Friday, October 24, 2003

I wanted today's post to be really poetic - but I think when you want something too much, sometimes it doesn't work.

It's my last day of having regular access to this blog. I will not be able to write every day now because obviously, backpacking around Europe is not ideal with a laptop - and I'd want to experience it anyway.

As the day goes on, I'm getting upset. The first person at work has just left and it was the first real goodbye. This is just going to get worse.

I think instead of trying to write something, I will post what I wrote my work colleagues:

"Thank you all for:

Making me feel so welcome
Putting up with my foreign words such as 'pants' and 'vest' and many many more
Being patient with my bossiness - but feeling content to boss me right back - I need it you know!
Making me happy that I chose Yorkshire and not London - Leeds rules!
Letting me sound really smart when I talked about Canada - when I get home, I won't have that!!
Teaching me what's so great about England
Just generally, being a caring group of people to work with and for

I'm not one for much tears, but please don't see that as a sign that I'm not truly touched by the experience I have made here. Leaving Canada was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. Leaving here is turning out be just as difficult.

Please keep in touch - and open invitations to stay with me in Canada!"

At the risk of sounding cliché...

People float in and out of our lives. We really don't appreciate their influence until they are gone. Anyone who knows me knows that emotional things don't hit me until the very last moment.

I remember in highschool, not crying a single time in my last year through all the of 'lasts' - the last assembly, the last Christmas dance, the last Valentine's Day, the last Athletic Banquet, the last Prom. Even the last class. It wasn't until I was walking down the hall at 3:41 to go an party after graduating.

I heard someone shout out:

"We're going to C's (my younger sister) place to swim." And then it hit me. I was gone. It was no long A's place but C's place.

And the tears that started would not stop.

I have a picture of my best friend and I after she comforted me and took me into the cafeteria to calm down. I look back at that picture now to remind me never to take for granted those fleeting moments of emotion.

They don't come often, but when they do, they mean so much.

I can feel that today - more than I expected. And it will definitely be worse when I have to give those keys to my landlord and walk away from my little British life.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

A Good Sendoff

The partying has begun. I feel completely unispired to write today simply because my head is pounding. 5 large glasses of white wine was perhaps not the greatest idea on a Wednesday night. Leads to dancing in routines, as though I'm Brittany Spears as well.

But nevermind - I'm leaving in 6 days. It somehow doesn't seem possible.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

A Full Year and an Inspirational Moment

A year ago today, I woke up at my parents' place in Chicago, finished packing (eternal procrastinator) and set off to O'Hare Airport fly over the ocean to a new beginning.

I was to arrive in Amsterdam on October 23rd, 2002 to meet D - who I hadn't seen for 20 days - not that I was counting. Leaving was meant to bring many things for me/us - one of them being a renewed enthusiasm for writing and being a writer.

It seems quite fitting, when I think back over this last year, that Amsterdam was the first place I hit. It was Anne Frank who got me started on this whole writing thing in the first place.

I remember reading her in elementary school for our English class. I was so touched by her story. I starting writing religiously in my diary every day, in the hopes that I could someday make a difference like she did, that in someway, people would read my diary and feel the way I felt when I read hers.

I started trying to write more profound things in my diary, just so it could sound as important as what Anne was writing about. It was only years later as adulthood creeped up on me that I realized I would never really be able to have the effect that Anne did simply because I would never really experience the horror she faced.

And so my fondest memory of Amsterdam was not when I arrived a year ago but when I spent an evening there by myself in June, waiting to fly back to Chicago. Both D and I had return flights in June from the cities we arrived at in October - D flew in and out of Manchester, I, Amsterdam. We both flew out on the same day, which left me by myself in the 'wild city' for one night.

I decided to take my travel diary - a hardcover leather book, a gift from a dear friend when he was travelling in Italy years before - and find a cafe on Prinsengracht near the Anne Frank Museum.

I had left D at the train station - he was gearing up for planes, trains and automobiles to get himself back to Canada - feeling a bit lonely as it was the first time we had been apart in about 4 months time.

I began to wander the streets of Amsterdam - the sun was beaming down on all the canals, making the water glimmer and sparkle. People were out and about as it was a national holiday, walking the streets or passing by in boats with music blaring and drinks in hand.

I slowly approached the Huis, which had a long queue due to the fact it was 4 in the afternoon. I stopped at a tree and just looked up. All those months. All that time. All her words. Written, from that little space.

I was quite enjoying just being part of the moment when a rude awakening occurred - a man came up to me and said something in Dutch. When I looked confused, he sheepishly said 'sorry' and slithered away. Leaning against trees in a city where prostitution is legal is not a good idea - even if you're in jeans, no makeup and hair in a ponytail.

I looked across the canal and saw a myriad of patio tables outside what looked quite like an English pub. That was it.

I wandered down the cobblestone road, across the bridge and found myself a seat by the water.

I could see the Huis perfectly, past the canal, past therevelingg boaters, past the trees. With my glad of white wine, I just began to write. I wrote and wrote for a good hour or so - a couple of wine glasses later - until I decided that I could write no more. It was almost as if I could feel her youthful spirit right there with me.

Occasionally, I would look back at the Huis and around at the life existing - people just being. The human spirit has incredible healing power. To think of all the horror that happened not so long ago in the same place I was sitting. And yet, we continue on.

I remember it felt so good to be there. I was so excited to go home and just so happy that my last day in Europe had turned out to be so meaningful.

One of the best parts of travelling in stumbling across an unplanned inspirational moment.

I think that's why I leaving the travel planning and co-ordinating to D - I'm better when life sneaks up on me.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

My Little Green Book
The strangest things excite me these days. I felt quite 'chuffed' and satisfied when I found a little green book, perfect size, with a hard cover, for my lists and my travels.

I have this tendency to imagine items that I want to buy without even knowing whether or not they exist. I get an idea in my head about what I want and I have trouble buying anything that is not the exact replica of the imagine item. Creativity gone awry.

But the other day, I went looking for a small sized note book that I could take with me on our travels. When we were out the first time, I had this great travel journal that a friend bought me. It asked various questions about specific days and one of them included meals. I would have never thought to include that detail in a travel log but it turned out to be quite useful. Many a time, D and I would be on trains and he would say, 'Well what did we eat that day?' - to be honest, I never really thought that question would come up but was quite please when I could turn to page 'Day 15' and find out that it was bread and cheese and not what we he had the previous day - rye bread and cheese.

But I digress (as usual). What I missed when we went out travelling the second time was having this little journal that made me write down the 'excrutiating minutia' (a shout out to Seinfeld's Elaine) such as breakfast, lunch and dinner.

And so, for our third trip, I wanted a little book that I could make notes in about these types of details. Also, I figured it would be great for writing down details frantically as I stumbled through various languages on the phone to hotel owners. I know how to ask if people speak English in many languages. If they say no, well, it becomes a bit more difficult.

This time, the little green book will help me. It's a good size so it will fit in my hip sack (my sis C will never forgive me for travelling AND getting my pictures taken all over Europe with something so unhip as a hipsack). It has a hard cover, so I don't need to find a hard surface to write on (this was key). Finally, it has lined paper so I don't write all willy nilly and fill the pages up to quickly (looking back at my reporter notebooks, I think I must have killed at least 50 trees with my large letters).

Today, I made my first notes in this little book.

'Things to Do'

Hopefully I don't use it all up with one list.

Monday, October 20, 2003

Keeping in touch

I realize now more than ever the importance of really planning to keep in touch. It's easy enough to say 'we'll be friends forever' but it's a bit more difficult than that.

I used to think that if you had to work too hard at a friendship or family relationship, it wasn't worth it. Being friends or family means you will just be there..when you're needed. You don't need to constantly be keeping up to date on each others lives.

Sadly, I used to see keeping in touch on a regular basis was 'working too hard'.

It's so easy to get caught up in day to day life. Everyone's busy and they have their own things going on - I was one of them. When I was working in Toronto, I felt like my life was consumed with work or money - or more correctly, the lack of money that I seemed to have. I seemed to be making enough but I was always getting stressed about getting in touch with friends for fear of having no money to actually enjoy myself in their company.

Now, I am on a very tight budget. And now, I make the effort to email, write, update this blog and even call people.

I've even made a Sunday date with my mom. This week was my turn to call. It felt so good to just be talking about every day stuff - my work, her work, crazy Cubs fans, my Dad's band - even if it was only for 30 minutes. When I lived hours away, we would spend over a hour on the phone and make fun of ourselves as we would prepare to say goodbye and then 'Oh just one more thing...' about 50 times before we actually hung up the phone.

What I hear a lot is that "nothing is going on in my life that is as exciting as yours." I remember emailing this to friends abroad when I was stuck in the T.O. rat race. But now, being on the other side, you really just want to feel like you're still part of their lives - who cares if you update me on your dog or your garden or even work. At least it's a little piece of you sent specially to me.

I don't mean this as a whining or complaining email - I remember feeling very frustrated with friends who would *demand* I kept in touch so I wouldn't want anyone I know to think that's why I'm writing this. I have a lot of great friends and aquaintances from home who have been so supportive and who, on a regular basis, stop their busy days to drop me a line.

I think I'm just angry at myself. Why is it I needed to come all the way across the ocean to figure out how to be a good friend/sister/daughter? (*she says, trying not to sound melodramatic*)

Or maybe I'm just surprised. I never really understood the other side. And really, I don't think you really can unless you experience some form of isolation from everything you hold dear.

It felt good to talk to my mom on the phone - it felt like a normal mother daughter chat. She made me laugh right near the end when I mentioned our Sunday *date* for next weekend.

"Okay I'll try to remember but I'm not very good at those things.(ie with four kids, my dad, a job and the bulldog, she's got a lot of things to remember in one week)"
(laughter from me and my mom)
"Well, put it on the calendar"
"I don't look at the calendar on Sundays! R, (as she spoke to my dad) we have to remember to call A next weekend"
(muffled noise of my dad's voice)
(laughter of my mom)
"Do you know what he said? Put it on the calendar"
(laughter from me and my mom)

Glad to know I have a *little bit of mom* and a *little bit of dad*

Friday, October 17, 2003

Would you like fries with that?
Using my creative juices to come up with inventive ways to make money over Christmas:

1 - Waltz into a travel agent and tell them I've been living abroad for a year - do they need any help filing?

2 - Head to Molly Maid - I've cleaned my house enough times - plus, all those rich people who will be having parties at Christmas won't have time in between shopping to Hoover the floor

3 - Giftwrapping at the mall - someone has to do it

4 - (similar to 1) Waltz into an English/Irish pub and tell them I've been living in England for a year - can I show them how they really do it?

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Size is Relative
Just booked our room in Prague - it's really happening isn't it?

Getting the details of the room made me realize how little we need to actually feel comfortable. It was described by the owner as 'not luxurious' but the location is amazing.

D and I are not used to staying in any kind of luxury while we backpack. We prefer a room to ourselves as opposed to a dorm style. We like to take an 'afternoon siesta' and it's always a bit awkward with multiple people in the room.

Plus, I have a habit of spreading all my stuff out - in dorms you have to lock everything up - I'm a girl! I need to make things feel homey!

We're arriving into Prague around 8:00 at night which is why we even looked at getting a room ahead of time. We don' t even really ever book ahead.

Since the owner sent us the size, we attempted to figure out just how much room we would have.

A mate at work looked concerned,

"Well, that won't be very big but you want to get out and see the city anyway."

So, I walked it out. 15 square metres is 5 metres by 3 metres.

The room is going to be huge! We just need it for sleeping...and siesta...and spreading out.

And so, my list of the smallest rooms in Europe:

3 - Peidmont, Nice France - friendly staff with tiny beds and unfortunately, a room neighbor who passed out on his bed with the television on full blast - I thought I was going to go crazy trying to fall asleep with French TV blaring words at me - nothing worse than trying to sleep when someone's talking...Especially in another language.

2 - Hotel in Dijon - sweet French lady who tolerated my attempts at speaking French - room had slanted ceiling as we must have been in the attic - and perhaps the fact they were tearing down the staircase next to our room didn't make it all that pleasant to wake up to - falling wood and concrete outside our door at 8 am.

(But the one that definitely takes the cake...)

1 - Hotel Brian in Amsterdam - cozy, friendly staff and close to the train station, this room had to be about 10 square metres - basically a bed. There was a common room but it was usually filled with smoke - and wasn't really up for getting high at 7am, even if I was in Amsterdam

There must be others. I will reminisce later

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Final Countdown
The countdown is on. Only 12 days until we fly away.

Kick it into 'Travel Girl' mode.

And I love that packing will be much easier then it was last time.

I don't even think we can fill more than one box. Makes you realize how little materialistic things you really need in life.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

I got this forward the other day - I realize it is might be copyrighted so I'll make this plug - checkout as I think that's where this came from.

It really put things into perspective. Not all of it makes sense to me or is absolutely true, but it's rare these days that I get an email forward that makes me really think.

They call it the "Quarter-life Crisis."

It is when you stop going along with the crowd and start realizing that there are many things about yourself that you
didn't know and may not like.

You start feeling insecure and wonder where you will be in a year or two, but then get scared because you barely know where you are now.

You start realizing that people are selfish and that, maybe, those friends that you thought you were so close to aren't
exactly the greatest people you have ever met, and the people you have lost touch with are some of the most important ones.

What you don't recognize is that they are realizing that too, and they aren't really cold, catty, mean or insincere, but that
they are as confused as you.

You look at your job... and it is not even close to what you thought you would be doing, or maybe you are looking for a job
and realizing that you are going to have to start at the bottom and that scares you.

Your opinions have gotten stronger.

You see what others are doing and find yourself judging more than usual because suddenly you realize that you have certain boundaries in your life and are constantly adding things to your list of what is acceptable and what isn't.

One minute, you are insecure and then the next, secure.

You laugh and cry with the greatest force of your life.

You feel alone and scared and confused. Suddenly, change is the enemy and you try and cling on to the past with dear life,
but soon realize that the past is drifting further and further away, and there is nothing to do but stay where you are or move forward.

You get your heart broken and wonder how someone you loved could do such damage to you.

Or you lie in bed and wonder why you can't meet anyone decent enough that you want to get to know better.

Or maybe you love someone but love someone else too and cannot figure out why you are doing this because you know that you aren't a bad person.

One night stands and random hook ups start to look cheap.

Getting wasted and acting like an idiot starts to look pathetic.

You go through the same emotions and questions over and over, and talk with your friends about the same topics because you cannot seem to make a decision.

You worry about loans, money, the future and making a life for yourself...

and while winning the race would be great, right now you'd just like to
be a contender!

What you may not realize is that everyone reading this relates to it.

We are in our best of times and our worst of times, trying as hard as we can to figure this whole thing out. "

Hoping this speaks to you - it spoke to me...
It hit me this morning that there are quite a few aspects of life in Leeds to which I have gotten quite accustomed. I'm sure in many ways I have forgotten what it's actually like to live back in Canada. Over the past couple weeks, I have been so excited about so many things about home. But coming into work, it suddenly hit me - what about all the ways of life here in Leeds?

And so, a new list in my head is begun....

Things about Leeds I will miss:

The way I feel as I walk down the streets of cobblestones and old buildings - square, concrete buildings will just not be the same

The double-decker bus - although it's probably the only thing about the bus I will miss

The adoration of tea - I've never met so many people who knew how to make a smashing cuppa

The social life - it's a place where going out on a Friday and Saturday night at ANY AGE is not only considered normal, it's encouraged. Plus, you don't need to have a reason to go for a pint.

Jacket potatoes with Tuna and Cheese - a brilliant combination and quite a healthy treat

"Cheers Mate" - I would just sound annoying if I said that at home and the phrase - I must admit - has grown on me

"Ta Love" - Where's the love? It's here, the North of England, where everybody calls everybody 'love'. I like that.

(more to come...but there's work filing to do be done!)

Monday, October 13, 2003

My mom said something funny yesterday about the English and their tea.

I'll have to paraphrase because I can't remember her words exactly but she said the English always seem to get through anything if they could have a cup of tea.

"Oh, the bombs are coming again Nigel - let's have a cup a tea."
"Well, doesn't look like mommy or daddy will make it back from the black plague - let's have a cup of tea"

"They've been through hell over history but seem to conquer all with a cup of tea."

I had to laugh - I happened to be quite hungover and before she rang, I had just made myself a cup of tea.

Sounds so Monty Python in an "Every Sperm is Sacred" kind of way.

Only two more weeks left in Leeds. Hard to believe that all the friends I have made here - I may quite never see them again.

I am looking forward to our last journey this year - Prague, Austria, Germany, Belgium and Paris - perhaps three times a charm.

Sometimes I have to stop and realize what has happened over this last year. We will have achieved our goal of seeing every country in Europe by the time we go home...almost..

Ireland will simply have to get a full two weeks sometime in the future.:)
I seem to have all this creative energy going on in my head but no where to channel it. I find that when I try to sit down and write a spectacular experience, it never quite sounds the way I'd like it to. It's almost as if I'm losing all capability to describe events.

My journalistic instincts tells me to cut out the words - and in doing that, I end up writing some sort of simplified version of events. It's as if all my stories now are glorified versions of "What I did on my summer holiday".

( Just looked up and realized that I used the words 'events' twice in a matter of four sentences. I must be losing it.)

(I also just noticed that this entire blog entry is a bit whiney. Perhaps I should retire and return tomorrow...)

Friday, October 10, 2003

It's my buddies' birthdays today - J&J - bizarre that I would have two good friends whose birthday was on the same day.

Make me miss home a bit - the boys who I was going to tour Europe with after university. Some things don't always turn out as you planned.

Then again, sometimes that's not a bad thing :)

Happy B-Day boys - have some Timmy's and a butt for me....
This as a daily ritual is a bit difficult - seeing as I wanted to focus simply on travel stories. When you're not travelling, I guess you turn to remembering fondly things that you did when you were travelling.

I have now spoken French, Spanish, Porteguese, Greek, Italian and German. I feel confident that I could get by in a country with only a phrase book and lots of smiles.

I've learned that I love to communicate with people. And I will go to great lengths to make sure I'm clearly understood. While D is content with pointing and nodding, I feel I must master the "May I have.." and "Thank you very much" in every language.

It's my little way of connecting with the places in the world I visit - to feel like I know the country or city just that little bit more because of its people.

Thursday, October 09, 2003

The thing about trying to write all these adventures down is that it always sounds better in my head. The adventure is much more of an adventure when I think about it.

Ah, the trials of a writer...

I do feel like I am but when I read it or even start to write, it's as if I don't know any words.

And so, I turn to crosswords to inspire me...

Tuesday, October 07, 2003

Just changed the template..hmmm..don't think I adore this one either but I'm all for change...I'll revisit in a couple of days. Realized I have to finish my Day Cruise story! Whoops!
My Meander friend gave me the inspriration to write today. She really is more of a travel mentor than anything. I guess it suits it well since she taught me so much when we launched the Travel Channel - one of them being - GET OUT THERE AND TRAVEL!

And so, I continue to go on jaunts - our latest was Oktoberfest in Munich. I love Germany. I have been so excited to get there since we started our adventure and three days with beers and sausage, I've been bitten by the bug. I can't really explain it.

I adored the streets - even though they didn't really look that different to other European cities

The people were so friendly - although as long as you try and speak the language, so it everyone else

I felt very comfortable - must be a 'past life' thing.