Buen Camino

 

I’ve been keeping the thoughts about this moment in my mind for many months. I remember the first time I heard about El Camino de Santiago de Compostela. I had attended a church service with my dear friend Shauna from Ottawa. Her minister, a man full of spark and interest in a strangers life told me that this would be the perfect opportunity to broaden my photography portfolio and discover a ton spiritually. The walk takes you through Northwestern Spain, leading each pilgrim to the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral where it is said the remains of the apostle St. James are buried. This was back when my idea to backpack had literally just formed weeks prior. It was still such a dream in the distance that I nodded and listened to what he had to say about it but let the thought flitter away when I left. I’m not sure why because from what he told me it seemed like something I would do and I was genuinely interested in the idea but it never stuck. Then one day, it popped back into my mind. Don’t ask me how because I’ll never know but I started researching information right away and before I knew it, I was hooked. I made my decision right there in my living room that this was something I was going to do as a part of my journey. It had to be. 

 
Big thank you’s to Dr. John for that initial spark. I suppose something must have stayed lingering in my mind. 
 
I sit in a train station now, caramel latte in hand. My train departs at 9:30 and if all goes well, I will be in a shuttle bus with several other pilgrims leaving from Pamplona to St. Jean Pied de Port in the south of France. I’m wondering what this journey will bring me. In total, I walk 500 miles. That’s 800km walking about 25km per day. When you put it in those terms, I sound completely nuts. I’m only thinking about the first steps right now and to focus on the number I’ll be taking as a whole is silly. I’m certain that with the people I’ll meet and the beauty I’ll see, it won’t seem too daunting a lot of the time. That’s not to say it won’t be a challenge. I know there will be moments that will test my patients, my endurance and my mental and physical strength. It’s going to bring me soaring ups and incredibly low downs. That’s the beautiful thing about the Camino. It takes you on an emotional ride. The phrase I’ve heard the most is this: many people don’t know why they’re walking the Camino until they’ve finished. When they reach the end, they may have not found the answers they were looking for but the person asking the questions is always entirely different. I guess that’s sort of where I sit. I think I’m walking this because I’m going through a bit of a transition period. I’ve switched gears and am heading in the direction of a new passion, a new path. Perhaps the real reason is something I still need to find. I’ve decided not to focus too hard on what that may be. Change happens whether you’re waiting for it or not. Letting it happen on its own makes that moment you realize it’s happened a lot more exciting. 
 
I want to be able to share this experience as I walk but I was reminded today that this may be an opportunity to escape for a little while, to get off the grid. I’m sure I’ll be forced to do that anyway since the Pyrenees doesn’t offer free wifi but it’s a very smart thought. I will be writing down every moment and will do the best I can to report back when we pass through cities. I want the majority of this walk to be me, the people I meet and all that nature has to offer. Every silence and empty road is something I plan to embrace fully. After all, it’s part of the experience a pilgrim is meant to have. 
 
The scallop shell is a very iconic symbol in the Camino journey. The shell is painted along the route and can be seen on the backpacks of all travellers, helping to guide the way. It represents togetherness and diversity. We’re all walking to the same place no matter where we’ve come from. I thank Rachel for this gorgeous shell she gave me before I left. It will keep the memories of everyone back at home in my heart as I walk. You’re all with me! Image
 The support that I know I have back home is overwhelming. I have some very special people matching my steps along the way which is something that touches me more than they could ever know. Well wishes have been sent from the people I care about and am lucky to have in my life. There is a world of unknowns about where this will take me and what I’ll learn about myself. One thing I know for sure is it’s going to be life altering. In what way? Well, that’s for me to discover. Soul by sole. 
 
All that’s left to do is take the first step. 
 
In the elegant words of Rachel Behling, 
 
“We are all pilgrims” 
 
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Barcelona, Baby, You Just Get Me

 

I know now why everybody said I needed to come here. Barcelona wraps you in a tight hug of culture, art and architecture then never lets go. This is a place that will stand out brightly in my mind. It’s one of those places I could see myself living in. Don’t jump to conclusions! What I mean is, I just feel right here. Like I fit. Maybe it’s that slight New York feel about it that draws me in. Most certainly it’s the art and vibrance. The art of food, structure and canvas. It’s everywhere, all the time. What astounded me was how much the city had to offer in the way of tourism and far beyond that. I didn’t even know where to begin. Right away I hurried to book two nights on top of my initial two since I knew that alone wouldn’t be enough. 

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I had gone 24 hours without sleeping when I got off the plane and stepped into a new country. I always laugh at how unprepared I am when I switch gears. It’s always the same inner dialogue: “Crap, okay….hola…adios…how do you say can I have a glass of wine please?…vino por favour? Sure, that works! Good to go!” My tired self shuffled through google translator at 6am before I hit the pillow and fell asleep until 1 in the afternoon. When I awoke, I felt like a million dollars which I was thankful for because I was ready to take on a new place right away. It’s always so exciting exploring the food and mannerisms of a new culture. 
 
It was easy to see that Tapas was a huge deal here. If you’ve never heard of it, restaurants offer small appetizers like chorizo sausage on toast and serve it to you on a toothpick for a few Euros per piece. It lets you have a bit of everything but man does it ever hurt your wallet. One euro here, one euro there. I stopped thinking about it and went to a restaurant and ordered several traditional sounding bites. Image
 I spent the day scouting the neighbourhoods and narrowing down my choices of what I wanted to see in greater detail. Adorable brick walkways dominated the middle of almost every side street and big trees sheltered the sidewalks like umbrellas. The areas of town are all different, each holding a specific feel. Some were more run down and abandoned while others glimmered with smiling tourists and locals alike. Cute little shops filled with home made jewellery were at your fingertips. Honestly, I could stay in Barcelona for weeks and never do the same thing twice. 
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I thought I would end the night with something I had seen several videos of from my traveling friends. The Magic Fountain of Montjuic. Every 30 minutes this thing lights up and plays musicputting on a “show” to the rhythm. It was a pretty grand experience and people swarm there but everyone is singing loudly, arms around each other to the songs that they know and you couldn’t be in a happier place.ImageImage
 I was dying to visit an art gallery. There were at least six to choose from and probably hundreds more that were tucked away in secret corridors. I decided to go to the Museum of Contemporary Art (the MACBA) and the Pablo Picasso Museum, the only one of its kind holding thousands of pieces by the artist. The contemporary museum was…contemporary. We’ve all seen one ourselves or at least seen a piece with that label. Some of the art was genius and others made me stand on my head trying to figure out what message they were trying to get across. How much could two dust pans and a mirror possibly say? I guess it meant something in someones brain. It was smaller than I would have liked because what content they did have was really interesting and I spent almost three hours walking around and looking at everything in detail. ImageImageImage
Walking to the next museum lead me to the Arc de Triomf. When you walk underneath it there’s a long strop lined with palm trees on either side that lead you to a gorgeous park and garden area. Everybody I saw was either roller blading or biking to get where they needed to be. It looked like the perfect spot to read or write. We suffered a lot of rain while I was in Barcelona but I was secretly thankful for it. I hadn’t seen rain since Rome. It made the days and nights chilly and the skies dark and gloomy. It provided some challenges for me in the photography area and sparked some ideas.
ImageImageThe Pablo Picasso Museum was a real treat. I waited in line for 2 hours but it was entirely worth it! I had no idea that he was such a diverse artist. I was familiar with his famous style of using squares and shapes to form a human face and the child like brush strokes that make up a series of his work are pretty famous. But that’s only one series. Picasso went through many, many stages of his work ranging from a ton of self portraits all representing a way in which he viewed himself to a very mature and realistic style of painting. You would never guess they were done by the same person. This museum held over 3 500 of pieces that Picasso had donated himself when it opened in 1963. That took me hours to walk through as well and accompanied by a handy audio guide, I learned a lot more than I knew coming in and developed a huge respect and love for this genius. 
 
There’s something amazing about festivals in European cities during a summer night. This is now the second one I’ve run into celebrating a saint. A little section of the city is covered in streamers, street performers, paper mache statues and a carnival. I spent my night walking around the crowded streets and taking in the atmosphere of dancing and laughter. It was contagious. Even I started to dance with the people around me a bit. There was a moment where I looked to every side of me and saw so many different people dancing with their families, their kids and the people they loved. It was so beautiful to watch and after I walked through and smiled along with everyone else, I had to capture it somehow. I took a short video of the moment and if I was able to upload it quickly, I would love to share it. Just imagine that everywhere you turn, people are smiling while the traditional music plays. They’re throwing their kids up in the air and giggling with their best friends. Even a few older ladies were showing off their moves. I’ll need to find a way to show you eventually but for now, just try to feel that. 
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I got up bright and early the next morning to walk down La Rambla, a famous street in the city centre covered in trees and street vendors. Once again, heading back to the theme of New York, it reminded me so much of The Mall. I loved the vibe there and when I reached the end, I turned back to walk it again. On the way down the path, I noticed a market area busy with people. Am I ever glad I turned around and was able to experience this. When I say experience, I really mean it. It’s an adventure walking through this place. I have never seen so much colour and life in one area. I can’t think of a single food or candy that they didn’t sell. There were stands filled with the brightest and freshest fruit, cups of fruit, smoothies, chocolate and ice-cream, nuts and berries, burritos, plates of fried food and seafood. The list goes on and on and on. I was overwhelmed with pure joy. Not only did I have a ball photographing but I had a heck of a good time eating. I’m not sure how I came to a decision but I ended up ordering one of these. ImageThe lady gave me two forks which either meant she thought I was sharing or she was embarrassed that I wasn’t. I should have gone back to show her the empty container. I ended up going back to that market several times because I could’t get enough of it. It stands as a top favourite here. Try to experience it for yourself. Just imagine walking through this! ImageImageImage
 One of the most famous buildings in Barcelona is the Sagrada Familia. It’s designed by the architect Antoni Gaudi who is also the designer of several other famous monuments in the city. He has a very particular style that I learned was inspired heavily by nature. He often took walks with his mother as a young boy which is where his interest came from. You could see that influence heavily in the way this place was built. I walked in and it took the cake for the best basilica I’ve seen yet. It even beat the cathedral in Florence. I couldn’t believe this was something somebody built and designed. It was so intricate and for some reason it looked to me like everything was melting. All the colours and lines worked together to create such amazing patterns and the stain glass windows shone brightly in every dark space casting a rainbow light. It gets to me every time I see a place like this. I hope the people who live here truly know how lucky they are. 
 
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Today was my final day and I think I had a pretty good send off. I spent the afternoon touring around this old Spanish village called Poble Espanyol. It’s an architectural museum that’s open to the public and has been preserved for years. It was perfect and adorable. I walked around and looked at all the shops then enjoyed some delicious food. 
You could spend an entire day there doing both of those things excessively. Shopping and eating.
Image My evening was a definite highlight. Casa Batllo is another one of Gaudi’s masterpieces. His style couldn’t be mistaken for anyone else’s. This building is full of character and was even more spectacular at night. That’s why I decided to attend what they call a Magic Night filled with live music, drinks and food. I sit here writing this down on a page in my tattered journal while sipping champagne. I just listened to some opera that is impossible to capture with words. I am in a state of art appreciation in a building like this. It’s got a quirky side right along with a classy one. Even though I’m dressed in a skirt I’ve worn multiple times this week and my feet are rocking burks, I still feel elegant. ImageImageImage
 There is so much laying ahead of me right now. I set off tomorrow on a huge walk through Spain that is bound to make a mark on my life. What more could the world have in store for me? What is it going to show me this time? Keep reading tomorrow for a little more detail on where I’ll be going and why.
 
Thank you Barcelona for showering me with the things that I love and for all the inspiration. 

Simplicity in Crete. My final days in Greece

I’m not going to lie and beat around the bush telling you that Crete was my favourite place. It wasn’t the best of the seven islands I ended up visiting but it stood out because it was my last. Therefore, it holds a special place in my heart as my final goodbye to the beautiful Greece that I always dreamed of seeing. Never could an island in this country be a bad experience. They have all been spectacular in their own way. I’ve genuinely appreciated and loved them all for a very specific reason, feel and light that it brought me.
I am positive that there are places in Crete that I didn’t get to see that would have taken my breath away. The problem I ran into was getting from one place to the next. I stayed in Heraklion and this was at least two buses away from most villages and even further from the islands and beaches that surrounded it. After I took my first day trip and spoke to others about a few possibilities for the days to come, I realized that unless I took an expensive organized tour, the day would go the same way. I would be spending 6 hours of it matching up bus schedules and sleeping against the window watching the city life pass by me. Not exactly my idea of a fun time.
What I did do was take this opportunity to really get to know Heraklion. It struck me in the same way Athens did. It was very much a city like the one I live in back home. The plus side always being the ocean mist only steps away. As I’ve learned multiple times, no matter how I feel initially about a place, there is always more beneath the surface. There is a piece of beauty, big or small hiding somewhere or right in front of my nose and I always plan on finding it.
This time, it came in the form of very simple moments between people and places. I arrived into Crete still feeling a little down about leaving Santorini. It took what seemed like ages to finally find the one and only youth hostel around. The language barrier was stronger here than anywhere else so even repeating the word hostel over and over again to cashiers and news stand workers didn’t seem to help me find my way. It was dark by the time I wobbled in, my legs feeling boneless from walking so much. The first day was spent alone which I realized soon after waking up was something I needed at that moment. I had been around people for the past week and completely in my element. But believe it or not, I’ve learned to appreciate alone time on this trip too. That was a concept I was never able to understand. “You mean, you want me to spend time by myself? How boring!” It’s proven to be therapeutic and necessary for me lately in order to take some big steps forward. It’s important to keep in touch with yourself every once in a while in a quiet place.
I wandered the streets of the busy and bustling city in hopes of some inspiration or a chance encounter. It was sort of nice to be back in a place that had a full sized grocery store. Before I knew it, I had stumbled onto a very deserted street and saw a man sitting at a coffee shop table. He had a calm look on his face but it seemed rather empty. I hesitated for a while, wondering if I should ask for his photograph or strike up a conversation. I did what I usually do when I ponder that question and began taking photos of things around the man. I lingered in that spot for a while until it seemed obvious that it wasn’t my main goal to take a picture of the cigarette tray. He gestured to the someone beside him  who I assumed owned the cafe and told me I should take a photo of him. The owner laughed and the two pushed each other around jokingly for a bit. I walked over and spoke to the man who originally caught my eye and told him I was a photographer who was fascinated with taking pictures of interesting people. I asked if he wouldn’t mind me taking his portrait and he happily agreed. Every time I snapped a shot he replied with a “thank you” as if that was all I should take. I kept going anyway listening to every thank you. Neither him or the owner spoke very much English. I still attempted to ask him several questions about where he was from, how long he lived here and so on. I gathered that he is originally from Albania. His name is Brink which is short for something I could never pronounce so thank goodness he simplified it for me. He has lived in Crete for 23 years now and working. Back in Albania he was “a poor man” as he put it and there was no work available for him or his family. It was strange because when I asked him what he did for a living he told me he wasn’t working now. “I do a lot of sleeping”, he said. He seemed rather sad about this fact. I tried to get him to elaborate but he either didn’t understand me or pretended not to. Shortly after, he wished me a happy holiday and walked away. There was definitely a lot more to that man than I was able to discover and I was disappointed I couldn’t speak enough Greek to get it out of him. Maybe that’s all he felt he needed to share anyway.
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Meanwhile, the owner of the shop (who’s name I found out was Vernellez), had offered me a glass of fresh orange juice and hurried me to a seat, picking my bag up and placing it on the next table and offering me a glass of ice for my water. It was top notch service. I could see him squeezing the oranges from the back behind the rickety old counter. The place looked like it hadn’t been touched up for decades. I wondered if he made any money at all with the location too. Everything seemed eery and dead. Vernellez and a younger Greek boy sat around chatting while I awkwardly slouched in my lawn chair listening. Well, it wasn’t entirely awkward. I just wished for the life of me I knew what they were saying. I finally spoke up and asked Vernellez how long he had run the shop. It’s a Father and Son business. His son being the boy I saw sitting next to him. It’s been in the family for 32 years (so clearly they have had some business). That was the extent of what I was able to get from him because his son had been translating. Out of the blue, the Son stormed off in an angry flurry and took the potential for conversation with him. On a side note, he could have been as happy as ever but Greek’s always seem to sound like they’re mad at each other. You just never know!
The owner and I sat face to face and alone while I sipped my orange juice and struggled with paraphrasing my English. There was nothing I could do to keep our conversation going and he seemed as frustrated as I was that we didn’t know each others languages. It’s a shame because he seemed like the friendliest guy on Earth. He had a smile on his face the entire time I was with him. Not a beaming smile, just a content one. Once I finished my juice, I decided to head off and explore some more. “How much do I owe you?”, I said as I gestured to the glass. He shook his head and told me I didn’t need to pay and shooed away the thought. It was the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me. He hadn’t had a single customer all day it seemed and here he was giving away free juice. Talk about restoring your faith in humanity. Image
 When I got back to the hostel that night, I ran into a group of girls I had seen around since my first moment of arrival. Two of them were from Holland and one from Israel. All of them were attending school together in Amsterdam studying Psycho Biology. What I loved the most about this group of three was that they were all drastically different. Iris seemed very down to earth, someone you could have a really rich conversation with and never be bored. Annewil was the quieter one of the group, sweet and gentle but very smart. You could tell. Her father is a marvellous photographer and her and I looked at his work together, bonding over that connection. Dina is dripping with character. Her personality shines across the room. If you meet her, you’ll never forget that you did. This is said in the most wonderful way. Together, they balanced each other out so well. We sat around while Annewil finished putting together some home made earrings for me just seconds after we met. Dina had generously given me a pair of two little bicycles that still dangle from my ears today in memory. Unfortunately they were leaving the next morning but we all went out for coffee and dinner that night. This is where I got to know them as much as I could in only a few hours. It was one of the briefest friendships I’ve ever had but certainly one worth having. Image
 One thing that made me just know that they were supposed to come into my life was the discovery of a book. Dina told me she had found it on one of those book stands in the street and something was really pressing her to take it with her. The book is based off the Greek philosopher Heraclitus and his theories. She bought it a month before she was planning to head on this trip with her girlfriends. She was having doubts  about taking it with her since she was near finishing but decided that something had been pushing her to pack it in her suitcase.  When they arrived at the airport, the only flight left was one to Heraklion in Crete. It all tied together for one reason or another. The book is written with very simple but enlightening style and everything I read in there pertained to the exact way I want to live my life. A lot of it has to do with perspective. I don’t know how to find this book but if you can get your hands on it, I recommend you give it a try. I sat with my nose in it for a while in the coffee shop. I have a feeling it’s going to play a big part in my journey somehow.
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After saying goodbye to my new friends, I knew exactly how I would be spending the following day. I had been reading a book since my time in Athens. George recommended it to me because it had been a best seller and his mother really enjoyed it. The book is called The Island by Victoria Hislop and focuses on fictional characters but real circumstances involving the island Spinalonga in North-Eastern Crete. Up until 1956, this was a Lepor Colony where people caught with the disease Leprosy were sent to live and die. I wondered if maybe I would be able to visit this island when I was there but from the sounds of it, it seemed to be pretty out of the way. When I got there, I found out that it’s a pretty big tourist attraction and boats leave every 30 minutes from Eulounda and Plaka to visit. I was forced to take two buses and a boat to make my way to the island but in the end, it was worth it. It was shocking for me to be traveling to a place I had been picturing so clearly in my mind for weeks. I had been following characters through this place and connected with the setting as we all do in during a good read. As I traveled on the wooden boat to the island, I honestly imagined that I was being sent there with no option of coming home. This was it. Imagine being ripped away from your life and ridiculed because of something you couldn’t control? This same trip that I was on had been made hundreds of times in the past with that exact mentality in the minds and hearts of so many people. I felt so lucky when the captain told us we had an hour until we needed to report back. How some people would have killed to have heard those words.
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The island was described so well by Victoria. It wasn’t very far off from the one I had pictured in my mind. The trees where the two lovers met in the evenings were the exact same, the dark tunnel that lead into the village was just as heart wrenching and lonely. This place was very sad. That’s the only word I can think of to describe it. It looked so abandoned, almost like they had to flee in an instant and left in a whirlwind. One hour was hardly enough time for me to soak up the stories that lay in the broken walls. I was really glad I had the chance to go but I couldn’t help but feeling a little down after the visit. A lot of people still lived happy lives on the island but I couldn’t stop thinking about the ones that didn’t. It was eye opening.
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My trip to the gorge was ruled out because of cost and travel time which was really unfortunate. If it was something I was dying to do then I would have gone regardless but I wasn’t heart broken. In fact, the lazy day may have been necessary before my 2am flight into Spain. I spent it by the harbour reading and eating ice cream. I was also able to meet this beautiful lady while walking along the ocean. Actually, I ran up to her after watching her walk away and realizing I needed to take her photo. She didn’t speak a word of English but her boyfriend told me that her name meant “first born” in Turkish. ImageImage Just before I decided to head back and pack, I caught the eye of a man selling jewelry on a side street. He had on dark glasses and rocked a long, grey beard. I walked up and asked him if he made the jewelry himself. I was surprised and happy to find that he spoke perfect English. He does in fact make this all by hand. He’s been doing it for 35 years of his life. His English comes from his time in Montreal, Alberta and Toronto working in Greek restaurants as a waiter. He was interested in my trip so we talked a lot about the places I would be heading, The Camino and he shared his love for Thailand telling me all the little islands I needed to visit. I can imagine he gets pretty bored just sitting on that step all day. I walked by him every day before and his stand was always empty but his jewelry is beautiful. Image
When it was time for me to head back, I asked him if he had any parting words he wanted to leave with me in case I used his story in my blog. He told me right away,
“If you find something you love, make sure you do it for the rest of your life.” 
And with that, I headed to the airport and boarded a plane to the next country on my list. Spain and the beautiful and highly talked about Barcelona. Greece was indescribable. It changed me in many ways, made me aware of many things and introduced me to people who will be in my life forever. It was all that I wished of and more.Yamas, my dear friend.

What Happens in Ios Stays in Ios

Originally, I wasn’t planning to write about Ios at all . I didn’t think there would be anything to say that would contribute to the message I try to get across in my writing and certainly not anything worth sharing with my grandma or my pint sized readers. If anyone has heard of Ios, you know what I mean. This is a party island. For the tourists, it’s dedicated to one thing and one thing only. Like I’ve mentioned before, blowing all my money on clubs in Greece wasn’t my main objective. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good night out, but there is so much more to see and do that I would never be able to experience anywhere else! The party can wait. The party can happen anywhere. 

As I write this now, I am thankful that I decided to do what my fellow travellers advised and spend three nights (it was very specific) at Francesco’s hostel in the city center. They were right, these nights would be unique. They would be full of new people and nonstop, flashy, excitement until the sun came up and the moment it went down again. 
Yes, I spent my nights and early mornings dancing away the minutes and my days napping on the beach and eating my weight in fried food. It was a given. Was it worth it? Absolutely. Am I thankful I listened to the three day rule? Most definitely. 
But that’s not what I want to elaborate on. By now I bet you’ve already guessed what made my time here something I will hold with me in my mental book of memories. It was the people I met who became a family to me for that short little while. I couldn’t have skipped a post without telling you about how they made my time in Ios unforgettable.
 
It’s usually within a matter of minutes that I run into the perfect companions. When I arrived in Ios, it was a matter of seconds. As soon as I walked up to the sign a man was holding at the port reading Francesco’s, I was rushed in the direction of the parking lot and remember saying “I’ll follow them!” and pointed to two girls around my age. We started talking right away. Lisa and Nena are both from Holland. They had been told to be here by many travellers as well so we bonded over our weariness and excitement about how the next few days were going to pan out. Lisa and I quickly connected over something we both adore. She had recently done an exchange in Canada and couldn’t stop raving about how much she loved the country. It made me feel more proud than I’ve ever been about living where I do. I smiled as she pointed out the little things that make Canada a wonderful place to be. The polite nature, Tim Hortons, free refills. I’ve actually run into several people who have done exchanges in my country and couldn’t get enough of it either! This trip has opened my eyes to that aspect of my life as well. I am extremely proud and lucky to be a Canadian and extremely embarrassed that I haven’t seen more of it. Take a wild guess at what my next trip is going to be? I know there’s even more to appreciate in my own backyard. 
Lisa and Nena were fun and sweet from the get go and I was really glad to have already met two people to spend the first night with. 
It was obvious from the start that Francesco’s has run on the same schedule with the same routines for many years. It was a well oiled machine, that place was. Francesco himself was always seen sitting outside of the common bar area. Picture a sleek, cool looking old man who was probably living the life on that island. Judi is the fantastic bartender who comes from Edmonton and is always calling everyone baby. The days and nights ran on a schedule that was engrained in our memories by the time our stay was through. Welcome shots began at 10:30pm. Whether or not it was your first night or your tenth, you were always invited to welcome shots. And you better believe people stayed there for weeks on end. I don’t want to think about it. Socializing in the common area started right afterward and drinks were flowing. It was the perfect system because at 12:15 on the nose, our driver Alex would hop up on the table and announce his “famous” speech that we all eventually learned to know by heart, ended it with some crazy profanities that we chanted in unison and the heard of us headed down the cobblestone into this community of bars. This place was wild. The only thing I’m going to bother sharing is feeling of the atmosphere there in the center. Everyone was there to have a good time and you could just feel the buzz of energy. You got to know the bartenders, the bouncers and would even run into the same people each night. Every second shop sold crepes so it couldn’t get any better. 

In the meantime, before the first night hit, I met two more amazing friends to join our trio. Kirsty and I met in the sketchy hostel bathroom at the sinks. Actually, our first meeting involved me standing behind her as she lugged her suitcase up the steep steps and wheeled it to her front door. Our conversation this time began with, “I think I need to invest in a backpack.” From there, we talked about our travel plans and shared our blog links. Kirsty didn’t have much of an idea when she would be home at all. She was flying on even less of an itinerary than I was which is saying a lot. She is from Australia and it was easy to see that almost everyone visiting this island was. It was a wonder I met two girls from Holland. It’s very common for Australians to take a large amount of time to travel before heading off to school or to take on a job. 
Kirsty had a very mellow way about her. I found it was refreshing to be around her and the calmness she emitted. She had decided to stay in Ios for a few weeks and find work so every day she would report back with a new job she received and then the next hour a better one. Then a better one after that. It’s incredibly easy to get work on the islands. Heck, maybe I should have picked something up! 

As we sat talking on the beds in my dorm, a guy walked in and plopped himself on the bed beside mine. I was beginning to wonder if anyone would be staying with me. Caleb’s personality made it incredibly easy for the three of us to duldge into an immediate conversation. An Australian as well (but sporting an English accent as we all joked), he had been traveling for about four months now and was on the last legs of his trip, traveling about the same time as I will be.  He too had done an exchange at UBC and shared a love for Canada as strong as mine and Lisa’s. His funny and easy going ways allowed the three of us to chat until it was time to head downstairs. 

As soon as I introduced Kirsty and Caleb to Nena and Lisa, we became a group of five that you would rarely find apart. The coolest part about the friendships that I make and the tight knit groups we form is that every one of us is from a different part of the world and still, we are able to find ourselves around a dinner table sharing wine. We talked about it often, marvelling at the beauty of that concept. It still makes me stop every once in a while. We danced that night until our legs turned to jello and our mouths hurt from smiling. 

During the first day, Caleb told us about a boat trip he was planning on taking that takes us to a beach pretty far from the rest of the Ios world. How glad I am that he recommended that. It was something different than the main beach. The best part and one of my favourite memories was the little stop the boat made by a tiny beach area along the way. It stopped there for half an hour and the water was crystal clear. It was the clearest and bluest water I had ever seen and incredibly refreshing. The ocean has this amazing way of cooling your whole body in such a peaceful way that no pool or lake has ever done. 
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The second day was spent on the beach but alone with Kirsty. The others had gone off on their day adventures separately and Caleb set off for his next destination. The two of us shared the day together and effortlessly talked the day away over dinner, ice-cream and beach waves. We found out that our birthdays landed on the exact same day but four years apart. We were pisces twins and it showed as we soared deeper and deeper into our conversations on the sand. We talked about changing the world and future aspirations, heart breaks and family. It was easy to talk to Kirsty about things like that. She had an understanding nature and although we didn’t relate in every single way, it was an afternoon of listening and support. I know she’s going to go far and wide with whatever she decides to take on in the future and I can almost guarantee that travel will be a part of it. It just seemed like she was made to make her mark in all areas of the world. 

It’s odd that I didn’t take many photos at all during my time here. There are several in the hands of my friends but here’s one of at least four of us that I managed to get at the beach we spent the day on. 
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One final moment that I’ll never forget was shared with a little girl. I was sitting in a square where the local kids would often play soccer or tag. While casually eating my lunch, a small girl came up to me and started pointing at my bag. She only seemed to know one word of English and that was the word “happy.” She continued to point in my bag and poke around saying, “happy, happy, happy.” I was sure she was trying to reach into my box of granola bars but I quickly figured out it was my camera that she wanted. I pulled it out for her and saw her smile. I carefully put the strap around her neck and told her to hold on tight and click the big black button. Of course, most of this was communicated by actions. Regardless of if she understood my words, she picked it up very quickly and was snapping away in no time. The camera was almost the size of her head and I was afraid the weight was going to cause her to topple over!  I couldn’t believe how happy my camera had made this little girl. She kept motioning for me to pose as she took my photo several times and then did the same with some people around her. At one point, I watched her spin in a circle over and over while constantly clicking the shutter. Whatever works for you sweetheart! I showed her how to use the video next and how to change the lens. That was a big deal! She gasped as I took the lens off and replaced it with one that zoomed. 

The rewarding feeling I got from that moment will resonate with me for a long time. It got me thinking about Hilary Camilleri from One for the Wall right away. I mentor with this beautiful photographer back at home and she recently held a camera course for kids between the ages of 9 and 14. It was always something I looked at as a brilliant idea. Young people have so much passion. Being able to have an outlet to learn and grow doing something that you love is incredibly important, especially at a young age when that drive is still so strong. Hilary provided that for these kids and that’s one of the reasons why I admire her so much. Because she cares so deeply. So just then, as I was I was laughing and teaching this little girl about how to use my Nikon, I felt what I’m sure Hilary did numerous times over. I felt a huge sense of gratefulness that I was able to experience this moment with her, a complete stranger from another country. I was able to give her that half an hour of happiness that I saw all over her face. It was an incredible feeling. That one English word she spoke over and over couldn’t have been more perfect. 
 
So in the words of this little darling who I’l never know the name of, I walked away from Ios feeling happy, happy, happy. 

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Santorini: New Friends, Milkshakes and Dreams Come True

I just stepped off the ferry from Santorini and into the island of Crete. My time in Santorini is still so fresh in my mind so not sharing it with you now would be a complete waste of the high that I’m still on from those amazing five days. To my Ios friends, don’t fret! I will be posting about my time there soon and the bonds we shared while on the island of wild nights. Hang on tight, this is going to be a long post but you won’t want to miss a single word! 

 
I had looked forward to Santorini from the minute I arrived in Athens. From the photos that I saw, the movies that I watched and the constant praise from fellow travellers, I knew that this was where I would find the Greece in everyone’s dreams. This is the place that our mind jumps to when we think of a Greek paradise. Here, I would find the blue and white shops and homes no matter where I went. A true traditional feel would fill the air and the cobblestone streets would take me from one place to the next. When my boat pulled up to this island, I knew that I wouldn’t be let down. I cranked my head upward from the port to see a huge cliff towering above me and tiny, white houses lining the top. I had no idea that Santorini was built on top of a cliff.  Several of them surround a volcanic caldera which last erupted in 1950 and hasn’t been active since. This island was what remained after one of the largest volcanic eruptions in history. It seemed to be rooted in a really interesting past. 
 
I’m not sure when I stopped booking places to stay the night before. I think it began when I had my experience in Amalfi and became addicted to the thrill of not knowing. I figured it would be fun to live on the edge a bit and find a place to stay while there. On the plus side, these islands don’t make it very difficult. There are often  several people holding up signs and promoting their hostels and hotels. I spotted a man holding a sign that said Youth Hostel and ran to him immediately asking for a space to which he replied, “we always have space.” Which could have been a really bad thing if I thought about it more but I wasn’t going to complain about a cheap bed to sleep in. 
 
Shortly after we spoke, I found myself in the hostel van traveling up the massive cliff and dozing off very quickly. I had gotten two hours of sleep the night before and was definitely ready for a bit of a nap. Every once in a while, I don’t feel the slightest bit of guilt taking a few hours to sleep during the day. 
 
After I checked in and found my room in what looked to be a well kept and fun place to stay, I kicked off my shoes and crashed. I’m not sure what time it was when I woke up but I stumbled out of my room, groggy eyed and headed into the town of Fira for a bite to eat. It was still early, so I was the only one sitting in the tavern dining room. The man who served me watched from afar as I slowly sipped my water, still trying to adjust to the light. He soon walked over to me and said, “why do I get the feeling that you’re feeling very, very lonely?” I explained that I had just woken up from a deep sleep and was only half awake but the truth was, I had just left a family of friends in Ios and this mood seems to hit me every time I move from one place to the next. Maybe I was feeling just a little lonely in that moment. It only lasts a few hours, just during that time where I’m alone again and feeling ripped away from people I was just getting to know. It’s the hard truth about backpacking, but that’s just the reality of it. It’s all about feeling grateful that they’re in your lives now and keeping in touch for next time. There usually is a next time. Travelers tend to find each other again and again. 
 
Just as if someone had heard my call for help, Grace and Kirsty made their way into my journey almost effortlessly. When I arrived back at the hostel, they were sitting on the table beside me writing in their journals as I was writing in mine. We eyed each other a bit until we all headed into the same dorm and introduced ourselves. Grace is from New Zealand and Kirsty from South Africa. The two of them work at a school together in London which is how they met. I can’t even remember the details of our introduction or how we instantly became the best of friends. It was as if we had known each other for years. Grace and I bonded over our love for the pastry Baklava and unanimously agreed to head to town to grab some together. The three of us set out, only to realize that there had been some pretty serious power outages happening over the past few days. As bad as that is for the local businesses, it was such a cool experience for us to walk through the tiny streets of Fira lit up by candle light. I felt like we were transported back in time. We got our dessert and sat in the square watching the busy city bustling in the dark. Shop owners were still promoting, restaurants were still dragging people in and generators buzzed. About twenty minutes later, the power flickered on and everybody clapped and cheered. It was a really cool moment. Even cooler that I was able to spend it getting to know these girls. They were both so down to earth and our conversations were so easy, our silences far from uncomfortable. Just like Grace pointed out before we parted, the second we met, I knew I had found friends for life. The night ended with a late swim and I went to bed so happy. I knew right away that this was going to be a great few days. 
 
My next day was spent exploring the town, as I usually do. I wanted to take a hike and was told that the walk from Fira to Oia, as long and hot as it may be, was entirely worth it. I didn’t think twice, grabbed my backpack and headed in the direction of what I was told would be the most beautiful village on the island. The walk should have taken me about three hours but by the time I got to Oia it had been four. I got really caught up photographing along the way. There were a lot of donkeys and horses that were far from camera shy and a constant view of the sea on my right hand side. Not once did I feel tired or tempted to get into one of the several cars that asked if I needed a ride. Doesn’t anybody just hike for fun anymore? It was calm and serene and with a camera in hand, I was as content as I could ever be. Image
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ImageI knew I had arrived in Oia without a sign to tell me so. It was my favourite place from the second I stepped into the centre. I walked through the narrow streets and took in the feel of the Greek life. When I got there, it wasn’t overly touristy at all. Although I didn’t seem to see any locals, it was pretty low key and looked entirely untouched. That was the beauty of it, nothing had been changed. The history was still lingering there and nobody seemed pushy for business or in a hurry to get anywhere. They were just living their lives. A nice lady in a photography studio pointed me in the direction of the castle, also known as the famous sunset point. I had walked straight into the shop, pointed to a photo and asked, “where can I find that view?” The remnence of what used to be a castle wasn’t hard to find at all. Oia is a very tiny village and you could spot it from almost anywhere. I walked up the stone steps to the top and looked out. There it was. A breath taking panoramic view of Greece stared back at me. I suddenly found myself crying. Tears began to run down my cheeks as I realized that this had been the exact view I posted on my wall of dreams for the past few years. This exact landscape had been just a mere idea in my mind and now here it was, a reality. What an overwhelming feeling. When the things you’ve been dreaming of are right there in front of you. I sat there for quite some time, staring out and admiring how all the buildings seemed to fit together perfectly like a mosaic. I will never forget that moment for the rest of my life. 
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I had a lovely dinner overlooking the village and this amazing strudel (of course) at a pastry shop nearby. As if it couldn’t get any better, I stayed for the sunset. 
Okay, so this is where all the tourists emerged. The sunset point is incredibly famous and after seeing it for myself, I knew why. It sets over the incredible sea surrounded by cliffs on one side and the view on the other. There is nothing around the sun to distract from its beauty and little sail boats float under its setting rays. It was really nice seeing all the people crowding around to watch something so natural and simple. I’m not exaggerating one bit when I say it was perfect. Image
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I arrived back at the hostel to find the girls sitting at the hostel bar. They introduced me to Charlie who is the cook at the hostel and is often hanging around the bar with Constantine, the bartender, who I was told made one hell of a good milkshake. Fast forward: he totally does. These two gentlemen made our nights, laughing at our silly conversations and mixing us up specialty cocktails. Grace’s birthday was on Monday and I had only booked two nights at this point to stay in Santorini. After our first night together and my visit to Oia, I walked into reception and asked to say until Tuesday morning. How could I not? Even now, I wish I had stayed even longer. 
 
The girls and I went on a boat tour the next day. I’m not usually one for tours, but to get to these two locations it had to be done. This traditional boat took us to the volcano site and the famous hot springs. The volcanic caldera was a great experience. It was more of a hike than we realized and we were led up the rocky path to the very top by our wacky tour guide. What struck me was the view on all sides. Looking around, you were able to see each little village located across the never ending sea and the tiny houses that took up such a small portion of the massive cliff it sat upon. You were completely isolated in the centre of this landmark. It was also crazy to think that this thing had erupted at one point in time, as recent as 63 years ago. The three of us broke away from our tour guide and explored the site on our own. I couldn’t even explain to you how odd this guide was. He was stuck in his own little world for the whole tour. It provided some added entertainment if anything…Image
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The Hot Springs was my favourite of the two. The water temperature reaches 33 degrees celcius and is a mucky red due to the fallen pieces of volcanic rock. The floor towards the shore is made of a muddy clay that has a high sulfur content. After emerging our entire bodies in the all natural exfoliant, our skin was the smoothest it will ever be. I’m sure we just saved hundreds of dollars doing that there than in a fancy spa. All in all, each location was really memorable in its own way. Image
Close to the shore, you can see the separation between the blue and the red sea  

The boat dropped us off alone at Oia while the rest headed to Fira. There were a group of donkeys waiting at the bottom of a very steep set of stairs up to the main village. There was no way I was leaving Greece without a donkey ride so I eagerly approached the man in charge. I was so happy that we had stopped off at the island before the rest of the tourists arrived. This donkey ride seemed like it was for me and me alone. Grace and Kirsty walked behind since they had already done it and I felt like i was the only one on the island. The man and I rode up the steps and overlooked the view on the backs of our strong friends. I don’t know how the poor little guys do it but they can carry one fifth of their body weight! The sounds of Greek commands to the donkeys echoed off the walls and the ocean roared below me. Once again, a moment in time that will forever stick out as something so special to me. Image
The night we got back was the night I met Tarlin Saye. We were sitting at the bar and as I walked up to sit beside Kirsty, the first thing she said to me was, “honey, do you want to sit down in that chair before you start drinking?” I was drawn in by her sense of humour and booming personality right away. When I asked her where she was from, she came back with, “a better question is, where am I not from?” She was right about that one. Tarlin has lived in numerous states in America, now has a place in Australia and is currently traveling abroad. I quickly found out that she was a novelist with a published book already out and a series in the making. Interested in her work as a published author, I asked her many questions about the book series she was currently writing. It will be called Diary of a Queen. The four books each feature women who are queens in their own right. The settings range from long ago to modern day and the series has a clever way of tying together in the end. When I asked her what genre the books were, she laughed and listed off several different themes that often capture the attention of readers, all of which she includes in her writing. Death, romance, sex, power. Already I was dying to read a piece of her work. Her love to write has always been present and as an actor and singer along with everything else, she’s a creator at heart. I can’t forget to mention that she also has a degree in Bio Medical Ethics (Theology, Philosophy and Chemistry)…really?! A main character in her book named Aminah is someone she had conjured up at the young age of fifteen and she has been with her ever since. That is why these books will be published on her website by Tarlin herself. She said she wouldn’t dare give away someone so dear to her to a publishing company and I really respected that. What I loved about Tarlin was the fact that you could tell she was a writer solely because she loved it. She told me, “if someone in France is reading my book, that’s enough for me.” She let me read the first page of the book that is soon to be released and something tells me, she’ll have more than one reader abroad. Actually, I’m almost certain she’ll have plenty. It was captivating from the very first sentence, a true giveaway that it’s bound to be a page turner. 
 
The book is planned to be released online mid September. Make sure you check out her website towards that time at http://www.tarlinsaye.com 
 
Tarlin and I had the time of our life sitting at that bar for the night. She made me laugh so hard I almost spit out my cosmopolitan. Her energy beamed and she grabbed the attention of everyone around her, making them laugh too and hardly even realizing it. I can barely explain the unique personality she has that could capture anyone around her and the huge amount confidence she exuberates. The two of us flipped out over our deep love and respect for Meryl Streep and found ourselves already hugging and exchanging praise for each other minutes into meeting. I told her about my work while she told me about hers. While I read her book, she had a look at my photos. As she put it, we already invested ourselves in each others careers. I’ll never forget the moment she sang me a tiny bit of Whitney Houston when I asked to hear her voice. It was sung quietly over the table but the ears of everyone around us perked up right away. Her voice matched her personality incredibly well. Before I knew it, Kirsty and Grace clicked with Tarlin too and the three of us just seemed to work. Our personalities played off each other and I knew we would be having many more nights like this one. Nights where we suddenly get buzzed off wine and laugh until we cry. It was one of my favourites because it was so unplanned. Tarlin (or Natty as she’s also called), believes in the philosophy, “you get what you give” which makes her a true life liver and someone I know I will connect with for years to come. Image
ImageImage One minute I’m meeting this girl and the next, we’re riding together on a quad bike through Santorini. Tarlin and I decided to rent a four wheeler for the day and explore some far away towns. We broke all the rules, riding barefoot and inexperienced with hardly a care in the world. It all felt so free. We stopped at the famous black beach and photographed the beautiful churches. We interrupted a session of grape picking, walked through some residential towns on a Sunday that were quiet as mice and discovered an art cafe filled with photographs of people and the best homemade bread and lemonade I had ever tasted. Tarlin was right, the only sound you could hear in these places was the wind through the trees. And then of course our yipees and hollers as we zoomed down the road and broke the silence. Image
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Our day ended with another sunset in Oia but with new friends of Kirsty’s this time who had come to meet her here for a few days. Almost every night, there’s a proposal or a wedding coming through the crowded point. This couple made me smile the entire time so I just had to include a snippet of the happy moment they shared as the sun went down. Image
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ImageOur time together was nearing an end but our final day was Grace’s birthday and the night before, as the clock struck twelve, dear Constantine and Charlie played a happy birthday song over the speaker system and brought out a banana cocktail and an ice-cream sunday, candle and all. While some of the other girls went to visit the red beach in the afternoon, Grace and I spent the day at the black beach, relaxing and chatting together. It had to have been one of my favourite days. The black beach stays true to its name with its super hot, black sand as an attraction. Grace and I had some really wonderful talks, naps, ice-cream and a run in with a stray puppy who needed a home. It’s a shame neither of us could do anything about it but we played with the little guy for a while and it added to the days happiness. When she told me it was exactly how she wanted to spend her birthday, I felt so grateful to have shared the moments of the day with her. Together, we share the exact same mentality about how we want to live our lives and the people we want to be. We even found some of our bigger life experiences to be quite similar. Kirsty is the exact same. She is one of the most genuine people I’ve met and a sweetheart to the core. I don’t think that girl has a bad bone in her body. The three of us agreed that we were always inspired being around each other. Inspired by our optimism and our love for the life around us. It’s amazing that I’ve been able to find people that share those similar views with me on my travels. It seems to happen all the time and I think it just has to do with the mindset of a backpacker. We all share a very common ground. Dinner closed the night and us four musketeers shared one last evening at the bar drinking wine. It was quieter than the first with a hint of lingered sadness from the anticipation of leaving and a ton of gratefulness for the days we all shared. 
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It may have ben a coincidence or just an act of fate that we all checked out on the exact same day. Needless to say, these friends made such an impact on me. Honestly, this is just a small, short version of how I feel about these beautiful people and these beautiful days. How can I possibly express exactly how I felt while in Santorini? I was inspired by beauty every day, swept away by friendship and surrounded by passion.
I walked away feeling blessed. 

Fear Facing and Beauty in the Underworld of Antiparos

I had come across a few people who had gotten their scuba diving certificate while backpacking. It’s always been something that’s fascinated me when I hear about it but it never crossed my mind that I would have the chance to do it myself and I especially didn’t expect to get certified. 

 
Like I explained in my previous post, this decision was out of the blue but full of certainty right away. After speaking to Chloe, I was moved. How could I possibly walk away and not try it for myself? I would regret not taking the opportunity… even more so if it was out of fear. I had a lot of fears. I worried about running out of oxygen or having it disfunction. I worried about my ear drums bursting or getting tangled in an underwater plant. I think it revolved around the fact that I would be relying on a backpack and a cylinder to keep me living. It didn’t seem overly stable. On the other hand, I’ve only heard amazing things about diving. There’s an entirely different world down there filled with beautiful sea creatures and a magical silence. I wanted to see it for myself and through all the fear, it was exactly that which drove me to book a space. I wanted to do something that scared me. I wanted that thrill and uncertainty about what may be waiting down in the deep ocean. It’s a really incredible feeling to take a risk and isn’t that one thing I’ve been keeping in mind this entire time? Take those risks and go for those opportunities because they may only come knocking once. 
 
I was thankful to get a space with Andy and took a short bus ride and a ferry to reach the island of Antiparos. I began to get giddy when I spotted the sign for Blue Island Divers. It was a small office located above a family tavern and I knew going in that this business was family run as well. A bunch of men were sitting around a table and one of them jumped up right away when he saw me. He introduced himself as Andy and laughed when I told him about Chloe’s enthusiastic recommendation. Around the table was Andy’s brother Gary and his Father Bob as well as a diver there for the summer named Alex. I liked that they were so personal with their customers. I knew I was going to learn so much from Andy right away. He had a great energy about him. He lead me into his office and handed me a text book with five chapters. We created a schedule and he told me to read as much as I could before my first day. I felt like I was back in school again! I expressed my minor feeling of nervousness (that had dissipated greatly by that point) and he told me I already had a huge step ahead of Chloe and would be entirely fine. I trusted him, remembering Chloe’s words of encouragement and walked away with a huge smile on my face ready to start the next day! 
 
Did you know that Mr. Tom Hanks has a summer home in Antiparos and has done dives with Gary? Just another tidbit that secured my trust in this diving centre. It must be reliable! The course lasts for four days. I was told I would be working with someone else getting the same certificate but had no idea who to expect. I walked into the classroom to see a little twelve year old boy who told me his name was Arris. He’s from Greece and his family stays in Antiparos for the summer months. I was comforted by the fact that I would be diving with someone so young. It just made me feel even more confident that I was capable of doing this as someone who was seven years older. Maybe acting as a bit of a role model would help take away my anxiety. The first day consisted of watching a series of pretty dull videos that just summarized everything I had already read in the book. I was a bit eager and got a head start that night. It was all pretty interesting to me. There is a technique to absolutely everything you do down there and a solution to every problem, as there should be. I acted as a bit of a motivator for Arris who was having a lot of trouble sitting still as the overly perky voice on the video spoke about bottom surface times and pressure gauges. Not to worry though, we were thrown into the water on the first day! 
 
We picked out our equipment and piled into a jeep headed to a dive site called Mick Jaggers Lips. Andy taught us how to assemble our tanks and BCD’s which are the backpacks that hold the cylinders and act as as our life jacket, filling with air on command. The book described the  gear as awkward which couldn’t have been more true but they forgot to mention how heavy it was! Once I squeezed into my wet suit, put on my pack and applied five weights to my waist, I was seriously wondering how I was going to stay suspended and not sink to the bottom and stay there. I waddled to the side of the concrete dock and looked down. It was hard to believe that I would soon be five metres below the surface for twenty five minutes time. All there was left to do was jump.
 
It’s a big moment breathing underwater for the first time. At first you have trouble trusting your regulator. It’s just like a mouthguard attached to a hose that you bite down on. But after a few breaths, you realize that it works and I will never forget those first special moments. All the fears I had before I started disappeared completely. I’m pretty sure I outwardly gasped with excitement. As soon as I saw the first swarm of vibrant blue fish swim past me, I did what everyone told me I would. I fell in love. Image
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We started slow and shallow, learning new skills each day and practicing crucial ones multiple times. Remember, we weren’t able to speak to each other underwater. We relied on hand signals as our form of communication. I was blown away by how smoothly our interacting went while using the signals. Whether it was a congratulatory grip of the hand, a praising OK sign or even a happy dance from Gary, I was rarely confused about anything they were trying to tell me. Andy really was a brilliant teacher. He was calm and patient when I struggled with any skill. It all seemed to come pretty easy to me except for one particular skill with the mask. While underwater, we were told to fill our mask completely with water and then drain it out by breathing out our nose and tipping our head to the surface. Doesn’t that sound simple? Never for a second did I think it would bug me but it really caused me to panic. The first time I tried it, I had the immediate reaction to breathe through my nose which lead to me sniffing in a huge amount of burning salt water. That caused me to spit out my regulator, inhale a mouthful of water and then thrash rapidly and bolt for the surface. Bad, bad instincts. The number one rule in diving is NEVER STOP BREATHING. This can cause your lungs to expand and well..the rest is self explanatory. Rising to the surface quickly can also cause serious health problems so I was doing everything wrong. I wasn’t staying calm. Gary was the first to experience this and Andy went through it with me when we dove twelve metres. Both of them were calm and held me in one place while they supplied their emergency air. I was traumatized after the first run but oddly enough, I wanted to do it again. I was driven to get it right. I did the task imperfectly a few times, draining out the water but still coughing a choking in the process. As soon as I learned to keep my head facing toward the ground and plug my nose whenever I could, it became easier and easier with each try. Andy was consistently patient as I tried over and over until I was able to do the task with my eyes closed. Literally. I was even able to take the mask off completely, swim a few metres and put it back on by the end of my classes. That feeling of accomplishment was priceless. It was something I feared and I was able to make it past that. 
ImageImage Our deepest dive was twelve metres (although I am certified to go as deep as eighteen) and we took a boat to the middle of the ocean to get to our site. I loved the deeper dives because it was harder to see the surface and you really felt like you’d been thrust into a different world separate from the rest. It was amazing to listen to the sounds of the ocean and know you were listening to nature taking its course. Andy and Gary always did their best to point out any sea creatures along the way and remind us where we were by twirling around and opening their arms to our surroundings as if to say “well, it can’t get much better than this.”  I took several moments to admire this beautiful world. I appreciated it for everything it was worth. If I didn’t think the world was huge before, I surely did now. You guys, the world is so, so, so big. It’s full of things you can’t even imagine on the surface. Below, it’s full of even more. I twirled around and took deep breaths in and out, still shocked by my ability to do that. It kept on hitting me over and over again. Our planet is really cool. Image ImageBefore I knew it, I had blinked and it was my last day. Arris had become quite ill so I was all alone and without my buddy for our last dive. Andy’s father Bob tagged along to take the photos I requested and we piled into the jeep one last time. This dive was my favourite by far. Without even realizing it I was assembling my gear like I had done it my entire life. Andy said nothing as I prepared myself for the jump in and executed it without question. At this point, I was eager to dive every day. I couldn’t get enough of it! The three of us signaled down and entered my new favourite place. We worked with the compass and demonstrated a few other skills before doing the mask skill for a final time. I was able to do it calmly and perfectly! A huge feeling of success swept over me as I realized: that was it. I had completed all I needed to do to become a diver. I had passed my final exam the day before (with flying colours. Don’t mind if I do!) and mastered the things that scared me. I had reached a point where I was doing these things without being told and saw how it all seemed to come together. The best part about learning is just that. It’s the moment where you realize why. 
 
It was time now to take a swim through the reef. Bob and Andy pointed out several creatures and we took our time looking at them along our way. We saw an octopus stuck to the side of a rock, an eel who had dug himself a little hole and poked his head out to see us. We witness families of very bright fish and a single scorpion fish that blended itself into its surroundings. My favourite was a small, caterpillar like creature that had hundreds of little red legs. When you move your finger close to it, it defends itself by puffing up and all its legs turn white and look furry. Andy and I hammed it up for the camera and I took it all in for the last time. Things are very peaceful under the sea. Everything works at its own pace and time disappears. Our twenty five minute dive felt like five. 
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ImageImageImageWhen we rose up, I realized we were on a beach. It occurred to me right away that these people didn’t have a clue what was below them. How funny it was to think that most of them probably turned a blind eye to the life just beneath their feet. 
 
I can’t thank Blue Island Divers enough. They gave me an incredible four days and one heck of a learning experience. It’s safe to say that I will be anxiously awaiting new dive sites when I head to Thailand in November and will be seeking out several on my future trips! Thank you for showing me this beautiful treasure! 
 
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Unpredictable and Happily Surprising Paros

I was only planning to stay in Paros for one night. I had left Syros with the idea of heading to the beautiful Santorini the next day and was frustrated with the ferry for running out of space. What was I going to do in Paros? I had never even heard of this island and although I knew it wouldn’t be a bad place to stay (because a Greek island could never cause any torture), I was at a loss for what it might bring me. Alas, I kept an open mind, booked a hostel and sailed away. 

 
I’m reporting to you now from a cosy traditional restaurant along the rocky shoreline on my 6th day here. I guess I found things to do after all! I decided to stay for an extra few days and take a course to get my PADI open water diver certificate. I will make sure to write something very special tomorrow about my experience with scuba diving because it has been an incredible experience. 
 
I have Chloe to thank for that. 
 
Chloe’s hometown is in Malaysia. She greeted me with a huge smile and a hand shake the second I walked into my room at the Young Inn. She couldn’t stop herself from jumping to tell me about her experience diving over the past few days. She beamed and raved about the instructor Andy who was so patient and understanding while she took her time learning. Her eyes lit up when she spoke about the creatures they saw and the depths they reached. Do you want to know the most inspirational part about this story? Chloe didn’t know how to swim. She had learned briefly 3 years prior and since then had no reason to. This was a huge step for her, a massive risk. I was very interested in going myself after hearing of her experience but I also expressed my slight fear about the possibilities of what could go wrong underwater. She told me right away that I needed to go for it. Her words were “I want everyone to know that if I can do it, anyone can do it”. The deal was sealed as soon as she spoke. I sent an email to Blue Island Divers in Antiparos requesting Andy as an instructor and headed there the next morning. 
 
Chloe’s inspiration didn’t stop there. Her story is one that I connected with on a personal level because it’s similar in a lot of ways to the path that I took with my life last Fall. Chloe was living a life and dream that wasn’t her own back in Malaysia. It wasn’t making her happy and she didn’t feel like it was something she was doing for herself. Maybe for her parents, maybe for someone else. Her real dream was to become a pastry chef in France. For many, that may seem like something completely unreachable but with those thoughts in mind and a lot of courage, she left everything behind and headed to Paris to do just that. She studied there and got the credentials she needed to reach her goal. Now she’s living the life that she’s always wanted. She’s working at a bakery and loves what she does every day. I was blown away by her vibrant spirit and go getter attitude as well as her intuitive nature. She was able to pin point my zodiac sign casually as we were walking down the street. During a conversation we were having, she told me “I know, I know because you are a fish. You’re a Pisces.” No questions asked. I loved her enthusiasm and bright smile. She is a very special person and I hope she keeps following her heart. 
 
ImageImage My Paros days were filled with trips to the beach, photographing around town and eating desserts every day. The people here still fit that island personality that I love so much. I went to a restaurant the other night and didn’t have enough cash with me to pay for my meal. I told the waiter I would take a quick trip to the ATM and he laughed and said “No, no come back tomorrow or the day after or next week, whatever! Here’s a free glass of wine. Sit back, relax and enjoy it. My life wouldn’t change if you had paid or if you don’t.” And then a cat jumped up on my lap and settled down for a nap. I am not kidding. Where else can you find that sense of kindness and trust? Only in Europe. 
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 The day that Chloe left, a blonde haired girl came walking through the hostel gates right past her. She introduced herself as Maria and was staying in the bed beside mine. I invited her to go for a walk around town that evening and she gladly accepted. Maria comes from Sweden. The two of us found a sandy spot on the beach and it became our “secret location” where we spent the next few nights chatting at sundown. As the beautiful sunset went down over the ocean, we became great friends. We talked about everything you possibly could with someone you just met and then we went beyond that and talked about more. We slowly realized that our views about life, our outlook on people and our attitude towards almost everything was exactly the same. On top of that, we liked the same music and we both couldn’t stop eating. A perfect person to have around. I was awe struck at her ability to keep this positive attitude about everything around her through the incredibly challenging times she has faced throughout her life. She handled herself with such grace for someone who had every reason not to and it was incredible to watch. Between the two of us, happiness poured out when we were together. Often we would be lying on a beach or eating a meal and she would look at me and say “Life is good. It’s really good.” I loved how we could share insane laughter one minute and tears the next. I was glad that I had ended up staying longer in Paros because we had four days together and I’m happy the world introduced me to such an amazing person. It was sad to say goodbye but we knew it wouldn’t be forever. Perhaps I’ll be booking a plane ticket to Sweden next year. My twin will be missed in the mean time. 
 
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ImageDuring the times when I wasn’t diving or incredibly exhausted from it, Bianca and I shared some great times too. This young lady works at the family run hostel I was staying at. Just to give you a quick little run down on this place, it is the perfect spot to rest if you ever visit this island. The buildings have that classic blue and white style and are situated in a little garden area, almost like a community centre. Daniella, the owner, has the cutest little boy I have ever seen and he’s always running around with the stray cats or climbing trees. Little kittens are always wandering around the area and I’ve even become quite close with one of them who decided to sleep with me last night. Since I booked my extended stay fairly last minute, Daniella said I was able to sleep upstairs where the laundry was. I was expecting a room but instead, it was just an open space, almost like a balcony. Anyone normal  would be booking another place to stay but I was extra excited to be sleeping under the stars and grateful that she was generous enough to offer me a place to sleep. For the last few nights I have fallen asleep in the open air with a kitten curled up beside me and a blanket placed over me unexpectedly in the middle of the night. That’s the kind of hospitality that I appreciate so much and it almost brings tears to my eyes. ImageImageSlept here under the stars for the last two nights. It was perfect! 
 
Bianca studies tourism back in her hometown in Switzerland because she adores travel and languages. In fact, she has done four different internships over the past four years. The more I talked to Bianca, the more I found that she had such a wide variety of interests and so many options as to where she wanted to take them in the future. We figured out that we both loved the Arts and would find ourselves singing from time to time. Last night, we sat in the doorway of reception and she taught me phrases from three different countries. I wish I had more time to spend with her because I know she showed me a side of her that she doesn’t let many people see. We spent an evening talking about forgiveness and I will never forget the moment where she looked at me with tears in her eyes, laughing uncontrollably and took a step towards a new stage of her life, one where she left that negativity in the past behind and decided to look forward to the world of possibilities before her. Girl, keep up that passion that you have for the everyday things that make you excited! Thank you for sharing with me. 

Image I will miss the small town feel of this place. The relaxing nights and walks along the beach and harbour will stand out in my mind. I don’t even think clouds exist here since every day has been filled with a clear blue sky overhead. Between the friendly and trusting restaurant staff and the workers at the bakery and a favourite jewellery store by the port, I had such an enriching time here in Paros. Although I wouldn’t want to spend this long in one place again, I’m convinced that I was here to meet all those beautiful people and have those important conversations. I hope I made a difference in their travels like they did in mine. I’m itching to move onto the next step, an island called Ios. Famous for its partying and…partying. We’ll see what that brings. 

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Keep reading soon for a post about Scuba that I am dying to write about! 
 
On to the next one! 

A Birthday Wish from Across the Sea

Today, I couldn’t help but show my love for my beautiful Mother. In Greece, it is the eve of her birthday and she’s turning twenty five but even that may be over shooting it, right Mom?

From across the ocean,  I needed to find some way to let her know (even more than she already does) how much I appreciate her. I sent her my wishes from the deep blue sea as I scuba dived for the first time. During my free hours of the day, I wandered around the island of Paros and photographed things that stuck out to me as beautiful. More specifically, things that I knew she would appreciate and love if she had seen them for herself.

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My Mother has been the woman that I have aspired to be since the day I was born. Without a doubt in my mind, she is the most selfless person that I know. I can’t think of a single moment where she hasn’t put my needs before her own.  It’s the little moments just as much as the big ones that I couldn’t be more grateful for. She’s always striving to make sure that I’m living out my dreams and leading the happiest life possible. I hope she knows how much she has succeeded and the distance she has gone beyond.
She has a sense of intelligence that shines through her spirit. Her passion for literature and writing is a huge part of who she is to me, my fondest memories being ones of her face deep in a good book. I know that when she says she’s “been there”, she truly has. She’ll wrap me in a hug and tell me that “it’s going to be okay” and it always is. My Mom is a woman with all the right answers. She works hard for what she wants and has worked hard for what she has. I admire her drive and strong sense of work ethic she never lets go of, teaching me that if you want something bad enough, you’re going to keep your head held high and dance through what it takes to get there. Which leads me to her strength. No matter where she’s at in life, I am still able to hear her laugh and see her smile. She still shines like a super hero no matter what the day brings.ImageI am so blessed to call my Mom my best friend. Her company is such an incredible sense of comfort to me and I look forward to spending time with her whenever I can, especially as I grow older. We share a bond that you can’t have with anyone else in this world. A Mother-Daughter friendship is a very special kind and I am so lucky to have it in my life. Through my time away, I have met so many people who have asked me about my family and when I tell them about my parents, I just beam. When I talk about my Mom, I’m not even sure where to begin. Maybe that’s why I’ve spent at least three hours writing and rewriting this piece. I’ve deleted text and scribbled out words with ink.

I’ve come to the conclusion that there is really no way I can completely express to anyone how amazing my Mother is, you just need to know her.

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She has given me someone to fall back on in my time of need, a crutch that I can lean on during those times where I swear I might collapse and an endless encyclopedia of smiles and guidance. She is a damn incredible role model and I hope that one day, I can be half the Mother she is to me.
Happy Birthday Mom
I love you and I am so thankful.Image ImageHad a birthday dinner by the beach and made a special toast! 

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Within the Creative Walls of Paradise

It was one of those connections that happened in the blink of an eye. Maria and Katerina wandered up the stairs on the ferry from Athens to Mykonos and I spotted them right away. Like I said before, Maria’s eyes caught me immediately. The bright blue sparkled off the water and the spirit of them both traveled right to me. I saw them looking around for an empty seat and was disappointed when they sat in a few chairs on the opposite side of my area. Moments later, it was as if they heard me thinking and headed over to put their stuff by mine and sit down.I learned that they were contemporary dancers. Both from Greece, they were traveling to the island of Syros for a dance performance that the two of them have been working on since 2011. Not only that, but Maria’s other genius idea was going to be explored through a workshop. Her plan has been to combine contemporary dance with the art of synchronized swimming. Previously a synchronized swimmer herself, she collided her two passions and created something that has flourished over the past few years. It’s such a beautiful form of expression and I encourage you to take a look at her website and see for yourself.

The topic of my photography came up and she asked to take a look at some of my work. Even before she saw my photos, she had asked if I had wanted to come and see the performance on Friday. Now she suggested that I spend my time there taking photos as well! My heart jumped at the opportunity to take on yet another new challenge and grow. I immediately accepted and was even more thankful than usual that I was traveling alone and able to take on such a hasty detour.

We corresponded over email and she told me that they would have a space for me to stay overnight when I arrived. It was a blessing, really, that I was not only able to photograph this performance but was also offered a place to rest my head. I boarded the ferry on Friday morning with very little idea of where I was going, one small slip of paper with an address written in Greek clutched in my hand and no idea how much I would end up feeling attached to this group of people and all that they did.

After exiting the ferry, I found my way to a coffee shop and struggled to find directions. No one seemed to know where I was going. I managed to connect to the internet and had a quick Skype call with Maria to figure out the direction I should be heading. Alas, after a short walk and a bus ride, I arrived at a wooden white door and walked inside.
Right away the smell of freshly baked pastries from the bakery below filled my nostrils. It was the sweetest scent I have ever experienced and mixed with the heat of the studio, it couldn’t have been more heavenly. This place was huge. It was huge and gorgeous. A stone staircase led me to the top floor. Tall ceilings sheltered me overhead and the place was covered in a clean laminate flooring. There were huge windows letting in sunlight with flowy curtains that blew in the breeze and photos from past performances hung on the walls.

ImageMaria greeted me right away in her yellow parachute pants with a big smile that I was happy to see. After kisses hello, she led me into the back where I was surprised to see a cute little kitchen, a bathroom and an area set up with air mattresses. They had made a home in this place and from the smell of it, they had made dinner as well. I was introduced to the two men sitting at the table. One was Spiros. He is the musician for the group and didn’t seem to go anywhere without his wooden drum. He was probably the coolest looking guy I had ever seen and added such a good energy to the room. The other guy was Helmut. He traveled here from Germany on vacation away from his job as a teacher. He has been in charge of taking underwater photos and videos for Maria in the past and she had invited him here to do the same!  When I said I hadn’t eaten, the team sat me down and we enjoyed a great meal. “It’s not much”, said Maria, “but it’s from our hearts.” I smiled as we all toasted to new friends and great company.I noticed right away that the creativity never stopped flowing through this studio. There was constant music playing, always calm and peaceful. Spiros would be playing his drum quietly and Maria and Katerina would be relaxing and stretching with their eyes closed softly shut. It was the perfect place to think, write and create. I had never felt more at home because I was surrounded by that one thing I had been missing over this trip. Artists. A studio. Something very similar to a family.

ImageThe performance began late that night around 10pm. The rest of the dance team lined the front row seats. I watched as the two ladies got ready in front of the mirror lit up by florescent little light bulbs. I felt the feelings along with them that come before a performance and could see the determination and passion in their eyes before they walked outside. With my camera ready to go and two empty memory cards, the lights dimmed and the show began. It was a two woman show based on the seven deadly sins. Maria and Katerina each represented one side of a single person struggling against the temptations of life. In the end, one chooses Hell while the other decides to stay pure. It was an extremely powerful piece and you could tell they had been working on it and perfecting it for quite some time. Everything down to the lights, music, precision of their movements and their facial expressions made me feel raw emotion. Mix that with the clicking of my camera and I could have died in that moment. ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage
Later that night we went out for drinks and souvlaki. One of the things I appreciated the most was the chance I had to feel like I was a part of their culture. Helmut and I were the only two of the group who couldn’t speak Greek so the others continued to communicate in their language most of the time. I loved that it gave me the chance to sit and observe for a while. It gave me a rare break from my usual talkative self. I was able to focus on their body language and the expression in their voice in order to get a feel for what they were saying. By the end of my stay, I felt like a true Greek, even though I still can’t get past saying hello. I fell asleep that night on a platform that I had to climb a tall, wooden ladder to reach. It was amazing sleeping so close to the beams after such a rewarding day.The next morning I participated in a workshop led by Maria for the team of dancers. I am by no means a dancer myself, but the small routines we went through brought me back to some acting movement exercises and I think I handled them pretty well! Actually, the most challenging part was understanding the choreography in a different language! Heck, it’s sometimes hard enough in English. I even got the courage to perform a small routine with Katerina in front of the whole group!

We packed our things and headed to the pool next to work on the routines in the water. I was told that this pool was in a stellar location on the property of an unbelievable house but don’t think anything could have prepared me for what I saw. This pool was surrounded by the ocean and this house was built in the middle of nowhere. The panoramic view of the deep blue sea was all you could see for miles from the pools edge. I couldn’t imagine living in a place like this all the time. It was just a short distance from the city and it still felt like you had entered an entirely different world. The house itself was made of mostly stone and decorated to the nines with trinkets and personal touches.

ImageIt was amazing to watch the same movements that we performed on the hard ground being performed in the water. It has such a different feel and it was really great to watch all the dancers with different experience levels excel. It was obvious that they all seemed to bond as a family and there were smiles and laughs shared all around and at all times. I felt like I had known these people for much longer than I had. Maria was right when she told me it felt like we were at that studio for days and days instead of just one weekend. Time flies when you’re having fun but it also seems to slow down all the same.
ImageImageImageImageImageImage Another performance followed our time at the pool as well as another fantastic home cooked meal. I ended up staying a little longer than I intended thanks to their generous offer. I felt blessed to have this new family of friends around me and never wanted to leave. I was wowed again by their work on stage and loved seeing the performance for a second time. Spiros, Katerina, Helmut and I went out and shared drinks by the harbour that night and talked about the Greek language and culture. I’m beginning to love harbours. They’re all over the islands in both Greece and Italy. There’s something really special about the sound of boats rocking in the water late at night.
On my very last day we went to the pool once more. I knew that my departure was nearing and it broke my heart. I hadn’t realized just how attached I had gotten to the people and the place until then. Spiros and I walked through the city and we all sat down for dinner one final time. Before I knew it, Sunday came and went and it was my time to leave. Maria, Katerina and I all exchanged letters. I was so surprised when they handed me two newspaper wrapped gifts tied with colourful string. Inside I found a pair of hand made earrings and two hand made bracelets. Their notes contained words that I will hold so close to my heart just like I will this experience. Image I can’t thank them enough for being so kind and supportive and loving to someone who they just met. You are all so special to me and it was a pleasure watching you do what you love.
None of it was by chance at all, trust me.

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Mykonos and the Silver Lining

 

I can’t believe I missed posting about a very crucial moment on my trip! We’re going to take a small detour to Naples! I went to Naples for one very specific thing. It was my connection to get to the Brindisi port but I didn’t have to spend a night there. I needed to eat their pizza. There was no way I was going to pass by its hometown and not have a slice or two…or three…or a whole pizza all to myself. I was told to go to Da Michele, a pizza place that was rated number one in all of Naples by at least 25 different newspapers, magazines and travel websites. They pump out these pizzas faster than you could ever imagine and you watch as they make them behind you then stick them in the fiery stone oven. Somebody told me that in the book ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, she cries when she tastes Naples pizza. I would say that’s a pretty accurate reaction. I wonder if they deliver to Kitchener…ImageImage
 Anyway, back on track! I’m falling a little bit behind on posting, but last Wednesday and Thursday, I spent some time on the island of Mykonos in Greece. 
I had been warned that this was a party island. Like a lot of the Greek islands, its staple activities include tanning and clubbing.  My only issue was, I didn’t take this trip to do either of those things excessively. I wanted to explore, photograph and see how the locals lived. I stayed at a hostel on a beach which I have to say had a phenomenal bar and lounge area out front.
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I could have seriously gotten used to this view 

 You would think that the sleeping arrangements would be just the same, right? I guess when you’re only paying 21 euros per night for accommodation, you get what you pay for. But let’s be real, even that amount is pushing it for what I had to experience while I slept. 
I’m going to get this part out of the way because my time here turned out to be wonderful after all. I was sure I was going to be sucked into two solid days of constant Spring Break and was mildly disappointed. Goodness, don’t I sound lame. The wild island partying will come my friends, I’ve saved a few days on Ios for that one! 
The only thing that dampered this memory was the bed bugs. They were everywhere and they didn’t even bother to be sneaky about it. I saw them close up and personal, crawling in my bed. I won’t get into detail, but lets just say that I will be applying multiple amounts of hydro-cortisone cream on the bites that have infested my body. Disgusting. It was bound to happen sooner or later but all I can say is please don’t skip over the reviews thinking you can handle it. I should have let go of my pride! 
 
All that aside, I found myself sitting on a bench one evening while blogging and a bright eyed lady came and sat near me. We exchanged a quick hello but that was all. She had to have been close to my Mother’s age but had a young spark about her. After mulling over how I would initiate conversation, I commented on her beautiful dress which was followed by the question of where she was from, as usual. She comes from Grimsby, Ontario. A fellow Canadian once again! Her name is Kelly and this three week vacation she was taking couldn’t have come during a more deserving time in her life. It was her dream to lay on a beach in Greece and after a year of exceptional strength and bravery through life’s turmoils, she packed up her things and flew away. Kelly and I had better chats than I believe I could have had over several beers with the drunken teenagers around me. She has experienced worlds and has kept the same philosophy that I like to keep about life through every hardship. It all happens for one reason or another. There is a silver lining that surrounds the darkest moments and it’s only bringing you closer to something that will only enhance your life. She was an inspiration and an amazing travel partner. 
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We decided to take a trip to the center the next day and walk around together. It sure was beautiful. It was my first taste of the Greece that everybody dreams about. The blue and white houses and the stoney beaches were just what I imagined. It was a very visually appealing little town, especially the famous “Little Italy” strip by the harbour. 
We had a great day browsing the stores and enjoying carbonara and stuffed peppers for lunch. The little coves and hidden streets were my favourite part about our walk. Every turn led you into another part of the village that just screamed Greece. The windmills were another well known touch. I really loved the local feel of this island, probably because most of the tourists were off drinking on the beach! It felt friendly so what more could you ask for? 
 
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This man was holding a religious ceremony inside of a liquor store…uhm…
 
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That night, Kelly and I sipped vodka and water (a surprisingly refreshing summer drink) and talked about our lives a little more. I learned about her two amazing children who have each seemed to grow into such incredible young adults. You could tell that she adored them and I had wished several times that they were with her so I could have met them myself. Once again, I was in awe at her ability to take life by the reigns and do what she needed to happy. I was grateful to have someone like her to share true conversation with and as cliche as it may seem, I sat by the light of the moon when she left and reflected. As the party lights continued to buzz around me, I was content with writing by the single boat light and the brightest stars I had ever seen. 
 
The bed bugs greeted me on my one and only night there. I was also greeted by four (very attractive) Australian guys that were traveling together. Two of them had gotten into a huge fight seconds before I arrived at the door. Inside there was a keg on one of the beds, all of them shirtless and one mumbling to himself “was it my fault mate? Was it my fault?” It was a really funny situation and I could only imagine what it looked like to someone peeking in. I actually laughed myself to sleep that night. 
 
While leaving the next morning, my spirits after the bed bugs were revived when I heard a small meow coming from behind the laundry room door. A cleaning lady opened it up and inside was a box with a small kitten inside. It turns out one of the reception ladies had found it on the side of the road and it was still young enough to be needing milk from its mother. The cleaning lady proceeded to take a plastic glove and feed the kitten milk through one of the finger tips. I was put in charge of looking after it for a few minutes while she grabbed more food and was in complete bliss while doing so! Is there a section on hostel world.com that allows me to rate the animal cuteness level? Image
It was a sad day saying goodbye to Kelly. I hope that she’s laying on a beach in Santorini right now and loving life! She truly deserves it. 
 
My time there was cut short because of a once in a lifetime opportunity I was given by my dancer friends Maria and Katerina that I featured in my last blog. I took off on a ferry that afternoon heading to Syros to photograph their performance and I never would have guessed the impact it made on my life. I can’t wait to share my stories with you all! 

Geia Sas from Paros, Greece!