The end of the trail.

11 Sep

I just wanted to thank everyone from all over the world who has at some point or another stumbled upon my blog and taken the time to read my ramblings. This was my first time blogging and it was such a great experience, I was so thrilled to be able to share my stories with friends, family and fellow bloggers.

I have now returned back to university to start my final year of studies and my world travels have come to a pause for now; therefore, my blogging also comes to a temporary end. My day-to-day life as a university student is nowhere near interesting enough to maintain an active blog and I can’t think of anything else that I would like to actively blog about.

Until my feet hit the great, wide travelling road again this is adios but I look forward to when I can continue seeing this beautiful world.

Wishing you all happiness and success in all that you do and of course…

LIVE LIFE ABUNDANTLYL. 

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Lessons

2 Sep

After my longest stint of being away from my home, I have learnt countless lessons- some specific Madrid and Spain other’s related to being an au pair. May I share my knowledge and newfound wisdom with you;

LESSONS FROM MADRID (&SPAIN IN GENERAL)

  1. You pretty much have to kill someone in Madrid to get the police’s attention
  2. Don’t expect to be able to do anything between 2-5PM, everything is closed for the sacred siesta
  3. 30 degrees is fairly cool
  4. Always wear sunscreen, no one likes a sunburn
  5. Double cheek kiss greeting trumps the standard Western culture greeting of handshakes
  6. When in Spain dress as the Spaniards do
  7. Public transportation is a double-edged sword (invest in Abono, so much better than having to carry around fist-fulls of change!)
  8. Don’t be afraid to get lost, there is so much to discover
  9. Carry a public transportation map at all times, you might look touristy but at least you won’t miss your Metro stop
  10. Try to speak the local language, no matter how bad your accent is- from my experience Spanish people tend not to speak much English and they are much more receptive towards foreigners when you try to speak Spanish
  11. Your wallet is never safe, Madrid and Barcelona are INFAMOUS for pickpockets but don’t let be a deterrent for you to visit these amazing cities
  12. Make friends with locals- they know all the best places to go and there is nothing like spending time with someone who speaks fluent Spanish!
  13. TAPAS ARE AMAZING, order a drink at pretty much any restaurant or bar and get a free little plate of food!

LESSONS FROM BEING AN AU PAIR

  1. Don’t be intimidated by the fact that you might not speak the local language, be open to trying to new things and the language barrier will become less and less frightening
  2. Patience, patience, patience; when things get frustrating with the kids take a deep breath and count to ten- you will get through it
  3. When choosing your host family, choose a family with children in an age group that you are comfortable with
  4. Make sure it is clear what your responsibilities and duties include BEFORE you get to your host family’s house
  5. Be wary of the kids trying to take advantage of you and establish your presence as an au pair early on in your relationship with the family
  6. Are you on-duty from 3-9PM? Why not stick around every once in awhile after your duties are finished to spend casual time with the family
  7. HOWEVER, find time for yourself outside of the host family house, you need your down time
  8. Seek out other au pairs in your host family’s city, it is a great way to make incredible friendships and to vent about your life as an au pair 😉
  9. Don’t be afraid to ask your host family questions, they are there to help you out
  10. Give the kids some time to warm up to you, it might not be the “Sound of Music” kind of relationship you were dreaming of  but hopefully it will be pretty close

This post is brought to you from the best country in the world!

2 Sep

Back in the true north strong and free!

My time in Valencia was absolutely amazing, and I am so happy that I beat my homesickness and stuck around in Spain!

I took the bus there (about 4 hours and the kid in front of me was having the time of his life playing peek-a-boo with me!) and when I arrived I was assaulted by the ridiculously high humidity. After the dry, dry heat of Madrid I had almost forgotten what humidity was and it felt like swimming through the air. I caught a cab to the “Purple Nest” hostel and I was desperately hoping that there would be a bed available since my reservation was not until the next day (though I soon came to realize it wasn’t actually until Sunday…) and thankfully there was! I hauled my bags to my 6-bed room and it was really quite lovely.

The 5-days that I was in Valencia just flew by. A blur of fun-filled days and nights with new friends from all over the world (Poland, Australia, England and South Korea to name a few) exploring a really beautiful city. I think I came to love Spain’s third largest city the most out of all of the places in Spain I had visited in the past 3 months. It has a much more relaxed and calm atmosphere and the fact that I could visit the beach was a definite bonus! I didn’t get to visit any of the big tourist hot spots instead I chose to spend 3 days on the beach and the rest of the time was spent walking around the old historic part of the city seeing the beautiful old buildings and discovering the abundance of beautiful street art. I did however get to visit Albufera which is a beautiful freshwater lagoon a quick bus ride outside of the main part of the Valencian city- a definite must-see to escape the “hustle-and-bustle” of the city.

The main reason for my stay in Valencia was for “La Tomatina”- an internationally famous festival that happens annually on the last Wednesday of August in a small town called Buñol. The local population of just under 10,000 swells to about 50,000 as an approximated 40,000 people crowd the streets to participate in the world’s largest food fight. A greased pole, palo jabón, is the centre of attention for the beginning of the festival as the participants “attempt” to climb the pole and retrieve the jamon. Now I say “attempt” with lovely quotation marks because we stood in the crushing crowd from about 8:30AM until about 11:30AM and no one was successful in getting the jamon down, though it was incredibly close right near the end. You would think after 3 hours of trying to climb the pole that people would have figured out that team work is the key to success but testosterone was burning strong in the crowd and and macho men kept on pulling each other down in the hopes of being the one to retrieve the sacred jamon.

Now when I say “crushing crowd” I am not exaggerating by any sense. The streets of the town are a little less wide than a two-lane highway and you are standing shoulder-to-shoulder with all the other anxious participants. After about 3 hours of being the equivalent of a sardine it gets pretty hot and the chant of “agua, agua!” echoes through the streets. The town’s habitant, who are watching from the above windows and balconies, are kind enough to throw buckets full of water onto the desperate crowd; I felt like a lowly peasant begging the “nobility” for water.

Some of the more successful pole climbers were garnered with incredibly racist and stereotypical nick-names; anyone who was Asian was cheered on with “Jackie Chan”, “Jet Li” and “Ninja” while someone with a beard was dubbed “Jesus” and the only black-skinned participant to face the pole was immediately named “Usain Bolt”. The names were pretty funny and everything was done with good intentions though I couldn’t help but cringe a little at how quickly we place people into racial boxes. I had gone to La Tomatina with three friends from my hostel (two Polish guys and a girl from South Korea, all really nice people!) and while we were watching the antics at the pole we made friends with two travellers from Australia and it was such a pleasure to spend the craziness of La Tomatina with them.

Once 11:30AM rolled around, a gun was fired and La Tomatina officially started. The crowd was parted in an epic-Moses fashion as 5 trucks rolled by in intervals of about 10 minutes carrying the mother load of tomatoes; in total, about 40 METRIC TONS of tomatoes are thrown. Though the rules clearly state that the tomatoes are to be crushed in-hand before being thrown it is more of a guideline and it is amazing how much it hurts to get hit with a fruit… The fight only lasts for exactly an hour but honestly I don’t think people could last much longer than that, it is exhausting work throwing tomatoes! As the gun was fired for the declaration of the festivities end the crowd was directed off the streets in a intimidating crush of bodies, I honestly think that if you fell down you would not get back up… 40,000 people all moving in the exact same direction is a death trap. The streets had become the equivalent of a tomato soup/ gazpacho river that rose to about mid-shin peppered with discarded t-shirts and worn-out flip flops; I don’t know if I will ever want to eat another tomato for as long as I live.

Thankfully we made it through fine and along the way the town’s habitants stood on their door steps dousing people in buckets and pails of water. We were told that there was a body of water just outside of the city and we made the 2km trek outside of the city to the most beautiful body of water, I think it is called the  pool of “los peñones”. Mostly Spanish locals were there but the few festival goers who had made the journey to the secluded pool were clearly identifiable by the head-to-toe tomato covering. We stayed there to wash off and to relaz for about an hour or so and then on the walk back we were able to enjoy some of the delicious wild fruit that grew along the roads; what a day!

We beat the crush of people that were waiting for the train and I had an enjoyable ride back into the city talking with an Aussie who is currently living on the west coast of Canada. The rest of the day was spent relaxing and getting my bags packed for my flight the following day. I enjoyed my last night in Europe by going to a fiesta with my South Korean friend and two new Aussie friends, it was a great night filled with lots of dancing and chatting with great people from Scotland, Brazil and too many Aussies to count.

My flight home was without a hitch (though I fell asleep in the airport in Paris for my connecting flight and almost missed my plane into Canada!) and I finally got to watch The Avengers and Hunger Games- I was so deprived of English movies this summer!

It is so strange to be back home, the fact that I can understand everything that the people around me are saying is so relieving. I have been wearing long-sleeve shirts as frequently as possible just because it is cool enough to do so now. The first thing I had to eat when I arrived back in Canada was Tim Horton’s. Even walking into a Walmart felt so alien. As my jet lag slowly wears off I am coming to realize that I am actually back in Canada. It is amazing how fast my time in Europe flew by, the past 3-months already seem like an incredibly amazing dream. I am going to miss everything about Spain; the food, the language, the scenery, the people. I cannot wait to get back. Of course I am thrilled to be back home and to be able to spend time with beloved family and friends but Spain became a second home for me.

This summer was probably the most life-changing 3 months of my life and I cherish every moment, I feel like I have grown into a more mature, wiser and worldly person. Thank you to all the people who have been reading my blog, I feel so honoured that I have had just under 800 hits since I started blogging. Keep chasing your dreams and I hope that you will be able to go on your own adventure one day and see the far stretches of our incredible planet.

Live life abundantly.

All good things must come to an end.

23 Aug

My last full day in Madrid- I can barely even comprehend those words as I type them out.

I received my luggage that was left in Galicia this morning and packed it all away into my lovely suitcase that my grandparents gave me almost four years ago now; it’s amazing to think how far that suitcase has travelled from home, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine four years ago that I would be in Spain. It is going to be an extremely daunting task of getting said lovely suitcase to my bus though… It’s about 1.5 km walk to the metro, then many stairs down into the metro, one transfer, many more stairs and finally the bus station after about an hour of commuting. SO excited…

Thankfully I went to the bus station today to pick up my ticket because there were very few seats left when I purchased mine. My bus leaves Madrid tomorrow at noon and by about 4 o’clock I will be in beautiful Valencia. It is relatively cheap to travel, only costing 25€ for my ticket!

Unfortunately I spent my last day in Madrid on my own, all the au pairs that I have met here are gone and any of the Spanish friends that I made were also unavailable. I gorged myself on tarta de queso  in self pity (not nearly as good as the one made by Katie!) and spent the day outside people watching, which is a favourite past time so I wasn’t too upset with my lack of company.

It is overwhelming for me to think that in exactly one week’s time I will be back in Ottawa. My time here in Spain has absolutely flown by and I am so thrilled that I took on this adventure. It has definitely had it’s rough patches, but what is an adventure if it is clear sailing the whole way through? Homesickness is a dogging shadow nowadays and I really look forward to coming home, as hard as it will be to leave.

 

 

Summertime Sadness

21 Aug

I have returned to the capital though it feels more like the centre of the Earth because it is so hot in Madrid right now. I am more than grateful that I was able to escape this scorching heat for 13 days.

Galicia was very, very beautiful and reminded me so much of the east coast of Canada that it made my heart ache a little bit.  We made the long 7-hour car ride and though I am used to spending hours upon hours in a car this was an all new experience. I was stuck in the middle seat between the kids and they were both prying for my attention most of the ride which was a test of my wills as I tried to give them both equal amounts of attention; if only I could have split myself in two this problem would have been much easier to handle.

The host family’s apartment in Galicia located right beside the sea.

The host family’s summer home is in a small village called Porto do Son located about 30 minutes away from Galicia’s capital of Santiago de Compostela. It is a small village but with lots of character and plenty of beauty and to top it off they speak their own language- Galician! It sounds a lot like Spanish and shares most of the same words with some differences including the sing-songy way in which they speak. Their home is literally about 100 metres from the beach and every morning I got to wake up the most stunning view and the sound of the endless crash of waves on the rocks- probably the most amazing sound in the world.

The sunset every evening was absolutely breathtaking.

Most every day was spent at one of the many beautiful beaches in the village and I was sunburnt after the first day. Oops. I loved standing with my feet in the surf and the sun on my face and I could not help but think that this was the same water that was in Canada; I felt that much closer to home. The taste of salt and the grit of sand were constant companions throughout the two weeks and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I had the most heart warming experience one day when I was playing in the waves with the kids and they told me that they loved me! Pretty much the most rewarding thing that an au pair can ever hear.

Throughout the two weeks we went to the top of the “mountain” where wild horses live and the views were spectacular as the coast stretched out like a sandy snake below us, went to a lively dinner party where it would seem that most of the village was invited to, played a lot of billiards and footballing (foosball) and enjoyed plenty of delicious food that is very typical of that area of Spain (OCTOPUS, sardines, spicy pimentos and plenty of other sea food). Throughout the 13 days that I was in Galician I tried more new things than I might have ever tried in my whole life! I enjoyed most of the things that I had to eat but I found eating some of the fish was very frustrating because you had to remove the meat from the bones and more than often I had a dissatisfying crunch in my mouth… I am so happy that I am not a picky eater and open to trying new things! One of the dishes that I found was quite strange (but supposedly very common in Galicia) was fresh french fries topped with over-easy eggs; SO DELICIOUS. I am definitely making this back in Canada.

It was a really interesting experience to go on vacation with the family and I feel so blessed to be able to experience all of these things but I felt pretty useless as an au pair. Iciar’s parents and brothers were all in Galacia at the same time as us and the kids spent lots of time with their friends. I felt pretty lonely as I only got to hang out for one night with people my age and the rest of the time was spent with the family and I always feel really shy when the family is with other Spanish people because my Spanish is not good enough to contribute to a conversation. The family was really wonderful about including me in every they did but I began to realize how much I missed my own family.

Yesterday, I packed up my bags and said my goodbyes. I was trying really hard not to cry too much but I was little overwhelmed realizing that my 3 months was coming to a close with the family. I was a little heart broken when the kids barely seemed to care that I was leaving and though they gave me hugs and kisses there wasn’t much emotion behind the farewell…

Iciar, Nacho and I headed to Santiago de Compostela for a little day trip before the flight that Iciar and I would be taking back to Madrid. I had a great day with my host parents and I was really happy that I got to see this ancient yet stunning city- Nacho’s opinion is that the village square in front of the cathedral is the most beautiful village square in the whole world! Here is a quick little blurp from Wikipedia-

The city has its origin in the shrine of Saint James the Great, now the city’s cathedral, as destination of the Way of St. James, a leading Catholic pilgrimage route originated in the 9th century. In 1985 the city’s Old Town was designated a UNESCOWorld Heritage Site.

There were plenty of backpackers roaming the streets with their wooden walking streets and it was a real treat to hear the multitude of languages from people from all over the world.

Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela consecrated in 1128.

The inside of the cathedral was just as beautiful as the outside and there was huge cue of people waiting to kiss the statue of Saint James inside the cathedral, I was okay with just looking at it…

Nacho dropped us off at the airport (unfortunately we were a little mixed up with a departure time and we had a 3-hour wait in the airport…) and I was really sad to say good bye to him. As much as I love my Spanish “mom”, it is Nacho who I felt the closest to in the family as he reminds me a lot of my real dad. I was a little bit of a mess as I couldn’t help but cry as we hugged farewell; he has been so kind to me these past 3 months I couldn’t imagine having a more caring host dad.

I would highly recommend Galicia to anyone who is travelling to Spain, it is such a nice change from the typical Spanish tourist destinations. It was so nice to have such a different perspective of this country and the people who live there seem to have much more relaxed and simple lifestyles; everyone seems very happy. The hubbub and ruckus of the city is left behind for the peaceful serenity of small town life.

The flight back to Madrid was really quick (less than an hour- what a difference from the 7-hour car ride!) and without a hitch and we stepped out into the 36 degree balmy night. It is just Iciar and I in the house for the rest of the week and unfortunately Grace is not here this week (thankfully I had the foresight enough to give her a card before we left for vacation and she for Ecuador) so it is going to be a very quiet week.

It is only setting in now that I am officially done being an au pair. After 3 months it is hard to believe that I finished, time really does fly and I find myself counting down the days down to my return to Canada, I miss my family so much.

PelirroJA y PeligroSA

6 Aug

Unfortunately I don’t have much to blog about therefore my updates have been a little ghosty for the past week or so, apologies! 

All the au pairs that I had made as friends with while here in Madrid either returned to their home countries or went away on vacation with their host families (because you really don’t want to experience the August heat in Madrid…) so when I returned from my travels to France and Poland I was pretty much alone in the capital. I spent some time with my Spanish local friends which was really fun and I spent lots of time walking about the non-tourist areas of Madrid. Even though these Spanish friends of mine speak English quite excellently there are always certain words that they don’t know or understand so I love being able to teach them some new vocabulary while in turn they help improve my Spanish.  I was very confused by the word “peligrosa” that Grace had used a few times in conversation because it was so similar to the word “pelirroja” which describes red-hair in Spanish. Alejandro told me that peligrosa means dangerous in Spanish and when I figured out what the word meant I told Grace about my initial confusion of the two words; let me just say that she laughed until she literally cried. I had never seen her laugh like that before and I couldn’t help but laugh myself. Whenever she used that word for the rest of the week we both ended in a laughing fit again.

It was great to spend the week with Grace and even though I wasn’t able to speak to her very much she was more than happy to talk with me- she loves to talk. We would spend an hour and a half at dinner some nights just talking about whatever. I really enjoy how comfortable we became with each other and that we were able to spend some casual time together. It was exhausting for me to listen to her speaking in Spanish for such extended amounts of time since I have to concentrate so hard to understand what she is saying but it was great to have someone to spend the week alone in the house with.

The family is now back from their cruise and we head to Galicia tomorrow. It is a small area on the north-western bit of Spain hugging the coast. It is supposedly much cooler there and I really look forward to spending days by the seaside. I have just finished packing my bags for the time that we will be spending there and then I also packed my suitcase of all the other things that I will not be bringing with me and I am hardly able to comprehend that in 24 days I will be heading back to the true north strong and free. How the time flies. 

I don’t plan on brining my laptop with me, just too much of a hassle so no updates for two weeks (Yeesh, I am such a terrible blogger)! I wish you all an enjoyable next two weeks and wishing you all sunshine and laughter where ever you might be reading from.

Live life abundantly. 

Day by day- Poland

29 Jul

 Back in May when I was originally heading to Spain, I was intimidated by the thought of going to a country where culture shock was a guarantee. If I thought it was intimidating to be going to Spain, I don’t think I have ever experienced anything like going to Poland. I felt comfortable not being able to speak much Spanish when I was off to Spain because I knew the very basics and I was under the impression I would learn enough of the language fairly fast; however, here I was off to Poland where I didn’t even know how to say “hello”. In the airport I was surrounded by what would seem born-and-raised Polish people, I felt like an utter tourist and I was trying to keep my nerves under control (I managed to almost break a bottle of perfume in the duty-free shop…). I was prepared as I ever would be for my 2-hour flight into a land that was (and still is) as alien to me as Mars.

Smooth sailing across Eastern Europe and when I touched down into Wroclaw, I was unable to get a hold of Maja and without a single zloty in my pocket (they have kept their currency, which is ideal for them with the current financial situation of the Euro…) I just sat down on the floor of the arrivals area and kept my fingers crossed that Maja would be able to find me… I didn’t have to wait long until Phil, Maja’s Irish boyfriend, came and collected me. What a huge relief because I had already gotten a firm lecture in Polish (so I have no idea what they said) from the security guards for apparently doing nothing. 

The drive was quick back to their apartment (it is super chic, Phil had completely renovated the place and it looks like a trendy New York flat) and we spent a good 2-hours catching up before going to sleep. Phil had bought the apartment to rent out but thankfully his tenants had just finished their lease so it was conveniently vacant for my visit to Poland, nothing better than staying in a friend’s house located within walking distance of the city centre!

On the first day we headed into the town square. Poland is steeped in history and it was really amazing to see such old buildings, especially the city hall which was one of the few buildings in all of Wroclaw to stay intact during the bombings of WWII. The buildings here are a smorgasbord of beautiful colours though they are a little tainted by the thin film of coal grime that covers just about everything (the buildings are so old that most of them still use coal as a fuel source) so most of the buildings look like they need a good scrubbing. 

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Picteresque architecture and colours abound in Wroclaw buildings.

They have 76 gnome statues scattered about the square and the surronding streets and I bought a cute little map that showed the locations of all them. We had a good time trying to find some of them, though we definitely didn’t try and find all of them! We went into a brewery and we were able to see the whole process that goes into making beer. We enjoyed an incredibly Polish lunch of beer and perogies; I absolutely loved pergogies before I came to Poland but I don’t think I can ever fully enjoy the frozen ones we have back in Canada after having the real deal in Poland! After about 4 hours walking around the city, we went back for a well-deserved drzemka (sounds more like GEMka and it is one of the few Polish words that I was able to pronounce… it means “nap”). Maja and I went to the cinema in the evening which was really nice because I was pretty exhausted. 

The next few days we spent doing sightseeing and walking about but it was so humid that it was almost unbearable to be out and about. I loved being with Maja because I don’t think it would have been possible to function there if you didn’t speak Polish. She knew all the best spots and restaurants to check out and I didn’t have to sweat a drop worrying about the fact that I don’t speak Polish. Some of the highlights of our sightseeing included the Centennial Hall, Japanese botanical garden and an amazing cathedral (with access to the tower where we had a beautiful view of the whole city).

On Saturday, Maja drove us to Poznan which is 3 hours away from Wroclaw. Maja’s friend Jogoda lives there and she was our tour guide for the day. It is another wonderful Polish city and there is nothing like having a local’s perspectives and inside scoop. After a huge dinner, we drove through a wicked thunderstorm to the airport. Maja and I both had tears in our eyes as we said our farewells (note, NOT goodbyes); I hate to think that this is my last time I might see her. She and Phil really want to travel or even work in North America but that might not happen for a long time and who knows when I will get back to Europe. I definitely plan on staying in touch with her but that still doesn’t change the fact that an ocean separates us. We became so close within the two months that we have known each other, and my summer would not be anywhere near as good without having met her. It was such an incredible pleasure to spend those four days with her and Phil (who is really funny and I was happy to be able to spend so much time with him!).

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It’s amazing to think that I have know her for less than 2 months, I couldn’t imagine my summer without her!

Overall impression of Poland? Really positive, especially for someone who likes history. It is also incredibly affordable. I converted 100€ into zloty (I received 407) when I arrived and a really good meal costs under 25 zloty, most everything was about 16 zloty which is like 5€! I also didn’t end up buying anything for myself (except for some postcards and that little gnome map) but I was much more free with my money and I ended up giving Maja 60 zloty for gas (though she really didn’t want to take it) and I paid for our snacks at the cinema and for breakfast for the three of us one morning. I can’t really comment on the people since I can’t speak Polish and was unable to have a conversation with any of them. I would really love to see the capital (Warsaw) and Krakow so I definitely plan on coming back in the future!

 I am happy to be back in Madrid, though the family has left today for a Mediterrean cruise. Grace is staying with me in the house for the full week though as always I can’t contribute much to a conversation with my vocabularly of Spanish. Oh well, she is so kind I enjoy spending time with her. I have just over a month left here in Spain, so hard to believe. I am taking some time alone to myself this week which I think will be overall really good for me. 

Well I can scratch three European countries off of my list- Spain, France and Poland. 47 more to go.