Friday, October 28, 2011

These first few weeks of my trip have been a continuous learning experience, about different cultures and customs but also about myself. Since arriving in France on September 26th, I have seen many quaint towns in the outskirts of Clermont, such as Orcival, St Saturnin and St Nectaire (the latter gives its name to the deliciously stinky local cheese - more on that later). I have also climbed the Puy de Sancy, I have gone to Collioure in the south of France and I have visited Lyon.

While the more local sights have been interesting to get a sense of the area's history, (who would have known 10th century churches would still be standing in such remote locations?) I have also been fascinated by its geography. Volcanoes aren't usually the first thing that come to mind when you think of France but, surprisingly (to me at least), the province of Auvergne is home to a chain of these, all dormant.

Seeing as I love to travel, embarking on this adventure to Europe after I graduated made quite a bit of sense. I also have friends and family here that I would like to visit during my time here. Some friends I already have seen: one came to Paris from Scotland where she is studying for the year and the other went to visit her boyfriend in Belgium, whom I joined up with after my weekend in Paris. Another reason I wanted to travel and this, for me, is the most important one of them all (because I could honestly come up with many different reasons to travel) : traveling on my own. For some, this activity is an enjoyable one and is not a huge deal. I admire those people. This idea was a very scary one for me and I knew that the only way to overcome that fear was to just do it. So I have. And I am so glad that I did.

My first experience traveling on my own was when I went to Lyon about 3 weeks ago. This actually wasn't my first time being in Lyon, but the last time was about 12 years ago, so it may as well have been. I stayed in a youth hostel which is apparently the only one in town and quite crummy. The staff is particularly unpleasant and I had someone in my room steal my pillow while I was out. If you want a middle-aged lady to shush angrily as you crawl into bed, then this is your place. At least the night I had spent out was enjoyable. My new friend Riccardo from Rome had been in the hostel for a month by the time I arrived, looking for a place to live since he would be studying here for the next few months.

Riccardo gave me a tour of Lyon, from Vieux Lyon where the hostel was located, to the other side of the Rhone where all the boats that are actually bars are docked. We went to Place Bellecourt with an impressive fountain in its center, saw the Hotel de Ville and the Opera, walked along the Saone, crossed the Presqu'il ("almost island") to the Rhone. I was so impressed by Riccardo's openness and grateful for his eagerness to show me what he'd already discovered about the city.

While I was in Lyon, I got in touch with friends of Emily's, who had studied in Lyon during the winter term of 2010, at the same time as I was in Costa Rica. Rémy and Roméo were so much fun and spending the night partying with them felt as if we had already been friends for a while. I got to practice my sign language with Roméo, the first deaf and mute person I have ever met. Even though I only know the alphabet, we were able to communicate easily with hand gestures, facial expressions and, if all else failed, texting each other by passing his cell back and forth between us.

I've seen some beautiful places and met some great people during my travels up until now, none of which I have talked about in detail. Every place I have been to has been unique in its own way, either in culture, accent, architecture, cuisine...It's incredible to think that you can see cities and countries that are so different from each other within the relatively small geographic area that Europe is. I will thus dedicate my next few posts to describe all of the places I have seen so far... :)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A change in scenery

This past April, I obtained a Bachelor of Arts (honours) in Geography. It was one of the most emotional, yet satisfying days of my life. My graduation marked the end of my days as an undergraduate student, where I was constantly exposed to stimulating topics and inspiring people. At the same time, it symbolised my ability to overcome the hardships of my final year in school, not without the help and support of friends and family.
Perhaps I found myself overwhelmed by my fourth year because I was the victim of Reverse Culture Shock (it really does exist!), where nothing could make this year as good as the previous term I had spent in Costa Rica. I had learned about this tropical country's environmental paradise first-hand, had met amazing people in my study abroad program and had almost perfected my Spanish-speaking skills. This unforgettable experience had allowed me to learn more about myself than I had ever imagined, and I didn't feel like anything back home could possibly live up to it.
Perhaps I also felt that this would be the last year I could get away with not knowing exactly what I wanted out of life, and that I still had a bit of time before I had to face the real world as an adult. Either way, my final year turned out to be the most challenging one of all, but also the most rewarding with regards to my personal limitations and capabilities.
This summer, I had a fantastic job as a tour guide/interpreter at Rideau Hall, where I made lasting friendships. I was able to learn about the Governor General's role and Canadian history, information I had never been exposed to in school, although that wasn't really an excuse to be so ignorant on these topics. Either way, I was extremely grateful to have gained invaluable knowledge and to have developed so many personal skills such as public speaking and mastering unparalleled efficiency in team work.
I was offered a position at the University of Ottawa as a Master's student for this academic year, where I would be given the chance to work alongside a reputable professor in the field. I would also be the first student to work on a Nature Watch project which encourages citizens to actively monitor change in their surrounding environment. While it seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that would build a solid foundation towards a successful career, I decided to turn it down- and I'm glad I did. Many of my friends have continued their studies right after finishing their undergrad and they have very honestly admitted that they wished they had done what I am doing now. That is, taking the time to figure out my true passions and determine what direction I want my future career to go in. So what does one do when trying to "find oneself"? Go to France, of course. Well, maybe not- but that's what I decided to do. I have only been here a few weeks, living with my sister in Clermont-Ferrand in the very lush region of Auvergne, but I have already made lasting memories with my spontaneous trips. I have no set plans and no itinerary...and it's only the beginning of an exciting adventure!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Spring Cleaning

Today was a good day, not because it was sunny outside or because the snow is finally starting to melt, although those things did contribute to making it a memorable one, but because I made it that way. Well, to a certain extent. Today was a day where I opened myself to all the wonderful opportunities, experiences and memories that this new day had to offer.
It started off with a scrumptious shower, the kind that takes so long it makes the environmentally-conscious cringe, including myself (I'm such a hypocrite). I figure if I only shower every couple of days, the time I spend taking the odd shower sort of evens out and becomes not so significant, or so I like to think.
Then, I made whole-wheat pancakes. Okay, I lied. My Dad made the batter for the pancakes (love ya) but I put them in the pan and did a darn good job of it too. They were perfect - golden brown on the outside and moist and border-line undercooked, just the way I like them. They were delicious. Rather, I think they were, I'm not sure because I have a cold and I'm congested so I can't taste anything, but that's besides the point. The texture was supremely satisfying.
After a hearty breakfast, I tackled this paper that has been eating me up inside for a while now, and I really let 'er have it. I destroyed that monster. It had nothing on me.
Anyway, as a break from the beast, I went to the Byward market, my favourite place to browse new fashion. I discovered the cutest little store called Adorit where they have all of fair-trade, eco-friendly, vintage and locally made clothing. The poodle Java, who looks like a Rasta dog, was very excited to see me. I bought a gorgeous cameo necklace that you can open up and put pictures in, which I was so excited about that I inadvertently put it on the table, paid for it, and walked away without realizing what I had done.
I browsed through some of my favourite stores on Dalhousie, Victoire, Milk and Workshop, saving Young Jane's, the best, for last. It didn't fail me. I got a cute flowy black and white modern-pattern shirt.
Sitting at Planet Coffee with my parents afterwards, I opened my purse to flaunt my new purchase, but it wasn't there. Out of nowhere, some random guy tells me a story about how he loses a camera, goes back to where he thinks he lost it, finds it on the curbside, opens it to see a crushed memory stick expecting to find the worst, but the camera is fine. The shutter is messed up but the camera is still functional. It was inspirational.
I race back to Young Jane's thinking I might have dropped my necklace while I was trying the shirt, but no luck. I'm kicking myself for being so careless with my things, putting them in my purse without zipping it up, or in my pocket so they can easily fall out. I go back to Adorit, not expecting to find anything, and the salesperson is putting the necklace back on the shelf. It seems the luck of the random guy's camera story followed me!
Here's the best part. I go home with my new necklace, which now has sentimental value that will forever be embedded in it, and get down to the nitty gritty. I cleaned out my closet and discovered the most adorable pieces of clothing that I had totally forgotten about!
It's such a great feeling, finding something you didn't expect to be there, appreciating the glory of your unintended triumph.
From now on, I hope to appreciate the little things in life that often go unrecognized but usually bring the greatest joy.