Skál and Bless

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Where to begin?

Well, I’ve been home from Iceland for just more than 24 hours and I’ve already figured out where I want to go next reading week and scoped out the cheapest flights, if that tells you anything. I’ve travelled before but this was the first time by myself and the first time in this way. Going on exchange in Switzerland, visiting family in Ireland and spending time at resorts in Cuba, Mexico and the Dominican are very different than staying in a hostel and travelling just for the pureness of it.

It truly was a whirlwind 5 days. Between hours spent on buses, planes and waiting around for the two former, I lost all of Sunday and most of Thursday to travel so in reality, I had just THREE days in Iceland. Call me crazy (and some did) for taking such a quick trip but it was exactly what I needed to wet my feet and get out of this city. Don’t worry Ottawa, I still love ya but the change of scenery and sense of adventure, independence and autonomy was so good for my restless soul.

A long time ago, just after coming home from my exchange I wrote a spoken word poem that I posted here, about the intense desire I felt to see more of the world, as well as about how I expected travel to shape and change me. I look back now on my exchange and I am so incredibly grateful of the afternoons I spent wandering around my adopted city (Geneva) and the road trips my lovely host family took me on; it allowed me to see so much of their mountainous country. It was then that I first learned a new language, that mountains became so dear to my heart and that I made friends because hey, they happened to be sitting next to me! My trip to Iceland brought all of these memories rushing back.

And the fact that I wrote “I want to get lost in unknown cities and find Sam in the process”  makes me laugh because I really did get lost in Reykjavik one day and rather than panic or get upset about having lost a good chunk of my day, I just went with the flow and had a perfectly “Sam” adventure. It ended with me standing knee deep in the North Atlantic Ocean in February, staring up in awe at Mount Esja, up close and personal.

I had also written about wanting to meet “people rushing about, strangers who were really just friends I hadn’t yet met” and that certainly came true on this trip, to an extent even I hadn’t expected. I noticed that there is something about being a solo traveler in particular that draws friends to you. I’m not sure if it’s because you’re less intimidating/more approachable, if they just don’t want you to be alone or what but I was constantly being invited to do things. That was a common theme in the hostel as well as on tours or even just in the streets. Every traveller I met was eager to meet other people, which was SO refreshing. In my everyday life, I find that we are all  so focused on our own busy lives that we rarely look up to see the strangers with whom we could have SUCH GREAT conversations, if only we made the time. As people have been asking me my favourite part of the trip, this actually has been sticking out, above even all the incredible natural wonders that Iceland had to offer and my own adventurous spirit being satisfied. I enjoyed meeting diverse and interesting people everywhere I went.  Some of them, I spoke to for just minutes and others hours. Some I am connected with on social media and others I will never hear from again. Some were “recurring characters” so to say  (those in my hostel room in particular), well others were part of only one scene like the teachers from New York that I met on my first day at 6am. These “characters” are what fill out an adventure. The beauty of a place is important yes, but those conversations had floating in the lagoon or chatting over drinks are what will stick with me the most I think.

That said, Iceland itself was beautiful. With such a short time frame I didn’t see as much of it as some others. And I missed seeing the Aurora Borealis booooooo. Still, that which I did see was breathtaking. On my second day, I took a bus tour out of the city and around the “Golden Circle”: three popular tourist sights that essentially give a good taste of what Iceland has to offer while being a relatively short drive from the capital. We saw a geyser called Strokkur, a waterfall called Gulfoss and visited the national park Pingvellir (a UNESCO world heritage site) where we walked between tectonic plates and saw the site of the first democratic parliament. My particular tour also included a stop at the so-called “Secret” Lagoon which may have been one of my favourite parts of my trip. Just picture hanging out in a giant natural hot tub beside steaming hot mud pits and a boiling geysir that are feeding directly into the pool. So friggin cool. One of the most interesting things about Iceland is the geothermal energy that runs through the country in plenty.

That said, I didn’t feel the intense connection and draw to Iceland the way I have with other places I’ve visited. I know a lot of people adore the country and many travellers return time and again; maybe I just didn’t have enough time to really appreciate it or maybe I spent too much time in the city and not enough out in nature but I don’t feel a desire to return anytime soon. Not to say I didn’t like it, honestly it’s difficult to explain. Just that I’m glad I’ve been but I wouldn’t rush to be back. And this might also sound strange but (sorry Mom and Dad), it kind of felt too safe. Someone I met put it really well: Reykjavik felt almost like a theme park. It was just so peaceful, everyone spoke English, the capital was small and easy to wander. Again, not to say I didn’t love my trip because I did but it was almost like being in this travel bubble where I had huge margins for error and nothing could go wrong. It definitely took away some of the adventurous feel. And I didn’t feel like I got to experience or see a different culture which for me is a huge and important aspect of travel. Definitely, I’ll go back someday if I get the chance and maybe road trip around, see more, but I’d choose to see somewhere new before going to Iceland again. I think I’ve seen enough of Europe for now though actually…I want to be really immersed in cultures very different than my own.

Overall, it was an amazing experience to travel alone, to meet new people and breathe fresh air in a different country. And like I mentioned, I’m already planning my next trip. Although this experience satisfied me for now, it also reinforced the desire to explore and see more. So skál (cheers) and bless (goodbye) to Iceland and to reading week, and another hello to Sam’s continuing, changing and growing grand adventure.

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-Until next time, Sam

I’m going to Iceland!!!

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Source 

I did it. I booked a plane ticket. I got my new passport on Friday and this morning I sat on my couch and bought a flight to Iceland. Next reading week, in February, I am going to visit Iceland for 5 days. Alone, much to my mother’s chagrin. AND I’M SO FREAKING EXCITED. So excited that I didn’t take the time to come up with a creative blog title hahah sorry folks. Think I’m crazy? Here’s why I’m doing it.

  1. There will never be a perfect time to travel. My near-future looks like school and co-op as far as I can see. I needed to make an opportunity for adventure where I had time. In my life, 5 days is all I have and that’s ok.
  2. Flights were cheap. Like super cheap. Like I can’t take any baggage other than my backpack or know which seat I am in until I get there because those are add-ons cheap. The airline I’m flying with is budget, no frills and that works for me.
  3. Because opportunities are everywhere and sometimes you have to pick one and make it happen. I crave adventure and movement. I can say “someday” all I want but I am not a traveller unless I GO. Not every adventure has to be long and extravagant.
  4. I want to see what it’s like to be a solo traveller. I’ve gone to Switzerland with an exchange program, Ireland with my family and Montreal with my friends but I’ve never gone somewhere by myself. I wanted to be able to do whatever I wanted to do, to totally create and execute this adventure on my own. I want to learn how to rely on myself and be comfortable forging out on my own into this world. Iceland is rated the #1 safest country in the world and that makes it a perfect place for my first solo adventure.
  5. I need a break. I study, work and live in the same place and life is constant busyness, moving from one project to the next. Reading week in Ottawa means studying and procrastinating which is fine sometimes. But for me, self care doesn’t mean sitting in my room doing nothing. To feel truly rejuvenated I need to be doing, living, exploring. I’m not saying I can’t necessarily do that here but a trip is something for me to look forward to as a way to truly step away from everyday life and just be something other than a student.
  6. ICELAND, PEOPLE. The land of snow, mountains, glaciers, waterfalls and geysers. Iceland is supposedly beautiful in winter! I want to spend time in every part of God’s creation and see all there is to see in this world, bit by bit. I want to see the Northern Lights and relax in a hot spring. I can’t wait to explore this Scandinavian island.
  7. Because I can. For real, I could probably come up with a million reasons why I shouldn’t go; namely, I am a university student and the typical college budget doesn’t exactly allow for international travel. But I also don’t spend countless dollars on drinking and going out like a typical college student. I get the grades needed to cover almost all my tuition with scholarships and I work in residence to cover most of my living costs. My parents also help me out a lot which I am so grateful for. I’d rather  work hard here so I can go there wherever there might be. Treat yo self 
  8. Life is short. They say that all the time but it’s true. Life doesn’t pause for school or work. Life weaves all aspects of itself into the years, days and hours that God gives me, however long that may be. I don’t want to grow up to be an adult that didn’t follow through on any of my dreams. I’m tired of saying “one day…” and flipping through Pinterest boards about travel. If I want travel, exploration and adventure to be part of my life, then now is the time. THIS IS life and I want to live it fully.
  9. Why not? Excuses don’t trump life experiences.

Now I have to curb my excitement and get back to writing a paper. Just wanted to share my news…eeeek!

– Until next time, Sam

p.s. This reading week was truly lovely too. I went to a conference, my mom and sister visited, I got to catch up with friends and sleep and all that good and wonderful stuff.

Like a Bird

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not be weary, they will walk and not be faint. – Isaiah 40:31

I’m starting to truly realize how transient life as a student can be. Thinking back, in the last two years I have lived in 3 different cities, not including the two months I spent on an island at camp. Right now I live in a residence building with a lease of just 8 months and then I will be back on the island for 3-4 months. 6 months from now I’ll presumably be back in Ottawa but as of now, I haven’t got a clue where I’ll be resting my head. Home (as in Barrie) isn’t home anymore. But neither is Ottawa. And what about when I start co-op terms? I’ll be displaced to different cities for 4 month stints where again and again I will have to make friends and try to carve out space for myself. It’s kind of scary. It’s kind of exciting. It makes me feel sort of floaty and untied. I was never the kid who moved around a lot when I was younger. I went to my elementary school for 10 years and my high school for 4. We changed houses a few times but I always lived in the same 5 kilometre radius. I’m not used to being so unanchored. When I went back to Barrie at Christmas, I drove around and just looked at all the familiarity. The gas stations, parks, schools, intersections and street corners that had made up my childhood world.

I don’t know why this makes me feel so strange. After all, the wanderlust is strong. I love exploring new cities and breathing the air of new places. I thrive off of meeting new people. I think it’s not so much the fear of what’s new but the loss of what’s old that makes me feel uncomfortable. These may seem like one and the same but I don’t think they are. Switzerland was incredible and stretching and a learning experience. But I always knew I was coming home at the end. Now, I don’t even know where home is. I mentioned in one of my posts at the end of last year that I realized how important family is but missing family is not the same as missing home. 

Just out of curiosity, I looked up the definition of the word home. There were several definitions, especially because the word can have so many functions within a sentence. Two of them however really caught my eye.

Home, noun: the place where one lives permanently, particularly as part of a family or household

Home, verb: to move or be aimed toward (a target or destination) with great accuracy 

Ok, so I’ve pretty much accepted that for my time as a student I am not going to have somewhere that I “live permanently”. What about the second definition? To be aimed toward with great accuracy. This reminded me of a homing pigeon, which can find it’s way where it needs to go and yet always knows it’s way back to where it came from 

I am homing. I do not have “a” home, but I am homing. I will navigate these next years, always moving, always aimed towards something new and fresh and yet I will remember my home; I will find my way back from time to time. And one day, one day, I will settle and be permanent. But for now I am in transit like a bird.

What’s the target? I don’t know. I’m trusting God with that one. I do know that if I keep trusting Him, my steps will continue to have great accuracy. I will get to explore and learn and find new corners of my heart for each person and place that I learn to love. And in that way, I will always be “home”.

-Until next time, Sam

Some pictures of places I’ve called home the past two years. Where will be next?

 

 

I will remember

This time last year I was off on the greatest adventure of my life so far. I learned so much while I was in Switzerland. Not only did I become proficient and confident in my second language, but I also grew as a person and saw a part of the world that took my breath away. It gave me a yearning for adventure, a love of airports and a joy of stumbling through conversations as I force my tongue to make new sounds. I know wanderlust is an overused term but this was my view of it. This is my wanderlust. I want to truly experience the world not just see it.  

I stood at the foot of the mountain pictured on the wrapper of a Toblerone chocolate bar.

Also

known

as

the Matterhorn

It’s one of the most well-known sites in Switzerland

An icon,

my camera roll is full of photos

but as I stood in it’s shadow

I come to the realization

pictures

don’t do justice.

And I remember thinking.

God. Please make this stick in my mind. So I can go back and play this day over and over like a home video, the film rolling through my brain, the images tumbling clearly as if I was seeing them for the first time. Please. Tattoo these memories, engrave them on the inside of my skull.

I want to remember

I know now

I don’t want to be a tourist

with nothing but a few photos of a

half remembered family vacation and a sunburn that disappears after a week

I

want a backpack

I want upside down maps

I want language barriers and

I want native speakers with not a word of English on their tongues

I want dirt roads

and I want to make the kind of friends who welcome you into their home

A stranger one day

and a friend

still five years later

I want to get lost in unknown cities

and find Sam in the process.

The world is wide

and it can be scary

and I know I won’t get to see it all

But I want to collect as much of it as I can

like the smooth round pebbles I used to pick up as a kid

I will slip memories into my pocket and feel

their weight as I walk,

remembering brown faces with crooked smiles and eyes

as wise as the mountains,

warm spicy scents that burn my nose

in the best possible way

I will pretend my skin still carries the dust of a country I miss

even though

it’s long since washed away.

And when I have children I will teach them

to carry backpacks

and draw their own maps

and let them get lost in the backyard to find themselves.

When I have grandchildren

I will reach into a pocket

almost forgotten

and pull out a stone.

Worn smooth as sea glass from the rubbing of fingers over the years

I will hold it like the Aboriginal chiefs

hold a totem pole to help remember the details of a legend

I will speak

let the memories rise up

smells and sights from long ago faded coming rushing back like

a river thawing in spring

I will tell them about standing in the shadow of the Matterhorn

I will tell them about a song sung round a campfire in a language I barely understood

I will tell them how I sang anyway

I will explain that I found part of Sam in a village in the south of Thailand

and another piece of her in the sand on the beaches of Peru

I will explain how bits of her were hidden in places I hadn’t expected

like the hallway of my high school

and a box

in the corner of my mother’s basement.

I will tell them I found Sam spread all over the earth

like Isis found Osiris in Egyptian times,

I will tell them to get lost

When they ask to see pictures I don’t have, I will describe

the smile of a girl whose name has long been lost and buried in the filing cabinet of my mind

but who’s smile I will never forget

or  the sound of a crowded street, people rushing about , strangers

who were really just friends I hadn’t yet met

I will describe the smell of an ocean.

I will give them a Toblerone bar

I will tell them to make friends with everyone they meet

The world is wide

I know I won’t see all of it but

I’ll try

I will collect cities and people and languages and love and I will hold them close in my pocket

And I will use them as touchstones

To remember

God. Please. Make this stick in my mind like a home video, I will rewind the tape over and over and pray I don’t wear it out. Help me to decipher the carvings I once made but now can barely recognize. Please

I will discover

and then

I will remember