling charmed and blessed by life. I am never lonely, but I relish the moments when I am alone.

Even while in Barcelona, which is notorious for pick-pockets and chock-full of warnings for young women, I never once felt threatened or worried about my safety. In fact, as a young woman I find people are more likely to take you under their wing and protect you. As we checked into our hostel we experienced a brief moment of panic because we had booked into a “Mixed Dorm” (8 bunks, male and female). We agreed that if we walked in and felt unsafe or threatened, we would demand to be switched to an all-female dorm. As it turns out, we were in a room with two couples and one 22 year old Dutch guy who turned out to be excellent company while we stayed in Barcelona. Hostels are great places to meet like-minded travellers and I could have easily stayed a few extra nights for the social aspect alone.

Travelling alone can be more stressful, and I can certainly see the benefit to splitting the costs of luggage lockers and taxi’s, but successfully arriving at each destination fills me with a sense of pride and independence that I can scarcely put into words.

As much as I love the people in my life, I cannot imagine taking this trip with anyone but myself. I’ve been incredibly lucky thus far to have had my experience enriched by so many colourful characters.

I’m looking forward to the next few months of travel I have ahead.

Namaste,
AS

SOL: Palais en Perpignan

SOL: Palais en Perpignan

Took a short tour into Perpignan centre ville with the other WWOOFer today. We spent three hours walking through the streets and checking out the castle from the 13th century, and an amazing church.

Perpignan is evenly divided by tourist zones and gypsy slums. We took a wrong turn at one point and ended up in a dead end alley surrounded by clothes, garbage, and too many Gypsies for my liking.

It is a beautiful city and the architecture is absolutely amazing. We were walking through the castle and the detail in each wall was astounding.

Tomorrow I’m helping at a market close to the sea.

Bonne nuit,
AS

SOL: Paris Is Always A Good Idea

SOL: Paris Is Always A Good Idea

Landed safely in Paris.
It seems as though the “fear” I was waiting for will not come. Perhaps this is how it feels to be certain in the choices you make?
I cannot remember ever feeling so at ease or tranquil in my life.
Walking to the supermarket gives me more joy than is reasonable or sane.
I love it here. The stress and anxiety that was suffocating the last few weeks has lifted.

Pure bliss.
Tomorrow’s agenda: Perpignan via TGV.

Bonne nuit,
AS