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: Twenty-Four

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The more sand that has escaped from the hourglass of our life, the clearer we should see through it.

// Jean-Paul Sartre

It is bittersweet to acknowledge that I am already another year older. The past twelve months have flown by, yet each one held its own milestone. I am eternally grateful for the life I lead and for the people who enrich my life and support me throughout all my ridiculous endeavors.

While it brings me existential angst to reflect on the fact that another year has already passed, I am comforted by the knowledge that I am in a better place emotionally, physically and mentally. I’m constantly in the pursuit of growth, whether it be through new cultural experiences, challenging relationships or continuing education. While in my 23rd year I was internally focused on rebuilding my foundation, in my 24th year I will start living externally and bringing to fruition the goals I have internalized for years due to fear of failure. It has come to my attention that I have been choosing the “safe” options for far too long and I want to start taking risks and pursuing happiness on my own terms.

I am constantly astounded at how quickly we can alter our lives and at how rapidly our goals can change. Last year I was preaching ad nauseam that I was going to eschew all acceptable avenues of living and perpetually travel the globe as a nomadic yuppie hipster. Travel will remain one of the great loves of my life; in order to fully understand yourself and the world you live in it is imperative to experience new climates, cultures, and styles of living. However, I do believe that there comes a time when being rooted and establishing a home base of your own becomes less of a hindrance and more of a luxury.

If I am brutally honest, my travels last year were used as a coping mechanism; the adventurous equivalent of a jet-pack emergency release. Life had simply become too much for me to handle and leaving the country felt like the only way to re-calibrate and regain control. I didn’t realize how much more stable I had become until I began to prepare for this trip and realized that I did not need to leave this time around – I wanted to (albeit reluctantly at times). Even now, I can feel that my relationship with travel has changed and this will be my last extended trip abroad. The desire to flee is not omnipresent; my priorities have changed (for the time being) and I am more interested in building a future and investing my time with those who are important to me.

Leaving home this time around was bittersweet but settling in Spain has given me the kick in the ass that I needed. If I am going to willingly separate myself from the people I love, I want to be able to have something to show for it in the end. While last year I genuinely needed time to balance myself, I now have the tools I need to pursue my goals and make things happen. My youthful entitlement has evaporated and I want to push towards what I want – fear of rejection or failure be damned.

My goal for my 24th year is simple, straight-forward, and ultimately clichéd as hell; I aspire solely to create a life that fits my own ideals of health, wealth and happiness. I do not wish to be rich, mass success holds no appeal and I do not dream of fame. I simply want to be happy (inside and out) and as a result, bring happiness to other people’s lives.

As my birthday is rapidly coming to a close on this side of the globe, I want to once again thank my friends and family who thought of me today. Sending lots of love from Europe.

Safe travels,
AS

BODY: Review of BeHot Yoga Toronto

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Location: 43 Colborne St, Toronto, ON
Website: http://www.behotyogatoronto.com

One of the perks about living in the GTA is that there’s no shortage of yoga enthusiasts. Much like the ever-present Starbucks, throw a rock (or a yoga mat) in downtown Toronto and it’s more than likely you will hit a studio.

I started doing yoga in my early teens and after a bit of research into different practices I decided to branch into Bikram Yoga. Non-heated yoga has never held much appeal to me and there’s a masochistic pleasure derived from watching rivulets of sweat pour down your body. To each their own, though – any yoga style is an excellent way to ensure athletic longevity as you age.

Bikram Yoga, created by mega-douche Bikram Choudhury, is a practice that incorporates a series of 26 postures and two breathing sequences for a total of 90 minutes in a climate-controlled environment of 105 degrees. It’s sweltering and often painful, but it does yield results.

Bikram Yoga, not to be confused with “hot yoga” is essentially trade-marked and therefore incredibly costly to practice. As it is I was lucky enough to find BeHot Bikram in downtown Toronto with an offer to new students for $49 for 30 days of unlimited yoga. Considering a drop-in class costs $25 all you have to do is go to TWO classes in one month to get your money’s worth.

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This studio is right in the downtown core and is approximately a five minute walk from King Subway Station. The studio has been running for 10 years and the owner Paul McQuillan has not only literally written the book on yoga (seriously, check it out HERE) but he has also created a welcoming atmosphere for yogis of any skill level to practice in. During my month of classes I was instructed by several different teachers and by McQuillan himself; all of whom were knowledgeable, encouraging, and some were even able to make me laugh while I was contorted and praying for the sweet release of death.

While the benefits of Bikram are a source of heated debate, I did notice that I shed a bit of weight (which may be contributed to expelling a gallon of sweat at each class), my flexibility and posture improved, and my mood was better. The list of potential benefits will vary from each practitioner but the detoxifying benefits are a guarantee.

For first-timers, be forewarned that the heat will get intense. Drink a litre of water in the hours leading up to your class, hydrate during the practice and make sure you have water afterwards! Avoid eating a heavy meal beforehand and dress prepared to sweat. Lots of the die-hard yogi’s will be rocking speedos and not much else so don’t feel embarrassed about shedding layers – you’ll sweat through everything anyway.

BeHot rents out mats and towels, and sells water for a nominal fee; they also offer small lockers to store your valuables during class. The changing room gets busy quickly so getting there early is in your best interest. The doors to the studio are unlocked half an hour before each class starts.

I encourage anyone in Toronto who is looking for a change in their fitness routine to take advantage of this offer!

“Yoga is not a religion. It is a science – science of well-being, science of youthfulness, science of integrating body, mind and soul.”
// Amit Ray

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