Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Sleepless in London

2012/07/25 1:31 am

Dear Diary,

It’s my first night in London. I have not slept a wink yet in my hostel bedroom, shared with my sister and one stranger. I even slept better on the 7 hour plane flight here!

I grab my laptop and start typing. My sister in the bunk above me tosses, then turns, and asks, what am I doing? She hasn’t slept a wink either!

I blame jet lag. But could there be some other reason for our refusal to enter dreamland? Some other internal workings keeping us fully conscious? Surely, we were already tired after the plane flight which provided, at best, 4 hours of turbulent sleep.

And since touching down at Gatwick Airport, we walked at least a couple of hours with our travel suit of armour, at least 15 kg of backpack gear on our chest and back, before finding our hostel. At least we stopped to take in Buckingham Palace along the way, as well as London streets, all glammed-up Olympic style. After settling into the hostel, using Barclay Bikes, London’s equivalent of Toronto’s Bixi Bikes, we leisurely cycled around Kensington Palace and Hyde Park, weaving through the multitudes of people enjoying the city’s wonderful park spaces. We capped the cool sun setting night with a stroll through a patio lined complete street where cars and pedestrians got along in harmony on the same strip of asphalt.

The highlight of the day though was seeing what at first looked like an old cathedral, but then noticing that it was actually a condo complex, a hybrid structure that was half crumbled cathedral and half modern steel and concrete. This is the kind of structure that makes cities like London magical, the ability to blend old nostalgia with new sparkle. (pics to follow soon)

Surely, we were even more tired from this first eventful day in London, which was a strenuous workout for our bodies. So why can’t we get any sleep? Must be jet lag.

A late party-goer enters our room. We say hi, you didn’t wake us, we just can’t sleep.

I turn off my laptop. Try to get some shut eye.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Driving Through 'Merica

My upcoming Europe-Asia tour has been much hyped and has been the central focus for my 11 month sabbatical. However, my sabbatical already started back on July 1 and, two weeks later, I consider my recently completed journey within my home continent to be the start of my adventure.

My friend Jackson and I just drove back from Calgary to Toronto through the United States and, despite being forced to brave long hours of monotonous freeway driving, relentless heat and humidity, and back-wrenching car sleeping, had a pretty awesome time. We drove through parts of Montana, Wyoming, South Dakota, Iowa, Illinois and Michigan.
Mt. Rushmore, South Dakota
Here is a quick list of my notables regarding our southern neighbour (caution: highly biased):
Cheap food - everything on the McD's menu is one to two dollars cheaper including $1.39 McChickens (I don't consider this real food, more manufactured stomach filler)
Cheap gas - we filled up for around $3.40/Gal or $0.90/L, except in Detroit where we somehow filled up for $1.33/L
Overweight people - consequence of the above
Credit cards - no insert chip payment
Road signs - too many, too many words, all in English
Road tolls - one thing they do right
Speed limits - up to 75 mph or 120 km/h on the interstates
Beautiful landscapes - we drove through rolling pastures home to happy grazing cows through much of Montana (rather contrary to America's reputation for factory farms)
Propaganda advocating God and condemning abortion
Liquor sold at gas stations
Detroit - a real ghetto. Also, liquor stores everywhere, not a single coffee shop
Surprise fact? Kinder Surprise is illegal. Guns are not; and
Gun shops
Abandoned house

I also had two fun interactions during my trip as well. As I was leaving a McDonald's one kid from a group of three said hi to me. I said "hey, I'm Canadian, eh?" and one of them asked me "is weed legal there?" The conversation ended soon after but I had a good laugh. Damned kids these days.

And pulling up to a red light there was a man sitting with a sign which wrote "homeless and hungry." I offered him 50 cents change. He refused. I asked "why?" and he just told me that he was hungry. I offered him a granola bar. He just shook his head. Before I could ask why, the light turned green. We drove away bewildered.

All in all, our drive through America was a good time and made for a good story. And knowing me, you can expect a moral to this story...

As pleasing to the ears as is the sound of someone travelling across the world, one cannot underestimate the experiences available close to home. I honestly can't wait to get back to North America so I can check out Utah, Yellowstone, the Oregon coast, Portland, North Saskatchewan and Yukon.

And, of course, I can't forget about my adopted hometown of Calgary and my adopted backyard of the Rocky Mountains. Just before driving off, two days of Stampeding in Calgary reminded me of its underrated and progressive culture, and five straight days playing in the Rockies reminded me of its matchless beauty and endless hiking opportunities to last the rest of my life.

Lake O'Hara, most beautiful spot in the Rockies

Are you excited yet?!

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Everyone and their cat these days seems to be posing this simple and straightforward question my way, yet everytime I think about it, the answer becomes more elusive.

ARE YOU EXCITED YET?! After a brief pause I usually say something along the lines of "to tell you the truth, I don't know..."

As busy as I have been preparing for this presumably exciting trip, I haven't had time to feel excited. And as someone who tries to live day by day, my focus should reside in my current place. But it can be hard to do this when it's easy to mentally checkout until it's time to travel.

I initially spent much of this past month being a hermit and enjoying simple things I won't have when I travel, such as TV. But I was just wasting what precious time I had left here, as well as neglecting the good times had and awesome friendships built over the past 4 years in my adopted hometown of Calgary. The past few weeks, and particularly this weekend, have changed that, switching my focus to spending time with friends.

As I write, I am languishing among the fallout from last night's farewell party consisting of empty wine bottles strewn about, broken shards of glass and wine and pizza stains on white carpet. The cleanup will suck, but in the meantime the mess is a pleasant reminder from last night. Today has been near perfect too. I went to the bar to watch some Euro Cup, got stopped by a photographer to take some pictures of me for some promotional company's Facebook page, stopped at a friend's place, then a cute little book shop. On this lovely day I walked everywhere, and on the final walk home, with the warm sun on my face and the cool breeze on my skin, I had one of those "life is good" moments that brought a quasi-tear to my eye.

Sure, I am probably excited about 11 months off, but I'm just as excited about the rest of my time in Calgary. So give me a call and let's hang out! Let's make some lasting memories to hold on to until I return from my 11 months.

11 Months to do Nothing and Everything

So I guess the secret's finally out. I will be taking about 11 months off to travel. But it's oh so much more than that. Unshackling from the 9 to 5 routine will be liberating and relaxing. Lush landscapes, pristine beaches, ancient landmarks and sexy parties await. But I am more excited for the experience to learn and grow. Ultimately, this trip will provide the opportunity for me to change my perspective, annd discover what makes me tick and what I am passionate about.

I will be starting off the trip with my sister. By mid-July we hope to touch down in the UK and tour Europe in 3-4 months. Among several countries we plan to visit, I am most excited about seeing Spain and Croatia. Along the way we hope to participate in the tomato fight in Bunol, Spain, and walk the Cinque Terre along Italy's east coast.
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After Europe my sister we're off to Asia. However, my sister only wants to see Japan before returning home. India, China and Indonesia are on the top of my list. In addition I am considering entering a monastery to study Buddhism, engaging in voluntourism, and learning Mandarin or a martial art. If I can fit half of the things I want to do into those 11 months I would be ecstatic. But I'm definitely not going to rush things.

The decision to embark on this 11 month trip is the culmination of the decisions and the path I have chosen in the last 4 years of my life post graduation. Until then I had never been a risk taker, never made a leap of faith, or never willing to stray from expectations. But my short Europe trip after graduation was a catalyst for change and a glimpse of what the world had to offer. Moving to Calgary helped me to finally grow up. It opened me up to new experiences and brought me to realize that I always held the key to any door I wanted to open in life, but was too afraid to turn it.

11 months later, upon my return to society, I will surely have stories to tell, but my ultimate hope is to learn important life lessons, understand what makes me tick and what direction my future will turn. And after working one more year in Calgary and achieving my Professional Engineer certification I will again stand at a similar crossroads: should I stay or should I go?

Hopefully I can figure this question out in those 11 months.