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Exploring the island gem that is Barbados

When you live in a tropical island paradise that is only 166 square miles, you would think that you would have exhausted most places to go visit and explore, but if you’re me, then that sadly is just not the case.

Contrary to many beliefs I sadly do not get to go to the beach nearly as often as I would like to and I have yet to truly travel around and explore all that Barbados has to offer, in its natural beauty and island charm.

To remedy this, a bunch of friends and myself, one day decided to just hit the road and let the winding roads of the island take us on an adventure. Normally, I get lost in the island easily because I have not traveled around the place enough, only frequenting the same familiar places over and over again.

However, as I learnt on that weekend trip, there are a lot of places around this island that still needs to be discovered, to be explored and the very best way to do it is to do it with friends.

So on that sunny and warm Saturday morning, four of us piled ourselves into a Japanese speaking car and set off for adventure. First place chosen was to St Philip, because there was a famous bar close to a light house that promised amazing food and drinks.

The view was nothing short of breathtaking. The lighthouse itself was a towering round structure and showed signs of its very old age, however, by unanimous decision, were admired only from the outside. None of the crew game enough to try to go inside the ancient contraption.

The views on the cliff were amazing, the sea rollicking bringing forth harsh waves that crashed mightily on the rocks on the very long drop below. It was a freeing experience, being there in the open with the salty sea spray shooting up on the rocks before receding for another attack.

I could actually feel my mind clear and relax, but it brought with it, a real appetite and soon the squad found the restaurant, which was such an out of the way ranch looking place, doused in music with a fired up grill.

I had the best time there with my friends and was even happier with a huge plate of BBQ ribs.

The journey continued with the gang travelling through dirt a road, coming up to what was decided had to be a haunted house.

While the decision was taken to stick to the South of the island, it was so much fun to really take a moment and appreciate the beauty of the island. Sometimes I forget that I’m in an island paradise as the pressures of work and family increase, however, I have to advise anyone, to take a day, no matter where you are and travel around the town or country that you’re in. there is nothing like the feel of the open road, an unhurried atmosphere and good friends to make the whole experience awesome.

 

First time travelling to the Big Apple

I live in beautiful Barbados, literally the land of white pristine sandy beaches, turquoise waters, tropical fruit trees and lots of coconut trees. I live in a country where it is impossible to never see greenery, with hills and pastures stretching for seeming miles, all lush with thick flora, so imagine my shock when I first traveled to New York City for a two week vacation and could not see anything but concrete and insane squirrels.

Green monkey in a tree in Barbados
Green monkey in a tree in Barbados

It was a culture shock for sure, but I was ready for the adventure!

Hopped up on the amazing stories from the TV shows like Sex and the City and Gossip Girl, I was beyond excited to get this vacation going. I had plans on shopping and a lot of eating. Now I’m not a ‘travelholic’ and this trip to the Big Apple was something that I had dreamt of, but had not actually considered doing.

While I was excited to go over there and I had of course air marked few places I wanted to go to because I was all about that sales shopping life and had dreamt of running around in huge malls, I also had to make sure I took care of a couple of things.

First time on the train was such an experience!

Now not many of you may have to ever worry whether the bank you use is accessible in another country, or that your credit card may not work, but as it turned out, these were things I had to make sure of and have a plan of attack finances wise.

Sorted all of it and before I knew it I was in the air on my way to the concrete jungle and thus began my sojourn into the world of USA.

I rode my very first train and was freaking out because, it was more or less punctual and people were so casual about the fact that they were on a train going underground, but for me, I was legit in a whole new world. I fell in love with the graffiti, with the characters on every train and the total ease of movement. I became lost in the Museum of Natural History, geeking out about dinosaurs and the cosmos and then could not for the life of me figure out how to leave the building.

And let’s talk food. My first deep dish pizza, my first time at an IHOP and saw the massive amount of pancakes they offered. The drinks that I was incapable of finishing!

It was like going to a new world!

I went out a lot. I don’t think I even spent one day in my hotel room. One of my friends made sure that i experienced authentic Chinese food and Japanese food. I took a bus for the longest bus ride of my life- a whole two hours and ended up in a mall that as you can imagine I also for one heart stopping moment was sure I was stuck in because I could not find my way back to the ground floor. It seemed to go on forever!

I was able to see my friends going about their daily lives and explore different parts of New York, all culminating for me in Brooklyn, where I went to an art party and ended up ‘palancing’ ( a Trinidadian dance) with over a hundred people on the main floor of the art museum.

My time in the Big Apple was exactly what I thought it would be: awesome, inspiring and eye-opening.

I came back to Barbados full of ideas, but also with a very real appreciation for how calm and slow paced life really is on the island and how much I also enjoy that.

Barbados Journal Oct 2018

I have spent the past month learning a great deal about Barbados, and myself. This month I discovered that selecting “allow dirt roads” on your GPS is a big mistake in Barbados.

It all came about on a beautiful sunny morning. I was driving the kids to school and a house fire on the main road had traffic backed up for miles. It gave me the perfect opportunity to explore the island and I’d grown fond of discovering new sights around every turn.

On a small island like Barbados one would think it hard to get lost… but the island is filled with roads and cart paths that run over all kinds of terrain. And in the wet season (September to November) they fill with mud and clay. The problem is that the cart paths show up on GPS apps as dirt roads, even when they are little more than tractor paths through banana fields. Combine this with a glorious sunny morning, an open road in front of you, and the kids singing “Country Roads” in the back seat and it’s easy to feel invincible.

As I drove along the heavily pot-holed pavement, the road turned into a dirt cart path, and I didn’t listen to that small voice in my head whispering – ‘STOP!’. The view was amazing; we were driving along the edge of a mountain with a steep cliff edge to our left and the mountain rising up on our right.

It had rained the night before and I began to worry when the car started sliding. The road was narrow and the drop steep. My knuckles turned white as I gripped the wheel. The car rounded a corner and I could see that a few meters ahead the steep cliff turned into a gently sloping hill, but the car starting sliding towards the edge of the cliff just as I rounded the corner, and I nervously gunned it along the path praying we’d make it to the hill. Luckily we got there and I thought about turning around but didn’t want to face that slippery corner again. So I kept going and drove the car straight into almost 3 feet of clay that had filled a dip in the cart path.

I looked down at my silk pants, white top and high heels and realized I might not make it to my morning meeting and the kids would miss school.

My son and I put sticks and branches under the tires and after about an hour of trying we rocked the car out of the big mud pit (with half of it all over us). I found a small promontory to turn the car around and slowly headed back to the main road. Getting out of the mud was satisfying, but I was taking it too slow and became stuck again. This time we were on an upward slope and there was no way that my son and I could rock the car out. Luckily some men had arrived to work in the fields and immediately offered to help. They easily pushed the car out and around the corner to the paved road.

The whole time this fiasco was going on my daughter was sitting in the back seat, taking picture and pointing out how beautiful the view was. When finally arrived back at the main road she commented “Mum you always find a way to make a perfectly ordinary day turn into an adventure.” And that is how I hope they view every stupid thing that I do!

I have noticed that I am beginning to lose some of the terribly selfish driving habits I picked up in Toronto. Here ‘Bajans’ drive slow and easy, if they see a car wanting to cross the highway, they will stop to let them pass. They are kind. It’s unsettling if you’re from Toronto and driving far too quickly behind them, but over time you slow down and start to realize that being kind, and offering that public gesture, is important. I used to think that people are drawn to Barbados because of the slow pace, but I realize there is much more to it. The people here have grace and they cherish it. I hope a little of that grace rubs off on me.

Barbados is a beautiful country but it is the people that make it a terrific place to live.

The French Airport Passport Challenge (Pt 2)

The first part of my harrowing passport tale took readers through the odd and at times utterly scary moments I experienced while trying to travel from France to England on my Barbadian passport.

That airport experience – and others – led me to realise that passports are not created equal, especially as things are drastically different when I’ve used my British one in the past.

When I left off, I’d just managed to cross the final barrier before being spit out into the busy Charles de Gaulle airport. My next task seemed simple: Ignore the men with machine guns and find my way to the check-in area. Though I had hours to spare and Parisian exploration was suggested, my paranoia heightened. My interest was in the destination . . . end.

After making it to the terminal I rid myself of the “suspicious” makeup brushes. I wasn’t about to go through a strip search in the next wave for some perfect contours.

My pseudo-zen was short-lived. Sniffer dogs and their beefy, no-nonsense looking handlers entered the terminal. I paid little attention, until a dog took way too much interest in my bag. My stomach catapulted from my body and landed on the floor.

Stepford smile!

The dog was called away, but during their up and down trek, both dogs stopped at my bag multiple times. This made one security guard stop for a closer look once, but luckily all was well. Until . . .

Time to check-in.

I would show my passport, then my ticket, and voila, onward to the departure lounge.

Wrong again.

Instead of heading straight to the counters, there was a pre-check of passports. The male and female security personnel were friendly enough. The woman took my passport, peered at me, then my passport again and asked, “What is your business in England?”

With a bright smile, I informed her I was going to live as I was a citizen. For a reason I couldn’t get yet, she didn’t like this answer and asked me for proof. I showed her my expired British one, and as she started to shake her head, I wondered briefly if I was going to be stuck in France till ‘Wheneverary’.

She questioned me about why I didn’t use my British passport to travel. In this moment I tried to keep my head as the answer seemed obvious enough, “Because it’s expired and I’ll renew when there.” She didn’t like this answer either and explained that they preferred if British citizens travelled on British passports. Who are they?

In this moment the Caribbean woman in me tried to take hold, but I managed to keep most of the edge out of my voice as I explained how expiration works . . . again. None of this mattered. I was told to wait on the side while her colleague made a call.

“We have to make sure it is okay to let you through.” she said to me.

Stepford smile baby. Stepford smile.

Final part: Visas, weird questions, and how many checkpoints are there?

The french airport passport challenge (Pt 1)

I’m about to be very dramatic. It can’t be helped really, as I found out the hard way that having a Caribbean passport in some countries, doesn’t give you a leg up at customs.

This stage-play unfolded as I made my way from Barbados to England. New country, new life, new terrifying experiences.

Okay, let me back up and bring you up to speed. In late March I decided to quit procrastinating about moving to jolly old England, and just do it. What resulted was a flurry of activity, saving and absolute madness – but sure enough I was on a plane to Martinique by August. I can almost hear you ask – Martinique? Thought you said England? That brings me to part two of this backstory.

I’m a lover of deals and in this case, all I had to do for a cheaper fare was find my butt in two other airports before ever setting eyes on balls of fluff – sheep – from above the British countryside. Caught up? Okay, moving on.

After nearly missing my connecting flight in Martinique, as Air Antilles was late, I enjoyed a welcome respite on my XL Airways flight to France. So innocent then, I believed transitioning from flight to customs would be a breeze.

Wrong.

In the past while I’ve travelled on my British passport, I’ve never had any problems and gave no thought that it could be different on the Barbadian blue.

After heading into the security check line for what would be my first challenge, I took my passport out and shuffled on until it was my turn.

The officer took a long, puzzled look at my Barbadian passport, then me, before inquiring about my business in France. I chirpily explained I wasn’t staying and would be leaving in a few hours. He continued to stare at the passport, before asking me where Barbados was, and wondering aloud if I would need a visa to continue. Nonetheless, I managed to pass the inquisition and was promptly off to baggage claim.

Note, I had one piece of carryon luggage and my handbag . . . that’s it. As I approached baggage, I saw people flashing passports and rolling on through. From the looks of it most were British or European (EU) and I figured it’d be the same for me, so I flashed mine like I was on a cop show.

Denied.

This massive officer stopped me in my tracks and carted me over for a more intense check. To be fair, the guy who unpacked everything was pretty nice, even with the added difficulty of the language barrier, since I did not speak French nor did he speak English.

He did a thorough check and all was well, until he came to my makeup brushes. The moment he took them out I knew I’d have another problem. Following a discussion – in French – with his colleague, he went over to the X-ray machine to check my brushes one by one. So I’m standing there, praying to the makeup gods that the manufacturers didn’t have any suspicious-looking substances in the handles for better balance or whatever. I look serene as ever, while in my head I’m like – it’s okay, YOU’RE OKAY!  and explosions of fear are detonating within my stomach.

He didn’t find anything, and after making a bad joke that he didn’t understand, I hurriedly repacked and trotted off – finally -into the main airport area where I almost ended up being lost in translation.

Part 2: Nosey sniffer dogs, men with guns, and you just might have to stay in France.

 

 

 

Advice for first-time solo travel

Lining up a travel buddy isn’t always a feasible option when planning that dream adventure. There’s certainly no shortage of countries to explore and sights to see but finding the ideal person to share those experiences with requires compatible schedules and travel styles and a shared interest on the same destination. That can prove to be difficult. For many (like myself) it can be easier to just set out alone. Travelling on the lonesome – be it for an extended period or a one-week vacation – can be a great way to go. That said, before landing in the destination, there are a few things to keep in mind. As someone who’s giving the whole solo wandering a shot this year, I have some recommendations from my first few months abroad.

Become a “yes” person. Be open minded to all offers and invites that arise. Even if something doesn’t seem interesting right away, taking part in that activity can prove just the opposite. Accepting new offers is often just the thing to enrich travel experiences and hey, they might uncover an unexplored passion. However, becoming a “yes” person shouldn’t mean following along without thinking independently. Rather, it means being unbiased and truly considering the offers instead of automatically shooting something down just to watch Netflix.

Know when it’s better to branch off alone. Yes, solo travellers should consider new opportunities but at the same time, knowing when to branch off from the crowd is key. Say, for instance, the group dynamic doesn’t exactly fit your vibe or the itinerary conflicts with your schedule. Go your own way. Sometimes following the crowd is only going to damper your mood. Early in my travels, I made hiking plans with a woman whose demeanor was… less than friendly. On the day of our hike, her messages seemed unhelpful and abrupt. When she failed to find me at our meeting spot and suggested I instead make my way to the trail, I changed course. I hit a different trail alone enjoying incredible views, a satisfying workout and a hot bowl of fresh trout soup by the river afterwards. In this case, it was wise to change my plans when I felt uncomfortable.

Trust that you are, in fact, capable. Before I left, I read a book of essays by female travellers in Latin America. The common theme seemed to be that everyone felt intimidated until they recognized that they were capable of more than they thought. Travelling means getting outside that well-established comfort zone – especially if doing it alone. Like the female writers I read, I too underestimated myself. At first, it was daunting to do anything alone. Slowly, I came out of my shell. Now, I’m writing this after having spent the past few days in the coffee region alone. I toured a coffee farm, I saw a cloud forest, I cooked a meal and kicked back in a cabin alone and I travelled the nine hours back alone. When travelling solo, trust that you are, in fact, a capable human.

Don’t be attached to items or itineraries. Letting schedules and material objects hold little to no importance will grant freedom. Not being attached to things like a weekend itinerary or perfectly coordinated wardrobe enables travellers to better fall into a go-with-the-flow way of thinking. Recently, my mini four-day vacation turned into a nearly three-week road trip. I wore the same outfits over and over and I unexpectedly got to enjoy parts of the country I hadn’t planned on seeing. It has been one of the highlights of 2018 so far. I’m so glad I tossed out the original plan.

Accept cultural differences. Though it may be hard, don’t use cultural standards from home to judge those who you meet abroad. In the long run, accepting culture shock is going to be easier than fighting it. Keep personal values close of course, just don’t expect others to think in the same ways. Now that I’m travelling, I have to accept that opinions are going to be much different in Colombia than in Toronto. I wouldn’t expect otherwise.

Spend time doing what you actually want to do. One of the beauties of travelling alone is that there’s no need to compromise with travel buddies with differing interests. When experiencing a new place, solo venturers are spoiled by getting to do exactly what they want to do and when they want to do it. If afforded this type of freedom, take advantage. Pay attention to personal interests and spend time doing those things. Don’t let travel blogs or opinions of fellow travellers on what visitors are “supposed to do” cloud that vision.

A Great Algonquin Portage

We arrived at Algonquin just as a dark wall of ominous clouds blanketed the park. “Is this foreshadowing?” I thought to myself.

It was my first time visiting this provincial gem. My boyfriend and friends surprised me with the long weekend getaway for my 23rd birthday and I was relieved to ditch the city for some nature-induced fun. What I didn’t know, was that another surprise awaited me at the entry of the park. We weren’t just camping…we were tackling a great Algonquin portage!

Portaging entails carrying your canoe across the land between lakes until you find a marked campsite that suits your liking. I predicted portaging with my boyfriend, who is an extremely ambitious camper, would entail a weekend of intense physical activity, refined outdoorsmanship and throbbing muscle cramps. Sure it wouldn’t be the weekend of suntanning, swimming and relaxation that I had anticipated, but it was an adventure.

Meeting the gray skies, we quickly unpacked our cars and loaded our waterproof bags into three canoes. In the final moments of sunshine, we paddled around the small lakes searching for the perfect campsite. Note to self #1: Never expect perfection while camping.

After an hour-long search that was decorated with spats of rain, we pulled up to a small, hilly island. We docked our canoes and scoped out the plot. It was spacious enough for three tents and even had a pre-built fire pit. “Guys! Come here!” my friend suddenly shouted. We all rushed over to see an aged memorial plaque for a young girl who died on the island years prior. “Nope!” one of my friends said, completely spooked out. We hopped back into our canoes and begged our biceps to paddle on. As we departed, in some sick joke mastered by the universe, a little red shoe floated between our boats. Note to self #2: Stop watching horror movies.

We passed site after site. That one is too bare…that one is too small…that one isn’t marked…until a loud boom echoed across the lake. Have you ever watched that scene from The Notebook when Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling are passionately proclaiming their love for one another while sitting in a rowboat in a torrential downpour? Now imagine that, minus the charming words.

We could barely see each other as we headed for land to escape any potential lightning. When it slightly let up, we caught sight of flames flickering on the shore. An older couple made their way out to the opening. “Are you guys OK?” they shouted. It’s funny how pickiness tends to wear off in moments of desperation. Attempting to seek shelter, even for only a few minutes, my friend shouted back, “Hey, do you guys have room for a couple more people over there?” For a moment, all we could hear were the pellets of rain slamming our tin canoes as the couple stood still on the shore. Finally, the man put his hands up to his mouth and shouted a half-assed, “Ha-ha!” that reverberated across the open water and into my nightmares for the remainder of our stay.

Although miserable, tired and drenched, we eventually found a marked spot that was, ironically, almost perfect for our weekend. After setting up our tents, we spent the remainder of the drier days exploring the island, cooking delicious meals and laughing around the fire. Note to self #3: Never turn down a surprise camping trip.

To this day, my boyfriend tells people, “Yeah, it was raining. But the only thing filling up the canoe was Courtney’s tears.” Which isn’t true, of course, but it is funny. And if the outcome of an adventure is a funny story, then, in my opinion, it was an adventure well-lived.

 

Reflection: A birthday abroad

Earlier this spring, I turned 27 and for the first time in my life, I celebrated my birthday outside of Canada’s borders and thousands of kilometres away from the place I call home. My birthday came just weeks after I left Toronto to pursue a year of working and travelling in South America.

They say when it comes to birthdays, there are two types of people: those who love it and those who hate it. I’m the latter. Not dissimilar to New Year’s, birthdays, I feel, are a time for reflection and goal setting. A marker of another year past and a new age just starting, birthdays can be anxiety filled and stressful. For some, it’s a dreaded time of year when worries about getting old are at their strongest. Aging, for me, is not of a particular concern. Rather, I’m faced with asking myself the tough questions. Am I where I want to be in life at this moment? Did I make the most of the year that just passed? Is there anything I’d like to change going forward? Am I wiser or just older now? As the questions continue to pop into my mind, it’s no wonder that my anxiety levels rise.

This year though, that changed. Having set foot in Colombia in the last days of February with a teeny wardrobe squeezed into a pack and an even smaller Spanish vocabulary, I set out to live my day-to-day quite differently. Turning up in a new country where little was familiar, I set a precedent to go with the flow as much as possible because, well, given the circumstances, there just didn’t seem to be another option. Plus, having put myself far outside of my comfort zone, little seemed in my control. Worrying wasn’t going to change that. As such, when my birthday neared, I learned to give up my panic routine. I ended up booking a stay in a hostel high in the mountains an hour outside of the city where strong rays of sunshine made for the perfect day of poolside lounging next to a yard of mango trees and avocados.  

There were some things I learned during that weekend when I finally learned to just chill out and take things as they come. Below, are just a few.

Expectation management is key.

Manage expectations and everything becomes easier. In years past, my birthday bash often had to be just so. I needed every one of my friends to show up and have a great time. I wanted a new outfit and freshly done hair. The night couldn’t end too early and oftentimes, my party had at least two locations. This year though, I couldn’t have any of that. I was without my cluster of friends for one, and secondly, I wasn’t even familiar with my new home. So, I booked the mini getaway determined to have fun during my lowest key birthday yet. I went with one close friend and fussed about none of the details. We enjoyed wine, homemade tacos and a tuk-tuk ride up the mountain. I had a great time. I guess simple is better and giving up control makes for a more enjoyable experience.

Sometimes, you just can’t plan for all the details.

I went with the flow and enjoyed a low-key weekend in a tranquil spot and met a lovely group of people also exploring the area. I chose not to fuss over every single detail and things turned out for the best. You can’t plan every single thing to a tee so it’s best not to try and just enjoy things as they happen. That goes for things like a birthday party but it also applies to travel, work or entering a new phase in life.

You heard it before… don’t take yourself too seriously.

I’m not the best Spanish speaker or salsa dancer but on the night when I turned 27, I did both. I joined the party going on a the pool soon after midnight again, determined just to have a good time and be in the moment. I doubt anyone noticed my amateur dance steps and as for the Spanish, I managed to get my points across through broken phrases. Others were encouraging, not judgmental and it was certainly better than hanging back and being a wallflower all night. I didn’t take myself seriously and it was for the best. Duly noted for my year of travels ahead…

Worrying just makes the problem bigger.

As mentioned, with so much out of my control this year, I just gave up the stressing altogether. I did myself a major favour. Instead of entertaining that birag of self-reflection questions, I opted not to bother. In doing so, the pressure came off and I had a surprisingly awesome time. The lead-up to my birthday was a much less stressful event than it had been in years past. I realized that worrying is a problem in and of itself and I had the power to quash that all along.  

Naked sex resort? No thanks

I’m definitely one lucky woman. I have traveled to a few continents over the years and my adventures are always memorable for one reason or another, but nothing will ever compare to the twilight-zone of an experience I had when I spent 4 days in Jamaica this past January.

I was sent on assignment, intending to learn about a new culture, enjoy some sun and sand, and perhaps gain a window into the world of nudists and swingers, at a well-known clothing optional resort in Negril.

I walked into Hedonism II wanting to love the experience and feeling that I would be somewhat sheltered from the exhibitionist lifestyle this destination was known for. Little did I know that I was in the world of the swinger and I, as a media member, was the outsider.  The resort made this clear by setting rules including the one that said I, as a “prude” staying on the Prude side, could not venture to the Naked side of the resort unless I disrobed.

I was completely fine with staying put. What was left out of the description to me from the beginning was that the same rule was not in place for the Naked side guests. They were given free reign of the entire resort and were welcome to carry on as they pleased on every square acre of the land. Oh! Did they ever.

During those 4 days, I saw things I cannot erase from my mind. Despite trying, images of all-aged naked men advancing towards fully-clothed me, attempting to ignite some “connection,” could not be unseen and the attempts kept on over the entire stay- lucky me.

To each their own, but  I spent my days at the resort flanking myself with the more youthful media members, who were also feeling like bait in a tank of hungry sharks.

We managed to enjoy spa treatments that were heavenly and this was actually the only time I disrobed. Our group also had a fantastic time on the party catamaran and amazing nights at the various themed parties. Luaus on the beach, leather and lace soirees as well as toga shindigs made us feel like we were a little more included, because at these events the majority of attendees were actually somewhat clothed.

Eventually the shock of all aged naked people wore off, but the sheer discomfort instilled with the advances, propositions and exhibitionist acts all around us did not. Couples would subtly leave their hotel room doors open and carry on having sex so anyone walking by could see. We all became used to being asked to join in.  “No thanks! I’m good!” I tried not to look in these doors, but it was always like road kill . I couldn’t avoid looking.

It was as if no rules applied on this plot of land. People were having sex anywhere they pleased, except at the buffet because that was unsanitary, but it was apparently sanitary for couples and strangers to get their rocks off in a pool I wished I could have gone swimming in. I didn’t even dare to dip in my big toe.

I guess I am a bit of a prude, and have no problem admitting that. I’m certainly not sitting in judgement over those guests who admitted to me they return to Hedo II again and again because of the freedom they feel to be themselves there. Clearly this resort is meant for a specific type of person:  exhibitionists, swingers and nudists. Everyone who fell under these categories, that I spoke to, raved about their experience at Hedonism II. I have complete respect for those who enjoy that lifestyle. It’s just not for me. I guess I’ll stick to the family-friendly resorts. They are more my speed.

London Calling

Over a decade ago I packed up my things at my childhood home and moved to London, U.K.  It was a sudden decision and one that my family-especially my parents- were surprised by. Up until that point I had always lived in Ottawa and never thought I’d leave. I had a happy childhood and a great group of friends, but after finishing my post-secondary education, relationships changed and I was looking for adventure.

Newly out of teacher’s college, I found opportunities were scarce in Ontario, but the U.K. was looking for new teachers. So I jumped at the opportunity, signed a contract and boarded a plane within three weeks to the city I would call home for 8 months.

Those 8 months were the most challenging and exciting of my life. I was enthralled with British culture up until heading there, mainly because of my mother and her love for British dramas and the royal family. I had fond memories of a childhood visit and at 24, I felt like I was once again a wide-eyed child, but this time could appreciate it fully. The busy city streets and vibrant red double-decker buses, the vintage-style cabs lined up at Charing Cross Station, the cobblestone streets and quirky fashion, and sights like the London Eye and the Thames, all fascinated me on my first journey through the core of the city.

The central portion of London proper had an entirely different vibe than the area that I ended up finding a flat-share in. It did not take long for the novelty and excitement to ware off and for me to get saturated in the day-to-day responsibilities. I lived with two Londoners in Hither Green- at the time, a “dodgy area,” as they say there. I taught in an even dodgier area on an estate in Abbeywood.

The novelty of being in a city I had grown up fascinated by quickly fizzled, and days swiftly passed. I enjoyed a romantic relationship with a homegrown Brit, finally became used to the food and cultural differences, and became comfortable in my role as a nursery teacher.

That’s not to say the transition wasn’t rocky. I experienced severe homesickness and talked to my parents daily for the first month, caught a terrible flu that I just couldn’t shake for well over that same month, was mugged twice-once at gun point – and hated not having my usual drip coffee to sip every morning before work.

The 8 months came and went and I was asked to stay on at the school for another year. I initially said yes, but then retracted. I realized that I had experienced all of London 20 times over and a number of the other British regions– – Cornwall was my favourite.

But with that trip to Cornwall came the starting point to the end of my relationship. My partner at the time was so immersed in his own life and family, and proved to not be very interested in mine. My father offered to fly him to Toronto for my brother’s wedding, and when he said no, I knew that the relationship would not work. The distance from my family made me appreciate them all even more, and if my boyfriend at the time couldn’t, it was time to go home, just as I had planned all along.

Eleven years later, whenever I am asked about the most interesting experience of my life, or the one that made the biggest impact, I always think back to those days in London. I was once a quiet and meek woman, nervous to go shopping at the mall on my own. That experience caused me to cross the pond solo to take on a city that is 10 times the size of Ottawa. Naturally, my next move was to Toronto.