Photos: Notre-Dame and Sainte-Chappelle, Paris by Jessica Lee


I loved Paris but a lot of being there was about trying to hold on to my money. First of all, accommodation is expensive, not quite like New York, but up there; then there are all the temptations of food, cafes, macarons, shopping, museums and monuments. There are several "must-see"s in Paris which include the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Musee D'Orsay and Versailles. The Arc de Triomphe can be seen from the ground, while the churches are stunning, unless you're an architecture, history or art enthusiast, once you've seen a handful of the best, the next couple of cathedrals can be underwhelming. Notre Dame and Sainte-Chappelle are two of the most impressive cathedrals in Paris, and I took a day to take in the intricate beauty and the detailed art. 



















New York City round two! by Jessica Lee


This story starts way back in May of this year. Or if you want to be even more specific, it starts in the year 2007, when I was in high school and had just discovered one of my favourite musicians of all time, Butch Walker. You may know his name from his production work with some of the biggest pop musicians of today such as Pink, Taylor Swift, Avril Lavigne, Fall Out Boy, etc.

Anyway, he had a few shows with Ryan Adams in New York City and I was thinking of going.

I had never been the type to travel from city to city just to catch my favourite musicians - the furthest I had travelled for music was from Toronto to London, Ontario. But alas, they weren't playing a show in Montreal and so it was between Toronto (my hometown, at Massey Hall, a venue I had been to countless times) or the more exciting option, New York City.

Sometime between late Summer and Fall, I must have have mentioned to my friend Olivier that I wanted to go to New York City for the concert because he booked a hotel for the weekend and suddenly it was set.



New York City was kind to me this time around. I spent the weekend walking around Manhattan, jetting around the city in taxis (the way locals do it), taking in the Christmas spirit and eating a lot of gourmet food. I recently moved in with two serious rock climbers and everyone's always watching what they're eating, so I decided to take a break weekend in New York.


Our first day in New York, we walked around Lower Manhattan, visiting neighbourhoods the neighbourhoods of Little Italy, Chinatown and NoHo.


We stumbled into a New York rollerblading group called I Roll NY and watched a competition for a while.


Then, we found a Christmas Market and all these European Christmas Market memories came flooding back.


Of course, there were key differences between the New York City Christmas market and the European Christmas markets - the main one being the food focus of European markets and the artisan focus of this one.






We ended our first night at the Village Vanguard, enjoying jazz music in a basement and knocking back some brandy. It seemed like the appropriate thing to do in New York.


The next morning, we started our hunt for breakfast and by chance came upon Eataly, a gourmet Italian food market by Madison Square Park.


I first heard about this market by its recent cookbook being featured in all the bookstores in Canada. To all the marketers out there: writing a book with beautiful pictures is an awesome way for self-promotion.







We consumed all the pastries with our eyes, but eventually settled for a sit-down meal of fresh pasta.



I enjoyed my meal of tagliatelle with short rib ragout very much.


Next, we headed to Chelsea Market, which might be my favourite place in New York City.




There's an incredible contemporary artisan vibe at Chelsea Market. The place is made up of exposed brick walls and beams, but finished with crisp glass windows and design-driven typography. It seems like an ideal place to spend a morning with friends, eating your way around the different stalls and restaurants.








After a quick tour around the market, we made our way to the High Line, a pedestrian-only structure above the city that allows visitors to view the city without traffic or bike interruption.


The High Line used to be a means of transport for goods throughout New York, but when the trucking industry gained popularity in 1980, they shut it down and turned it into a walking path instead. While they were redeveloping the neighbourhood, it became trendy and new apartments were built along the way.




There are park benches, picnic tables and a million different places to view the sunset - which is exactly what we did.











As night settled in, we rushed to Hammerstein Ballroom to see the concert which had brought us to New York. If you squint, you can see me in the second row of the floor on the left side of this photo taken from Ryan Adams' twitter.


It was a good concert, but both Butch and Ryan didn't play my favourite songs! I suppose it doesn't matter too much. The concert was a fantastic and fairly legitimate reason to visit New York and I'm glad I finally caved.

Off a post-concert high, we went to Shake Shack and had our first Shack burgers, then disappeared into the night in the city that never sleeps.



New York, New York by Jessica Lee


Ah New York. The place where people go to chase their American dreams.

I landed in New York at the end of my European tour in February. This was my second time visiting, and though I could see why many fall in love with this city, I knew it just wasn't for me.



Maybe New York and I started on a unfavourable terms this time around because it was frigid and I was already thinking of going some place warmer.

Nevertheless, I was drawn back to this big city to see if I felt the same after so many years. I first visited the big city when I was 15 over winter break with my mom. It was mostly a shopping trip. At 15, I was impressed by the big buildings, flashing advertisements and all the bright lights. There were also American and international brands in New York that I saw in magazines which I couldn't buy in Toronto.



When I got back to Toronto with my luggage full of new clothes, friends and classmates would compliment me on my finds. New York was cool simply because it wasn't available in Toronto. Now that I've taken up minimalism, New York isn't as exciting anymore.

Regardless, I still found things to do. Breakfast first of course, at Clinton Street Baking Co.


I had been craving North American-style pancakes since eating nothing but crepes and pastry in Europe and Morocco (I know, what a difficult life), and these blueberry ones were perfect. I added a side of maple bacon and hot maple butter apple cider, and it was exactly what I needed.



Then I had a stroll around Manhattan.


I spent most of my time in New York in museums, but also wandered into some shops. Some of the merchandizing in the stores here is absolutely incredible, comparable to art galleries; and the best part is that it's free to see.


I wandered to Central Park, but it just didn't live up to the hype of what I had been expecting.


Check out this cool, curved building.


And of course, the iconic yellow New York City taxis.


Then, I headed to my first museum of the day, the Guggenheim. I loved the architecture, but the exhibition wasn't really my cup of tea.













Later in the night, I headed over to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa).



In between all of this, I took a few subway rides during rush hour. I have to tell you this story of how I squeezed myself into a packed subway car and my bag was sticking out of the door so the door wouldn't close, but I didn't know it was because of me. And this bloke said "Miss, you're holding all of us up." And I thought this bloke was so rude because of his tone when he told me, but it's probably just what New York is usually like.

I was in Montreal last summer and someone threw away all my unopened food that was labeled in the communal fridge of the hostel I was staying at, and I was pretty ruffled because I didn't get an apology from the front desk staff. Some guy asked if I was from New York because of my attitude.


I've travelled around the world and dealt with some rough situations, but I'm not sure if I would last a month in the harshness of New York City. Growing up in Toronto, people were pleasant and generally nice to me and so I've developed assumptions that people are kind - which is generally true. I imagine the lifestyle to be either like the movie Inside Llewyn Davis, where I'd be shuffling around in the cold in a thin jacket or like the movie Frances Ha, where I'd be constantly worried if I was going to make the astronomically high rent that month. 


I'm visiting New York City again next weekend. This time, I'm hoping to spend time in jazz clubs and visit neighbourhoods such as Greenwich Village, West Village and walk the HighLine. Maybe my opinion of New York City will change. I guess we'll see...




Homelife by Jessica Lee


I recently moved into a flat in Montreal with two guys in their early twenties. We set up a camera one night while prepping for dinner, setting the timer to take a photo every two seconds. The photos tell a simple story, but shows a glimpse of contemporary life of three twenty-somethings, documentary-style. The dynamics and personalities of the house can be universally understood without captions, from troublemaker Çuk, to Julien, whom you barely see in the frame because he's on his feet, busy making dinner.






















Washington D.C. Part 2: scenes from the city by Jessica Lee


We started day two in Washington with... you guessed it! Brunch.


Here we are at Founding Farmers, enjoying maple smoked bacon with a side of eggs benny.


We look ecstatic about our food because after waiting for almost two hours, we finally got to eat. Apparently, there's always a line-up at Founding Farmers.


Afterward our brunch which ended at around 2 pm, we walked through the National Mall and the Air and Space Museum.


It's always exciting walking through new places because you get to see everything with a fresh eye. We hit the Air and Space Museum, Newseum, and National Portrait Gallery. There are also two photos of Starbucks in unusually beautiful buildings, which is a contrast to the Starbucks I'm used to seeing at home. Anyway, enjoy the photos.


























My best ride share experience and visiting a kennel in Quebec City by Jessica Lee


Last night was one of the luckiest nights of my life. 

My day started in a rush, as I had to quickly get myself ready for a day trip from Montreal to Quebec City. My friend Carole had this idea of living this winter in Northern Quebec, working as a husky sledding guide and I became intrigued. I went along for the job interview to satiate my curiosity.


After a lunch of poutine, the owner, Pascal, picked us up from Laurier Mall. We got into his pick-up truck which had an awful, muggy stench of dogs. Our noses soon acclimatized and I tried to follow the conversation while Carole and Pascal chatted in French.

We drove for about 15 minutes, then arrived at the kennel. We were greeted by the loud barking of 250+  dogs who were also jumping up and down, excited at seeing us. They were tied up to their posts row by row on a wide stretch of land.

After a brief tour, we were led into the staff's quarters where I experienced my first job interview almost entirely in French. While I had some trouble understanding some parts of the interview, I had no trouble understanding how hard we would be working if we decided to do the job.


Basically, you wake up each morning, chop up several pig or chicken carcasses with an axe to feed to the dogs, then you prepare the sleds by attaching the dogs to their places. It's a lot of physical work. You also do this job in subzero temperatures, in a smelly area, at minimal pay. But it's a cool experience, and would be perfect for dog lovers. 


I decided that it was more of Carole's dream and not quite mine, but I am glad I went to scope it out. I wasn't feeling very Chris McCandless that day.




After the kennel, we were driven back to Quebec City by one of the employees. It was almost 5 pm at that point. Carole had arranged a rideshare that left Quebec City at 7 pm, while I arranged mine for 11 pm because I wanted to spend some more time in Quebec City.

We had been driven to the proposed rideshare point, which is on Laurier Boulevard, but if you know Quebec City, you will know that Laurier Boulevard is just a strip of commercialized malls. There really isn't anything "cultural" or Quebec City-specific. The picturesque attractions of Quebec City are about a 18 minute car ride away, or an hour and a half walk away.


Here is where I made the best decision I made that day. Originally, since I was already in the rideshare meeting place (Laurier), I was going to spend the rest of my 6 hours in Quebec City on Laurier Boulevard, at a La Presse cafe, reading. It was cold and I wasn't going to be bothered walking an hour and a half and then back to the Old City (where the tourist attractions and beautiful buildings were). I had already been there this past summer with friends, and many times before. I had convinced myself I would be perfectly happy being in a coffee shop.


But then a bus drove right to where I was standing, and I just got on with everyone else. $2.60 later, and I was in the Old City, wandering around the old buildings and cute streets.






I found a cute diner and had my dinner in a booth, looking out into the street and remembering how just a few months earlier, I was here with friends and we were doing completely different things.


I was completely content at that point, walking to the Chateau Frontenac on quiet streets, street lamps glowing, gazing out to the water where a passenger ship was taking a party down the river. 

Then I got a text from my rideshare and the night got even better. 



Like most people from Quebec, my rideshare, Alex, was French, so he texted me in French. I thought I understood what he was saying, but actually it was an even better surprise.




Alex wrote that he was "en concert" at "petit champlain", so that he might be late to our agreed meeting location, which was Laurier Boulevard. I thought he was attending a rock concert with his friends, so I said "Ok, no problem." 


Earlier that day, my first rideshare told me his favourite part of Quebec City was Le Petit Champlain, so I was hoping to visit Le Petit Champain anyway. I asked Alex if I could meet him in Le Petit Champlain instead of heading back to Laurier since we were both here. He said yes, and that it would be even better if I could meet him at the concert place. I said why not and started walking. 










Here I was expecting some sort of crappy rock concert in a half-filled bar where the musicians aren't that great (I've experienced plenty of those in my music journalist days). But half way there, he texted me again and told me to tell the people at the door that I was with "le saxophonist" and to mention his name.


Using a rideshare is a mixed bag. You don't know who you're going to get! I didn't know my rideshare was playing at the concert or that he was a musician! I did a giddy jump right there on the steps down to Le Petit Champlain and almost lost my camera. Then, imagine my surprise when I walked to the address he gave me and it was the Le Theatre Petit Champlain! I had stumbled right into the International Quebec Jazz Festival and I was right on time.


I walked into the venue sat down at a table in a full theatre of 200. The lights dimmed and I listened to the singer deliver Billie Holiday tunes right on pitch to a five-piece band. Then Alex came on and stunned the audience with his saxophone solos. I think I fell in love right there- this amazing, handsome musician who was going to drive me home to Montreal later that night, and who was the reason why I was enjoying a free concert and free glass of white wine at the moment. I let the happy feeling linger and disappeared into the music. At the end, I stood up for a standing ovation and the band came on again.


Here is a photo to prove that this night really happened:


But of course, before this story sounds too much like a romance comedy, you have to know that offstage, even the coolest jazz musicians are sometimes boring just like everybody else. We ran out of things to talk about and the attraction died off after the first half hour we spent driving back to Montreal. Oh well. It was still an excellent night.

Here is a photo of the dinosaurs at Madrid 2.0 at around 1 am:

Wandering around Washington D.C. by Jessica Lee


Sometime between March and July, my friend Anik got me addicted to the T.V. show House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey and based in Washington D.C. It got to the point where we were dying to visit.

We aren't even sure how this road trip got planned out, it just happened. One weekend, we just decided to drive out to the Capital City.


I'm so glad we did. I love the joy and excitement of being in a new place.


Washington's streets and vibe is similar to the rest of North America, so you feel comfortable and at ease in getting around but it's just different enough so you feel you're experiencing something completely new. I will never forget the initial joy of first stepping out of the subway and seeing the city. I literally did a leap.


Some of the architecture in the city was recognizable from the show such as the distinctive railings below on the street or the metro station, where Frank and Zoe meet.


We were really keen to see many of the museums and monuments, but first, brunch at Kramerbooks, where I had my first ever lobster omelette. Apparently, seafood, especially crab cakes, are popular in Maryland. It was delicious, in case anyone was wondering.


One curious thing about D.C. are the long traffic light times. This short street merited a minute of crossing for some reason. I wonder how they decide these things.


The first museum we headed to was the National Geographic Museum. I'm kind of obsessed with the magazine, but I managed to contain my excitement so as not to scare off other guests.


I loved how the exhibition captured the exploration spirit of the magazine. It made you want to go out into the world and live in a different part of the world for a little while- a part of the world that wouldn't have Western comforts. It celebrated difficult achievements of past and current explorers like diving into the ocean or climbing high mountains.


I also loved being around the other museum guests even though we didn't talk because I knew that just because they were there, they shared the same passion for learning and discovery. The National Geographic museum isn't as popular as the big Smithsonian museums (though it is still quite famous) so there were less tourists and more true fans and purists.

We wandered around the historic buildings afterwards and ended up at the Monument and White House.


What's really cool but understated about the White House is there is a really tall tree at the front that looks a little out of place, but when you look closely (see photo below), you notice it's actually surveillance for the premises.




We had a fairly full day, but it still wasn't finished. We ended up at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum where we looked at genomes, dinosaurs, various taxidermy animals, insects, gems and minerals.


One of my favourite things about Washington is the abundance and quality of museums. They are so well-done and curated that I wouldn't mind moving there just to visit all of the museums in depth. Museums in Washington are like art galleries and old churches in Paris; plentiful and well worth the visit.




After we were done, it was dinnertime so we headed to Chinatown for food and of course, ice cream. Then we went home and got ready for day two of museums...

Photos: Quebec City part 2 and Montmorency Falls by Jessica Lee


I will let you in on a little secret. This isn't my first time visiting Quebec City. It's actually my third time.

The first time I was here was on a school field trip in grade 8- 10 years ago. I remember little bits and pieces; but mostly, I enjoy looking back in fondness, walking the same spots I walked 10 years ago and seeing how much I've grown and changed.


My priorities as a 13-year-old and now as a 23-year-old are dramatically different. I didn't get to see most of Quebec City last time because I spent a disproportionate amount of my free time shopping in the stores. 

I still love looking at cool stuff, but these days, I've committed to minimalism (having as little stuff as possible to enjoy my day), and since I've been to so many touristy places, I don't get sucked into the traps anymore.



These days, I like to experience the vibe of a destination, enjoy the food and admire the architecture. Maybe meet a local while I'm at it. I'm all about slow travel. Sometimes, I will sit down at a beautiful view for hours, or spend my day at a cafe reading a book.


We went as slowly as we could through Quebec City, given that we didn't have a lot of time. We wandered the city, headed to the Plains of Abraham, La Citadelle, and the most photographed hotel in the world, Chateau Frontenac. We stopped for ice cream and a beavertail, which is a Canadian fried dough pastry that is absolutely delicious and one of my guilty pleasures. Later, we drove to Montmorency Falls and topped off our trip with a little shopping at Simons, a Quebec department store.




This is me trying to recreate an old photo from the top of the Plains of Abraham where Britain and France fought years ago and ended up creating Canada. Not that they had cameras in 1759, nor that many buildings in the background, or even concrete. But it's really cool to know that you're standing at a place with so much important history.


The view from the top of the hill is also easy on the eyes in an understated way.


Back in the Old City, I tried to capture scenes of the city. This is what Quebec City looks like on a summer's day in 2014. Leisurely, relaxed, but full of bustling tourist energy.



















Chemin du Roy/Quebec City Part 1 by Jessica Lee


I took a little road trip from Montreal to Quebec City with Mike and Anik, two friends I met last summer in Saskatoon. Together, our stories are weaved throughout Canada. Mike is originally from Winnipeg, but now both of them live in Toronto. They drove down for a weekend to come visit me in Montreal and to tour the province. All of us would not have met if not for the fates that brought us all to Saskatoon. Mike was finishing his Masters degree at University of Saskatoon, and Anik and I were part of a Canadian Heritage program (aka government-funded French exchange), which happened to give both of us our last choice in destination. Luckily, we both still decided to do the program.

Lately, I've been thinking about how small the world seems when you know a bunch of people from different places. I found out recently that a friend from Europe whom I met in Toronto met this girl in Asia whom I was about to meet in another city in Canada. It's not like I know a large portion of the world's population- it's just likely coincidences (we're all travellers, we're all social and we're all in the same age demographic; we were bound to bump into each other on the road at some point). Anyway, I digress, back to the trip.

We drove to Quebec City from Montreal on Chemin du Roy, which is a beautiful winding country road that leads to beaches like this:


And views like this:


We arrived in Quebec City after a few hours, just before the sun set.


It gave the boys time to wander around the old Quebec City before dinner, while I enjoyed a gypsy jazz busker band we stumbled upon.


I've always loved jazz music. Every summer in Toronto, I would go to the jazz festivals, some summers, I attended every night. When I first moved to Montreal, the jazz festival was taking place and I went as often as I could. But of course, the jazz festival stopped after two weeks, so I love random treats like this!


Here is a snapshot of what the touristy part of Quebec City looks like:

The architecture and small streets are gorgeous aren't they?


It definitely takes me back to Paris or even Bruges. One day I would like to live in a city like this with a balcony overlooking one of the busy streets, but instead of clothing stores, it would be a residential neighbourhood. On the street I would live on, there would be a cheese shop, a small grocery store, cafe and also a bakery. Further along the road, there would be a cinema and some restaurants. I would own a bike with a basket, and not much else. I'm going to stop here. I'm starting to realize this city I'm describing sounds a lot like Lund, Sweden.

We had dinner at Le Lapin Sauté because rabbit is a French delicacy and you just can't eat hamburgers and salad everywhere you go. To really experience a place, you have to experience their food too, even if it sometimes makes you queasy. I ordered the rabbit with rosemary and honey sauce, which actually tasted like chicken, but at least now I know. The only other time I've had rabbit was in Indonesia two years ago, where it was grilled with satay sauce.


After dinner, it started to rain heavily, which sounds terrible, but actually, it's perfect for photography because when people leave and duck to find shelter, you end up with empty streets without anyone jumping into your shots. I stuck around and grabbed a few photos, then we turned in for the night.

10 things you notice when you start working at a hostel by Jessica Lee



I started working and living at a hostel in Montreal last month as a hostess. It's a perfect place to meet lots of interesting people and enjoy life before diving into a career. In between cooking pancakes and partying with guests, here are a few things I picked up about the lifestyle in general:

10. There is always free stuff everywhere
Take for example my growing shampoo and body wash collection (now 5 bottles more than what I came with- I will never run out of shampoo here in Montreal!). Backpackers and travellers are constantly leaving things behind because they don't have room in their luggage, which is perfectly fine with me because now I don't have to buy shampoo (more money for poutine!).

9. It's not the most healthy lifestyle in the world
When you live at a hostel, part of the job is to party with the guests, which means going out many nights until late hours and drinking much more than you're used to at home. And because you're partying all the time, you don't get a lot of time to cook for yourself, so you end up eating whatever fast food you're able to grab along the way. On top of this, you're usually the first one to get up because you have to make the coffee/breakfast for the guests, which means you don't get a lot of sleep.

8. Quiet time is golden and you will come to crave it
It can get tiring being "on" all the time and because the hostel is your home, you can never have a quiet night "in" because there will usually be something you have to take care of, or because people will want to chat or party. There are times when I just want to sit down in the living room with a book without someone trying to strike up a conversation. That being said, hostels are great for bringing new people into your life because every day, a fresh batch of folks come in.

7. There is a wide variety of people out there 
I have never met a wider range of people than when I have been in hostels. Sure, usually the group is young and curious about the world, but you get to meet people from everywhere who have grown up with different world views and cultures. You get to hear about different perspectives and sometimes, a conversation with a stranger will change your life.

6. The best times to use wifi is 2 am, in the middle of the day when there is no one around, or at 5 am
As a digital professional, I use the Internet all the time to upload photos, check social media, talk to people or publish writing. After sharing wifi with so many people during peak hours, you really get to appreciate wifi at home when you're the only one using it.

5. Food goes missing all the time
There's no use getting upset. People are hungry and sometimes just pull things out of the fridge to eat. Just hide your food better next time.

4. People can be really gross
Honestly, where do all these odours come from?

3. The walls have eyes and ears (and at our hostel, cameras)
Lots of things happen around a hostel and sometimes you get to hear about them. When I first started, it was difficult getting used to the concept that I was never alone. It works the other way around too- when you live with a group of 50+ people in the same small quarters, you get to know much more than you want to about someone and news travels fast. It's difficult to maintain an air of mystery. Sometimes people purposely want you to know who they went home with because they make multiple hints (good for them), but I've come to appreciate discretion and subtlety.

2. You start to learn people really well
If you're a social scientist, people person, writer, or like to people watch, you will love being here. When you are surrounded by people all the time, you really get to start to know them. You get better at predicting what people will do and understanding motivations behind their behaviour. For example, when there are a pile of dirty dishes at the sink and a group of us, I can almost guess with perfect accuracy at who will do them first. 

1. People hook up A LOT
Hostels are pretty much the perfect place to be if you're looking for a series of short hook-ups or one-night-stands because people are always coming and leaving, and it's easy to meet people. If you're travelling alone and just want some company, you're also more likely to be open to advances. Basically, hostels are like a buffet for people looking to pick-up.

I know with some of these points, I sound bitter, but I've come to realize how fun and relaxed my job is compared to other hospitality jobs, or even corporate gigs. I appreciate the community of the hostel and the good people I work with. I know this moment in my life won't go on forever, so I'm going to enjoy all the people and fun times while they last. Would I recommend working at a hostel? This is my account of it and I think you should experience it for yourself if you're really curious. ;)

Travel and meeting people: An experimentation of lifestyle by Jessica Lee


One of the most significant lessons I've learned from travel and meeting new folks around the world is that you can live your life in a variety of ways outside of the typical 9-5 and still be alright.

In my travels, I have met army men, cowboys, desert dwellers, middle-aged professional nomads who just never settled down, people who quit their "adult jobs", successful entrepreneurs, adventure-seekers and of course, lots of free spirits.

Back in Toronto, when I had a 9-5, it was always in and out of the office seeing the same faces over and over. Add to the fact that companies are a self-selected environment, in that everyone has to fit a certain mould to get the job in the first place and you're left with fairly similar white-collar professionals.

One of the biggest mistakes North American culture ingrains their children is that right after high school, you need to pick a professional vocation, go to university to study for it, then get a job, find a husband/wife, settle down, buy a house, have 1.6 kids, work until you are 65, then retire in Florida. In preparation for this life plan, I realize I spent many of my high school years building my resume to appeal to other people rather than spend more time on activities that appeal to me. Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of fun during my teen years and I learned a lot from the various extracurriculars and jobs I took up, but sometimes I wish I was less busy.

My parents were immigrants from China/Hong Kong who came to Canada with little money, so I suppose all they wanted for me is a secure future; which is why I was encouraged to go down the typical university after high school route.

I don't want to get all philosophical on you, but for the sake of this post, let's assume that the purpose of life is to be happy (very generic) or if you want to lean towards the philanthropic side, its to make a difference in this world a la Mother Teresa. Happiness could mean different things to different people, some people want stuff. Others just want to enjoy their families and friends. The list could go on and on. Similarly, "making a difference" is also very broad. You could dedicate your life to saving the environment, or fighting for social issues. Or even just leaving each person you meet a little better off.

In North America, in terms of lifestyle, we tend to place high value on career and career development. Conventionally when you get older and as your career progresses, you want to accept larger responsibilities at work and also a salary raise. If you start out as a mailroom clerk, you want to work your way up to CEO.

In the last couple of years however, I've met people who have a completely different perspective on life, people who have ditched the career focus and concentrated on just their passions, viewing work as a side hobby. It is fantastic to get a perspective from people who have made vastly different life choices from typical North Americans. The conversations I have with them give me ideas and blueprints for how I can maximize my youth and time while living a meaningful life.

I met a 39 year old Brit who works as a landscaper for about half the year and spends the rest of the year travelling on a backpacker's budget. I met an older gentleman who said he quit his "adult office job" and was now working as a porter at a hotel in Hawaii so he could dedicate his life to surfing. I met a single older woman in her 40s who had spent her life teaching English around the world and was living in Turkey at the moment.

The above people make a modest living and they just have themselves to support, but their unconventional lifestyles seems suited for them. I'm not sure I could do what they do as I know I need a bit of structure in my life and eventually, I would want to settle down. I think the challenge for me is to fit in all the adventure and travel into my life before eventually having to pick a city/town, then to figure out where I want to settle down and what my future life looks like.

I always pictured myself waking up at a beach house and surfing at 6 am before getting started with my work day (editing photos) - which would happen at a coffee shop or on the beach. At around noon, I would drive to a crag and work on a project climb. Evenings would be spent having friends over for dinner, watching a movie or planning my next trip. On weekends, I would take my sailboat out. Right now, my ideal life sounds like it would be based in Spain. Or Thailand. Maybe even Hawaii or Australia.

I'm not quite certain where I will be living in the next few years or what I will be doing, but here are a few things I know about myself at the moment:

1. I don't want to spend my life in a corporate office (or if I do, it has to be meaningful and creative work)
2. I want to continue meeting interesting people
3. I need to have an interesting job with flexible hours that can support my steadily increasing standards of living
4. I need to have adventure in my life, whether that means living in a new place every few years, weekend outdoor excursions or starting an exciting new project.

Montreal update #1 by Jessica Lee


It's mid-morning and I am sitting in a bustling cafe on rue Amherst in Montreal. I'm staring out into the street sipping my cappuccino. It has just started raining and I feel lucky to have just missed the downpour.

It's almost been a week since moving to Montreal and I have to say I am enjoying it a lot.

The French seem much friendlier than Torontonians but then again, maybe they are just smiling back at me.

Though I miss Toronto and my friends back home, I am quickly settling in to my new job and life.

I started work at a hostel as a host and it's been quite the learning opportunity. I mean, I've lived in hostels all over the world, but when you work at one, you get to see the same faces over and over and you sort of get used to them in your life. I hate saying goodbyes so I've been trying not to get to close to this ever-revolving cast of characters. My coworkers, however, I know I will regret them leaving at the end of summer when they all leave to warmer weather out west.


There is a lot to blog about in Montreal. Like new places I've discovered, life at the hostel, the people I've met and how inspired I've felt after meeting them. That will all come in time.

For now, I leave you with a neighbourhood walk around the Quartier de Spectacles area. Enjoy the photos and I will talk to you again soon!














Camping and climbing in Val David, Quebec by Jessica Lee


I have a feeling this summer's going to rock. On the Canada day weekend, the six of us, packed into a van and drove up to Val David, Quebec, an hour's drive away from Montreal. We kicked off the start of my new life in Montreal with an epic camping and climbing trip.


The camping wasn't too extreme, but it allowed us to fiddle with our tents and fire strikers.



We eventually used a lighter to get the fire started (but you're not supposed to know about that!).

After a night of roasting wieners and marshmallows, we woke up the next day and proceeded to climb.



We headed for a hike afterwards. Here is a photo of the boys looking lost.


And here is the breath-taking view of the top of Val David. We must have sat there for hours.



Afterwards, we grabbed some iced snacks. You will never guess what the dessert below is made out of. Okay, I will tell you, below we have tofu ice cream infused with blueberries and raspberries.


It tasted alright.

We did it all again the next day, then drove off to Montreal for some breakfast. In between all that, we found time to gaze up at the stars until early morning, swim in a gorgeous blue lake and watch dogs shake off water from their fur from a beach.


I would do it all again in a second.




Moving to Montreal: Here is my minimalist packing list by Jessica Lee


One of the things I discovered while I was backpacking is that I can definitely live with less items than I realize. I have so much stuff in Toronto, but actually, I think I only use about 5 percent of all I own once a week. This is because I have a lot of books and movies and CDs that don't get a lot of use. So in true minimalist fashion, I'm moving to Montreal and I'm only bringing these few items with me.

I think I'm under 100 items, which is pretty exciting because for the first time, I'm a true minimalist.



The idea behind having less stuff is so I can spend more time and money on things that matter to me. For example, because I have so little luggage, I can carry all my things with me walking everywhere instead of spending money on a cab to move things if I need to move. Also, it takes less time to pack and to keep track of.

Anyway, here is my list:
1. Shorts x2
2. Long sleeved shirt
3. Tank top
4. Lounge shorts
5. t-shirt for sleeping in x2
6. Dresses x 5
7. Swim suit
8. Hoodie
9. Lounge pants
10. Microfiber towel
11. Sweater that goes with my entire wardrobe (see how functional it is?)


12. $10 sneakers purchased in Australia (these will be discarded when they get old and grungy, making room in my luggage, but absolutely necessary because I need close-toed shoes for swing dancing and also for hiking to climbing sites)
13. Red flats (matches with my entire wardrobe and professional enough for office life)
14. Birkenstocks (comfy and somewhat more polished-looking than flip flops for days when I want my toes to feel the wind)
15. Flip-flops that I will throw away when they get old but essential for gross showers, swimming and camping

Make-up:
I kept make-up simple but only brought things I would use on a daily basis. I don't usually travel with a lot of make-up but since I'm staying in Montreal for a while, I do want to have fun sparkly things to put on my face when I go out and I don't want to buy new things when I have make-up already.


Toiletries:
I brought big-sized toiletries since I won't be moving around a lot. What's important though is that everything fits inside a hanging toiletries bag for easy mobility.



Climbing gear: I'm going to be spending a lot of time climbing in Montreal and surrounding areas like Val David, but I'm only going to be bringing one climbing outfit because laundry machines exist and because I want to be as light as possible.


For entertainment and other gear, I have one book, a leather-bound journal, a lap top and charger, cell phone and charger and DSLR and charger. And of course, my wallet and passport.

Everything fits inside these three bags. The knapsack will be handy if I decide to get a bike in Montreal and the black purse will be my day bag. I'm also bringing a sleeping bag because I will be camping for a few days.

I've never had this little stuff before while transitioning to a new city, but I will let you know how it goes. Part of me feels like I don't have enough, but I also hate carrying around too many things.

Also, I know there's lots of cute boutique/vintage shops around Montreal so I'm probably going to shop a little, especially to replace my favourite rainbreaker from Simons which got stolen in Copenhagen that I bought in Montreal last year.

New adventures in Montreal by Jessica Lee


My bags are packed, I'm heading on a camping trip to Val David, Quebec, tomorrow, and then staying in Montreal indefinitely.

I'm hoping to improve my French, take in the Jazz Fest, and get involved in the communities in Montreal, in particular, the swing dancing scene, coffee shops and the rock climbing scene. I'm sad to say goodbye to my friends in Toronto and all the new people I've met these past few months. It feels like every time I get settled into a city and really get to know some people, I am moving again. But I mean, it's self-imposed, so I can't really complain too much. I have itchy, traveller's feet. I need to change my environment every once in a while. One day, I will pick a nice city, marry a charming man, buy a house and settle down, but right now is not the time.

I need to keep moving.

Right now, it feels exactly like how it felt when I graduated high school, like the possibilities are endless. It's a peaceful, liberating feeling. I am not quite sure how my summer will turn out, but I will keep you posted.

See you all on the other side!

Oh, and if you're curious about the photo, I took it a few years ago in Indonesia. You can read about it here.

A Parisian Cafe, Montmartre and Sacre Coeur by Jessica Lee


Today, I'm bringing you to the Jewish Quarter of Paris, le Marais.

One of the things I love most about Paris is the sophistication of the food and the cafes. I spent the day with fellow traveller Carmen from Australia, sipping hot chocolates and tasting a cheesecake souffle at a cafe that didn't allow computers. It had an old-time charm feel, sort of like that movie A Midnight in Paris. There were several blatant signs around the cafe that said "p'as d'ordinateur portable", and of course there wasn't any wifi.




Sometimes, I feel like I could stay in Paris forever because of the cute little shops and well-taken-care-of buildings, but with that comes a certain feeling of coldness in not quite fitting in with the locals because of a) the language barrier and b) the Parisian snob stereotype is sometimes true.


Despite that, I think anyone can appreciate the many years of history and the culture developed in this old city.









We wandered around the area for a bit, then hopped on our bikes and went north to Montmartre and the Sacre Coeur. They filmed Angels and Demons and also Amelie in this area, so it was strange feeling to be in places where I thought I had been before but hadn't really.

















IFSC World Cup Bouldering in Hamilton by Jessica Lee


I had the opportunity to shoot photos this weekend for the World Bouldering Cup in Hamilton. Best part of the weekend? Definitely being part of the excitement. The crowd was WILD! Other than that, it was cool to watch so many top-level athletes working on the problems. There were so many different ways to climb a route, this was especially evident in men's problem #3 where Guillaume held the last hold facing the crowd, whereas everyone else faced the wall. Jan Hojer used his upper body strength to pull up from the problem, while others used their legs and hung upside down.

Anyway, without further ado, here are a few photos:






















































Paris in black and white edition: 2 by Jessica Lee


 I came back from Europe a few months ago, and I have all these pictures of Paris which I don't know what to do with, so I figured I might as well share them with the community.

I spent two weeks in Paris practicing my French, getting ignored by the French, then eventually taking a bus to Brussels.

Actually, the story is a little longer than that. Let me explain.


Paris is magical to me because it gets romanticized in basically every movie we see about this city. Examples: Midnight in Paris, Amelie, Moulin Rouge... Even if the plot isn't very romantic like The Da Vinci Code, the background scenes of Paris are gorgeous. To finally be in a place which is hyped universally by almost everyone in my network/media/influences was wonderful.

When I first arrived and saw the architecture, I was floored and fell in love with the city.

Then, after seeing my wide-open bag, a hostel staff warned me about pick pockets, and my fondness towards Paris died down a little but I was still enamoured with the city.


I love the smaller streets, the smell of fresh pastry wafting through the air, being able to find a specialty cheese shop on almost every corner and of course, all the rich history that seems to swallow you into its world. You simply can't be in a place like Paris and not imagine all the generations that have lived on these same streets.


But of course, a walk through Paris though beautiful, is sometimes lonely when you're only one. Parisians have a reputation of being snobs, which I found out unfortunately is mostly true.

There was an incident when I was trying to ask questions in French at a post office, and when my French vocabulary wasn't strong enough to get my question across, the clerk, who was in her late twenties, just ignored me and went back to reading her book. It wasn't until I was rescued by another customer who spoke both English and French that I got the answer I needed.

If you want to learn about customer service, don't go to Paris.


Anyway, I digress. Please don't let me stop you from going to Paris because of that one incident, in fact, I recommend going just to see what it's all about. I actually met a very funny and nice Parisian man in my third go-around to Paris, so no not everyone is a snob.

One of the reasons I love Paris so much is because it has so much art and culture, not to mention history. Like a difficult novel, you may not like it, but it's good for you, just so you know what it's like, so you can be informed and have an legitimate opinion on it.


You may have noticed I haven't mentioned shopping yet.

Well, I'm getting there. Keep in mind, these photos are only representative of the first few days I spent in Paris.


I mostly gravitated towards food on the first couple of days, which by the way, Parisian grocery stores have the best selection of brie. It's less than two euros for a whole block of cheese! In Canadian dollars, that's around $3. In Canada, good cheese starts from around $6, so you can imagine my excitement when I discovered cheap good cheese in the grocery stores.

Dining out was slightly more expensive than back home, but I still went out a couple of times just to see what it was like. Disclaimer: I also gained a couple of pounds specifically from Paris, I think. I am blaming the croissants, but they are the most delicious thing in the world when they are still hot from the oven so I have no regrets.


I will be posting more photos from Paris as I edit them in the next few weeks. Hope you enjoy them!








Cabin Weekend at Metcalfe Rock: Climbing in snow and other harsh realities by Jessica Lee


We drove up to Metcalfe Rock, in Northern Ontario this weekend for an early April climbing trip but of course, we underestimated Canadian weather.

While most of the snow in Toronto had melted already and weather was in the positives, it was a different story up North.

Along the way, I found out that the "cottage weekend" I had in mind was not what was available.

I had packed shampoo and body wash thinking that our cottage would have plumbing- which is a reasonable thing to assume, given we live in the 21st century.

But as we drove towards our destination, my friend Hunter casually mentioned to the car, "by the way, there is no water or electricity at the cabin".

WHAT?!

I took a deep breath and told myself I would get through it.

After two hours of driving through thick fog and an unlit road, we somehow managed to make our way to the cottage without proper GPS coordinates and no address. We came into a muddy road, then proceeded to hike up a steep trail in the snow towards the unknown. There were no surrounding lights so there was no way to gauge how far away the actual cottage was or if we were even heading in the right direction.

Thankfully, we arrived after 10 minutes of hiking.

The cabin smelled musty and we had to turn on the gas to light up the lamps- so very old school and "rustic".

Here are some photos I took of the cabin after we started a fire and lit the lamps:


It's a beautiful design when you can see where everything is.



We put some chicken in the oven and ate salad while we started a heated game of Cards Against Humanity.


We played until 1 am then settled in for the night. I slept beside the fire but since the building had no heating, I found I needed to wear my winter jacket inside my sleeping bag to keep warm. With no running water and having to run out to the outhouse (in the snow) for bathroom breaks, it wasn't exactly rough, but it reminded me of all the luxuries I had at home.

Throughout the trip, I would frequently pause before taking a drink to determine if I was really thirsty because the pain of running out to the cold in the dark to use the outhouse wasn't worth an extra cup of tea/juice.


In the morning, I woke up to seeing the air my breathing created in the cold air. I did not want to get out of my warm sleeping bag to make breakfast. But one of the guys volunteered to find the spring where we would get our water from and another said he would go with him. So I said I would make breakfast. We had bacon, mushroom tomato omelettes and potato hash.

After we cleaned up, I took some photos of the cottage. It was really cool to see what the cottage looked like when it was all lit up properly through natural lighting.












The guys decided since it was obviously too cold to go climbing (the original purpose of the trip), we would go cross-country skiing.

Here is Hunter trying to take a photo with his lens cap on:


It was my first time cross-country skiing, and the first time I was seeing huge amounts of snow in Canada this season, since I spent most of this Winter in Europe.


Cross-country skiing is different from downhill in that only the front part of your foot is attached to the ski so you have less control during slopes, but it's easier to glide forward.


It was a beautiful trek at 8 km. I don't normally go out for hikes in weather like this so I don't often get to see nature in the winter.





We finished the trip and by that time, the rest of our climbing companions had arrived at the cottage.


At 4 degrees, it was too cold to climb outdoors but we came up with some creative solutions, deciding to make up routes on the frame of our cabin.







Night rolled in again, and after some digging, we discovered a board game about climbing made in the 80s. It was a hilarious night.



On Sunday, it finally became warm enough to climb outdoors.


My fingers were freezing and I couldn't feel my tips for most of the climb, but life isn't perfect. After waiting for a whole weekend, I finally got to do what I came to do!

We climbed for a couple of hours, then packed it up and headed home.

More photos:






The cabin is owned by the University of Toronto Outings Club, but is available for private rental. UTOC offers very reasonable rates for private bookings of the cabin by both members and non-members. Many different groups have had great experiences at the UTOC cabin. Contact utoc@utoronto.ca for more details.

For more posts about climbing on this blog, click here.