The Broken Ones (China)

A week in China has already gone by?!? How does that happen?? When I arrived in Shanghai on Wednesday at 6 in the morning, I first wanted to freshen up before finding a place to put my bags, because an entire day had gone by from the time I woke up in Rambouillet that morning. As I washed my face with all of the other girls, I looked in the mirror and all I could think was, “Wow, I feel extremely tall!,” as I was at least a couple of inches taller than every one of the other girls. I was luckily able to check my bags in even though my flight wasn’t leaving for another 13 hours, but at least I didn’t have to haul them around Shanghai! I took the 1.5 hour metro ride downtown; my first task was to find coffee. But I don’t think it mattered how much coffee I drank, I was still going to be extremely tired. I went to the nearest park in People’s Square to find a bench, read, and relax but it was hard to read when I was mostly just trying to keep my eyes open. Two girls came and asked if I could take their picture and we got to talking. I didn’t know it at the time but I was next in line to be their next scam victim. They both had commented on how beautiful my nose was and how much they liked it. My reaction was, “…Really? I’ve never heard that in my life!” It’s funny how the things that you get teased about most when you’re a child become your biggest insecurities while growing up. Whether they’re constant comments by many people or just one, small comment from only one person, a lot of those things stick with you for weeks, months, years, sometimes a lifetime, and they become what you’re most self-conscious about. Growing up, I was always teased about being skinny; once we were old enough to know what eating disorders were, I was pegged as the girl with anorexia. And I hated it! And I’d eat and eat and eat, trying to gain weight so that I could be just like everyone else. And I’d make sure everyone saw me eat. And I made sure I never went to the bathroom after a meal so that people didn’t think I was throwing up my food. All this thinking at such a young age just to prove something! I was mostly teased about my nose as a kid though, so I just got used to the fact that I had a funny nose. I remember when I was really young, I’d stare in the mirror crying, convincing myself that I was ugly, and wanting to do anything to change my nose. And whenever someone called me pretty or beautiful, I told myself that they were just saying it to be nice. And I just had to accept the fact that my nose stopped me from being normal-looking. I’m not saying all of this to fish for compliments or anything; I’m just sharing my experiences of being teased as a child and how it impacted me while growing up. Because I think everyone can relate, even though they may never show it. And I don’t think many people share what their biggest insecurities are. I’ve never shared this with anyone before; I just kept it to myself and continued to beat myself up, probably until close to the end of high school. But now I know that I would never change anything. Everywhere I go, I see beautiful people. I don’t think anyone ever looks at someone and thinks, “Wow, that person is really ugly…”; usually the differences that a person has is what truly makes them beautiful, because it’s what makes them unique. And I think that everyone I meet is beautiful! Everyone has so much to offer, so much more than looks, and I love trying to figure out why people have come into my life, whether it’s just for a day, for a few years, or for a lifetime. And sometimes, something happens years later that makes me realize why I spent that one day with that one person. It’s so cool! So I think it’s important with everyone I meet to see what I can learn from them, and figure out what I can offer them in return. I’ve said many times before: I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason. But I think it only makes sense as a whole at the very end. Anyway, after talking to those girls for awhile, they invited me to what I thought was a tea festival. So I decided to join them since I didn’t have much else to do and because I was having trouble staying awake on my own. They led me to this building and as we were walking, this guy comes up and is like, “Are you about to go drink tea with these girls?” and I said yes. And he was like, “Don’t do it, it’s a scam! It’s extremely expensive!” So then I was a little hesitant and I knew that there was no backing out once I got there. But I went anyway and ended up paying a whole bunch of money to try six different teas at a tea ceremony. But it was also pretty cool and the teas were all really good. At least the girls bought me some to take home as a gift! Since I didn’t have anything to compare the prices to (except the prices of Europe), I didn’t realize it was a scam until Yang told me. We googled the scam and they did EXACTLY everything that was written down. So I was scammed on my first day in China. But I was actually pretty lucky that it wasn’t any worse. They asked me to go out for lunch after but thankfully, I had already eaten beforehand so I declined. Apparently the other scam is to order a bunch of food, one leaves because they get a phonecall and the other leaves after 15 minutes to go to the bathroom, and then neither of them ever come back. After all that tea, I really had to empty out my bladder! But every restaurant I tried, they never had an actual toilet. I am not ready to pee in a hole that’s in the ground yet! I’ve done it once in Rambouillet and once in Italy and it was never pleasant, so I went on a search for a toilet and eventually found one. I’ve come up with a ranking of toilets I would prefer: home toilet, hotel toilet, hostel toilet (depending on the hostel), restaurant toilet, ferry toilet, plane toilet, nature, bus toilet, squat toilet (ew), and side of highway. I’ve had my fair share of experience… I actually headed back to the airport around three since I was too tired to do anything else. My flight was at 10pm and then I arrived at midnight in Zhengzhou. My family, as well as Ronald and Yang were there to greet me! It was nice to see everyone again after ten weeks and I seemed to forget that I was still tired. Ron’s best man, Troy, and his dad Gordan, also arrived that day so the eight of us had to be ready to spend the next three weeks together, whether we liked it or not. We had a 1.5-hour car ride to Ron’s hometown, Pingdingshan, and at that time, I was informed that Facebook is banned in China(!!). How is that even possible?! So sorry if someone was trying to get a hold of me! Once we got to the hotel, everyone was ready to go to bed.

The next day, I slept in until about noon and from that moment on, I was in sync with the time zone! Unfortunately, the rest of my family was not. Their 14-hour difference was a bit more difficult than my 6-hour difference. So while all three of them lied on the bed in my hotel room, I unpacked and showed them everything I had bought during my trip. We also went for a walk down the street to look at what there was in Pingdingshan. We got so many stares walking down the sidewalk, as that city never usually sees any foreigners. And it wasn’t the kind of stare that when they’re caught, they look away; they just keep staring no matter what! It was a little intimidating at first but after awhile, I got used to it. That night, Ron and Yang took us for dinner to a hot-pot restaurant. The traffic in Pingdingshan was absolutely insane! As cars were only introduced about ten years ago, rules were never strictly enforced. Therefore, people can cross the streets when they want to, change lanes when they want to, bike where they want to, and notify people of their presence and what they’re doing by only the honk of their horn. It’s mayhem! When we got to the restaurant, we each got our own pot of oily broth, and then we cooked whatever meats and vegetables we wanted (similar to a fondue but we each get our own pot). They also had a variety of different spices and sauces, so we made our own sauce (while knowing what nothing was) to dip our food in. They ordered so many plates; the food just kept coming and coming! And when we finished one plate of food, it would be replaced by another. I had never seen so much food before! I got pretty frustrated trying to use my chopsticks for every meal but after about five days, I got the hang of them 🙂

On Friday, we took about an hour-long car ride to the Xiangshan Buddhist Temple. It had an enormous Buddha on top of a mountain; its toe reached my shoulder. In order to get to it, we had to climb about 1500 stairs; the humidity definitely didn’t help! In one section, there were 365 stairs total, grouped in 28 or 30 or 31, representing every day of the year, so we each got a picture on our birthday step. The Buddha was so cool! It was covered in gold and it towered above everything else. After our walk up to the Buddha, we went to the bell tower, where it cost 100 yuan ($15) to ring the bell three times. Our family decided to do it so the four of us had to pull back a large, wooden beam (about a foot in diameter and nearly two metres long) and let it go into the enormous bell. It was quite the experience! Ron’s friend Leon took us for a “small” lunch because we were planning to have dinner with Ron’s parents later that evening. He gave us a menu with pictures of live animals on it and asked what we wanted: boar, wolf, rabbit, some kind of bug… We decided to stick with chicken and within five minutes, we saw a fully-feathered chicken coming our way. So we actually got to see our food being prepared from the moment it was killed. At least we knew it was fresh! When we sat down, they kept bringing out food and more food and more food, while we struggled to keep up. That small lunch ended up being a huge lunch! We went back to the hotel to get ready for dinner. The dinner was with all of the closest and most important people in Yang and Ron’s lives: their parents and a few friends. My family and I felt very honoured that we were included in their special meal. It was also great to finally meet both of their parents and see who Yang and Ron mostly looked like. The meal was huge! There were probably about twenty different dishes, and after us six Canadians had stuffed our faces, Yang informed us that those were only the appetizers!! Luckily, Yang’s wedding planner had shown up and needed Lauren and I to try on our bridesmaids dresses, so we were able to excuse ourselves from the table and give our stomachs some time to digest the food we ate. Then we went back down for round two! I don’t think I’ve ever eaten as much food as I did my first five days in China! Every meal was a feast; it was like Christmas dinner times three at every single meal!

Saturday was the day of the wedding! It’s better luck the earlier the groom comes to pick up the bride so Yang told us to be ready in her room by seven (normally it’s five). She looked absolutely stunning in her dress! Although it was difficult for me and Lauren, being the only English speakers in the room, it was still cool to be there and watch how everything happened. When Ron and his guys came, they had to do a series of tasks (that were decided by two of Yang’s best friends) before they could enter the room. They had to sing, do push-ups, and bribe us with money before they were finally let in. There were cameras absolutely everywhere, taking pictures and videos of our every move throughout the entire morning. Now I know what it feels like to be a celebrity! I don’t think I could stand it for longer than half a day though. They followed us down the halls, into the elevators, into the cars, literally everywhere we went. And they absolutely loved me and Lauren, as did everyone else; everyone wanted a picture with the two Canadian girls! It must not be a common occurrence for them to see girls like us! Once we took enough pictures, we had to drive to Yang and Ron’s new house, as it was part of the ceremony. Normally, they would pick the bride up at her parents’ house and take her to the groom’s parents’ house, as it is customary for the bride and groom to live and take care of the groom’s parents. The bride’s parents usually aren’t even allowed to attend the ceremony since they “say goodbye” when the bride is taken away, but since Yang’s family is from a different area of China, her parents were allowed to attend. All of the “important people” were piled into eight cars while a whole bunch of firecrackers were let off. Then, we started our half hour drive to Yang and Ron’s new house, being led by a Range Rover with a cameraman hanging out the side, recording us the entire way there. The vehicle also had its trunk open and someone threw out firecrackers the entire way there; it was absolutely crazy! Everyone else was waiting at the house, where we took even more pictures. After we were done there, we went back to the hotel and waited to start the ceremony, which was in an enormous banquet hall. There was about 70 tables of ten, with an expected number of 700 guests! All of the tables near the stage had to be covered with plastic (of course) to protect them from being covered with firecracker remnants. I felt like I was at some kind of Academy Awards show, and I was actually a part of it! It was intimidating since I had no idea when I was supposed to do anything because the entire ceremony was in Chinese and there were 700 people watching me, but we all got through it okay! While the bridesmaids (me and Lauren) and the groomsmen (Troy and Karon) were waiting “backstage,” Ron came riding down the centre aisle of the banquet hall on a motorcycle. Everything that happened during the ceremony was everything you would expect to see during one of those cheesy Asian films, but it was so cool! Then we walked down the aisle two by two to the front, and stood on stage. Yang came down the aisle and then there was a whole bunch of talking in Chinese, basically the handing over of Yang from her dad to Ron, the exchange of rings, etc. Then the six of us poured wine into a pyramid of wine glasses until we filled all of the glasses; it was intense! Then Yang made a speech (in English) about how she was so happy to have her Canadian family with her and I was trying so hard not to cry on stage, but I did. I was just so happy that my big sister was getting married! Finally, we could eat! Luckily during all of our meals, we’ve had someone sitting with us to tell us that a certain dish was turtle soup, or duck tongues, pig’s feet, or jellyfish. I haven’t been adventurous enough to try any of the above choices, but maybe I will in the next two weeks. It was weird because as soon as people started eating, they began to take down all of the decorations in order to prepare for someone else’s wedding that would take place the next day. And as soon as people were done eating, they just left. No one stayed to socialize except the Canadian table, which became a common occurrence. We were able to rest for a couple of hours and then Karon took the Canadians out for the evening. Our night started with a 100-minute massage! I’ve never had a massage in my life and I’m not sure if I’ll ever have one again after this one haha. These tiny Chinese girls sure must have a lot of rage kept inside them! My girl kept trying to crack every part of my body; I think I was more tense during the massage than I normally am during stressful situations because I kept trying to resist everything she did. I didn’t too much enjoy her knee going down my spine… Then Karon told us that we had three choices for the last 40 minutes of our massage but he chose for us and he chose Fire… That sure got us all a bit more stressed out! The masseuse had a stick with a cloth attached and she lit it on fire. Then, she put the lit stick in a glass jar to heat it up and set the jar on the sole of my foot so it suctioned, and then she’d pull it off. I was so freaked out because there was still fire in the jar when she put it on my foot! It never got too hot though. I was literally counting down every minute until my massage was done. The men got a different treatment… Instead of getting the jars put on their feet for 2-3 seconds at a time, they got the jars (18 of them) put on their backs for about ten minutes. Their skin inside the jars rose so high, it looked like a huge pimple, about 3 inches in diameter. The jars bruised their backs once they were taken off, and the spots are still there now! After our not-so-relaxing massages, Karon took us for a “heavy dinner.” We started with a bunch of appetizers and then the main course was a plate with an entire lamb on it. We were given gloves (exactly like my biology dissection gloves) so that we could for once discard the chopsticks and rip apart the lamb with our hands, or “eat like barbarians,” as Karon had put it. The lamb was probably some of the best meat I’ve ever eaten, it was so delicious! Karon also brought a 1.8-litre bottle of Japanese saki so we were forced to do shots every 2-3 minutes until we finished off the bottle. It was such a good day!!

On Sunday, we didn’t do very much. Ron and Yang took us for a walk downtown and took us to a park, where many seniors spend their time on Sundays. There was one man playing a traditional Chinese instrument and Ron asked if dad could try. Of course, he was very enthusiastic about letting dad play his instrument and from dad’s two notes he played, he got a HUGE crowd of people who came to watch the foreign man playing the Chinese instrument. We sure got a lot of attention in China; it was insane! Ron took us for lunch and for the first time, we got one dish and one dish only: noodles! We were all so thankful that we didn’t have to eat so much food. We went back to the hotel and the six of us (my family, Troy and his dad) played cards all afternoon while Yang and Ron did more wedding stuff. Unfortunately, we couldn’t leave the hotel by ourselves since we couldn’t even cross the streets safely without Ron’s help. When Ron and Yang came back, we went out for dinner and had an assortment of different rice dishes…another huge amount of food. And our entire meal for the eight of us only cost 24 bucks!

On Monday, we packed and took a car back to Zhengzhou so we could fly to Yang’s hometown: Hangzhou. Her city was so different compared to Ron’s! We headed to our hotel where we finally got to see Yang and Ron’s son, Evan! Then we had dinner with both Yang and Ron’s parents before going to bed so we’d be ready for another big day.

Tuesday was the second wedding day! Yang came to our hotel room at about 9:30 in the morning with the photographers and hair and makeup ladies so she could get ready with us. The ceremony was planned for 4:30 so by the time we were all ready, we had quite a bit of time to kill. We first went for dim sum and then got our pictures taken by the lake. The dress I had to wear was extremely tight even when I first tried it on back in Canada, and then I remembered I wasn’t supposed to gain any weight on my trip. Like that would happen with all of the foods I’ve been trying! Luckily, I had some spanks but they limited the amount that I could eat and breathe during the entire day. After taking photos, we helped with the decorations. The ceremony was right in front of the lake, and the decorations that Yang chose looked awesome! After rehearsing once, we sat around and waited for the ceremony to begin. Yang and Ron both said beautiful speeches to our family and once again, I cried. After the ceremony, we got macaroons and cupcakes and afterwards, we had the biggest dinner of my trip so far (too bad I filled up on macaroons beforehand!). There were so many dishes and all throughout dinner, Yang’s family and friends came to our table to thank us for looking after her; it was really great! Surprisingly after dinner, Yang’s dad sung a song for her; he’s an amazing opera singer, none of us had any idea! Later that night, we headed back to the hotel to pack and had to get up superearly the next morning so we could leave the hotel by five.

On Wednesday, we went to the airport to take a plane to Xī’ān (but Yang stayed in Hangzhou with Evan for the week). Once we got there, we went for lunch and then made a trip to the Terra Cotta warriors. The ruin pits weren’t so interesting to me but the warriors were neat to see, and they’re not even done piecing them all together! We headed to our hotel and then went for dinner. It’s so awesome having someone from China with us because Ron always takes us to the most grungiest, dirtiest places (that would never pass a health inspection in Canada), somewhere a tour group would never, ever take you to. And the food is amazing and on top of that, cheap! Our dinner for the seven of us (with about five dishes) only cost ten dollars Canadian! Lots of stuff planned for the rest of the week! Sorry I don’t have any pictures to post; I was too busy with my Canon this week and I don’t have a computer to upload pictures on. Hope everyone’s doing well! Love always

The Broken Ones – Dia Frampton

White Nights (Turkey)

Well, the Europe portion of my trip is already finished! On Wednesday evening, I took the bus to the Heraklion airport and waited for my plane to leave. My first flight was to Athens, which lasted an hour. And then my flight to Istanbul was an hour later. But since I had to go through security again, by the time I got to my gate they were ready to start boarding. I forgot how easy travelling can be when flying! No slow trains, no missing buses, no metro breakdowns. Sure, planes sometimes have their delays, but they’re usually pretty reliable. On my flight to Istanbul, to my surprise (and delight!), they gave us a meal even though we were in the air for less than an hour. I arrived in Istanbul at 8:30pm. The visa process was extremely easy; I just gave them 45 euro and they gave me my visa with no questions asked. I was easily able to find my way to the general area of my hostel, but finding my hostel was another story. It was difficult walking around with all of my luggage and being approached, “Are you lost?” “What are you looking for, baby?” “Would you like something to eat?” I soon found out that’s the norm here in Istanbul: Everyone’s always trying to sell you something. Women are still very much objectified here, I feel, so showing skin is not very common. I decided that since it was bad enough with my blonde hair as well as being alone, I would not be wearing shorts and I would never have my shoulders uncovered. Therefore, I was covered head to toe in 30 degree weather… Not the most comfortable feeling, but I’d rather feel uncomfortable physically than uncomfortable by the men.

On Thursday, I made my way to the Eminonu metro station so I could take Jono’s advice and take a ferry to Kadikoy. The ferry gave an excellent view of Istanbul, showing many of the mosques and the beauty of the city. Once I got to Kadikoy, I had lunch (a chicken donair) and then I took the ferry back. I went to the Yeni Cami, the “New Mosque,” which was absolutely gorgeous! I think it’s the first time I’ve ever been in a mosque so it had a very magical feeling to it. There were even prayers going on at the time; I just sat on the floor like everyone else did and relaxed. What I did notice was that all of the people praying at the front of the mosque were men; I wondered where all of the women were and noticed they were all up against the back wall. After leaving the mosque, I walked around for a bit and ended up making my way into the Spice Bazaar! It was really cool; they sold mostly spices and Turkish Delight, but there were also quite a few places to get souvenirs. And the souvenirs were dirt cheap too! I didn’t spend too much time at the bazaar because it was pretty intimidating, not being able to even look at anything without someone trying to make a deal with you. I then walked to Yerebatan Sarnici, the Basilica Cistern, which was so cool! It’s an underground cistern that used to provide water in the 6th century. It’s completely dark with glowing lights on every column, and there’s some relaxing music that plays while you walk around. I’ve never seen anything like it before, I loved it! Afterwards, I went to the Ayasofya Muzesi which is a museum that used to be a mosque as well as a church. It was huge! And it had mosaics on its walls and ceilings. After doing so much sightseeing, I sat in the museum’s park and had freshly pressed pomegranate juice; it was delicious, so much better than the pressed oranges! I tried to go to the Sultanahmet Cami, the “Blue Mosque,” but the lineup was huge and it didn’t seem to be moving. It sure is gorgeous from the outside though! After it got dark (around 8-8:30), I usually headed back to my hostel since it was usually bad enough being alone in the daylight. But just before I headed back, I’d always find a bench to sit on in Sultanahmet Square, which was very close to my hostel. There is a huge fountain in the middle of the square and at night, there are lights inside it that change colours. It was so nice, watching the fountain change from green to red to blue and so on, while having the Blue Mosque to one side of you and the Ayasofya Muzesi to the opposite side. So magnificent, calming, and beautiful!

I decided Friday would be my shopping day! I headed to the Grand Bazaar and boy, was it huge! It was just really overwhelming with everyone getting you to only buy their products. And since I wasn’t really looking for anything specific, it was difficult to want to bargain since there wasn’t anything I really really wanted. And the one bag I really liked, I couldn’t find where it was ten minutes later haha. So I didn’t stay at the Grand Bazaar for long; I much preferred the Spice Bazaar. I then went back to the Blue Mosque but unfortunately, I got there during praying times so they wouldn’t let visitors in. So I just walked down the streets on the way to the Spice Bazaar so I could find a suitcase since I had bought too much stuff. I went to many different places and finally found what I was looking for, yay! Here, my everyday treat has been baklava and apple tea. Denise (the girl I met in Athens) told me not to waste my time buying baklava in Greece because it wasn’t even actually invented in Greece (contrary to what I had thought). So even though she told me to wait, I tried it once. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great either. Then here, I tried it and they make theirs with pistachios (best idea ever!); it is absolutely amazing! To die for! Delicious! I bought a kilo to take to China; chances are it won’t make it back to Canada, sorry guys. And then the apple tea… I’m not much of a tea drinker so whenever I’m offered tea at the end of the meal, I always decline. However, when I declined at one of the donair places I was at and the guy was like, “What if I gave it to you on the house?”, how could I not accept? It was sooo good, I went out the next day and bought half a kilo to take home with me 🙂

On Saturday, I was planning on going to Topkapi Palace in order to keep myself away from the stores. Once I got there, I saw it was 25 lira and thought, “I could be spending that at the bazaar instead!” so I turned around and headed that way. I spent all of my money until I had one lira left and then I made sure I couldn’t take out anymore cash. That day, I FINALLY got into the Blue Mosque, but it wasn’t as amazing as I had expected. I much preferred the New Mosque, but one of the guys I met had said that once you’ve seen one mosque, you’ve seen all of the mosques. So that could have been my problem.

There are so many cats here! Everywhere I go, there seems to be more and more cats. Croatia had a considerable amount of cats, then Greece had even more, but here in Istanbul there are cats everywhere. And they move into the buildings and try to get food. It’s sad…at two different times, I’ve found a cardboard box on the side of the road with a mom and 5 or 6 kittens inside. My roommate that I had in Heraklion works for an animal protection program where she’s from. She said that in one year, one cat can multiply to about thirty! Female cats are able to have three litters per year with 4-6 kittens per litter, and female cats are sexually mature at four months old. So cats sure add up, especially in a place where they roam wild.

Sunday morning, I had breakfast before I caught the shuttle to the airport which ended up being about an hour and a half long. I stood in line for a good 45 minutes and once I finally got to the check-in counter, the guy said that my flight wasn’t open until 12:30pm so I had to wait an hour and a half before I could check-in(!!). What’s the point of having to be at least two hours early when they don’t open the counter until two hours before?!? I decided to eat lunch so I could waste some time before checking in. Finally I got to check in and go through security, but maybe I spoke too soon about flying being convenient because by the time we were supposed to start boarding, the plane hadn’t even arrived yet. We ended up leaving 45 minutes behind schedule but made up a bit of time and arrived at the Paris Orly airport 20 minutes late. Even though I only saw Paris through the window of the shuttle, it was very comforting to be back. I took the train to Rambouillet and Catherine was there waiting for me so that I could spend the night at their place in Le Perray. Unfortunately I didn’t arrive until 8:45pm so I didn’t get much time to visit before everyone had to go to bed so that they could wake up early for work or school. But it was nice to see them all one more time before I left! And was I sure glad to be somewhere familiar again! As much as I liked backpacking, I was also relieved when I was done. Backpacking isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Or maybe not if you do it “right,” which I feel I did 🙂 My shower towel is the same towel as my beach towel which is the same towel that I sit on when I’m at the park, on grass or rocks, and is also my first aid towel when I used it to wipe off my knee when I fell last week. Therefore my towel is a dirty, bloody, smelly rag. I’ve worn the same seven shirts in five weeks, only “washing” them once. I’ve managed to somehow survive off of the same hotel-sized bottles of shampoo and soap, using everything very sparingly. My hair either goes up in a ponytail or stays down in a huge, puffed-up rats’ nest. How many times I have wanted to shave my head during this trip, I cannot tell you. I’m walking around in over 25 degree weather every single day all day long, and HAVE to shower by the time I get back to the hostel (it’s not a choice, it’s a must!), and by the time I’ve toweled off, I’m already all sticky again. I sleep with no a/c, I’m lucky if I even get a fan, I’m woken up by disrespectful roommates in the middle of the night or early in the morning by talking, snoring, or the rustling of bags. But I still love it! Although I think next time I do backpacking, I’ll only do it in 3-4 week periods. It’s the different experiences that make the trip and even though I was exhausted and ready for it to be done, I really enjoyed myself! Meals are the things I could always count on. I remember in Bari when Phoebe and Ruby wanted to get groceries at the supermarket so we went and they were complaining that they had spent 7 euro on their groceries, which is considerably more than they usually spend. So they were hoping that what they bought would last them for the next three meals. How sad… I won’t tell you how much I spent at the grocery store that day! I could have made this trip waaaay cheaper than I did (and I did start like that), but why go to a supermarket and buy an apple when you can do that at home? For me, trying the local cuisine is a huge part of experiencing a culture. I’m so glad I stopped trying to budget myself and I JUST DID IT. I ate what I wanted, I went where I wanted, I bought what I wanted. And never ever did I think, “Should I really be buying this?” My first and only thought or concern was, “How will I get this home?” Somehow, I still even have money left over, at least enough for China anyway. That was my biggest regret last time I went to France. I was getting paid 60 euro a week which gave me about 8 euro to spend each day, equivalent to about two cokes at the Celtique. And I never did anything, I never went anywhere, I never bought anything. Cause I didn’t have the money. I was in France, yet I might as well have been at home. And I always looked back and regretted not doing anything because I always made an excuse not to. That’s why this time around, I’m doing it differently. And I have absolutely no regrets. Maybe when I carry home my three bags, I will! But we only live once. Why say, “Let’s do it next time,” when we SHOULD say, “Let’s do it NOW!” I’m just lucky I DID have a next time! I hate how society has an expected idea of how life for everyone should be. Elementary school, high school, university, job, marriage, kids, retirement. Who wrote these rules, and why are they so boring?! And because of this, everyone has the same idea, “I’ll do it when… (fill in the blank):” When I’m done school, when I get a promotion, when I’m married, when my kids are older. And some people don’t even HAVE the idea to do something different because it has never even occurred to them. Actually if it weren’t for my cousin who started travelling at a young age, I probably wouldn’t have had any of those ideas either. But I’m glad I did!

On Monday, I woke up and got ready which was incredible! Instead of quickly getting up and getting ready in 10-20 minutes, I took my time. And I got to straighten my hair, and paint my nails, and spray delicious-smelling products in my hair since I had them all again! Ah, it was great! Then I headed to Saint Quentin to have lunch with Beatrice, who had kept another one of my bags with all of the stuff that I got in London. We went for Chinese and then she showed me her university since she had to register. Afterwards, I went back to Le Perray to pack my two bags in one hour. Closing my bags, hauling them to the train station, and lugging especially the large one up the stairs was (I’m pretty sure) more difficult than walking the Cinque Terre. I found out later that the one suitcase was 27kg, the other was 12 and I also had my backpack. I took the train to Rambouillet and walked to the family’s house to get there around 6pm. It was so great to see the kids again, and they were extremely excited this time! The last visit, everyone (including myself) was a bit hesitant and not too sure what to think. But this time around, everyone was so relaxed and it was honestly like I hadn’t left three years ago. Except I was always shocked when the kids would help clear the table, or shower by themselves, or say something extremely intelligent. And then I’d have to remind myself that these kids are no longer 5 and 6 years old. Sadly, Alice is already in the preteen stage; she rolls her eyes constantly (although I’m pretty sure she had that covered when she was six too haha) and she was too cool to walk to school with us the next morning 😦 But wow, the girl who used to complain all the time is now the peacekeeper of the house, the big sister. She loves Elsa so much, it’s adorable. And Antoine is extremely intelligent. The one who was always quiet is now the one who argues about absolutely everything, but his explanations are actually logical. It’s not just arguing for the sake of arguing; he makes valid points and I’m always so impressed. And Elsa is still cute, little Elsa: laughing constantly and always joking around. It makes me kind of sad how the kids who once depended on me for everything have now outgrown me and no longer need me anymore. At least Elsa still wanted me to read her a bedtime story… Antoine also wanted to spend as much time as possible with me as well, but Alice’s nose was always in a book. Guess I can’t complain since that’s usually me as well! But I also realized that the next time I see these kids, they will likely be teenagers. How sad… Anne and I had a good visit after the kids went to bed and then I headed to bed as well so I could get up early to join them all for breakfast. I walked the kids to school with Anne which was cool because I got to see all of the moms that I used to see everyday three years ago. Anne drove me to the station and then I made my way to the airport. Unlike the last disaster I had trying to get to the airport, I was prepared for the shuttle this time! It must have been my lucky day because the airline I was flying with allowed two bags per person, with 23kg per bag. So I didn’t have to pay any extra costs! Which I was prepared to do, and I knew I’d have to do for my connecting flight. But it saved me a good 150 bucks! I got through security and waited for my 11 hour 20 minute flight, booooo. While I was in the lounge, I kept hearing humming. But it wasn’t like humming a song, it was an annoying humming. And I found the source to be an older man across the lounge. When I got on the plane, guess who my neighbour was… Not so much humming, but constant tongue clicking and belching, some talking to movies, and a large invasion of personal space. So as much as I tried to sleep, there was always an elbow hitting me at some point. And the point where I almost lost it was when he knocked over his coffee all over my shoe, inside and outside, right before we landed. And it wasn’t like that was a one-time thing; during the trip, he knocked over his drink three times and I managed to catch it two of those three times. So now my 350 dollar insole probably has a permanent smell of coffee. Enough complaining, keep in mind I’m writing this towards the end of my 11 hour flight, when it’s 6 in the morning Shanghai time but midnight Paris time. Today’s gonna be a looooong day, especially since I have a 15 hour layover in Shanghai before going to Zhengzhou tonight at 10pm. Hopefully I’ll figure out something to do! Hope everyone’s enjoying the last of September, sure went by fast! Love always

White Nights – Oh Land

Everything’s Right (Greece)

And Greece is now done 😦 but that’s okay cause I’m definitely coming back! On Monday, I was quite ready to leave Croatia so I checked into the ferry at 8pm that night to go to Bari, Italy. When I had booked my ticket ahead of time, I asked if I could get a bed and the lady said I had to get it on the boat. But then when I got on the boat, I asked how I could get a bed and they said I should have bought a bed ticket when I had gotten my ticket. So I was stuck with a deck ticket. I got on the ferry and laid out my sleeping bag on the floor in the hall and set up camp. A lot of people had done the same so it was funny when someone brought out their guitar and started singing Kumbaya on the other side of the boat. The problem with my section of the boat was I was the only non-Italian person there. I’m pretty sure Italians are the loudest people on earth so it was difficult for me to sleep a lot of times, plus the hard floor didn’t really help me get very comfortable. But the Italians were also really nice and offered me food and whatnot so I can’t complain. I think I only got stepped on a total of three times during the night. After 12 hours of being on the boat, we arrived in Bari at about 8am. We then had to go through passport control and for the first time, I was happy that I wasn’t an EU citizen since they had a line specifically for non-EU citizens, which included me and only a few others. I walked to the ticket office and met three girls there: Phoebe and Ruby from Australia, and Lara from Germany. We found out that we were all making the same trip to Greece so since we had about 12 hours until our ferry left, we decided to explore Bari together. We just walked around, sat in parks and coffee shops, and enjoyed ourselves. Bari wasn’t what any of us were expecting; it was an actual city, not a small port with a couple of shops, like we thought. We headed back to the port to board our ferry at 5 and we found out that because there weren’t many passengers, we were upgraded to the reclining seats free of charge! This ferry was so nice compared to the last one, which was great since we ended up being on this ferry for a total of 18 hours. When we finally arrived in Patras at 1pm the next day, I went to the bus station and took a bus to Athens. The trip from Patras to Athens is absolutely gorgeous! But once I got into Athens, I was wondering what I got myself into. The part of the city that the bus terminal is on is pretty sketchy and very dirty so my first impression of Athens wasn’t that great. I somehow found a way to the metro stop that I was supposed to meet my couchsurfing host (Nick) at and to my surprise, he was also hosting another girl (Denise) from Germany/Turkey. That night, Nick took us for souvlaki and then we met some other couchsurfers at a bar. I tried raki, which was waaay too strong for me; I don’t know how other people can handle it! It can be made with up to 90% alcohol content so you can feel it pretty fast. We didn’t make it back to the house until 5 in the morning (yet again).

On Thursday, Denise and I had lunch before heading to the city centre. We found a frozen yogurt bar and decided to give it a try. If you think Pure frozen yogurt is good, Greek frozen yogurt is a million times better! It was sooo delicious, I was just shocked! We then went to the Acropolis Museum, which was cool. I really liked seeing all of the vases and utensils they had used 3000 years ago, it was amazing! After three hours in the museum, we went to check out the actual Acropolis (and got in for free yay!). The Acropolis was so gorgeous! Especially because we went during the last hour that it was open so the sun was setting right behind the Parthenon.. Beautiful! We then walked to Monastiraki, one of the city’s main squares where the Athens Flea Market is located. Eventually, we made our way back to Nick’s and then we met up with the same people from the night before and went to a lounge on a hill with a gorgeous view of the Piraeus port. We didn’t get back til about 3:30 that night, which kind of sucked since I had to catch my ferry to Mykonos at 7:30 the next morning.

That Friday morning, I took the five hour ferry ride to Mykonos! I stayed at this awesome resort and spent my entire time on the beach with an ENGLISH magazine! It was so nice, hopefully I’ll still have my tan when I get back home; it’s probably the darkest I’ve ever been! I got my own private beach cabin, which surprisingly wasn’t even near the beach haha but that was probably better that way for sleeping purposes. That evening (even though I was extremely tired), I went into town to have dinner and check out the stores. I also of course got some frozen yogurt. I don’t know if I’ll be able to go back to Pure frozen yogurt when I go home; this stuff is way too delicious! Mykonos is so cute; it’s known as the party island so everyone I talked to said I wouldn’t enjoy it, but there’s something to do for everyone, even families. I almost didn’t go to Mykonos and instead planned to spend an extra night in Athens, but I’m so glad I went! It was also just nice to have a chill day on the beach for the first time of my trip!

On Saturday morning, I took the ferry to Santorini, the island of romance. And of course, I went alone. The trip to Santorini was the worst! One of the staff members wouldn’t let me take my bags to the deck, which has never happened before. And I have never left my bags before. So when I stubbornly said there was no way I was leaving my bags, he said, “Fine! You stay on the deck, not in the boat!” which was fine with me since I was planning to go on the deck anyway. The first two hours were nice; I just lied on the deck in the sun and listened to music. Then, we reached the rocky waters. Everything I had with me got absolutely drenched from the boat going back and forth non-stop. On the deck, it was basically suicide to try to move anywhere since the floors of the deck were so slippery and with one shift of the boat, you could go sliding across the deck. So basically everyone who was on the deck was stranded up there, holding onto whatever they could to keep themselves balanced. After awhile, my stomach got the best of me and I knew I needed to eat something or I was going to be sick. So I took my two backpacks and carefully made my way to the other side of the deck to where the stairs were. Instead of going from front to back, the stairs were from left to right. Right when I got to the top of the stairs, the boat hit a wave and tilted the other way, which caused me to fly towards the bottom of the stairs. Luckily, I grabbed onto the rail with my free hand just in time but it sure got my adrenaline rushing! Scary, scary moment. I was surprised that they didn’t have anyone go up on deck to help everyone else get down. Anyway, I safely got in the boat and sat down on one of the chairs; it was nice being rocked back and forth while sitting; it pretty much lulled me to sleep. But by the end, I started to feel sick. And just when I thought I was supposed to get off the ferry, they informed me it was still another 2.5 hours, making it a 10-hour trip! So I tried to think good thoughts and ignored the sick feeling in my stomach. It got to the point where the crew wouldn’t allow anyone to leave their seats unless they had to use the washroom, and in that case, they would be escorted by a crew member. I finally arrived in Santorini at about 8:30pm and got a ride to my hotel. I had my own room with a bathroom and a mini fridge! It’s always a nice change from a hostel but it also gets lonely since you can’t exactly meet anyone there. My hotel was located in Perissa, which I found out later is the 10th top attraction in Santorini, due to its beach (which was about a two minute walk from my room!). However once I got to Santorini, I still felt like I was on the boat. I couldn’t walk in a straight line and even standing still, I felt like I was swaying back and forth. I honestly think it’s the tipsiest I’ve ever been! My only solution was to go to bed early cause that was the only way I didn’t feel like I was moving.

On Sunday, I had breakfast on the beach and then I went to Fira (pronounced Fear-uh), the capital of Santorini. It’s a cute city with lots of places to shop. I just love going into every souvenir shop and looking at everything, even if I can’t buy anything. I did however get my Christmas ornament! Around four, I decided to walk to Oia (pronounced Ee-uh) which is the other main city of Santorini. The trip was about 11km and is supposed to be one of the prettiest walks in Santorini. However, after doing the Cinque Terre, I wasn’t TOO wowed. Of course, there were beautiful views, but it wasn’t much of a “hike,” just a road with very uneven rocks and stones. Quite dangerous actually; I found myself sliding down a hill of volcanic rock at one point. And with none of the rocks being sturdy, one wrong step and you roll your ankle and your knee makes direct contact with a pile of rocks, gashing it in three places. So what did I do when I was unfortunate enough to have this happen to me? The same thing any normal person would do… I took a picture. Then I cleaned it out best I could with my water bottle and beach towel since that’s all I had. I found out I had 5 more kilometres until Oia so I continued my walk, open wound and all. It wasn’t that bad; I just poured water on it anytime it started to hurt. I’m just glad I have such a high pain threshold cause by the time I got to Oia, it really started to get to me. So I went to the pharmacist, who gave me an unknown substance for 2.50 and I put it on. And boy, I would have walked BACK to Fira instead of putting that stuff on. It probably needed quite a bit of cleaning though; I’m just hoping there aren’t any pebbles stuck inside that I can’t see. So once I got to Oia, I was in a pretty sour mood. I went for dinner and got some moussaka, an eggplant casserole, very good! Then I headed back to Perissa to spend some time on the beach before going to bed.

On Monday, I went to the beach around 10 and stayed there until I had to catch my ferry five hours later. The bartender on the beach kept staring straight at my knee every time he walked by and eventually came and put a band-aid on it haha, I guess it wasn’t really the prettiest sight. I got to the port but by the time I was supposed to leave, the ferry still hadn’t arrived. Finally 45 minutes later, it came! So we left an hour behind schedule, which made me kind of nervous because I still had to catch a 3-hour bus to Chania once I arrived in Heraklion, and there would only be one bus left IF we made it there on time. That bus was at 9pm. The ferry arrived at 9:15pm. So before I started freaking out that I had nowhere to go, I decided to clear my head. I went for a McFlurry and onion rings at McDonald’s. What I’ve learned is that letting the worry come in won’t help with anything. And that trying to make logical decisions on an empty stomach doesn’t help either. Surprisingly, McDonald’s didn’t have wifi but I was lucky enough to find it elsewhere so I could get directions to an available hostel. When I got there, he said the dorms were actually all booked up (the Internet said otherwise) but he would give me a private suite for the same price of a dorm (I seem to be having a lot of luck with these private suites!). Probably the nicest room I’ve been in so far!

On Tuesday, I went to Knossos Palace, the second-best archaeological site next to the Acropolis. But I realized while travelling that archaeology isn’t something I find very interesting. To pay money to see a bunch of rocks that used to be a palace 4000 years ago is a waste for me. A rock that was once part of Knossos Palace looks like a rock that was once part of the Acropolis, which looks like a rock that was once part of the Roman Forum. I would rather go on a hike and look at a bunch of rocks that have no purpose. I like to see things as a whole or at least partly complete. Seeing the Parthenon was cool, as well as seeing the Colosseum. Looking at cells in university doesn’t excite me either. Looking at a blood cell from a frog or a hair cell from a cat or a skin cell from a human… Cells are cells, rocks are rocks. Maybe I’m just ignorant? I do however love looking at the tools: the hammers, the vases, the paintings. I guess different people just have different interests, and I’m slowly learning mine. After going to Knossos Palace, I went back to the city centre to walk through the markets before heading back to my hostel. Then, I did even more looking through stores around that area. I made my way into a jewelry store and the lady working there (Afroditi) was determined to find me a ring that fit my extremely tiny fingers. Since it is now off-season, I think the storekeepers are desperate to sell anything so when we finally found a ring, she said she’d take 10 euro off! So I decided to buy it and she was like, “Sit down, I want to make you a cocktail!” and went to the back of the store to get some raki and orange juice. I told her about my trip and she told me about her two kids, who are about my age. Afroditi was the nicest lady, saying it was brave of me to travel alone and warning me to be careful. “Now I’m sounding like your mother,” she said, but it was nice to have a motherly person around again. She gave me her name and email to add her on facebook, sounding very excited to have another friend. “And make sure you send me pictures of your trip!” The people of Crete are extremely welcoming, and I know I’ve said that about a lot of places, but the Cretan people go above and beyond to make you feel at home. I went for dinner and got a plate of a combination of things so I could try all of the different Greek foods. As much as I love the gyro pitas (because they’re extremely delicious and they never cost more than 2.50), I decided I should expand my knowledge of Greek cuisine a little further. Boy, do I love Greek cuisine! Heck, I love every kind of cuisine; where can you go wrong with anything that’s not American food? Anyway, my plate included a stuffed tomato (stuffed with rice and spices), pastitsio – a baked pasta dish, bekri meze – pork marinated in white wine, soutzoukakia – spicy meatballs with garlic and tomato sauce, eggplant papoutsakia, and of course tzatziki, love it! After I was done, the waiter came with a small pitcher of raki and said, “Here you go, Canada.” It had enough to do about six shots! After three painful shots, I told him it was too strong to finish. Apparently raki is supposed to be really helpful with digestion, but it burns the throat when drinking it. I headed back to the hostel and easily fell asleep.

Today, I’m just killing time until I have to go to the airport to catch my flight to Istanbul, which isn’t until 5:30. I guess I’ll just have to fill up on Greek frozen yogurt before I leave Greece! I can’t believe I only have one place left to go and then I’m done my Europe trip, it went by way too fast! Hope everyone’s doing well! Love always

Everything’s Right – Matt Wertz

Hello Alone (Croatia)

At the 8 week point now! On Monday, I made my way to the Venice train station at about 1:30pm. I was actually planning to spend more time in Venice and take the night train to Zagreb later that evening but in December, Italy decided that they didn’t want trains going through Slovenia or something so they stopped all of the night trains. Therefore, my time in Venice was cut short as I only got about 24 hours there. I was still feeling sicker than before so maybe it was good for me to get some rest on the train. In Croatia, trains aren’t a huge form of transportation; they mostly use buses. So I had to take a train ride to Trieste on the edge of Italy, then take a bus to Rijeka. We had to go through border control (for the first time on my trip) which seemed to take forever; I just wanted to sleep cause my nose wouldn’t stop running on the bus. We then got to Rijeka, which was right on the sea. When we got there, both of my ears were completely plugged but I didn’t realize it; I just remember walking through the streets and loving how quiet the city was. I was lucky to find a hostel close to the bus station so I rang the bell to see if they had a room. I was waiting and waiting and then I heard an extremely quiet voice on the intercom. And that’s when I realized how plugged my ears actually were; I could hardly hear anything! Anyway, they had room for me and it was by far the cleanest and nicest hostel I’ve been in so far! I had a late supper and went to bed.

Tuesday morning, I woke up early to catch the bus to Zagreb. You can’t book tickets online or anything so I’ve just been going to the ticket station and there’s usually always a bus about to leave in the next ten minutes. The bus to Zagreb was about two hours and afterwards, I went to my hostel to drop off my stuff before spending the rest of the day exploring. I started off by going to the Dolac Market, a daily market with so many fruits and vegetables, as well as some homemade souvenirs; it was really neat to see! Afterwards, I went for lunch to a Croatian restaurant. I had grilled vegetables and meat and for dessert, I had Gibanica, a four-layered cake with chopped walnuts as the bottom layer, then poppy seeds, then cheese, then apples. It was so good! I’ll have to try to make it when I get home. I then walked around the lower town and the upper town, just taking in the sites. It’s a gorgeous city! Croatia is a lot more welcoming and laid-back compared to many of the other countries I’ve been to. I can get a coke and just sit there for two hours whereas in Italy, I felt like I was always rushed to eat as fast as I could cause they were trying to get you out just as fast as they got you in.

Wednesday morning, I got up early again so I could make it to Plitvice National Park by 11. I read in a lot of reviews that it was too touristy and overcrowded and I could definitely see that since most people chose to do the 3-4 hour hikes. I chose to do the 6-8 hour hike, which went completely around all of the lakes, went up and down, and just had a lot more variety than the others. Luckily, my hike usually went to higher ground in the spots where there were lots of tourists so I could see all the tourists below me, but on my path I hardly ever saw anyone; it was so nice! I couldn’t believe how blue the lakes were, it was absolutely insane! The only logical explanation I have is that they put blue food colouring into the lakes every night. I’ve never seen such clear waters, it was amazing! Now I know why these are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well. By the end of my walk, my legs were just hurting and I was ready to go to bed. I stayed in a town called Grabovac, about 11km away from Plitvice. So I had to wait for the bus to take me there. I must have waited 20 minutes and still nothing had come, but the stop was starting to attract more and more people. Then a taxi driver came up and asked if we wanted a ride. Clever guy, he sits by the stop and once he can get a full car, he shows up right before the bus. He charged 100 kuna per person to go to Zagreb which isn’t too bad considering my bus ticket from Zagreb was 105. And then for me, he charged 20 kuna, about three bucks! So I got in the taxi with six other people and headed to Grabovac. There aren’t really any hostels around the area since it’s still not that touristy, but they have lots of guesthouses. So I had to go a little over what I normally pay for a room but I got my own room with an ensuite and balcony! Such a nice change from hostels! When I got there, a girl answered the door; she must have been 9 or 10. She showed me my room, asked for my passport, and got me checked in haha I was quite impressed! I then asked where the closest place to eat was, which was 500 metres away. I think my legs were mad at me for doing even more walking. It was a little restaurant at a campsite so it was quite cheap. However, Croatia is considerably cheap compared to everywhere else I’ve been in Europe. And they always give very generous portion sizes, unlike Italy.

Thursday morning, I caught the bus to Zadar. Every time I’ve talked to other travellers and told them I was going to Croatia, they’ve all been like, “Oh you’re going to LOVE it, it’s so beautiful!” but I was always comparing it to Switzerland and I couldn’t see what all the hype was about. But on this bus ride, I finally saw the beauty of Croatia. Gorgeous hills and mountains, and all of the leaves are just starting to change colour. I absolutely loved Zadar! It was another one of those really positive energy cities; I got a really good vibe from it. I had some shrimp risotto for lunch (yum!) and then walked around the old town. One of the coolest things about Zadar is its sea organ. There’s an organ that’s built into the water and it plays notes based on how much water is pushed into it. So when boats go by and make big waves, more notes are played; it’s really cool and it’s so hypnotizing; I just got lost staring at the water and listening to the organ play. After walking around the entire old town, I got some gelato and I was casually strolling down the street when I saw a sign. It said, “70% off, 29 kuna.” My brain quickly did the math as I continued to walk down the street only to find out that wow! That’s five bucks a shirt! So I turned around, noooooooo! I was doing so good! So four shirts, a dress, and less than 30 bucks later, I had another bag of stuff to carry. And once I started, I couldn’t stop. Crap… I went to two more stores and bought even more stuff. When I went back to my hostel, three of my roommates were there: two guys from England and one from Mexico. The four of us went for drinks and went for a night stroll along the coast, it was fun!

Friday morning, I caught the 3.5 hour bus to Split and then in Split, I was planning to catch the ferry to Hvar soonafter. However, when I went to buy my ticket (which I wanted for 11:30am), she said the only ferry going was at 5pm. I was so not impressed… Not only would I be stuck in Split but I would be missing the last of the nice weather in Hvar since it was supposed to rain the next day for the following week. Luckily there was a sooner ferry at 2:30pm that went to a different port. So I decided to take that one and therefore keep myself entertained in Split for the next three hours. Meaning sitting at a restaurant and reading and writing. I wasn’t planning on walking around Split carrying my bags of newly acquired items. I finally caught the ferry, which took about two hours, and then I went to my hostel and found out that they had overbooked.. So instead of having to stay in an 8 bed dorm, I was put in a one bedroom suite with a kitchen and bathroom for the same price. Score! I took advantage of having my own room. Since I was literally down to my last pair of underwear, it was time to do laundry. But standing at a laundromat all day (when you could be exploring the city) is not my idea of a fun time. So I decided to do it the old fashioned way… In the kitchen sink. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. I’ve never handwashed clothes before, but I’ve seen the washing machine work plenty of times, so I tried to imitate it as best I could, complete with a wash cycle and a rinse cycle. Couldn’t figure out how I’d do a spin cycle… Then I set up my drying station in the wardrobe, hung everything on the pole and hangers, and set up the fan to dry them. It worked quite well! I spent the night exploring the old town in Hvar. I went to an amazing restaurant and had the best pizza I’ve had in a long time (even better than Italy!). The thing I liked about Croatia was you knew all of the food was homemade. In Italy, I’m pretty sure everything was premade and just sitting there all day. In one restaurant I went to in Pisa, every time someone ordered a pasta, I’d see the “cook” walk into the room beside my table and walk back out trying to hide the frozen microwave pastas that she took back to the kitchen…no joke! And in Croatia, the bread basket you get at a meal is always soft, fresh bread. Not like in Italy, where the bread was always hard and stale. It’s funny how now that I’m in Croatia, I’m noticing all these things about Italy. I wouldn’t have noticed that the bread was so stale in Italy had I not gotten such fresh bread in Croatia. I wouldn’t have noticed the unwelcomeness from Italy as much, had I not felt so welcome in Croatia and Switzerland. But life is all about comparisons, is it not? I think it’s unavoidable. To find a better job, a bigger house, a cheaper lifestyle. To have a better day or year. I wonder if it’s what determines a lot of what we feel. If we didn’t know what a good day was like, would we still be upset about a bad day? Or would it just be like every other day and therefore there’d be no such thing as better or worse?

In Croatia, I really started feeling homesick. Backpacking alone is different than any sort of travel. Sure, it’s a great way to meet people but it’s tough! Leaving home for ten months to go to France was difficult as well but backpacking is a different form of difficulty. Au pairing in Rambouillet or even having my apartment in Paris for a month…it’s still a new world but at least you have a sense of familiarity. That same bed you sleep in, the same table you eat at, the same cafe you walk by on the way home, the same people you get to see. Even though it’s foreign at first, it becomes what you know, your rock, your anchor that holds you in place. But backpacking… Every night has a new bed, every meal has a new table, every walk has a new path, every stranger is a new friend, every day has a new adventure. Nothing is certain, you always have to be prepared for whatever’s thrown your way. Nothing is ever familiar. And even if it becomes familiar, it’s gone within a couple of days. You get lost in your own world, you start grasping what’s familiar to you: your memories. And because you’re so exhausted with all of the constant change, you hold on to those memories. And then you realize that you’re alone in a world full of people. Sure, I love seeing the world and meeting new people but I’m sick of having the exact same conversation with everyone I meet. “Where have you travelled?” “What are your plans after travelling?” I miss talking about nothing, or enjoying the silence with someone. I hate that when I get attached to someone, I have to say bye to them the next day. I hate constantly having to think about what comes next, where I’m sleeping the next night, how I’m getting to my next destination, and if it doesn’t work out, then what? Plan A, plan b, plan c. How nice it would be to stay in one place and not worry. I’m hoping that’s what Greece will bring me. That’s the difference with Croatia… Every night in Croatia, I’ve stayed in a different place, whereas in Switzerland and Italy, I’d usually stay for two nights in one place. I didn’t know it, but it makes a huge difference! Live and learn I guess…

Because I was so sick of moving around, the next morning I randomly decided to catch the ferry to Dubrovnik, meaning I would no longer be spending a night in Split. Lucky for me, the ferry only runs twice a week and Saturday was one of those times. So I went into town to catch the bus to the port. Unluckily for me, Saturday was September 1st. We were officially in the off-season and therefore, the one bus I could take to the port was no longer running. I was desperate to get out so I took a taxi. Fifty dollars later, I was finally at the port with a ticket for the 8-hour ferry ride. It was so relaxing and it was a nice environment cause everyone on board was in the same boat (ha) so even though most people didn’t speak the same language, it still felt like we were a little community. We had to stop at a port on the way there, which luckily had wifi so I found the ONLY hostel available (lucky for me!) and booked a bed. We arrived in Dubrovnik at 6:30 so I went to my hostel and then went to the old town with a couple of guys from Poland and Hungary. One thing I didn’t realize about Croatia is that since it’s still not part of the European Union, people are still allowed to smoke in the clubs. It was so gross, I’m so glad we don’t have to deal with that in Canada! We ended up not getting back to the hostel until 5 and then I was up again at 7, so I tried my best to get through Sunday with two hours of sleep.

On Sunday, I was still in Dubrovnik but I was in a different hostel since I had booked it way earlier. I spent most of the day on the beach and then that night, I met up with the people from my previous hostel. I didn’t stay out AS late that night, one because I wanted to get up early on Monday and two because I physically couldn’t. Of course though, I ended up getting lost and not getting back to my hostel until 2 anyway. On Monday, I got up and I finally went to Old Town in the daylight! It’s so cool, with the walls and all of the old buildings and churches. I wish I could have walked the walls but it was way too hot out; I wouldn’t have survived without shade! Afterwards, I just hung out by my hostel until I had to catch my ferry. Will be on a ferry for the next two days, should be a fun time! Love always

Hello Alone – Charlie Winston