Sassy and Brotherly: Family Members Continued…

 

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Murica. I have to admit I have not ventured to a whole lot of places in the land of the free.  New York was a definite must go to city and that’s where my boyfriend and I went, in addition to a short stint in Philadelphia. Since my last post was so fun to write, I thought I would continue the “cities as your family member” series. The concept is so accurate though if you think about it! Every city truly does have their own thriving personality, and unearthing that is essential for any prospective traveler.

New York:  The Robust, Brash and Sassy Gay Uncle.

New York struck me as that loud and proud uncle who is always the life of the party, has big dreams, but tends to usually stick to people who are just like him. He will take no shi* from nobody and will tell you straight to your face. New York has got the sass, class, flash , and perhaps some cultural clash? In just over 5 days this dynamic metropolis epicenter gave me that first impression. It has no patience with naive tourists or newbies that visit. Just the sheer size of it is overwhelming, but each district is so distinct from one another, more so than any other city I’ve been to. The distinction or more so compartmentalization within the city is especially evident  where various ethnic races reside. Larger concentrations of Latinos, and African Americans seemed to conglomerate in the Brooklyn area, which seemed drastically different when you enter Manhattan where cultures were more integrated. Of course, this is completely an outsider’s perspective that only a first time visitor can notice. That moment was where I realized and appreciated how Toronto’s profuse array of cultures  inextricably intertwine and integrate with one another so seamlessly. Canada prides itself as the “cultural moasic”, where every inhabiting culture just fits with each other with it’s imperfect corners. I love this metaphor, but I would much more prefer to call Canada like a huge bowl of sangria mixed with a smorgasbord of  colourful fruits instead! That picture is much more fun to imagine, don’t you think?

Shake Shack is Where it’s at.

You haven’t had a real good fast food burger, until you’ve been to the shack. Back when I was still in my New York virgin days, countless people told me that if I go to New York a visit is not complete without trying Shake Shack. I was skeptical at first, considering I’m not a fan of regular fast food anyways but apparently it was an experience that would be tragic if missed. Juicy and very fresh! You can’t go wrong having a meal there, unless I guess if your vegetarian, then you would want to stay away at all costs.

The Grand Holiness of Pizza.

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If you’re close to the Brooklyn area be sure to check out Grimaldi’s pizza! Literally just under the bridge, you will be guaranteed delcious pizza every time!  Although locals say this is not the BEST pizza in New York, if you’re a tourist on a time schedule and in the area! Highly recommend this place! Take a que from the long line (no pun intended whatsoever) that it will be good!

Williamsburg was probably my favourite area during the 5 days spent in New York. Apparently it was the original hangout spot for hipsters but it’s still maintained that eclectic feel, just without the saturation of them around every corner. Highly recommend checking it out and just perusing through the many vintage and unique bars that you may find yourself in! One type of unique bar that is sprouting up more and more particularly in this distinct neighbourhood is the pizza bar. Yes. Behold the amazing conception of a free mini pizza complimentary of a drink! Mind you it is not a mind blowing pizza but hey that free food tastes pretty darn great! Be sure to check out places such as The Charleston to get a taste of exactly what I’m talking about.

 

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Philladelphia: The Gregarious and Warm Open Brother who’s an American History Lover.

It may have only been a 2 hour bus ride from New York but the two cities couldn’t have been more different from each other. We only stayed in the city of “brotherly love” for 2 days but I did kinda get where the slogan was coming from. People here seemed more welcoming to tourists and willing to help out a newbie in need.The vibe there was a bit more chill, a bit more go with the flow.

From the cobblestone streets, the smell of horse manure wafting through the air,  to the  brick buildings, Philadelphia’s sights and smells take you back to imagining what life was like back in the good old days of Colonial America. The streets are literally like a walking outdoor museum. Everywhere you look there is some sort of historically significant building with a small sign describing the context behind it.

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Of course the city is famous for the acclaimed show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”.   Philly has a pretty terrific bar scene, especially along Market Street and the Old City. Mac’s Tavern is a definite pilgramige for anyone who is even the slightest fan of the show. The popular local watering hole was formed by 2 of the costars, Rob and Kaitlyn McElhenney and you can see their photos adorned along the walls. Down to earth vibes  only emanate the joints here. No snobby socialites can be seen around this side of the tracks… especially hipsters they can just turn around and saunter right back to New York.

 

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  If European Cities Were Your Family Members 

Having been back in Canada now for a while (better late than never!)  I have had the time to reflect and take in my  once in a lifetime solo travels throughout Europe! London, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague and last but not least Copenhagen. Before you travel to a country you always have this preconceived notion of what the overall atmosphere/vibe will be like.  Stereotypes and cultural conventions I had of each city were debunked and confirmed. What the people will be like and ultimately if a country could embody a person who would he/she be? But not just any person. What if these metropolises represented your family members? Intrigued? You should be.

London:

London to me resembles the lovable quirky, eclectic crazy aunt who raided the vintage store. Frankly for the longest time I  thought of London to be a gloomy place with locals who keep to themselves and didn’t really like contact with people. Maybe this impression had something to do with the media portrayal and too much exposure to Sweeney Todd when I was younger (oops). Boy was I wrong. The essence and character of the city is anything BUT gloomy. When I arrived to London though, this diverse metropolis exceeded my expectations. It only rained on me one day and the people were very hospitable and polite. I stayed at a really great hostel called Wombats City Hostel and is worth checking out! Authentic and one of a kind street entertainers lit up the tube walkways and streets. I even saw a poet for hire along the bank of the Thames with his typewriter out ready for business. Strolling through the Camden market streets and into the famous Cyberdog store definitely  felt like an outer world experience. Right then and there I fell in love with this city and could definitely see myself living there. Londoners are colourful, endearing, and truly make this historically rich city come to life.

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Paris:

” The city of lights” gave me the impression of the beautiful snobby rich cousin who always needs a man by her side. Paris felt like Noah’s ark was nearby because it seemed like the majority of everyone came in twos. Love is definitely in the Parisian air. Everywhere I went there was another couple on each other around the corner, looking longingly into each others eyes. Rolling my eyes literally and figuratively I minded my own business and continued the sightseeing. I knew the city was famous for being the quintessential “city of love” and for snobby locals and the stereotype does holds true, depending on luck and who you run into. Of course not everyone I encountered was snobby and entangled with another human but it was just really interesting to see cliches  converge and come to life right before my eyes. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so bitter seeing love all around me if I wasn’t traveling alone but I still loved being draped in every second of Parisian  culture. Solo travelers just be prepared for possible feelings of subtle loathing and getting over the reminder that you are by yourself. But going to Paris was worth a  brief moment of single bitterness.

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Amsterdam:

“The Venice of the north” really struck me as the cool, alternative and liberal distant uncle. I have been looking forward to exploring this unique city, its various canals and just seeing what really churns this city (no cheese pun intended). First of all, the impression of Amsterdam I first had of everyone smoking weed on the streets was completely false. In fact the people who usually go to the so called “coffee shops” to smoke the stuff are mostly tourists. The same applies to the red light district in that it’s tourist driven big time. The locals avoid and steer clear of the conventional places that we think of when we hear Amsterdam, and I can totally now see why. The bicycles are definitely the rulers of the city and the bike roads were sometimes bigger than the actual car roads themselves.  “Look out”!  was a very popular phrase to say and hear for when you were a pedestrian and you should take it very seriously if you don’t want to be run over. Besides the weak WiFi connection, I highly recommend Clinknoord Hostel. In addition to being clean, great service, and modern style art hanging around , the hostel used to be a old Shell oil laboratory. Pretty neat for a place to stay!

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Prague:

Prague really seemed to me like the chill and cultured beer loving sister who went away to study abroad. I always heard that the city was gorgeous and known for its castle like structures, but I had no idea how magical and beautiful it was until I got there. Setting foot in Prague literally felt like a real life fairy tale city. The smells of roast fire on the streets and the Gothic style architecture emitted off an almost medieval like atmosphere. Everyone can speak English and the vibe is relaxed and friendly. Buildings are so beautiful they looked like they are staged in a way.  If you need a good hostel to stay at Post hostel was exceptional. This city had to be one of the cleanest and most beautiful and architecturally stunning cities that I ever ever been to. Ernest Hemingway called Paris “a moveable feast”, but  Prague seems to be more fitting for that description.

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Copenhagen:

If the city could be any family member, it had to be the  foodie eco friendly undercover  hippie brother. There are two sides to this city. One is sustainable, modern and progressive, and the other is an anarchist secretive hippie. Copenhagen is popular for being known as an expensive country, which applies to all of the Scandinavian countries and that is definitely true! A normal price for a cup of coffee is only a mere 9 Canadian dollars. I think you have an idea of how expensive the quality of life there is. The prices may be more than you are used to, but the quality of food is definitely high, and you won’t be disappointment.  Torvalhorne and Paper Island markets should be at the top of your sightseeing list for sure! Again not cheap, but in return you will receive fresh top quality organic food. So at least it’s something worthwhile, and it involves your body which is a pretty good investment I think.

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Christiania is the anarchist free-spirit community underbelly of Copenhagen. And while they are technically a free state with their own flag, and take pride to differentiate themselves from mainstream capitalist societies, they are still Denmark. Word on the street there is that they sell weed there, which I may or may not have seen ( just don’t take pictures of them)  and a co-ed sauna! Strolling through the free town I couldn’t help but feel conflicted about the whole “anarchist” sentiment. General stores and shops were alive and thriving, so it really makes you wonder if a community can truly fundamentally  divert from capitalism? Anyways I came out really glad and  I got to experience this distinct sub culture of Copenhagen!

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So there you have it! My hopefully brief family member profile of the European cities I have gone to on my own so far! Each one has their own personality. Some of them you just click with instantly and others you have to take a while to warm up to. For me they were all  equally amazing but Prague, London, and I connected the most.

One Is Not The Loneliest Number

“Be alone.Eat alone.Take yourself on dates,sleep alone. In the midst of this you will learn about yourself. You will grow, you will figure out what inspires you, you will curate your own dreams, your own beliefs, your own stunning clarity, and when you do meet the person who makes your cells dance, you will be sure of it, because you are sure of yourself”. 

“Aren’t you scared?”

 “Wow you’re brave!”

” I would never let my daughter travel Europe alone”

“I would be so lonely and bored of myself”

I could never do it” 

Believe it or not these are just a sample of the many reactions I get when I told people  of my future plans to travel Europe in September alone. Both men and women are taken back by the idea, I guess because it’s still unconventional in this century, especially for a woman . If I inspire at least one person to be venture out of their comfort bubble and feel comfortable with themselves enough to  travel solo then this blog has done its job.

I have always been a wanderer though. I still feel like the kid who went to the mall with my parents who wants to go off on my own and explore. That sense of freedom is sacred and we should hold onto that as much as we can. I have just always liked going off on my own and doing my own thing.

If it’s one skill I have learned to foster and take away from my second year living abroad in Korea  it’s to be  satisfied and content traveling and living alone with myself. Living on your own in your home country is one thing. But to do it in a completely foreign country? On the other side of the world? That perspective is through a totally different looking glass all together. Being immersed in independence allows you to reflect on what you want in life. It filters out all the exterior noise from what other people want and  forces you to focus on the most important person: You.

You learn to like your own company.

You can be on your own, but you don’t have to be lonely.You don’t to be a loner.  You can be alone with your thoughts, and therefore be more in tune with yourself. Being solo allows you to spoil yourself because you simply don’t have to make any compromises for anyone else. Learning to embrace being alone, I think is critical to being comfortable in your own skin. It’s taken a while to be fully comfortable solo but now that I’m at that stage I am really thankful!

It’s healthy.

I think being alone is a necessary skill to have in order to be successful in life. Appreciating myself. This is coming from a very social person who loves and thrives being around people. You can have the best of both worlds and I’m learning to balance the two out. Being alone sometimes is healthy and necessary to recharge. You definitely don’t have to be an anti-social person wearing a hoodie covering your face and hunched in a corner far away from people. You can be that social butterfly, while being alone and genuinely enjoying your own company too. 

You learn to trust and like yourself a lot more.

I started travelling alone to Australia  last year and it’s amazing. Why wait around for your friends to travel with you? Just do it! Don’t limit yourself. There is nothing like learning to trust yourself, because at the end of the day you have you to depend on you first and foremost. You can also meet more amazing people along the way as well.This September Europe trip is the biggest one for me yet: London,Paris, Amsterdam, Prague and Copenhagen.3 down and 2 more to go!

Being alone is liberating.

Lets change the dialogue around the idea of being alone. We can do this by first changing up the vocabulary that is tied to it: independent, solo explorer, and self-sufficient are all imbued with freeing sentiments. If we think of those images the next time we think of being solitary, there is really no need for us to be afraid of being on our own. Let’s debunk the socially construed notion that to be alone is pathetic or pitiful. We can be totally capable and independent people, who thrive enjoying our own company.

Ultimately you are never really truly alone, because you are with yourself, and NEVER ever feel guilty for being solitary. I know it sounds cliché but when you learn to be happily alone, you learn to really like and respect yourself in the process. When you do have some “me time”, chances are you may discover new things that you never knew before. So what are you waiting for? Even if it’s taking  yourself on a date.  It’s still a process, but I’m learning it’s okay to be alone. It’s entirely 100 percent okay. At the end of the day if you don’t like being alone doesn’t that mean you essentially don’t like your own company and thus yourself ? Maybe it’s really not for everyone but at least try it. 

Ask yourself when was the last time you were alone? Did you like it? Why or why not? 

I think thriving  to be alone and getting along with yourself is just as much a social skill as learning to get along with others. Preschool doesn’t really cover that basic. 

Where The Eclectic Things Are…

“We travel because we need to, because distance and difference are the secret tonic to creativity”

About 3 weeks ago  I had the fortune of visiting one of the best Asian cities that I have been to: Taipei, Taiwan. Despite losing half a day because I missed my flight. I am so happy I had a taste of this relaxed and cool city. After all, it’s the quality not the quantity right ?

The young fashion seemed more edgier and more open in Taipei than Seoul, which came alive at night in the Ximending downtown  district. As you saunter down the alleyways, tattoo stores open up for the night on the street and start buzzing away on fresh new skin canvases for everyone to see.

If novel and quirky places are your thing then the Modern Toilet restaurant downtown is probably right down your alley ( no pun intended). Going there was definitely on my Taipei  bucket list  and is probably somewhere you only need to go once. The food was not the most appetizing (for obvious reasons) but it was a great venue to take pictures and obligatory selfies, have a laugh,  check that off your list and be on your merry way.

 

 

The hostel I stayed in was awesome and probably one of the cleanest and coolest ones I’ve seen during my travels. The SpaceInn hotel would make Buzz LightYear feel like he was back at home. As soon as the doors opened you really felt like you were aboard a space ship. The lobby was decked out with futuristic lights. Even the staff members wore NASA jumpsuits. I was pretty impressed. The washrooms were spacious and spotless, and the dorm room beds were comfortable and clean. It’s located right in the heart of downtown and under a 5 minute walk to the subway station. Not too shabby at all.

A fellow friend of mine told me about a really nifty hole in the wall speakeasy bar that he heard about.  The bar is called Ounce and was without a doubt one of a kind. Chances are that you haven’t been to a bar as intimate and seemingly clandestine as this one. Tucked inconspicuously away behind a funky cafe under the name Relax, Ounce is definitely not your ordinary bar. As we approached the back we came across someone who seemed like a butler who told us the bar is full and to wait.  Our group waited close to 15 minutes to be let in but we were sure glad we did. Another unique character of this bar is that it frowns on menus. The waitress literally asked us questions on what flavours get our taste buds tingling and and within minutes created a drink that was costumed to our specific styles. She was spot on. While drinks are on the expensive side, the ambiance and quality of drinks are worth it.

You haven’t experienced Taipei without tasting  the street food culture here and the soup dumplings. Street food is copious and the best selection you can probably get anywhere in Asia. With over 9 major street markets circulating throughout Taipei, you will never get bored.  

Taipei made an impression on me and is a city I definitely crave more of. I hope this amazing Asian city has impressed you as much as it has for me. This unique metropolis  should definitely be on your Asian bucket list. 

 

 

 

 

Pink flurries 

8057aed7-0f98-490f-99bf-a52901651613* Cherry blossom time, my absolute  favourite time has just passed in Ulsan, Korea.  They inspired to write this little free form poem. I hope you enjoy it!

They say ” nature is God’s clothes”. He must be going through a continual growth spurt.

His colours dissipate at the speed of a blurt.

His jacket’s pink fluffy flakes sprinkle to the depths below.

Like butterflies fluttering down from the trees in the wind.

Their stay has expired, it’s time to leave. Time to dissolve. Time to disappear.

We understand it with revere. Nothing lasts forever. Beauty is fleeting.

We all have our time and place.

Existence is impermanent, transient to the times.

They have other  places to be, they are too important to stay. Too enchanting for the eye to keep at bay.

Everything is temporary. Emotions, thoughts, us, and nature.

We must keep evolving.

Must keep moving along.

God accelerates the fast forward button on naturex2 intensified, just so we feel our fleeting world magnified.

But with departs come rebirths. The perpetual cycle is eternal. With death comes life. The status quo of life keeps moving in flux.

We are just a bud in the grand tree of life. Just a small part of its existence. But an important one.

We are the pink flurries of the tree.

We are it’s beauty’s key.

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Bali Paradise- Ketut’s Place

Last month when I was in Ubud, Bali  me and my friend stayed in the cheapest and  most beautiful hidden gem that money could buy called Ketut’s Place. I was fortunate to have stumbled on it using Hostelworld and my eyes were immediately drawn to the 8 star rating and rave reviews.I thought it should have received an even higher rating.

  • The pictures looked the lush and exotic getaway that I was imagining Bali to be but not even  visual documentation could prepare me for its beauty.
  • The grounds are owned by Ketut for generations. This oasis definitely runs in the family!  We saw the grandmother, father, son and daughters all work at the information desk, bringing food to people, and happily answering people’s questions. They were all so welcoming and hospitable as if we were their honoured house guests
  • We stayed in a little villa style room with a spacious bathroom complete with a buddha statue and  little terrace. Breakfast was included every morning and we could from a choice of homemade pancakes, fruit salad, coffee, and fruit juices. I felt like someone had to pinch me from a dream as I was sitting on our terrace sipping on some coffee as we looked out into the garden that was our hotel.
  • The food there was exceptional. Not only the included breakfast but also their traditional Balinese style dinners that you could order anywhere on their grounds. Beef curry and rice called to me on the menu and I’m glad it did because it melted in my mouth. Simply buttery creamy goodness all the way to down to the pit of my stomach.We ate our meal by the comfort of the poolside. You know. No big deal.
  • Their  customer service was exceptional and so fast. My friend and I needed some pieces of clothing washed. They took them to the local laundry place and within 24 hours we found them on our beds. Talk about fast delivery!
  • Ketut’s family was nothing but personable and always there for us when we had any questions. My friend decided last minute to hike up the volcano Mount Batur and needed socks. We walked all over downtown core of Ubud and asking where to buy socks and the locals looked at us as if we had three heads. I guess they are not a hot commodity like back home. We were losing hope when Ketut’s son quickly offered his pair of socks, no problem at all.  Thats the kind of service this place offers, the kind of service that makes you feel like their family.They will offer you the shirts off their backs. In this case, their socks but fully washed of course. Don’t get the wrong idea.
  • At the end of the day I would recommend Ketut’s place to anyone traveling to Bali. In my opinion, its the best place to stay for your money’s worth. The accommodations, the food and service were worth the value tenfold.  But don’t take my word for it. ea3b5016-2060-4b6c-9550-21a625ec8489cfe0591c-6336-424e-940f-077849731bf3Go see for yourself!
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And That’s A Wrap: What Teaching/Living In Korea Has Taught Me

Where do I even begin? It was a strange  feeling to be typing this last post as an expat worker . In fact I don’t truly feel like like one anymore. A big chunk of my soul, heart, and mannerisms have really molded into a Koreans. Ulsan has been a place I called home for so long that I really can’t imagine what life will be like back in Canada. I’ve encountered many amazing friends, memories, experiences and  people over these years, that it really does feel surreal.

A very different Melissa set foot in Ulsan in 2012. She didn’t come alone and came in a package deal with a partner. Alongside that brought restrictions. Restrictions she put on herself because she was with a boyfriend at the time. She never went out with friends, and in fact didn’t really have many. She never even had a phone during that entire year in Ulsan. She would have never thought to travel solo around Europe and she was definitely more fearful.Lets just say she held herself back on some incredible experiences because her partner didn’t want the same things as she did.

I would be lying if I said it’s a little hard to really process I’m packing my bags and moving on from a place that now represents a huge mosaic of memories for me. A huge turning point in my adult life where I realized and actually became comfortable being by myself.  But no matter where I go, my second home will always be in Korea. I know it’s cheesy to say, but this dynamic country has left a deep imprint on me forever and it will definitely call me back for a visit.

Change is good and healthy. Growth and evolution  is necessary. And we should strive to avoid being stagnant and in the same place as we once were last year. At some point we need to move alongside with time and onward to the next stage in our lives. Whether it’s a part of yourself you need to overcome or the literal location of your life, you just know when it’s time to move. It’s like a feeling in your gut telling you it’s okay to close this door and enter a new one.

With all that cheesy existential stuff out of the way. Here is my top 10 list of how Korea has forever changed me.

  1. Sharing food is essential in public gatherings and dates. Back home in Canada it’s not really a requirement to share any of your food. After being immersed here I really appreciate Korea’s sharing culture, and now the act has become second nature.
  2. It’s okay to feed people you are well acquainted with. Feeding is an act of affection in Korea and displays a comfortable and close bond between each other. Yup. I’m definitely more comfortable with it now.
  3. Being squished like a sardine and impersonating a rain forest tree frog clinging on to the pole for dear life are all acceptable on a bus.
  4. Naked bodies in public with the same sex are NBD in the bathhouses. We are all naked and have the same parts , get over it.
  5. If someone is holding heavy bags on the bus, it’s okay to take them to help lighten their load for the duration of the ride. No questions asked.
  6. Reverting back to your childhood is okay, stuffed plushies are your friend, cute emoticons are the coolest and wearing bows and ribbons in your hair is just darn adorable.
  7. Bumping into someone and not saying sorry is pretty much okay, we can just feel each other’s apology. That’s cool.
  8. Bowing when meeting new people is normal courtesy (Korean or not).
  9. Being a community and looking out for one another instead of yourself. Korea is a collectivist society. So many work activities are very group and team work oriented and I really truly understand now the saying “all for one, and one for all”.
  10. Slurping noodles loudly in public just simply signifies that you are thoroughly enjoying it, and/or it’s just really hot.

 So thank you Korea. You have opened my mind and made me realize that I’m actually capable of more than I think.