The Rainy Road To Dublin

It’s been a week since I arrived home from two weeks abroad, and I’ve yet to write about the last leg of the journey:  Dublin.  Mea culpa. Being thrown back into normal life seems to have thrown me off-kilter slightly, but hopefully a week later I can still properly convey all those wonderful experiences packed into my last days in Ireland.

We only took one full day in Dublin, since we felt the hustle and bustle of a city under construction and 1916-centric tourism might be a bit too far from the relaxing finish we wanted to our two-week holiday (especially after Donegal and Galway).  Arriving on Monday afternoon from Galway after a rainy ride on the bus (and, indeed, a rainy week thus far in Ireland, which in September should be expected by anyone vaguely familiar with the Emerald Isle), Camille and I checked into our last Airbnb in Drumcondra, north of Dublin centre, before heading out on foot to Saint Stephen’s Green and Grafton Street.

Following four days of hearty full Irish breakfasts and pub grub on the West Coast, I dove with gusto into the Chinese vegetable stir-fry with tofu and shrimps alongside veggie noodles on our first night in Dublin.  Next morning, we parted ways in the city centre after breakfast at Murray’s on O’Connell Street, and I trotted off to the hallowed wooden doors of Trinity College to meet up with another old, dear friend and his wife.

Gary and Jenn welcomed me with open arms to Dublin, and we went on a grand adventure that lasted the entire day.  Starting with a visit to the Book of Kells and the Long Room at Trinity so I could pay homage to the biggest research project of my undergraduate degree, we spent the day talking, laughing, and enjoying fantastic company, food, and beer.

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The barrel-vaulted ceiling of the Long Room at Trinity College Dublin, flanked with countless shelves groaning under the hallowed weight of old books of all shapes and sizes.

 

Though we did stop in at the fabled Foggy Dew, I didn’t actually touch a single drop of Guinness (*gasp*) whilst in Ireland — and that’s because I kept up in Ireland the trend I’d started in Sweden of drinking beers that aren’t readily available in Canada.  I did stick to darker beers though, from amber and brown ales to stouts and porters, and I don’t feel like I really missed out on a “proper” Guinness.  Guinness is everywhere in Montreal and my favourite pub serves the best pint of it in the city, so why try comparing when there are so many good ones to try that I won’t get at home?

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Kepler the stuffed German Shepherd poses with a pint of Buried At Sea, a complex and chocolaty stout from Galway Brewery. (@kep.the.shep on Instagram)

 

The final pint on this whirlwind tour of Irish beers was taken at The Black Sheep (61 Capel Street, Dublin Northside), rather late in the evening after a leisurely stroll up and down the Liffey. By the time we hugged goodnight and bid each other farewell at my Airbnb, I’d had a tour of Dublin City that most tourists don’t get.  It’s the kind where old friends who are practically family take you off the beaten paths of shopping districts and group tours visiting every historical site so that you can see their city.  Sure, you discover and experience new things together (excellent coffee in a boutique café or Mongolian food in the middle of the Temple Bar district, for example, or even a national treasure in Trinity College they haven’t gotten around to seeing yet) but for the most part you’ll circumvent the tourist traps and see a version of the city you won’t get on a bus tour.

But the best part of any trip that involves meeting up with lifelong friends is that not only do you arrive with a strong bond already there, you also leave with that bond reinforced to the point of it being a true bridge — a bridge that can be crossed in both directions, and a bridge that leads to a home on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.  I left such a bridge between Montreal and Sweden, and now one between Montreal and Ireland joins it.

How truly wonderful it is to know that for me there’ll always be a road to Dublin that brings me over the Atlantic and the Liffey, right back to Gary and Jenn’s door.

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The Liffey at sunset, viewed from the Ha’penny Bridge…a beautiful end to a fantastic and full, rich day in the company of wonderful friends. 

‘Round the Salthill Prom

Once again, the only time I’ve found to write real posts is in transit — there’s not much else to do after a while when you’re only an hour in on a three-hour journey between one Irish city and the next.  We’re on our way to Dublin now, the last of five stops on our two-week journey through Sweden and Ireland.  I can’t believe how wonderful everything has been so far, and am excited to finally be in Dublin at the end of this adventure.

We’re leaving Galway today, and it was our longest stop in Ireland:  arriving on Friday afternoon, we then spent two full days in the small coastal city before boarding a bus this Monday morning at 10:30 to head onwards to the Republic’s capital. And what a lovely weekend it was, indeed.  Though we left Donegal in utterly miserable weather, it did clear up quite nicely by the time we got into Galway City on Friday afternoon and it lasted well into Saturday before the wind blew the clouds back in.  Sunday was full of blustery winds and clouds, although the rain didn’t come back until late last night.  So, weather-wise for the West Coast of Ireland, Galway was rather kind to us.

 

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Low tide below the Spanish Arches looking out onto Galway Bay.

If the Salthill looked anything like it did a couple of days ago when the girl from the song met the boy, I don’t blame him for falling madly in love with her right then and there.  I mean, look at it on a beautiful sunny morning:

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I do love Galway and am glad we took two full days in this small city.  Our B&B this time around did, naturally, include an Irish fry-up with black and white pudding — both of which proved that when done right, a breakfast pud can be quite tasty and highly enjoyable to eat. At any rate, we were always well-fed first thing in the morning and made ready for long hours of exploring.  And, for a city so small, there’s still lots to see and do.

This region is home to the world-famous Claddagh Ring — the heart, crown, and hands symbolizing love, loyalty, and friendship — and, as such, Galway City is full of souvenir shops selling this particular ware as well as numerous family-owned jewellery shops where the rings are still hand-crafted in small batches of each family’s distinct designs.  My travel partner got hers up at Thomas Dillon’s Claddagh Gold  and I found mine down at Claddagh & Celtic.  Wherever you do decide to get yours, one of these is probably your best bet for a fair price for hand-crafted silver and gold; other stores ranging from tourist shops to high-end jewellers didn’t seem to have quite the same caliber of quality for the prices listed, and either shop we went to you’ll be treated to the more intimate experience of meeting the crafters who make it their business, literally, to keep a strong Galway tradition alive and authentic.

If bookshops of the world are your thing, Charlie Byrne’s is your best bet.  With stock ranging from antique (World Book 1865, full set) to hot bestsellers from last week’s New York Times, and covering every topic, genre, and area of interest you can imagine, Charlie Byrne’s offers bookworms from all over a haven from tourist traps and large crowds.  Floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall shelves groan with knowledge and wonder and endless hours of potential.  This is where I found a beautiful green leather-bound edition of the works of Tennyson for the princely sum of €4.  Given more time, money, and room in my luggage I would have bought more. Way more.

As with any tourist stop in Ireland, Galway is full of pubs and restaurants. We took two dinners at The Daíl Bar for our Ireland pub-grub-and-pint fix, and one dinner at Eastern Tandoori to break up Isles meat-and-stodge with the aromatic spices and tender meats of Indian cuisine.  Both are equally enjoyable (the seafood chowder at the Daíl is amazing and chock-full of sea-fresh fare, while classic dishes like balti and patala at Eastern Tandoori are flavourful masterpieces that serve as a lovely departure from pub f00d).  On a longer trip with a deeper pocketbook, there are many other places dubbed “foodie stops” for you to try, and so if you do go to Galway City I’d highly encourage you to look up the restaurants online and try a few new ones for yourself as well.

On Sunday after Mass at the Galway Cathedral I had “alone time” in the city, and I had vague romantic notions of going down to the Salthill and finding a large rock on the beach upon which to perch and write some postcards and more entries in my travel journal.  However, the wind literally blew all those fancies out of my head as soon as I hit the Salthill, and I made a valiant effort indeed in walking as far as I did on the beach before making a hasty retreat back into town towards hot tea — and, because bracing oneself against gales off the sea actually does use up a lot of energy, a nice lunch.

My travel companion has been to Galway before and already knew some of its delicious secrets — in the case of Cupán Tae, quite literally – and I’m happy that she was eager to share them with me. In the case of this cosy, shabby-chic tea house facing the bay, I was so enamoured after one round of hot tea and fruit scones that after coming back form the Salthill on Sunday afternoon I beelined straight for the shop to enjoy another full pot of tea, a scone sandwich, and a slice of carrot cake during a long, leisurely lunch. Heaven on Earth does exist if you look hard enough, and I’m rather convinced that a corner of it is to be found at Cupán Tae.

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A pot of Emerald Isle brew (black tea with notes of whiskey and cocoa, followed by a creamy vanilla finish) and fruit scones for round one at Cupán Tae.

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Ham-and-cheese sandwich served with greens, red onion, and tomato on a savoury rosemary scone — perfect for lunch with a pot of Dreamy Creamy Galway bend (black tea with roasted coffee beans and jasmine flowers, with a creamy-smooth and aromatic finish).

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What else do you do when you’ve finished your lunch but still have half a pot of tea left?  Indulging in a slice of homemade carrot cake was a perfect way to finish my solo experience at Cupán Tae.  It came highly recommended by one of the serves who hailed it as her favourite slice in the whole shop, and I’m inclined to agree with her.  www.cupantae.eu for more info and to order online, if you can’t wait to get there in person, and @cupantaegalway for social media.

All in all, Galway was good to us — so good, in fact, that it will definitely be a permanent stop on all future tours of the Emerald Isle I’ll be taking in the future.  As we head into Dublin for the final stretch of our journey, I’m leaving Galway with many fond memories and the added bonus of seeing this small city in the September sunshine.

 

Discovering Donegal

And so, we are in Ireland.  Precisely, at the time I’m writing this we’re somewhere in the countryside between Donegal and Galway. Having bussed our way through the North from Dublin to Donegal on Wednesday afternoon, I’m taking a break from watching green fields dotted with cattle and sheep and the occasional pony in order to catch up on blogging and photo editing.  When I need time to collect my thoughts into some coherent expression, the rolling grey clouds above patchwork greens provides a calming focal point for my wild, excited mind.

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We stayed in Donegal two nights and one full day, arriving in the early evening of Wednesday and leaving late this Friday morning.  True to stereotype, it’s been rainy the whole time; on-and-off at the very best during the daytime and rather steadily once evening sets in.

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Abbey ruins provide a unique site for a cemetery, and this one actually also looks over the water.

Nonetheless, we’ve made quite a solid go of Ireland so far. I’ve even managed to find a little piece of Ireland for everyone back home on my souvenirs list, including a small token for my boyfriend’s parents so that I won’t arrive empty-handed when I finally get to meet them in October. As for my own self, a pop into a shop just off the main square (called The Diamond) called Wool’n’Things yielded two skeins of fine, locally grown-and-spun Donegal tweed in heather purple and forest green, and a pair of crimson wristlets of the same woollen tweed to wear over Pharmaprix HotPaws gloves back home in Montreal this winter.  I much preferred Wool’n’Things to the other larger souvenir shops on The Diamond proper, mostly because the old proprietor of Wool’n’Things indulged my curiosity to learn more about Donegal wool and brought me back into the storeroom to help me find end-of-batch skeins to buy and knit up myself once I’m home.

Staying in a proper Irish bed-and-breakfast is also something I highly recommend when you get it into your head to visit a small town over here and really want a “local” experience.  Forego the larger hotels in the town centres and find yourself a place like Haywood’s B&B that’ll serve you a full Irish breakfast and provide you with insider opinions on where to go and what to buy in town.  At Haywood’s in particular, an en-suite room provided us a lovely balance of privacy when we needed downtime when paired with chatting in the common dining room with other guests and the proprietors during the course of breakfast.

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Visit the Olde Castle Bar for hearty fare (like wild venison pie or the pub staple of fish-and-chips) and a pint of Donegal Brewing Co’s Red Hugh Pale Ale, or pop into Dom’s Pier One for live Irish music every night of the summer season, a bowl of seafood chowder caught off the coast just a few miles down, and a pint of more Donegal Brewing Co’s craft beer (the Atlantic Amber Ale comes highly recommended).

But most importantly, while you’re in Donegal make sure to take a stroll along the Blue Stack Way, and best be sure to take it at a leisurely pace.  Rugged wild Ireland is, after all, a place of mysteries and old ways; you never know when you might bump into them.

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“…for there you have been and there you will long to return.”

Leonardo, writing in Italy on the subject of man taking flight, was still right:  once you’ve been somewhere and found more of yourself and your heart outside of wherever you call “home,” you’ll always want to go back.

And so it is with Sweden.  A few days now into Ireland and I’m still catching up with photo editing and journalling, and therefore still stuck on Sweden particularly in terms of my writing.  My heart is happy to be on the Emerald Isle at long last, but it’s also already yearning to beat once again in time with Swedens’s old, wise heart.  Luckily for me, my other half is looking forward to coming along next time, and I’ll only be too happy to oblige and indulge his own curiosities by bringing him back to places in Stockholm and Falun that I found and fell in love with on my own.

After returning to Stockholm from our weekend “at home” in Falun, we spent much of our time once again in Gamla Stan as well as Djugården Island, the former to revisit some of the more interesting and peculiar shops we’d discovered on our first outing as well as to visit the Kungligastottet (the Royal Palace) and the latter to see the Vasa Museum. We were blessed once more with beautiful weather and countless more discoveries and little marvels along the way.

As we drive now through a rainy Irish countryside to make more memories and gain new experiences of the world, images of “my” Stockholm keep a firm hold on the pieces of my heart that I found there.  I say “my” Stockholm for the way it was when I first walked upon its venerable stones will never be that way again; I will return to this northern city more knowledgeable of its ways and privy to some of its secrets, and I’m sure I will always find something new to love there — but it will be like coming back to a familiar friend who has also grown and changed in the interim, and therefore Stockholm as she showed herself to me when I first met her will always be uniquely mine.

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View of Strandvägen from Djurgårdsbron, the bridge that takes you from Stockholm proper into Djurgården.

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Stockholm, you are beautiful! 

 

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One of the quirkier shops in Gamla Stan. We don’t know its name or how anyone manages to find something to buy in here or how it’s still open. It’s as if everyone in Sweden came with a box from the attic and dumped it out in this shop.

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One of my favourite window displays ever, in any city I’ve ever been in!  A candy shop called Polkagris Kokeri in Gamlastsan (Lilla Nygatan 10) combines old books, vintage luggage, and greenery with their home-made candies and confections to create an eye-catching, whimsical, and utterly beautiful display.  @gamlastanpolkagriskokeri on Instagram for photos, and http://www.gamlastanpolkagriskokeri.se for more info.

A full, rich day

We slept in on Friday morning — a well-earned lie-in, because ever since Wednesday evening we’d been on the move from YUL through CDG to ARL, not to mention getting into Danderyd via Stockholm (roundabout, to say the least).  Our first Airbnb booking for Sweden turned out to be a studio apartment renovated from a basement mudroom off the garage of a quaint yellow family home.  Danderyd, being a rather affluent Swedish suburb, offered us quite a scenic walk from our rental to the Tunnelbana in Mörby Centrum.   Getting between Central Stockholm and Danderyd was much easier on Friday compared to navigating the system on Thursday, and on Friday once we hit Central Stockholm we walked down from the station into Gamla Stan.

Oh, Gamla Stan!  I love the “old town” of cities, and make it a point not only to visit my own in MTL often but to also explore those of the few other places I’ve been to during my shorter travels.  There’s something exhilarating about being in such an old place: older than any city I’ve ever walked in, as its earliest strata is somewhere in the 13th Century while most of what’s visible now dates from the 16th and 17th.  As Elizabeth Kostova wrote in The Historian,  For the first time, I had been struck by the excitement of the traveler who looks history in her subtle face.”  

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These #leadinglines in #Stockholm, #Sweden that I found in #GamlaStan along #Skeppsbrokajen show my first steps on roads older than anything I’ve ever known back home in Canada, maybe even including Canada itself… A loving reminder from this #venerable #city to a #young #traveler:  to trust the journey, to bloom where she is planted, to always remember that the #curiosity of a hungry mind and a wild heart can only be satisfied by actually going out there and doing something to gain #knowledge.  

 

As this was our first full day in the environs of Stockholm before heading into central Sweden for the weekend, we were quite pleased that the weather blessed us with lots of sunshine and a bit of a breeze for our hours-long stroll through Gamla Stan.  After numerous times reminding each other that “we have time – we’re on vacation” my companion and I finally let go of any vague notions of an actual itinerary and just wandered through narrow cobbled streets, popping in and out of stores as we pleased and even picking up a few things on the way.

After walking down and seeing about six or seven “cafés” we clued in that around here, it seems that the word is used to describe a place that serves coffee as well as real bistro menus, we finally settled on stopping at an actual “just coffee” shop.  We had our first official Swedish fika at a café at Stora Nygatan 6 — Naturbageriet Sattva — where you can find organic pastries (including gluten-free, sugar-free, and even a few vegan options), pretty good coffee and tea, and a cosy table for two inside or out.  We opted for outside, enjoying coffees and a cinnamon roll as we chatted and people-watched during a long, long fika.  I myself had nearly forgotten the pleasures afforded by long coffees with old friends, and by the time we were ready to hit the stones once more I felt refreshed and bright.

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A little ways down the road, we stumbled upon a boutique selling household linen products that proudly bore the phrase, “Made in Sweden.”  Knowing my BigSis is back home planning her future nest with her fiancé, I had to stop in and take a closer look at what was afforded at HAPPYsthlm, Stora Nygatan 36. I ended up buying her two tea towels, both made from a lightweight pure cotton, one of which in a navy-blue and bright tomato-red print of birds and florals that seems to be one of the shop’s signature designs.  Not only was it on household linens of all sizes, but also on other products inside including various forms of stationery and ready-to-frame prints.

 

After lunching on a park bench across from the Riddarhuset, we took a roundabout route back down Stora Nygatan to Skeppsbrokajen, circling up around the eastern side of Gamla Stan past the Royal Palace.  Crossing over Strömbron, we strolled through the Kungsträdgården where my knowledge of Swedish kings (gained from the odd mixture of the Sabaton album Carolus Rex and my own mother’s hobby of studying world royalties) came in rather handy.

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Karl XII / Charles XII of Sweden — also known as Carolus Rex.  He ruled from 1697 to 1718, from the age of 15 until death by bullet to the head.  To this day it’s unclear whether enemy or friendly fire ended his reign, during which he was known for his moral austerity and brilliant campaigning on the battlefield.  A staunch believer in the Divine Right, his death marked the end of autocratic rule in Sweden and was followed swiftly by the Age of Liberty. 

Nearly 20 000 steps later, we made it back to Danderyd where we passed the evening editing photos, discussing further all the sights we had seen, and planning out our next day’s worth of travelling.  In fact, I’m tucked safely into my seat on the train towards Falun, where we’ll arrive soon to spend the weekend with an old, dear friend of mine who I’ve known for literally half my life but have never yet met.  I’m excited beyond words to finally make a face-to-face connection with him, as over the years he’s been a loyal and kind soul through my most difficult experiences.

So far this vacation has been so much more than just “time away” from both of my jobs.  It’s been about discovering more of my truest and best self, about finally turning dreams into reality, and about bringing the best of what I’ve already experienced in life with me to get the most out of what’s new.  It might be rather rainy and  chilly right now outside the train window, but my heart is warm and cosy.  This trip has been everything I wanted it to be, and more besides, and that bodes well for the remainder.

Good thing, too, as I’m flying home from Dublin on the 14th!

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For all the latest on this 2016 Sweden and Ireland adventure, follow my Instagram page @demipinte — and if you want to see it all from the whimsical view of a plush-toy German Shepherd that my boyfriend gave me for the trip, go to Instagram as well to follow @kep.the.shep !  

Hej från Sverige!

Earlier this year when I realized it had been six years since I last had an actual vacation that was longer than four or five days off work, I decided to take a full two weeks off Job1 and a full three off Job2 to get the hell outta Dodge for a while and talked one of my best friends into skipping town with me.

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And now here I am now in Sweden; next week, I’ll be in Ireland.

Getting across the Atlantic was no trouble at all.  The overnight flight from Montreal to Paris was a breeze, because I’m one of those special people who can fall asleep within an hour if they play no active role whatsoever in the process of moving the vehicle in question forward.  I fell asleep somewhere between Newfoundland and Iceland on a plane flying in complete darkness, and then woke up halfway over England with bright sunshine streaming into the cabin and a flight attendant pulling up alongside my row with coffee and banana bread.

Getting through Charles-de-Gaulle was a production and a half, though all was well in the end with the reward of a cappuccino and a tartelette-aux-pommes  at the gate while we waited for our SAS flight to Arlanda.  Once in the air, I again slept for most of the flight, waking up just in time to see our plane break through the cloud cover and catch my first glimpse of Sweden through the tiny window.  Seeing all that green space, broken by tawny patches of fields and glossy swathes of blue-grey water, made my heart soar ever higher as we got closer to the ground.

My first footsteps on Swedish ground were on the airport’s tarmac as I came off the exit ramp of the small SAS bird and crossed into the Arlanda terminal.  A few hours later, walking back with my companion from the grocery store to our cosy Airbnb rental, my Fitbit buzzed on my wrist to tell me I’d completed my daily goal of 12 000 steps (which might just indicate how much we had to walk even in spite of being stuck in airplanes for 10 hours today).

It’s so exhilarating to finally be travelling after so many years of hoping and dreaming and scraping together enough to get here.  I’m so excited to finally be meeting friends who I’ve known for half my life in both Sweden and Ireland, yet never yet met with in person.  Funnily enough, when we were waiting to leave YUL yesterday, I saw on my “On This Day” Facebook feed that exactly three years before, I had pulled the following fortune out of a fortune cookie after eating dumplings with the very same friend with whom I’m travelling now:

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I’m glad I was finally able to make good on the promise I made to myself that day:  that before I left my 20s, I would make this dream vacation reality.  And so, hey från Sverige and stay tuned for updates as we go through Stockholm, Danderyd, and Falun this next week!

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For all the latest on this 2016 Sweden and Ireland adventure, follow my Instagram page @demipinte — and if you want to see it all from the whimsical view of a plush-toy German Shepherd that my boyfriend gave me for the trip, go to Instagram as well to follow @kep.the.shep !  

Trusting the journey

One of the constants in my life has been, and I hope always will be, the lovely cacophony of different languages spoken by my nearest and dearest. Even though English is my mother tongue and that of my parents, I still grew up to the almost sing-song quality of the Tagalog my parents, older sisters, and extended older family spoke.

Going to school in English and French alongside a myriad of foreign exchange students and being a young pioneer of internet music forums added new sounds and writing systems to this wonderful confusion: English from the United Kingdom and Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand have mixed with Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, and Bulgarian in my ears over the years.  And they’ve all been interwoven with my own English, French, and (albeit limited) Tagalog in my mind into a warm blanket for my heart.

Being exposed to so many different cultures through these friendships, along with all the books I ravenously devoured in my spare time, awakened my sense of wanderlust at a young age and I’ve been longing to travel ever since. And finally, after more than a decade of such yearning, I’m finally able to do something about it.  The problem is that there are too many places to go to – a good problem to have, I know – especially with a Canadian passport, but at some point plane ticket prices start creeping even higher.

Choices needed to be made, and I’ve finally made them…and come September my well-worn boots will stir up the dust of older lands when I set foot in Sweden and Ireland. More than a decade after first messaging them on online music forums, I’ll finally be able to bother some of the humans I love best in this world right to their faces.  (Sorry in advance, guys.)

In all seriousness though, life is all about the journeys we make. Internal or external, it’s more than just about getting from Point A to Point B.  It’s about experiencing to the fullest what’s in between Point A and Point B, and if you have to take some detours along the way that’s not always a bad thing.  The scenic route always leaves lasting memories, after all.  As long as we keep making our away, eventually we’ll arrive precisely when we mean to and as the people we were meant to be when we get there.

The current leg of the adventure of my life has been a long one. It’s lasted a few years and the last two have been particularly fraught with uncertainty and worry, life-changing events and realizations, and daily struggles with my personal sense of identity.  In the last few months, I’ve had to throw a lot of things out the window, especially particular opinions, prejudices, and beliefs whose origins I could not discern.  Did these views come from me, or from others?  Were these things my true views, or did I adopt them in order to be accepted?  How authentic was I really, and how much of my identity was made for me by someone else?

Doing my internal spring cleaning has led to new discoveries about what I’m really made of and therefore who I really am. As a friend of mine told me once, “Trust the journey.”  And to me, the first step on that journey was learning to trust myself enough to start over from scratch.

I am a free spirit. To be happy, I need to know that the final decisions of my life come from within me and are made under circumstances where I feel totally informed and totally free to choose in the first place.  With this comes a personal need for openness to curiosity and exploration, to informing and educating myself about the world beyond my social bubbles, and to forging my best self out of what I have learned in this process.  I know my foundation intimately – what it is made of and where I stand on it – and I know it is sturdy enough to build a new self upon.

I also came to realize that I am made with a wild heart. A wild heart takes in and learns to cherish every experience.  A wild heart loves passionately and lives exuberantly.  A wild heart cuts all of the strings that would keep it flying in circles but still carries what’s necessary for the journey.  And a wild heart can’t be broken.

Transitions. Changes.  Growth.  A better version of myself, discerned from looking and listening inwards, that can stand firmly upon any physical ground because the internal foundation is strong and well-made.  The road rises up to meet me, and I am on my way.

 

 

In Pursuit of Happiness, #9: Long Coffees, Small Worlds, and Snowboarding

I’m late again, but at least this time it’s just a day late instead of half a week.  To make things more exciting this week I’m going to ask you, dear readers, to do something for me:  if you decide to hit “Like” on this one on FB and/or share this post on your social media, pretty-please-with-a-cherry-on-top share three things that have made you happy when you do so.  It’s just another way we can make the world a brighter place!

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Long Coffees: I don’t have a whole lot of free time, and even a rare weekday off both jobs doesn’t necessarily mean I have much more of it. Such was the case yesterday: a somewhat pressing need to catch up on appointments with the various health professionals in my life meant that a day off wasn’t spent lounging around my apartment in comfy pants and no bra.

However, in between those appointments I had a couple of hours to spare, and I spent them at a great café on the downtown campus of my alma mater in the company of a beautiful, creative soul and wonderful new friend. We met at Job2 and the original purpose of this java jive was to hash out the details of a collaborative project we’re embarking upon.

It was the first time we’d hung out together outside of work, and even at work we don’t get many chances to really talk – but coffee time with her wasn’t awkward at all. We sat down, sipped our coffee, and just talked – about our project, our shared love of animals, our experiences as awkward teenagers evolving into young women in the city, and our individual attempts to make meaningful art.

 

In one of the many BBC historical documentaries for which I have previously professed great affection an observation was made about the impact of coffee and the age of exploration on the intellectual state of Western Europe. Basically, once coffee replaced ale and beer as the daily drink of choice, coffeehouses replaced pubs as the gathering places of academics, philosophers, and dreamers. And because entire cities were no longer inebriated by midday, the literal clarity of the collective mind led to unexpected leaps and bounds in the technological advancements of the western world that had been lost with the fall of the Roman Empire.

 

Sitting in that cozy university coffee shop with my friend I couldn’t help but marvel at the fact that the modern café still upholds this rich and meaningful heritage. The Swedish language has a great word for long coffees and great conversations with good friends – Fika – and I felt that this is exactly what I shared with my friend yesterday.

I walked out of that café feeling like not only had I finally started making some real progress in re-harnessing my creativity, but also like I had truly gained a new friend for life.

Small Worlds: I discovered that one of the recipients of a letter from my letter writing campaign – a resident of Belgium, nonetheless – knows my Big Sister’s best friend. I happened to meet him randomly on Instagram when he came across the original post where I proclaimed that I would send a letter to anyone in the world who wanted one, regardless of where they were.

 

I’m not going to deny that the world is a pretty big place when you look at it from certain perspectives, but the world can also be a very small place – especially when physical, emotional, spiritual, and ideological divides are bridged by building connections with other people.

Having been an outcast musician-nerd in my adolescence during the early days of internet discussion forums, I’ve made a lot of friends from all over the world in the last decade or so. From Scandinavia to the United Kingdom and Ireland to just a few stops down the line on the Montreal Metro, talking about common interests online have brought some wonderful people into my life and I’m incredibly happy that it continues to do so.

The world can be a big scary place, but that’s just perspective. If you choose to see instead that this big world can be full of adventure and mystery and wonder, you can start making it a smaller place by figuring out where you belong in it and meeting the people with whom you’re meant to see the world. Right now I’m still working on getting myself into a position where it’s financially intelligent and viable for me to travel, but in the meantime I am very happy and very grateful to be blessed with so many friends around the world who will make these future adventures even more precious and priceless.

Snowboarding: A few years ago, one of my best friends helped me fulfil a dream by teaching me how to snowboard. This weekend, we took a road trip two hours up to Val St-Come, where we spent a day and a half on the slopes in the fresh, crisp air of the northern Quebec. I’ve lost count by now of how many times we’ve gone down mountains together (and how many times I’ve gone down mountains with other snow-junkie friends), but every time we hit the slopes together I’m always reminded of how lucky and blessed I am to have a friend who’s patient and caring enough to slow down, keep an eye out for me on the mountainside, and tell me how I can improve my limited skills on my board.

 

I had the best time ever during this weekend trip to Val St-Come. Having booked an entire weekend off Job2 to do this trip, I am beyond utterly happy that it went so well. Swimming during alone-time on Saturday evening after snowboarding at night helped me relax and get into a fresh state of mind for the fresh powder, bright blue sky, and perfect sense of fearlessness and adventure that Sunday brought.

 

This weekend’s trip to Val St-Come really put into perspective all of the changes and transformations that I’ve experienced – physically, mentally, and emotionally – over the last year. Exactly one year ago on my last snowboarding trip of 2015, I came home feeling lonely, abandoned, and forgotten because it was another life experience I had to go through without the boyfriend I had at the time.

A year ago, I didn’t know how to live for myself because I was so wrapped up in living for another person who, in the end, made me feel like I wasn’t worth keeping promises for and made me feel taken for granted every time I talked to him.

Coming home this year from this weekend away and comparing this year to the last, I couldn’t recognize myself.  It wasn’t just the fact that I’ll definitely need new snowboarding pants next year because these ones are too big (as is the belt I’ve used to keep them up), or that for the first time in my adult life I wore a sporty two-piece swimsuit with utter confidence in a public place. It was the fact that I was truly joyful for a whole weekend – joyful at being able to take an entire weekend off work, joyful at being able to spend such wonderful quality time with my best friend, and joyful at finally being good enough at snowboarding to really enjoy the rush it actually is.

 

Ask me to close my eyes and picture freedom, and this is what I see: above me, nothing but a bright blue sky with a few wisps of white cloud and before me, a seemingly endless slope of fresh powder. It’s below zero, there’s a brisk wind working its way between the woolen strands of the scarf I’ve pulled over my face, and for once my body is about to move in exactly the way I want it to despite being swaddled in layers of warm clothes and being strapped to a board. After a lifetime of being told I was too big to move, let alone be good at any sport, and after strapping myself down to relationships that go nowhere, there is nothing else for me that can describe the feeling of being free better than the pure joy I feel when I’m flying down a mountainside on my snowboard.

In Pursuit of Happiness, #3: Games, Sightseeing, and Home Cooking

With it being the holidays, as well as first Christmas I’ve spent with more than two other members of my family under one roof, I’ve had a lot to be happy about this past week – but I haven’t had much time to write about any of it, because…well, it’s our first family Christmas since 2009!

While this week’s edition of In Pursuit of Happiness will be short but sweet (like everyone in my family, with the exception of my six-footer brother-in-law whose extra height just means more space for total awesomeness), the rest of the good things that I’ve experienced during this holiday will provide more than enough material for the next few posts I’m working on.

Have a great and happy week!

***   ***   ***

Playing games with my family: All of the adults are over twenty-five and the child among us is eleven-almost-twelve-but-really-going-on-forty, but in this family age has never been an acceptable reason to stop playing. My nephew taught my oldest sister and me how to play Ticket to Ride this afternoon, and as I’m writing this he’s reading through the instructions for Risk in preparation for a family showdown. My brother, nephew, and I have been packing Nerf heat all around the house to defend ourselves against ambushes from one another.

As an adult, I think play is a refreshing and integral part of my vacation routine – especially when my version of a vacation is hauling off to the middle of “flyover country” to spend time in suburban Ohio with my nephew, middle sister, and brother-in-law. Good, clean, wholesome family fun that makes memories for when we’re old and grey is always an excellent way to pass the time on vacation, especially if it’s been raining buckets all day.

City tours with my brother-in-law: Ever since our first family trip to Montréal in 2001, my brother-in-law’s skills as a tour guide have been indispensable to our family fun time on any trip we’ve taken.   This guy is an excellent tour guide, and even during today’s bout of rain he managed to make a car-bound tour of downtown Cincinnati and Hyde Park pretty interesting. What makes his tours so special is that he knows exactly what to say about the city that will interest the passengers in his car, which means nobody has a chance to doze off to some long litany of census information.

Home-cooking, sister style: My favourite second sister is a complete and utter magical genius fairy in the kitchen. Those of you who follow me on FaceTwitGram will be well aware of this fact by now, but I can’t resist tipping my hat off to her here.

Eating while on vacation is something that tends to affect most people by causing either complete abandon or paralyzing fear, especially when it comes to going on holiday to the United States. But whenever I come to Cincy to see my sister and her family I know that, with the exception of literally only a couple of restaurant options, the food I’m going to be eating under her roof will be wholesome, homemade, and perfectly aligned with my diet. I never have to worry about sacrificing exceptional food for the sake of my food plan, and I never have to worry if my annoying food photographs will turn out, either.

“Out of the womb of nature” in the middle of Kentucky

I’m currently in Ohio visiting my sister and her family on a short Labor Day Weekend vacation. Sure, Ohio might not be the most glamorous of States to visit, but I love coming here nonetheless. A visit to my sister’s West Chester home is everything a vacation should be: relaxing and refreshing, with good food and better company in abundance.

Yesterday we took a family road trip two hours south into central Kentucky, and on the way down we saw a wild turkey, some white-tailed deer, and a turtle crossing the I-75 (who we thankfully did not see lying belly up on the Interstate on the way home). We finally arrived at the Mammoth Cave National Park with an extra hour, having forgotten to take into account a one-hour time difference, and so had the opportunity to explore more than we’d anticipated.

Now, the surrounding countryside on the surface was a sight to see unto itself.  Being raised in the Fraser Valley gave me an appreciation for the great outdoors that I’ve carried with me into the concrete jungle where I’ve resided for the past seven years, and getting out of the city is always my favourite way to spend a long weekend.  It doesn’t happen nearly enough, but with landscapes like these all over North America, that could change soon…

The view from the trails above the caves.

The view from the trails above the caves.

After a quick picnic lunch and a ¾-mile nature hike, we piled into one of three buses alongside 130 other guests, drove four miles out into the wild, and descended 280 steps on a narrow metal staircase into the world’s biggest cave system.  Over 400 miles of cave systems have been explored underneath nearly 53 000 acres of densely-forested land, and as we walked ever lower into this “grand, gloomy, and peculiar place” on the “Domes and Dripstones” tour, I felt like we were entering a new world entirely separate from our own. Though adequate light sources few and far between – set up mainly to illuminate the more elaborate and interesting rock formations and features – we filed through the tunnels at an easy pace, congregating in three separate cave chambers to learn more about the caves and the park’s history from our fearless leaders, the amusing duo of Rangers Jason and Jeff.

This was probably the most amount of light we got down there.

This was probably the most amount of light we got down there…

...while the rest of it was more or like this.

…while the rest of it was more or less like this…

...and, more often than not, like this.

…and, more often than not, like this.

Even in these spacious caverns the lights were dim, and in one of them the Rangers turned the lights off entirely so we could experience the total stillness and utter darkness of the caves as they were before man came with firelight to illuminate their grandeur. According to the park’s lore, in the early days an explorer was left behind by accident in one of the chambers and was found nineteen hours later sitting on a boulder banging two rocks together. When praised for his clever thinking to use sound to guide his team back to him, he explained that it had been more for his benefit than anyone else’s: the total silence and darkness had been enough to drive him crazy.

I can believe it. What I’m still trying to wrap my head around is that some people were intrepid and daring enough to venture down into places like the Mammoth Caves with little more light than what’s afforded by a Zippo.  But nonetheless I’m glad they did, and the two-hour trip to the grand finale was well worth the careful stepping and occasional fumbling in near to total darkness.

The Frozen Niagara feature of stalactites and stalagmites at the end of the tour took my breath away. It’s one thing to see these formations in photos or in documentaries, but to experience them in real life is almost indescribably amazing and downright cool. There was so much to take in from that one section of the tour, and if we could have stayed down there longer it would not have been long enough for me to take in everything I could have. Alas, with the buses waiting at the surface to take us back to the visitors’ centre, I had to pull myself away from that underground display and ascend back into the light of the surface world.

Heading down into the

Heading down into the “Drapery Room” once we reached the Frozen Niagara formation.

Looking up from the bottom of the

Looking up from the bottom of the “Drapery Room.”

Just outside of the

Just outside of the “Drapery Room,” on the way back up to the surface.

It’s hard to imagine any degree of beauty or creation existing so far away from the surface where humans are best suited to life. But the wondrous subterranean landscapes of caves proves that beauty not only exists but truly thrives even in the dreariest, darkest places – and their surprising closeness to home reminds us that once you’re able to see beauty in the dark cold depths, you’re not as far as you think from the light and warmth of a beautiful day.