I hART Amsterdam

Living Abroad

Amsterdam always feels a bit like a second home (or I guess third home at this point) when I visit. It’s tricky to navigate around the canals and busy streets of the city center, but all the missteps land you in interesting new areas and in unexplored shops and restaurants.

Looking back, one lesson I learned while in Amsterdam was that although it’s true that art inspires art, sometimes one requires an absence of art to be inspired. Yeah, it’s a bit confusing. Let me explain.

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Jessie and I on NDSM in Amsterdam. Photo by Dave Kingan.

From the moment I arrived in Amsterdam, I was engulfed by artistic inspiration and creativity. Besides travelling with two incredibly artistic and inspiring pals, it was the city’s walls soaked in street art, classical museums, melodic sounds of buskers flooding the streets, and liberal attitudes towards self-expression that lit my spirit and began convincing me I should move into an artist commune and chop off my ear for the sake of my writing.

With all these avenues for artistic expression, I thought from day one that I’d be filled with inspiration to write, draw, sing, repeat. Though Dave, Jessie, Gary, and I did a lot of singing, the other two were in short supply from me.

Since encountering a few major writer’s blocks in the past couple years, I become incredibly nervous when I go through periods of a disinterest in writing. I tend to think well, I had a good run I guess. I should just accept defeat and hang up my pen. But being in Amsterdam reminded me that sometimes the best art comes from these creative dry spells.

Wandering NDSM—or “Art Island”, a 10 minute ferry ride from mainland Amsterdam—gave me some perspective on the creative process I tend to forget. Great works of art often come from a paint tray of random colours and bouts of instantaneous inspiration. I’m no believer in God, but inspiration is occasionally akin to a spirit that comes to your aid suddenly in a time of need, then leaves you in a quick burst. It’s not a bad thing, it’s just how it works.

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There have been periods in my life where all I want to do is hole myself up in an isolated room and let my fingers fly wild across a keyboard, but oftentimes what I write makes no sense or doesn’t have the meaning behind it that I wanted it to. Looking back, many pieces of writing I’ve been most proud of have bloomed from ideas I’ve had while walking down the street, that got quickly jotted into a notebook or on a napkin. You can’t force inspiration I think, it just comes to you.

So when I look back on Amsterdam, at first I’m sad I didn’t take any time to write. But then I realise, hey dude, you had a pretty friggin fantastic and inspiring time even though you didn’t want to write about it then.

When I was in the city I was sad that the writer’s block was in full effect, but looking back on it now I’m glad I used my time to be with my friends and focus on enjoying my surroundings. I mean, as much as I’d like to say there was some spiritual, higher power convincing me to take every moment of the trip as it comes instead of worrying about writing, it was actually probably just all that weed I smoked, aye?

Xx Tori

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The magic of good music and sunshine (Split, Croatia)

Living Abroad

 

It’d be easy to write a whole post about the scenery of Split, Croatia. It’s absolutely, insanely beautiful. But to be honest, I spent almost two years of my life blabbering on about scenery for a travel magazine and I’m quite sick of that shit. The flora and fauna blah dee blah dee blah. Instead, this is a retelling of one of the most magical nights of my trip to convince you all that you must pay Croatia a visit regardless of your interest in natural beauty.

Since a tan in Scotland is a rarity, I must admit I did spend the whole of my first three days in the city lying on beaches reading Trainspotting, and snacking on pizza and squid. I also ate some incredible veggie and vegan food—Marta’s Fusion for those of you looking for vegan food was wicked—and consumed a load of banana sorbet. But good eats aside the beaches were bomb.

On the bottom side of Marjan, a huge green space for hiking in the middle of Split, is a wee swimming spot called Bene Beach. It’s not just beautiful because of it’s crystal clear turquoise water (yuh can take the lassie outta travel writing but yuh can’t take the travel writing oot the lassie), but it’s also beautiful in its relative desolation. The other two beaches I visited were packed with plenty of beach-goers but for some reason this spot, with the best views, was the most private. There were areas a bit off from the main point of the beach that were completely human-free. I picked a rock, sat my arse down, and wrote the first poem I’d written in ages. Solitude and ocean air always make me feel creative.

Cut to day three. I had spent the majority of the day on Split’s only sandy beach—I wouldn’t recommend it, so crowded and covered in litter sadly. Because I had been foregoing party nights since arriving I decided to head home for a shower and a pick me up coffee before finding a cool drinking and dancing spot.

When I arrived back at my hostel I met a group of seven people from Germany who had all just finished a week-long sailing extravaganza around the Croatian islands. They expressed to me how tired they were but how stoked they were to spend their last night partying.

So I invited myself out.

The first part of the night was alright. I felt a bit out of place and a bit bad for intruding on their last night together and also felt guilty for not speaking any German, but it was a nice little sandwich and beer by-the-sea supper regardless. When we went for a post-dinner coffee, I was convinced the group were too tired to go for a boogie but I ordered a gin and tonic anyway and reminded myself that dancing alone was equally as fun as dancing with others.

On our way back to the hostel we stumbled upon a man playing and singing popular tunes with his guitar in the square of Diocletian’s Palace (an old structure used in the show Game of Thrones that takes up a large portion of space in the old town). Until about midnight we danced and sang along with the 50 or so others in the square as it rained on and off. There was some salsa, some line dancing, and some straight Elaine Benes-style nonsense going down; I loved every minute of it.

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After capping off the tunes with the likes of Have You Ever Seen the Rain, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life, and Hey Jude, all of us getting down in the square left in the same direction, collectively searching for more music.

As we entered into an echo-y dome located beside the square, one woman started to sing. We slowly turned to look at her and then all of a sudden at least 10 other women chimed in with all manner of harmonies. These tunes included Amazing Grace, Dancing Queen, and All About the Bass. The dancing and debauchery resumed until the women’s choir (apparently from Sloveinia) packed it in and headed off.


We finished the night at a spot called Academia Club Ghetto, where glasses of 85% absinthe were being set alight, a haze of cigarette smoke carpeted the dance floor, and a French DJ was mixing techno beats with live oboe playing. Oh how I danced. The music was so good my mates and I stayed at the bar for a good few hours before my feet started to swell and I had to call it.

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When I left, the DJ was playing a mashup of tribal tunes, Irish folk music, and again techno beats to round it off. Needless to say, I was pretty damned impressed. You know you’re in for a ride when a man with a huge grey beard wearing gothic clothes in his early 70’s tells you he’s the owner and grabs your arms to admire your tattoos. Well that, and the absinthe thing.

The lesson here? Music brings us all together and strangers make the best dance partners. When I travel solo in the future, seeking out live music in town will now be my sure-fire way to meet new faces. Split, thanks for the incredible memories and major nose freckles.

Love, Tori xx

People, Privilege, Pierogis, Poland

Living Abroad

It’s taken me a wee while post-Krakow to process my few days there. It was a whirlwind of quick bursts of self-discovery, great discussions, lesson learning, and mind-altering experiences. So I’ve broken these down into four categories:

People

It was simple and comforting to tell myself that the majority of this trip would be spent alone wandering streets and inwardly contemplating my last two years. It was also foolish. I’ve already met so many new people and I’ve only been gone about a week.

I didn’t realise it was even possible to become best pals with someone in a matter of days (or day, in the case of an American BABE I spent the day touring Krakow with). Travelling has opened me up to the possibility of meeting people who can have a HUGE impact on you in a very small amount of time.

Speaking of huge impacts, did you know Oscar Schindler was responsible for saving the lives of more than 1200 Jews? One person was able to save not only one life, but hundreds when times were toughest. He risked his life because it’s what was right and seemed to do so with little hesitation. His quotes seem matter-of-fact in an “I could do it, so I did it,” sort of way. He’s an inspiration to everyone and shows the epitome of human goodness. In a time of such dark, it’s these stories of light and kindness that should give us the courage to save lives in our world today. Save one life and you save many, as they say.

What has this leg of the trip taught me about people? Lots. It’s reminded me that so many of them are good, it’s reminded me how hard it is to say good bye, and has taught me that timing—good or bad—is more than half the battle in the way we interact with and enjoy the company of others. Also I will never again travel with the notion that lonely is better. Travelling completely solo is great but it’s important to keep an open mind and talk to people you might not otherwise have chatted to (or gone out for many many drinks with).

Privilege

When I’ve heard people talk about experiencing Auschwitz, I had a very different idea of what it would be like to walk where so many innocent people needlessly suffered. I thought it would be one of the hardest things I’ve had to witness. And it was horrible. But because of the mass amounts of tourists circulating both camps and the number taking selfies and smiling photos in front of firing walls, barracks, and archways stained with the memories of murdered innocents, I didn’t feel like I could take what I thought I would from it.

I had to have a good think about it outside of the actual tour and away from many people who I was, to be honest, a bit disgusted by. In the end my reflections have led me to a couple conclusions:

1) Too many people still haven’t seemed to learn the lessons this atrocity should have taught us. Too many groups and individuals still fear differences and boil people down to a shade of skin, choice of dress, choice of beliefs, etc. With so much of the western world beginning to close its borders, how can so many people not understand that we could be headed for similar brutal conflicts in the neat future?

2) As someone who is from a privileged background, I need to be more aware of the way I speak. I’m guilty of saying some of these in the past: “You are where you’re meant to be,” “what goes around comes around,” “enjoy where you’re at because you’ll never be there again,” etc. Who am I, a woman at the top level of privilege in the world, to say these things? Can refugees running from their government and terrorist organisations, starving and trying to save their families be blamed for their own circumstances? Were people born into poverty because they were meant be suffering? Were the victims of Auschwitz supposed to enjoy where they were in their lives? People of privilege need to recognise how lucky we are to live where we do with as much as we do.

As a straight, white, middle-class woman living in Canada I need to acknowledge and listen to what others have to say about their own experience, be accommodating to their opinions, and sympathise with their circumstances. Us privileged individuals need to raise the voices of people who aren’t in the same situations and support our neighbours no matter what they look like or where they come from. I understand it’s not necessarily as simple as just loving each other more, but if that’s the only thing I can do to help for now, then I’m on it.

Pierogis

Nuff said.

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Poland

Krakow, you did a bunch to surprise me. The majority of people are welcoming and kind, the food is incredible, the street art brightens up grey days, and it’s a city that’s easy to navigate and get from A to B on foot. Ultimately, the memories and friends made in Krakow will forever be in the back of my mind and front of my heart.

Alone in the airport

Life Lessons, Living Abroad

Day 1: Edinburgh – Krakow

I’m sitting at Gate 23 in Edinburgh Airport. It smells like French fries and ketchup and around me I can hear the buzzing of foreign languages (Polish for one) and the howling of the bathroom hand dryer. My flight to Krakow has been delayed by an hour. Classic. I’ve not experienced one single trip in the past two years that didn’t contain at least one delay or missed connection.

That’s alright though. Generally speaking it’s these delays that have forced my usual impatient and neurotic self to become a relatively zen and chilled out chick. It’s also often these wee bumps in the travel road that force my hand in some kind of creative or productive way, be that writing, drawing, or reading—I always make the most of my time in airports and bus stations.

This is it, I keep telling myself. I’m considering this adventure one more challenge on the long, never-ending road of Dudys self-discovery. I’ve lived on a different continent than home for two years now and still have yet to do any extensive solo travel. So this is it, my time to nut up or shut up.

Two years ago, three weeks of backpacking would have been a pipe dream, or really a pipe nightmare. The idea of going anywhere outside of my local spots on my own was not just unsettling, but out of the picture entirely. I think I’ve always pretended to be some tough, independent, bad ass bitch on the outside, but on the inside I couldn’t sit for longer than an hour on my own without feeling pathetic, lonely, and incredibly depressed.

I thought when I moved into a one bedroom apartment that I was proving I was independent and could take care of myself. Although looking back now I always had people over: a best friend, a boyfriend, an acquaintance, or anyone else who could keep me from noticing how disgustingly and pathetically lonely I constantly felt. I was in no way happy with what I was doing, where I was, and ultimately who I was. If I hated who I was so bad, how could I ever like being alone with not but me as company?

Not anymore. My two years away have instilled in me a desire to live and a love for myself I’ve never before experienced. I’ve pushed myself to and right fuckin’ past almost all my previously perceived limits and now thinking about it, I’ve only got a thirst for more: more sights, more colours, more culture, more lessons (hard ones and easy ones), and more love.

Sitting here, waiting for Ryanair flight FR6624 to Krakow, I’m reminded why pushing myself past my comfort levels is so important. It keeps me inspired. This is the first time in about three months that I’ve written anything. And my fingers are itching to write more.

Throughout the next three weeks, maybe good shit will happen, maybe bad shit will happen, but hopefully I’ll continue to be this excited to write it all down, share my story, and blog the way only an incredibly lucky and privileged, travelling,  naïve, twenty-something can.

 

A new-found fear of sheep

Living Abroad, Prose, Scotland

The short, sassy, and stupid tale of a city girl taking on a night in the Scottish wilderness

 

Through and through, I was a true city girl. I adored shopping, shoes, the hustle and bustle of a city centre, business folk storming subway stations in suits, and taking Ubers in exchange for 20-minute walks (this remains true today as well). I was a sucker for busy cocktail bars and huge cinemas, hectic streets and expensive eats. That is, until I decided to sell all my belongings and move to Scotland.

Once I arrived in Edinburgh, the peacefulness of the nearby ocean and excellent hiking spots right in the middle of the city forced me out of my usual comfort zones. I started to understand what all the fuss was about when it comes to beautiful natural surroundings. And since the sun is a rarity in this part of the world, one’s desire to spend time outdoors skyrockets, everyone sharing the mindset that if we don’t soak in some vitamin D at every opportunity we’re sure to die of rickets.

One rainy day I found myself in bed watching the film Wild—you know, the one where Reese Witherspoon takes on a three month hiking journey from Mexico to Canada and battles inner demons and coyotes and rapists and such. It’s based on a true story and sure enough started making me wonder whether, with my new-found love of nature and desire to roam, I could fare on my own solo, Scottish spirit-quest.

The next day I ventured out to the Mountain Warehouse closest to my flat and spent far too much money on shit I really didn’t need. After buying two pairs of “hiking socks,” a spork, water purification pills, and a well-stocked and bulky first aid kit, I felt as prepared as I ever would be. I booked a return ticket to an unmanned train station in Loch Lomond National Park and was given a map of the area to navigate myself up the top of Beinn Narnain (a Munro or small mountain) and find a smooth, sheltered, grassy spot to pitch my tent and toast marshmallows.

When I arrived, I managed to make it to the nearest town and find what I deemed to be a woodland path up to the peak of the Munro. Alas, t’was not a path. I ended up wading and fumbling across a very large beaver dam and sliding through mud and what looked like deer shit for about two hours before finally making it to a clearing. My obvious inability to properly read a map led me to believe this clearing would be near the top, when in fact the summit was still about an hour walk away.

 

 

A woman defeated is not a woman tae fuck with, so when a bunch of fellow hikers yelled at me from across a cliff and took the piss for walking slowly, I waved a giant middle finger in their direction and sat my tired ass down on a boulder, ready to call it quits.

But I decided to continue on to the top of Beinn Narnairn, tent, sleeping bag, and other gear on my back, floor mat in hand. It was tough but I was proud of myself for doing it.

On my descent I was searching for the perfect camping space, which I found. A great little flat patch of grass next to a river where someone had already built a fire pit.

As a bonafide city-girl, camping doesn’t come second nature to me. So of course I took the proper precautions and practiced setting up my tent in my living room the night before. It seemed excessive at the time, but I’m glad I brought that bulky kit full of useless shit. You see, somewhere on my hike I managed to drop my bag of tent pegs.

Nae tent pegs? I thought as tears welled in my eyes. I decided I could either turn back before it got dark OR I could suck it up, MacGyver something together, and be the strong, independent woman I’d wanted to be since three days prior while watching Witherspoon win at womanhood.

Nae tent pegs? NAE PROBLEM!

 I pulled out two pens, a Swiss Army knife, rope clips, and of course, my trusty plastic spork, and started fidgeting around with the tent and tarp.

I did it! I thought, completely in awe of my genius. I’ve got this now.

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My set up for the night. Note the obviously crooked tent tarp.

 

After the tent debacle, I lit a campfire, toasted marshmallows, boiled some water for tea, washed a bit of myself in the river, and settled in with some crossword puzzles, snuggled tightly in my sleeping bag.

But at approximately 3:30 am, shit got real.

I woke up to the sound of hooves muddling around and short, loud, breathy, grunts echoing outside my tent.

It’s just sheep. It’s just sheep. They’re harmless, go back to bed and when you wake up you can get the Hell outta here and enjoy the majesty of nature on YouTube, like you shoulda done to start with.

Though it was definitely just sheep—there are no large predators in Scotland—my mind kept creeping back to a certain headstrong ram that, hours earlier, was staring me down as I stood above it on a hill. It looked about ready to charge so I made a speedy U-turn to the next path over.

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Blurry shot of said ram, but you get the picture. It looks like it fuckin’ means business! 

It must be the ram, I thought, Swiss army knife in hand whilst sitting up straight and petrified under my sleeping bag. He’s come back for revenge. I’ll be the first person in history to be murdered and eaten by sheep. What have I done? WHAT HAVE I DONE?! Goodbye cruel, cruel, world. I’ve lived a full life.

 Waiting for the sun to rise with no cell service and sheep brushing against my tent felt like years. When I checked the time and saw it was nearly 5:00 in the morning and that a bit of sun was starting to creep through the tent fabric, I made the daring decision to unzip the tarp flap and loudly flail my way out of the tent in hopes of frightening away those fluffy, white, terrors.

To my surprise, when I emerged frazzled and in a cold sweat, there were absolutely no sheep around. No animals, no people, no birds, no nothing in sight. In my panicky state I managed to spend an hour and a half making up noises and confusing the wind rustling the tarp with sheep trying to break in and kill me.

Even after all my stupid mistakes and unrealistic fears, I made it through. And though I’m proud of myself for doing it alone, I will never look at a sheep and think “wow, what an adorable, beautiful, harmless, little mammal,” ever again. And rams? Rams, you can go f*** yourself! From now on my adventures will go back to consisting entirely of hikes through shopping malls and pushing my physical limits with late nights of dancing and short walks to the fridge.

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Quartz!

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“I like that boulder. That is a NICE boulder.”

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Kate Moss

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Everyone here hates the rain, but really that’s the reason everything is so incredibly green and lush! Like what’s a bit of rain when you get THIS BEAUTIFULNESS right outside your door always? Sheesh!

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The majority of the so-called path through the woods I “found” (slash made) was right beside a beautiful, wee waterfall. Coulda been worse.

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That jaggedy beast in the background is called The Cobbler. I was meant to climb that originally but I went for the smaller one in the end…okay so sue me!

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Another view of The Cobbler.

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Poetry about boots

Amsterdam, Living Abroad, Norway, Poetry, Scotland

Here’s a quick poem about my boots that have been to so many places over the past couple of years. If I’m being honest, the ones I wrote the poem about have now gone to shoe heaven (may they rest in peace) BUT all the things I said they’d seen they really had.

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These Boots

 

No, I’m not referencing

the back trunk of a car.

Instead I mean the soles on my feet,

the ones that have travelled oh so far.

 

They’ve seen the highest mountains.

They’ve seen the brightest cities.

They’ve seen sublime castles,

and things that weren’t so pretty.

 

The scattered sands of beaches

sprawled across the toes

have left wee little stains

like scars left by noble foes.

 

These boots down on my feet

have been left sitting by the sea

waiting patiently for me to surface

in not but my skivvies.

 

From the top of Mount Floyen

to the red lights of Amsterdam

they’ve walked every where I have,

reminders like passport stamps.

 

Their black, worn-out leather

shows new marks from year to year.

Stains from grass and dust and soil

and the salt from several tears.

 

These boots have left footprints

almost everywhere I’ve stepped,

but what’s more are the imprints

on my soul those places left.

 

 

Some significant lessons I’ve learned while living abroad

Living Abroad

We all have different lessons to learn and different ways to approach life to make it easier and more enjoyable. I am in no way trying to say that these are lessons we all need to learn, I can only speak for myself and for my scatter brains that need to see things in writing before fully comprehending them:

  1. Be calm. There are certain things that can’t be changed. Sometimes you might miss a train, or even a flight. Obviously try your best to make sure that doesn’t happen but generally you’ll encounter bumps that can’t be avoided. Before starting this journey, I got anxious and stressed out and would swear and cry and get flustered when things didn’t go as planned. Since moving around though, I’ve noticed I’ve become more patient than I even imagined possible, and I’m pretty happy about that.
  1. Don’t just be patient with the world around you, be patient with yourself. It took me a long time to find my place and people in Edinburgh and instead of accepting that it takes time to settle in, I would get upset with myself for not making more friends, or not travelling as much as I thought I would be. But looking back, those first few months I did do a lot and see a lot of new things. I fell in love with a person for a little while but more importantly slowly but surely I fell in love with Scotland, with travelling, with being uncomfortable, with being alone, and most importantly, with just being me. In the future, I’ve resolved to be kinder to myself and allow myself as much time as I need to solve problems I encounter.
  1. It’s okay to be nostalgic sometimes, but you also need to learn to let things go. A line from the song Welcome, by Hey! Rosetta goes: “Forget where you’ve been, it’ll never be that good again, and we must only look ahead.” I think they mean that the happiness we feel at certain points in our life feels so intensely bright because we’ve not experienced it before so we’ll never be able to double those specific happy feelings. That’s one major thing I’ve come to learn while dealing with depression. Life will never be as good as it was, but it will be great OR even better in the future if you open yourself up to new possibilities. If you always keep moving forward there are an infinite number of opportunities for happiness and light ahead of you, and that’s pretty damn exciting.
  1. Find what makes you happy and practice it often. I love singing. I love it. A lot. Every time I sing I feel incredibly happy. So now I do it every day. I sing to myself when I wake up, I sing at work, I sing while I walk down the street, I sing when I play guitar, I sing when I cook, and I sing on the toilet. I especially love that my friends love to sing with me too. With Dave in the car or in the Meadows with no background music to hide our AMAZING voices, with Max and Izzy in their living room, with Alissa in the kitchen, with Asha wherever we are basically, with Evey before a night out, with Emma to the sweet sounds of Paolo Nutini, and with everyone at karaoke for my 25th birthday last year. These are some of my favourite memories from my time away and I’ll forever cherish them and remember them when I’m low.
  1. Sometimes the only person you’ll have to rely on is yourself. As much as your family and friends will be there for you when you need them, sometimes you’ll be all alone and no one will be available to take your call. It’s these times, when we’re truly alone, that show us how strong we really are. Depression was tough. There were many days I didn’t leave my flat, or even my bed. But the day I decided to get help and fix myself was the day I realized that as a 24-year-old woman, no one was going to grab my hands, pull me out of bed, and physically force me to go to the doctor. I had to want to get better and push myself to do things I didn’t think I was capable of at the time like getting a new job, leaving behind a relationship, going out and making new friends, and making myself enjoy my life since it’s the only one I’ve got. Don’t get me wrong, my parents and friends played a big part in my recovery, but in the end I was the only person who could start moving myself forward.

There’s definitely been way more than this list that I’ve learned while livin’ dat expat life, but I think 800 words of rambling, if anyone has actually made it this far, is probably enough for now. Stay tuned for more things that people probably already know but are consistently eureka moments for me.

A toast to friends

Amsterdam, Life Lessons, Living Abroad, Scotland

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart always will be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

-Miriam Adeney

When I left Ottawa, three amazing friends accompanied me to the airport. After many hugs and kisses, I went through security and got to my gate. I sat down with my bags and when I looked up, I saw my buds waving and jumping trying to get my attention.

At that point, flurries of emotions ran through me like Usain Bolt and waterfalls of tears streamed out of my eyeballs. For the first time it hit me that I was leaving behind a comfort blanket of epic proportions.

After turning 18 I moved to a city five hours from my family. Ottawa became my new home and so many incredible people helped me transform from a delicate, bratty teenager into the woman I was when I left for Edinburgh. They understood who I was and accepted me inside and out, flaws and all. Would I find that in Scotland? Would I ever meet people who understand me the way they do?

For my first five or six months in Edinburgh, I really didn’t make many friends. Looking back, it wasn’t because I didn’t fit in or because I’m socially incapable—although for a while these were the reasons I continued telling myself—it was because I didn’t give myself the opportunity to meet like-minded individuals.

I worked mostly alone and didn’t pursue any hobbies outside of guitar and writing, both of which I like to do alone. By five months in I was the most insecure and lonely I’ve ever been.

A good friend from home came up for a visit and urged me to find different work where I’d immediately get to meet a bunch of people and give myself a real shot at settling in here.

Thank God she did because as soon as I met my new work mates, everything I found difficult about living in Edinburgh became easier. I didn’t feel as lonely anymore and always had invites to interesting events that inspired me creatively. I started writing poetry and music and going on adventures I never imagined would be had.

Now, again, I’m surrounded by people who make me feel at ease and at home. I owe so much to my move to Edinburgh. Inconceivable amounts of self-discovery and healing have occurred since moving here, and the majority of all this happened thanks to the people I’ve met. They’ve taught me more than I’ve taught myself, and helped me grow into a much stronger and tenacious version of me.

My visa expires this September, so I’ll have to make my way back to Canada. I went out with a couple of good friends the other day and realised I have no idea what I’ll do without these people who have become closer to me than I ever imagined possible. Once again I’ll have to walk away from family knowing it will be ages before we reunite.

The bottom line is, with every decision, even the most positive ones, comes sacrifices. If you decide you want your life to be full of movement, self-discovery, cultural experiences, and spiritual and emotional growth beyond your wildest dreams, you’ll have to come to terms with the fact that you can only be in one place at a time. The same way the magic of two or three places can’t exist in one city, none of the people you love most will ever be all in the same spot, and it could be years and years before you get to see them again.

I’m trying to keep in mind that, apart from constant social media interaction, post cards and phone calls, one way to really keep your friends alive in your life is by living the lessons they’ve helped to teach you. I’m a much stronger and understanding person because of the friends I’ve met, and the memories we’ve made will always keep me moving forward and growing.

So I propose a toast from all of us out there who have decided to explore: To the new friends we’ve made around the world, thank you for sticking by our sides, teaching us valuable lessons, and keeping us afloat when we had nothing else but your friendship. We salute you.

To all my friends new and old, in North America, Europe, New Zealand, Australia, and anywhere else your travels have taken you, I will love you forever, and am so grateful to have met you. I can’t wait until we meet again, and create even more memories and stories worthy of sharing with our grandchildren.

 

Perfect imperfections

Life Lessons, Living Abroad, Scotland

Writing and photos by Tori Dudys 

I’m currently watching a BBC documentary series about the Galapagos. It’s not just the creatures I love to learn about, but I also always love hearing the story of Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution by natural selection. Basically he theorized that creatures evolve based on birth anomalies that actually allow a species to prosper. For example, different tortoises on each of the different islands of the archipelago have different shapes of shells to allow for each type of tortoise to thrive in its distinct environment. Some have thick, low, round shells to shovel through grass and bush more easily, while others have peaks on their shells to allow them to reach the tops of cacti for food.

Darwin was 26 years old when he landed in the Galapagos, but made a discovery that changed the face of biology. 26? I’m only a year away from 26 and in comparison I’ve accomplished very little. That’s something I think a lot about and ask myself constantly: what have I done to make this world better? Why haven’t I done more? And then those are usually followed by: I can’t do more. I’m not good enough. No one likes me, etc.

Like most people, I do a lot of doubting. Doubting I’ll ever be something or someone important—whatever that means—doubting I’ll be able to make a meal as delicious as the photos in the recipe book; doubting I’ll find love; doubting I’ll do all the Euro travel I hope to do before my visa expires. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

I’ve been job hunting lately, trying to find a position more permanent that may allow me to stay in Scotland longer. As many of you know, there are few tasks more exhausting and disheartening than job hunting. You send out dozens of CVs and make a plethora of phone calls to basically hear over and over again that you’re not a good fit for a company. It’s quite demoralizing.

David Attenborough just made me feel a whole lot better though. The anomalies that exist due to natural selection can be considered imperfections. The first turtle ever born with a peak in its shell was probably made fun of by the other tortoises and she probably looked in her tortoise mirror and hated herself for her strange peak (I know how that sounds but just go with it). But it’s that imperfection that actually made it survive and thrive and change the face of that breed of tortoise.

If I can take anything away from Darwin’s theories, it’s this: though we all have imperfections, these flaws not only make us special, but make us stronger and more beautiful too. Ultimately the flaws from which self-doubt stems may help us to survive this crazy thing we call life.

There are so many castles in Scotland (the country has seen more than 3000 during its time), and though I’ve only been to a few, I have to say my favourite is Tantallon Castle. It was built on a cliff overlooking the North Sea so views of the castle and from the castle are breathtaking. It is described as “semi-ruined” meaning that though it’s still viewable inside and out, it is very decrepit and broken.

In my eyes, it’s this brokenness, those imperfections, that make Tantallon look more picturesque. Of course after standing since the 1300’s any piece of architecture is bound to have some chips and cracks, but the fact that it’s gone through so much and is still even partially standing makes me confident that no matter how broken I may feel at times, it’s the tough experiences that make me stronger and more tenacious. And our little imperfections? Those are just battle wounds. They are the scars from fending off demons and problems that will remain to remind us how strong we really are and that we can conquer anything, no matter how insurmountable it may seem.

 

Mountains intersecting behind the Glenfinnan Viaduct, or more commonly known as the Hogwarts Express bridge.

Remembering

Life Lessons, Living Abroad, Scotland
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Glenfinnan Viaduct, aka the Hogwarts Express Bridge

Writing by Tori Dudys, photos by Tori Dudys and Dave Kingan

A few days ago, on a long, rainy walk (as they usually are in Edinburgh), I spent a bunch of time hopping into puddles and contemplating memories. I have 25 years full of memories and quite frankly I can’t figure out why. Not why we have memories, but why each memory we have sticks.

From what I’ve learned we don’t get to choose what we remember. For example, right now I’m in the west of Scotland with a dear friend. The scenery is incredible. There are geese, chickens, a rooster, guinea fowls, sheep, cats, and a dog. The house we’re staying in is a beautiful wee cottage with cedar wood floors. When I walk out of the front door I see mountains peeking through cloud cover and more trees than I can even fathom. As Scotland always is, it’s lush green as far as the eye can see.

It smells of dirt, grass, and humidity. It’s one of the most peaceful places I have ever been to. Needless to say, I want to remember every single detail of this trip (besides the overwhelming amount of cocktails we made and drank last night). But how do I? I know I can’t. I know I’ll maintain memories of drinking and laughing with my friend and I’ll remember there were cats and mountains but sooner or later the smell in the air will dissipate from my mind and what the cats look like will leave me as well.

I think back to my first few days in Edinburgh, and although I remember a lot of it, I’ve also forgotten a lot of it. I remember feeling at home and meeting a few new people and starting my first job. But I can’t remember the order things happened in really and everything is a big mess of bits and pieces.

Our memories will never be able to make a full story. Putting memories together from your earliest to most recent can’t make up your life completely. There will always be missing scenes. As much as we can take photographs and write things down to fill in some of the gaps, there will always be gaps.

Travelling has taught me so many lessons. I’ve been writing them all down to remember them. But there are already so many things I’ve forgotten simply because there’s not enough space up in my brain to remember all of them.

My grandmother has dementia and has lost nearly all her memories, even simple ones like the faces of family members. It terrifies me to think that basically the only thing we can be sure of in life—our experiences—can slip away so quickly. And although losing memories and forgetting certain instances is a part of life and we need to accept it, it really does make me sad.

One day it could become true that each memory from this life-changing trip will be gone and I’ll have nothing but my body and the moment. Until then I’m trying my best to live life to the fullest, to create memories for myself, and—most difficult of all—to just be. To just be right now and soak in the scenery while I’m here. To live day to day and write as much down as I possibly can not only to share with my family and friends, but to remind myself of the experience and lessons I need to be reminded of when they start to slip away from me.