50 countries and my favourite highlights in all my travels by Jessica Lee

Budapest, Hungary - one of the stops on my Eastern Europe tour 2018

Budapest, Hungary - one of the stops on my Eastern Europe tour 2018

I recently visited my 50th country (Romania) during my recent trip to Eastern Europe. 

When I first started solo travelling roughly six years ago), I didn't imagine it would take so long to get to 50 countries. That is roughly eight countries a year, which doesn't seem like a lot but sometimes you get to a place and you love it so much you need to visit it thoroughly, from North to South, because usually every region is very different.

Do I plan to visit all 195 countries now that I've been to over a quarter of them? Maybe. Certainly a few people have done it. But most people will live their lives not even seeing 25% of the impressively awe-inspiring world we are on.

Transylvania, Romania, my 50th country

Transylvania, Romania, my 50th country

It's true. Travelling is not always easy. You have to plan where you want to go, take time off from work, save up some money, book tickets and accommodation and plan out an itinerary.

However, I've found that as I've been to more places with more miles under my feet, that like most skills, travelling does get easier. In 2014 when I first went to Morocco by myself, I was overwhelmed by their aggressive culture that preyed on tourists. I was not used to having a local follow me around (for hours) and ask for money. This time, four years later, the locals didn't stop following me around, but I was more confident. After four years of travelling experience, I was better at asserting myself and telling people to leave me alone when I felt uncomfortable. I sought out interactions with locals where I felt safe - authentic experiences which didn't involve any monetary exchange. I am better at reading situations now and this helps as a photographer carrying thousands of dollars in camera gear (and as a regular traveller) - being able to spot danger and when you need to leave a situation.

I've also gotten better at packing light through the years. On the left is all the luggage I brought with me for a month to Eastern Europe. On the right is all the luggage I brought with me to Indonesia in 2012.

I've also gotten better at packing light through the years. On the left is all the luggage I brought with me for a month to Eastern Europe. On the right is all the luggage I brought with me to Indonesia in 2012.

I'm not done with my travels though, here's to the next 50 countries. Thanks for joining me on this journey. :)

Here's a compilation of the highlights of my travelling so far:

Living aboard an 83 feet vessel in Airlie Beach, Australia, for three days and seeing the Whitsunday Islands to this day is one of my most treasured memories. My Australia abroad trip was a pivotal moment for me because it was the first time I ever really travelled by myself to such a far away place. I had worked three jobs concurrently to save up for the trip the summer before, and it was satisfying to set off on a self-planned and self-funded adventure so far away from where I was raised.

Living aboard an 83 feet vessel in Airlie Beach, Australia, for three days and seeing the Whitsunday Islands to this day is one of my most treasured memories. My Australia abroad trip was a pivotal moment for me because it was the first time I ever really travelled by myself to such a far away place. I had worked three jobs concurrently to save up for the trip the summer before, and it was satisfying to set off on a self-planned and self-funded adventure so far away from where I was raised.

In 2012, I rented a camper van with some friends and made a road trip down the eastern coast of Australia from Cairns to Adelaide. It was thrilling to live day-to-day not knowing what we would be doing the next night or where we would park - the possibilities were open and endless.

In 2012, I rented a camper van with some friends and made a road trip down the eastern coast of Australia from Cairns to Adelaide. It was thrilling to live day-to-day not knowing what we would be doing the next night or where we would park - the possibilities were open and endless.

Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef was a life-changing for me. Being underwater is completely different to what I've known and grown up in - something clicked in my mind that day, that there are entire worlds unexplored, and entire worlds that are also sadly fading away. This experience was just the beginning in a lifetime of diving that would later lead to me getting PADI-certified and swimming with sharks in Thailand, also another memorable highlight while travelling.

Snorkeling in the Great Barrier Reef was a life-changing for me. Being underwater is completely different to what I've known and grown up in - something clicked in my mind that day, that there are entire worlds unexplored, and entire worlds that are also sadly fading away. This experience was just the beginning in a lifetime of diving that would later lead to me getting PADI-certified and swimming with sharks in Thailand, also another memorable highlight while travelling.

Seeing the Northern Lights in Reykjavik, Iceland, was one of my most memorable experiences. This natural phenomenon is absolutely stunning and awe-inspiring. It is also free to see (if you don't count cost of gas and car).

Seeing the Northern Lights in Reykjavik, Iceland, was one of my most memorable experiences. This natural phenomenon is absolutely stunning and awe-inspiring. It is also free to see (if you don't count cost of gas and car).

Finally, the first time I climbed outdoors (and it was in the Blue Mountains in Australia too!) was a top highlight because I had never studied rocks so intimately and it was gratifying to see your progress as you climbed your way to the top. The novel/thrill aspect was also a huge draw - there was one point where I fell and thought that was the end, luckily I was clipped on and my partner "caught" me. The view at the end of the climb was absolutely stunning as well and also different from what someone who didn't climb the route would see (just from the look-out point).

Finally, the first time I climbed outdoors (and it was in the Blue Mountains in Australia too!) was a top highlight because I had never studied rocks so intimately and it was gratifying to see your progress as you climbed your way to the top. The novel/thrill aspect was also a huge draw - there was one point where I fell and thought that was the end, luckily I was clipped on and my partner "caught" me. The view at the end of the climb was absolutely stunning as well and also different from what someone who didn't climb the route would see (just from the look-out point).

What I learned in 2014 by Jessica Lee

It seems like just yesterday I was writing What I Learned in 2013. Time is a slippery and fleeting creature that you just cannot stop or slow.

I started January 2014 in Paris, France, in the middle of my European backpacking trip. After counting down and watching the Eiffel Tower shimmer for a few minutes with thousands of people at Trocadero, I walked home to my rented apartment on Magenta Blvd., amidst joyous French wishing me "Bonne Année!"

2014 was a year filled with adventure, wrong turns, mishaps and bliss. And lots and lots of learning. I was given many fantastic opportunities, got to see spectacular sights in new countries, and I met the most wonderful people in over 25 cities. There were definitely more good moments than bad, and for that I am grateful. Here are some of the most important things I picked up in 2014:

1. There is a lot of beauty in life.
I saw this in landscapes, cityscapes; in every mountain of every train ride I passed through, in all the lakes I've taken in, in the vast desert silence which made me understand how small I am in this world. There is beauty in every heart-stopping piece of literature and I've read, every sunset and patio I enjoyed, in all the beautiful, heart-wrenching goodbyes, free gifts from life, fireworks in the sky, in drunken dance halls and bars where I've shared a pitcher of beer with the awe-inspiring people I've encountered, chance meetings in unexpected places and music that makes your heart swell. Enjoy life, it's marvellous. Be open and let it surprise you.

2. There are many inspiring and big-hearted people with overwhelmingly attractive souls out there. Their energy will pull you towards them. Keep these people close, make them your friends, don't take these people for granted, appreciate them at every moment, draw inspiration from them and give them your time and energy. These people are rare to find, but once you meet one, they multiply because good people tend to hang out with other good people. It might not be entirely obvious at first if you've found someone awesome, but slowly through different situations and time you've spent together, you'll see their character come through, and that's when you know that they are quality and deserve a place in your life.

3. You cannot control what other people do, only how you react to them. Yes there are lovely people out there, but there are also others who will disappoint you, steal from you and lead you into bad situations. There's nothing you can do to change other people if they're not willing to change, you can only alter your attitude and decide to not let them ruin your day. In Rome, a lady attempted to steal from me in a crowded subway, I was shocked initially, but I took it as a learning experience. Later this year, someone whom I initially thought would be a fantastic person, whom I invested time in turned out to be a dud so I put less energy towards that relationship. Ideally, it would be great to know if someone is worth your energy and resources before you give your time to them, but life rarely comes with labels - you win some, you lose some.

4. Be strategic in your professional life and understand timing. One of my work contracts which kept getting renewed previously ended earlier this year due to budget cuts and my poor gauging of the situation. It wasn't my fault the budget was gone, I was doing great work and felt I deserved a more competitive rate, so I asked for it. Unfortunately, I asked at a completely inappropriate time because of a government budget cut and as a result, I lost one part of the contract. The silver lining of this story is that I learned quickly from this- later in the year at another company, I asked for a raise at an appropriate time and got it.

5. Be precise and careful in moments which require it. In January, I bought a cheap plane ticket with RyanAir from Barcelona to Malaga. It was something ridiculous like 25 euros, which is roughly $35, or a night's stay at a hostel in Paris. There were a couple of catches though- they required you to check-in online 24 hours beforehand and print out your ticket. I neglected to do these things and had to pay a 150 euro fine or forfeit my ticket. It was a tough lesson to learn, but I paid the fine to board the plane. It was the worst travel day I have ever had because I also had to spend my night on a cold aluminium bench at the airport, but that is another story. Now I'm more careful about fine print and boarding times; and have since missed only one ride share, which I had no control over because they overbooked.

6. Allow serendipity to play a part in your life, look out for cool opportunities. In Barcelona, I was walking to a café one day and stumbled into a firefighter's protest, which made for some awesome photos, one of which is short-listed in a photo contest. In Quebec City, chance allowed me to attend a free jazz concert. Earlier this summer, I ended up moving to Montreal and having some of the best days of my life because of an acquaintance I met in a tiny bar in Toronto. Most times, the unexpected moments in life are the best, you just have to be open and go with the flow.

7. Spread your joy. I met one of the most lovely people to be around earlier this Spring in Toronto. My friend Dale is a photographer like me and as a result, we spent a lot of time together in coffee shops editing photos. Every time I'm with this guy, he leaves me immensely happier, but it doesn't stop there; he is abundant and genuine in compliments for the baristas as well. It doesn't take a lot of effort to be kind, but it's such a nice thing to have and improves the atmosphere considerably.

8. This world is vast. I've met so many people this year who are different from me, and it amazes me how big some differences are, such as culture and upbringing; yet other things are the same. We all desire connection to other people, we all want our stories to be heard and we all have goals we strive for. 2014 was the year I met desert-dwellers, a bunch of crazy (in a good way) Europeans, unlikely folks in cities you would never expect them to be in; people in all stages of life.

9. Sometimes partying is more "productive" than "work" work. This was a strange lesson for me to learn this year, growing up in business-oriented Toronto, at a study-at-all-hours university, in a competitive swim-or-sink journalism program where no one really had a social life for a few semesters. I started working in the hospitality industry this year, and the way hiring goes here is whether or not someone fits in with the culture of the company influences if they'll be hired more than what they'll say in an interview, or a cover letter. Hospitality is about taking care of people, so naturally it goes that if you're the life of the party and your guests are having a good time, then you are doing a good job. Basically, it's easier to party your way into a job in this industry than interview your way in. The partying is the interview. Of course, it all depends on the industry and the circumstance.

10. There are unlikely heroes everywhere. This is a story I don't like to tell because it shows vulnerability and poor decisions, but it is life and a good lesson because tells me my intuition is all wrong sometimes. One night in Belgium at the beginning of this year, I went out with a group of people I had just met at a hostel. We went drinking at the infamous Delirium Tremens. I got excited at all the fruity beer options and had a little too much to drink too soon. As I fell to the bar floor, I felt one of them supporting me on their shoulders. Because I hadn't recognized their voices yet, I thought it was the guy I had been talking to all night who was really friendly, but as I gained consciousness, I realized it was the quiet guy in the group who I barely talked to, who I initially perceived as closed-off because he gave short answers when we spoke. Nevertheless sometimes your heroes will surprise you. I definitely needed help getting back to my bed that night and two almost-strangers made sure I got there, supported me on their shoulders the entire way, paid for a taxi ride because I couldn't walk, didn't take advantage of me and personally made sure I made it to my bed. It totally could have gone in a different direction and maybe I wouldn't be here writing this now. I am grateful for their kindness, and pay it forward whenever I can. Also, I am now much more responsible with my alcohol and have accepted I cannot match drinks with Europeans.

BONUS: Life is unpredictable, embrace the randomness. A year ago, when I visited the lovely city of Montreal on a work trip and wished to be living here, I didn't know I would be living that dream so soon. The story of how I ended up here began at the end of April in Toronto when I met a dashing gentleman in a dark basement bar (isn't that how all the best stories start?). Many stars had to align for me to move to here, then later on in July, I was going on a camping trip to Quebec and on the way back, I stopped in Montreal for a job interview and didn't even go back to Toronto. I'm glad it happened the way it did. I've lived some of the most turbulent, passion-filled and exciting days of my life this summer in Montreal. I have learned a lot and really appreciate everything this city has to offer. I discovered new interests (mostly 80's music and balcony tanning), developed new skills (coding), learned more about myself and met a lot of people who have opened my mind and taught me so much. I don't know what's in store for me next year, or if I will even be in the same city, but I am open to all possibility. SEE YOU IN 2015! Stay adventurous!

West Edmonton Mall through photos by Jessica Lee

After work on Friday, Josh and I headed to the West Edmonton Mall, a monstrosity of fun and contagious consumerism.

I'd been previously when I was young and remembered it as exhaustingly huge. It took forever to just to walk to everywhere I wanted to go.

This time though, we only did a cursory walk through the mall because we had an agenda. We planned to go to the water park. (Yes, there is a water park in the mall.)

First though, a stop at the skating rink:

I've seen skating rinks in malls throughout Asia, so this is nothing new. It's still nice to have though.

What makes West Edmonton Mall stand out is that it used to be the largest mall in the world up until 2004. It's still the largest mall in North America and here is what it has going for it:

Here's a snapshot of what a section of the mall looks like:

The above photo looks pretty normal until you factor in that there is a grocery store in the background (T&T). Still lots of malls have grocery stores attached to it.

But they probably don't have ropes courses:

Or a giant water park with a wave pool.

This was some sea world-esque amusement in the middle of the mall.

Here is a penguin show being put on.

Here is a seal. By the way, I really liked the environmentally-friendly natural lighting. Great touch by the architects.

And here is the rest of the marine park.

Next, we headed to Galaxy Land just to browse.

There was a kids section and one with bigger roller coasters. It was pretty impressive to see massive roller coasters just run around the space. It kind of reminded me of a smaller-scale version of Las Vegas, where you have roller coasters spiralling around hotels.

This is the biggest roller coaster in the joint. We watched people get on and get off the roller coaster. It sounds terrible, but their facial expressions were our entertainment.

We finally made it to the water park, which is definitely the best way to spend a Friday evening unwinding.

Here is the wave pool:

And the water slides. If you can see, there is a purple water slide which does a loop. I'd never seen anything like it before and was keen to try it.

That is, until I saw how steep the initial drop was.

Basically, they put you into this upright chamber, the door locks and the attendant presses a button which causes the floor to disappear, allowing gravity to help you gain speed. If you watch a clip of it on Youtube, the whole thing is over in a matter of 10 seconds, but I just wasn't feeling very adventurous that day I suppose. There's always next time.

Here's another photo of all the water slides. We did go on most of them.

Also really cool was the zip line that went over the water park.

And a final photo of the park.

We finished the day with a selection of the mall's finest restaurants. There was Hooters, a dueling piano bar (was really tempted to go), the Old Spaghetti Factory and your typical chain pubs. We went with Hudson's Steakhouse because they don't have that in Toronto yet.

We didn't check out the golf course or the skatepark, the bowling alley, shooting range, the cinemas or either of the hotels attached to the mall, but of course there just wasn't enough time. When doing anything, you have to set priorities.

What I really learned from seven months abroad part 1 by Jessica Lee

"What have you learned from your travels abroad?"

I've been pondering this question for the last two months since I got back from Australia and Indonesia and I have a clearer idea now.

When I first got back from my trip, "what did you learn" or "how have you changed" were the most common questions. I think everyone just wanted some sort of life-inspiring tidbit that could be summed up in a few short sentences; something that could help them in their own lives without them having to live through it all.

In truth, I could probably write a book on what I've seen, the people I've met and the life lessons I've learned.

I've come back different of course. Humbled. What I've picked up clarified the truth of "the more you learn, the less you know".

I've come to see how limited staying in Toronto really is. Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of opportunities here and there is definitely a lot happening within the city, but I've learned that showing up to a completely different country ie. Australia with a bunch of Canadian credentials really does nothing for you.

If I were to stay in Canada however, I've branded myself pretty well career-wise. I've worked for only big, well-known, mostly national companies which have a great reputation. It all meant nothing in Australia, however, as I soon found out. All the companies are different. And everything you have to know to function as a productive employee is different. There really are somewhat big culture differences between places, which is why travel is so fun but can be emotionally and mentally, not to mention physically demanding.

For example, if I were to try to pick up a job in photography in a new city, already I would have a disadvantage because I don't know the city well and may have the inclination to get lost. This might not seem like a huge deal, but really it is. News happens so fast that in a profession like mine (journalism), if you miss the timeline, then you miss out on the news.

But this is only one of the many things I've picked up abroad- I mean of the fact of how limited my experience in the professional world is. These are the big things.

A smaller skill, that could potentially be an extremely important skill later on is something I learned in the smaller Indonesian markets.

I like to think that I've become a better negotiator.

On the streets of Jakarta, I've talked down prices from $5 a becak ride down to $2.50 CAD. I paid for a 50 cent motorcycle ride around the block, which originally was offered to me at a much higher price. Sure I also paid for a pricey $25 CAD one hour taxi ride (that's a lot of money in Indonesian currency), but I had no other choice as I had way too much luggage at the time (another lesson I've undoubtedly learned).

University teaches you a lot of good theories, but the practical stuff you have to learn for yourself. This is why real life is so important. Where else can you learn good bargaining skills, if not for small informal markets such as these? They don't really exist in Canada (not that I know of anyway) besides on Craigslist where people sell their used goods.

I know I am going to get a lot of flack for writing the next bit because I pretty much just said that I own too much stuff while I travel, yet I am also going to advocate "going shopping" and learning to bargain. Why? Because with low risk items that cost so little, you don't really lose a lot in the process of negotiating, but rather, you gain real world knowledge of how to make a good deal. Now I'm sure they teach this stuff in more formal terms at Harvard Business School, but you can't really be sure of your  deal-making skills unless you put them into practice. Again, I am advocating the "learning to negotiate" part and not the actual "collecting items" part of the shopping experience, please be clear on that (though there is nothing wrong with collecting things either, it just makes it hard to travel around). Also, you can always talk a price down, then not buy it in the end too, but it wouldn't be fair to waste the merchant's time like that.

Another practical or not-so-practical (you be the judge) "skill" I've developed while in Indonesia is the art of J-walking aka walking across several lanes of traffic with no stop lights to help you out.

In Indonesia, pedestrian lights just don't exist. There is a stop sign pictured, but cars don't really stop. Check it out in the photo below:

The first time I tried to cross the road on my own, I had to stop and watch another woman cross first, then it took another ten minutes for me to work up the courage to cross. It doesn't look so terrible in the above photo because there aren't many cars on that street, however Jakarta is fairly busy with traffic all the time. So how do people cross the street? They just step out into the traffic and soon cars will stop for them. It's the "unwritten rule" of how to cross streets in Indonesia. There is no rude honking when pedestrians step out in front of cars. It's well established that that is how people cross streets there.

What this did for me:
1. I learned how to trust other drivers (strangers basically) to preserve my life. Of course people don't want to hit you, they've got places to go too.
2. I conquered something extremely frightening for me. Every time you challenge yourself, you become one step closer to becoming "fearless". This is not to be confused with "reckless" of course, you still have to be careful when stepping out into oncoming traffic.
3. Efficiency. Back in Toronto now, I can cross huge intersections confidently even when it's not my light. I only do this when I'm on foot and when I have a good opportunity so I don't endanger someone else's life. I reckon I save 5-20 seconds each time I don't wait for the light. This does not seem like a lot of time, but let's say I have to cross the street ten times a day, I would save roughly three minutes a day, which adds up to just over 20 minutes a week, an hour and twenty minutes a month, which is almost a whole day each year. I'm not saying you should follow my footsteps and J-walk (please, if you don't know how to do it properly, don't risk your life!), but it is nice to have almost an extra day just because of not waiting for a light to turn white.

There are some other smaller things and bigger issues (and mind-blowing stories) I've learned of during these past few months. I mean, how is it possible to not learn after being thrust into a new culture? I've learned about pickpockets, I conquered my fear of giant cockroaches and relaxed enough to sleep in the same room as a lizard. I've walked through an actual slum by myself, tested the waters of what was "safe" or not (seriously, I thought I was going to get kidnapped, murdered or raped), and learned to trust in the kindness of strangers. I have so many other stories to share, but for now, I feel like this blog post is getting really big. So until next time!

What important real life lessons have you learned while traveling?

Flying across City Hall by Jessica Lee

This week, I took the opportunity to experience the thrill of screaming my lungs out in front of my city while hanging on by a clip from a wire. It was fun.

Toronto's been a pretty cool city to live in for the most part, but last week, it got a whole lot cooler. Since it's the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup, they set up a whole bunch of festivities, one of them being a zipline from City Hall.

This is what it looks like (you can sort of see two people hanging mid air):

Here is a closer look:

The zipline tower was set in between the two City Hall buildings so that all the office workers could watch you having fun vicariously while they did their work.

Here is what the top of the structure looked like:

A photo of my cousin and I: Notice how we look somewhat tense, well I do at least.

I mean I've done ziplining before, but this was a much longer line, being that it was the length of a football field (which is why it was set up for the Grey Cup).

Below is a photo taken right before we were told to just "walk into the air".

Toronto is actually quite a pretty city at night with all its lit up buildings.

And here we go:

The twenty or so seconds we were in the air whizzing across City Hall felt amazing. The view was great too. It was as if I turned into a bird. The cold air brushed against my face and adrenaline pumped in my veins. I forgot all about my looming exams and emails I had to send and lived in the moment.

Seeing the city from a different perspective is always exciting I suppose.

And in a matter of seconds, it was all over. Below is a photo of the guys at the receiving booth.

Toronto is a lovely that holds random events throughout the year, which is why it's great living here. I've been blessed with many opportunities just by proximity.

Finally home: Toronto and changes by Jessica Lee

Toronto is quite different from the state I left it in.

After my seven month jaunt around Australia and Asia- and briefly Montreal, I am finally back home.

I feel like I cheated the system. I left Toronto when it was at its coldest, enjoyed the warm weather in Sydney, and came back when summer was swinging.

It's been an incredible journey.

People always say when you come back to your own city after seeing the world, the way you see your city changes. And it's true. Four years ago I thought Toronto was the greatest city in the world. I was set on saving up a down payment to buy a condo on the Harbourfront where by the time I was in my mid-twenties, I'd have moved in, gotten a professional job and be enjoying the many cafes and breakfast/brunch places on my weekends and dining on patios for afterwork cocktails with friends. I thought Toronto was a great city because of its importance in the world- meaning that if a popular band was touring North America, they would definitely stop in Toronto. There are also many opportunities in this city. Businesses come to the city to make deals all the time, international film festivals are held here, the city is booming with arts and culture, and there is always something exciting going on.

But now that I've lived in Sydney and enjoyed the flexibility of the weather which allows for sailing all year long and soaked up some sun on a few of their many marvellous beaches, I'm having second thoughts about settling in Toronto. Surfing the waves at Bali, Indonesia, made me realize Toronto doesn't have a good surfing scene, and I miss the elegance of Montreal streets.

It's been strange coming back to Toronto. The city is the same, but different in many ways. I visited the movie rental place I used to work at and it is no longer a movie rental place. They only sell cell phones now. Lots of huge holes downtown have now been built into several story condos, and I live in a new condo myself now.

While I was in Australia, my mom sold our home and bought a new place uptown. It's a slick, new fancy apartment that looks like an upscale hotel. It is a sharp contrast from the sometimes dirty huts I was living in while in Indonesia. It's also quite a relief to be able to leave your stuff around and not worry about having to pack it up the next day.

While some things are the same in a comforting way; like the lazy pace I move during my weekends, or the familiar Canadian accents I hear in coffee shops, other things are completely different.

I picked up a new job as a waitress at a lounge/restaurant. It's something I've always wanted to do just to see what it's like. I've never worked in the food and hospitality industry so it's been a lot of learning. There is a restaurant lingo that I'm starting to pick up and its quite fascinating. I now know what chaffing dishes and heat lamps are. I also know how to properly set-up a table with salad forks and dessert forks and coffee cups at 90 degrees from the plate, etc etc.

The other night, I was working an event for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF). The DJ put on a song which was on the mixtape we found in the rental car of our Australian road trip and I was reminded of my wonderful adventures which happened a mere two months ago. While listening to the song, I was suddenly feeling quite smug because here I was serving ridiculous people who were blowing their money on $250 bottles of vodka and paying even more than that for "private booths" which really were just couches with a "reserved" sign on them.

With a budget of $250 a week, I got to see Indonesia! Yes. That amount covered hotels and food as well as surfboard rentals and some modest shopping. That amount has also given me incredible experiences, street smarts and a confidence where I can say I navigated a foreign country all by myself at 21.

Different people have different priorities, but personally, I think it's much more enriching to spend your money on experiences which will make you grow rather than one vague drunken memory.

FYI: Cocktails in Indonesia average about $2.50/drink, a fraction of the price of alcohol in Toronto.

But though I am back in my hometown, this isn't the end of my journey here.

I will be updating constantly with missed blog entries and photos I haven't published. I wrote a couple of entries on the road but sometimes didn't put them up because I felt they were missing something.

I will keep posting moments from my trip and saving up for my next big trek around the world. Europe? Africa? South America? Asia again? Who knows...

Hard goodbyes: one thing I gave up to go travel by Jessica Lee

I said goodbye to one of my babies today.

It is sad, but it had to be done.

I sold one of my beloved camera lenses in Melbourne today to finance my travels in Asia and beyond.

I figure I can make back the money one day to buy the same lens again, but I won’t ever be this young and free again to travel. Even if I were to come back a year later to travel to Asia, it wouldn’t be the same. Right now, I am single, job-less, with no attachments or obligations. I don’t have to worry about anything or anyone except for myself. The world is my oyster right now.

It’s still sad to part with one of my photography lenses however. This is the lens that I purchased after winning a series of photography competitions and going on my first paid photography gig. I bought this lens as an investment into my photography career. Apart from my plane ticket to Australia, this lens is the most expensive thing I’ve ever purchased. At first, my mom thought buying such an expensive lens was silly because she thought photography would only be a “hobby” or a “phase” for me, but I knew it would be so much more when I proved it to her by winning more photography competitions and getting my shots published.

I am in mourning right now and trying to convince myself it was the right decision to make. The lens I sold is a professional-grade lens; a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8, which is great for photographing people. However, since being on my travels, I find I have been using my kit lens more because of its wider angle. I’ve been taking photos mostly of landscapes and less of people. Even if I didn’t sell my 24-70mm lens, it would mostly be a dead weight during my trip, and I would constantly fret and worry about damaging it anyway. Selling it was the logical decision because I don’t lose much money from selling it (at most $200 CAD) and because I need quick cash now. I’m not too enthusiastic about begging for money on the street, prostitution, or busking; so selling my things comes next. Okay maybe busking would be fun, but honestly I don’t have the time to learn several songs on my ukulele by memory.

I am quite attached emotionally to this lens. It was the lens I was using when I shot Canadian Music Week in Toronto, when I met my friend and fellow photographer Laurachel, from Sydney, who was pivotal in my planning to move there. I remember many of the photos I took using this lens, even the first photo I took with it outside the camera store.

Since this is a professional-grade lens, I found that when I used it at events, I got a little more respect from fellow photographers. Now, I will look like a newbie again. Regardless, you can have all the right equipment but if you don’t know how to use it, your photos come out crappy anyway.

The lens is gone, but at least now I can eat that $3.80 cupcake without worrying if I’ve gone over my daily budget, go on day trips to islands around Indonesia, pay for kite-surfing lessons, go diving, possibly stay in a luxury hotel for one night, continue to fuel my shopping habits, eat lots of delicious breakfasts, send postcards to loved ones without worrying how much I am spending on stamps (it adds up!), take planes instead of buses…

Parting with the lens feels like a break-up. I sold it to a girl who is just starting out in photography. She doesn't even know about f stops! She just knows it is a good lens and a good deal she is getting. She saw how sad I was to say goodbye at the end and gave me a hug to console me. This is like giving up a child to adoption. I told her to take care of the lens and wished her luck.

I am sad the lens had to go, but one day, I know I can buy another one. Right now is not the time to own a nice professional lens for me. It is time to travel.

Sydney to Melbourne: day one by Jessica Lee

We left Sydney a few days ago to drive down to Melbourne onto the Great Ocean Road.

It has been lots of beautiful farmland and quaint little towns.

Driving through Australia has made me realize how incredibly large the world is. I mean, you pass through small towns, realize you're never going to meet any of these people, then pass through some more small towns and realize there are many more of these small towns you are never going to pass through or stop over and explore.

There is just so much I want to do, so many places I want to explore and stay at but not enough time. And this has only been Australia that I've been through on a drive. There are many other countries I'd like to visit in the future as well. At some point during our drive, I realized (silly I didn't figure this out before, I know) that I won't ever travel the entire world, be in all the spots I want to be before I eventually get too old and die. Sorry I am being morbid, but this greatly distresses me.

Australia is beautiful though.

The gorgeous coastlines we've been driving by make me re-evaulate Toronto's Harbourfront, one of my favourite areas of Toronto. If friends from out of town came to visit, that would be one of the places I'd recommend them to visit. I realize now our harbour is not quite as impressive as what these coastal towns have to offer. That's okay though. I still have lovely associations and fond memories from spending time there with people I love being around. I might still tell people from out of town to visit the harbour, watch the boats, go kayaking, and drink coffee with someone they like at the Second Cup on the dock. And in the summer, I'd tell them to visit Sugar Beach, walk by the sugar factory, inhale the scent of burning sugar and spend the day suntanning.

Anyway, back to Australia.

These photos were taken near Nowra.

We spent most of the first day driving, stopping off at scenic points. 

We watched the sun set from Jervis Bay, in a beach called Murray's Beach. I loved that it was secluded and clean. Bon found out that the sand squeaks when you drag your heels on it. I'm don't know how else to explain it, but if you come here and we arrange a time to meet, I could show you.

I've also developed a habit of running to the water of each beach we pass by and dipping my toe in the water. I don't know why exactly. Originally, this was so I could say I've dipped my toe in Australian waters at every beach- it seemed like a romantic notion, but really now that I think about it they are all just various points of the Indian Ocean. Oh well.

We stopped off at night in Bateman's Bay under a scattering of stars and a lovely coastline view to a gas cooked dinner of bangers and mash- which apparently is a dish originating from England, but something I only recently discovered in restaurants in Australia. I added steamed veggies to the mix because who says you can't be healthy and live on the road?

Letters from a small town: Boonah by Jessica Lee

I got dropped off in a strange little town in Queensland called Boonah today. The boys wanted to go climbing at the nearby mountains and I just wasn’t up for it.

Growing up in a big metropolitan city such as Toronto, it feels quite different being here. I don't want to be cliche and say that the pace of life is slower in a rural town than in a big city, but it is quite true. People here have time to chat.

It is a little weird to be a stranger in a small town all by yourself. It's obvious I don't live here. 

I stick out from the locals quite easily being that I’m Asian and everyone else is white. Everyone is friendly though, asking me where I’m from and wishing me well on my travels. I get a few long stares from teenagers- maybe they haven’t seen many Asians being that Boonah wouldn’t really be a town Asian tour companies stop at with their huge tour buses; I’m sure you know the kind of tour buses I’m talking about - the ones with the tour guides who hold little flags while talking and explaining sites with flocks of Japanese, Korean or Chinese tourists following behind with cameras.

The fact that not many tourists stop here is great news for me. The people haven't developed a dislike for tourists (some tourists can be quite rude and not fun to serve) and the town isn't commercialized and catered to tourists; thus giving me a more authentic small town experience, which I quite like.

Boonah is a typical small town. The fashions of the men are flannel shirts and jeans and the teenagers wear hoodies. The women wear jumpers with long skirts or jeans. You don’t see sharply dressed business people with their briefcases or stick-thin fashionistas working their heels here when you look out the window. This could be a small town in rural Ontario or anywhere in North America.

It’s a charming little place. The population is just over 2,000 and there is one main street. Right now I am sitting in a cute café writing this and people watching from the window at the same time. I feel a little like a 21st century Kerouac, minus the moleskine but with the addition of a laptop. I had a mocha but now am drinking chai tea.

The coffee shop/ bookstore I am in is called The Story Tree. It is quite artsy with crochet throws, little plants, rustic wooden chairs, cookbooks displayed on the counter and acoustic music softly playing in the back. There is a small play area in the back and a lounge area with a table for new mothers to chat while their kids play. Sometimes I wonder if that is the life I would be living had I been born in a small country town and secondly would I enjoy it because from a glance it doesn’t seem too bad.

First impression: yacht racing by Jessica Lee

Today was cold, rainy and practically windless: a perfect day for sailing.

Just kidding.

Ha ha. What a dry joke for such a wet day.

It was terrible conditions for sailing, but I ended up heading down to the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia (CYCA) anyway to participate in the Winter Race Series.

It was my first time sailing on a yacht and I definitely was not ready for it in terms of being dressed for the weather. By the way, I am definitely buying a dry suit at some point after this.

I came to Australia on the false assumption that it would be warm and sunny year round and did not expect to need warm clothes. Since being here for four months, I have already purchased two hoodies and am considering getting another jacket.

The above photo is the only photo I have from today as it was raining the entire morning and afternoon when we were yacht racing. It was pretty cold. I snapped a photo from the dock and then hurried to get ready for the race. I didn't bring my camera aboard the yacht since it was raining. Thus for this post, I am going to try to describe the full experience of yacht racing through words.

I met the crew through mutual friends. What many people don't know is that you can sail for free if you show up to a race day and be accepted onto a boat if a boat is looking for crew. Sometimes you don't even need experience, just a good attitude and a solid work ethic. 

For our yacht, we were a group of six. This is a good size so that there isn't too much work for one person pulling ropes and throwing on sails. Also, there needs to be enough weight on the boat to keep the boat flat. There were really large boats out there with maybe twenty people in them. Ours was a medium-sized yacht. I don't even know how to describe what kind of yacht it was, but it was beautiful.

Just being on the harbour surrounded by all the other yachts in their different coloured sails was lovely despite the grey weather. There were maybe a hundred boats out on the water? Possibly more. It was like being in a movie, you know that one cinematic clip where you see the main character flying in the air in a hot air balloon or a dragon and you see all the other hot air balloons or dragons- it was exactly like that but on water. Since it was grey and rainy, there was even a nice fog around the harbour bridge and the opera house.

Sailing on a yacht is pretty much just like sailing on a dingy (small boat) except less intense. Everything moves slower. Moving on a small boat from one side to the other requires speed but things are less affected if you take longer to run from one side of the boat to the other on a yacht. Also, in a yacht, the whole team works together to make turns or put up a spinnaker. It was pretty cool to watch everything happen and contribute as well.

The crew was pretty experienced and I got a kick out of them using sailing lingo such as "pressure", "bullet" and "zero". There's still so much I don't understand in sailing and it's great to be able to hang out with pros. Sailors are pretty laid back and easy going. The first beers were cracked open before noon on the boat and after the race, there's a nice camaraderie at the club where all the sailors talk about the race and meet people over food and more alcohol. Sailors take the "drunken" stereotype pretty seriously it seems.

Today wasn't all sunshine and rainbows (far from it) but honestly, I'd take this cold and rainy sailing experience any day over an overpriced touristy rehearsed sailing "adventure". It's just more genuine.

Just call me Sal by Jessica Lee

I started packing for my road trip around Australia already.

We don't leave for another month, but I'm pretty ready to escape exam season at school.

We are going to be driving from Cairns, making our way along the sunshine coast to the Great Barrier Reef, stopping at towns throughout the way and going down back to Sydney for around two weeks. There will be beaches, kangaroos and hopefully sailing opportunities. (I am looking to sail to Hobart, if anyone has any leads or a big boat with space for me, please let me know!)

Then we are heading to Melbourne and going climbing in the Grampians for another couple of days.

The final leg of the tour will involve going to Adelaide and hitting up Kangaroo island.

And then my Visa expires and I have to leave the country.

Six months really isn't that long of a time.

If I knew time moved so fast, I would have moved faster as well.

American Pie by Jessica Lee

When life hands you a pumpkin, you're supposed to learn how to make pumpkin pie.

I think that's how the saying goes anyway.

My friend Bon gave me a pumpkin from his garden about a week ago and today I finally got around to making pie. Today was also the day I handed in the second last lab report I have to write this semester. Coincidence? Maybe...

Anyway, the crazy thing about pumpkin pie in Australia is that apparently the majority of Australians have never had it before! Everyone was asking if the pie I was making was going to be savoury or sweet. I never thought of pumpkin pie as a North American thing, but rather just something everyone had, like apple pie or cake.

Also, it's worth noting that they don't have graham crackers (for my graham cracker crust obviously) in Australia. If you ask any random Australian about graham crackers, he or she will probably give you a blank stare. For my pie, I improvised by using arrowroot biscuits. It's worked out pretty well I must say.

I'm serving the pumpkin pie tomorrow night because my friend Maire is coming over. It should be interesting to see what my Australian housemates/neighbours/friends think about about it. I'm pretty excited to be able to bring some "North American" to them. Yay different cultures!

Under the sea: my first scuba diving experience by Jessica Lee

Moving to Australia for me was about trying new things and expanding my limits. So when I saw a Groupon voucher for a CMAS certified scuba diving course certification, naturally I jumped on it.

I had already taken the initial course for a PADI scuba certification in Hawaii last summer and I wanted to get a scuba certification at some point in my life, so I thought this would be perfect.

That is until I heard bad things about booking with diving companies off of Groupon.

Back in Canada, I had no trouble when I used Groupon. I used vouchers to get discounts off of amazing restaurants. Everything worked out fine.

However, I had never heard of this diving company. And people were saying that it was hard to book because the schedules were always full and then their vouchers expired. But I had hope that things would work out and the website looked legit and a quick google didn't come up with anything scandalous or terrible, so in the end I booked.

The diving company I booked with was True Blue Dive.

After buying the voucher, it was extremely difficult to book a course with them as I had been warned. They do not pick up their phone despite me calling them once every half hour for five hours. On the website, all of the dates until June were pretty much full, except for random days like Thursday or Friday. 

However, everything is weather dependent, so I booked Thursday just to get myself into the system because I knew it would rain on Thursday and they'd have to reschedule me to another day. This is exactly what happened. It rained on Thursday so they moved me to Saturday. If it didn't rain, I was definitely ready to skip class to go scuba diving.

On Saturday, I arrived at Clovelly beach at noon, to do my first day.

The weather was a little grey, but it was beautiful. There is a nice cliff of rocks and there's not many people so you can hear waves hitting the rocks very clearly. The air is humid and salty.

It's not a very popular beach because the actual sandy beach area is small. I got there early so I did some yoga and stretches. It was nice.

We don't have gorgeous beaches like this back home in Toronto so I really appreciated the moment. I will definitely miss the beaches when I have to go back home.

The lesson started with us being handed liability forms which we had to sign before beginning the course. To be honest, I wasn't sure I wanted to sign it.

I mean, here I am trusting these people I had never met before. How was I supposed to know they filled up the oxygen tanks properly?

But I signed anyway. I was already at the beach, I paid for the voucher and it would be hard to try to get my money back. I had already taken it this far. Might as well go through with it.

After signing, we were taken to the pool beside the beach to do swim tests. We had to do eight lengths. It reminded me of when I was on the water polo team back in high school. From experience, I knew that I could complete eight lengths, but I didn't know how good the other swimmers were and I didn't want to be the last person to finish my lengths.

Though I am reasonably fit, there was a bit of scrambling and I was out of breath as I went for my last length. I wished I had prepared for Australia back home by doing laps at the neighbourhood pool the same way I did push-ups to prepare for paddling while surfing.

I came in third last (out of eight people) so it wasn't that bad.

We did some water treading afterwards for 15 minutes. Though I wasn't tired through the treading (thank goodness for water polo training five years ago!) it brought back memories I thought I'd repressed of when I was a skinny little girl at age 7, tasting chlorine water through my nose, not quite catching up to the treading water abilities of the 9 year olds in swimming class.

The whole "testing of our abilities" felt like I was in the Hunger Games. Especially when the instructor said "we do this to make sure you will be able to survive the dives". He said it with a thick Australian accent, which made me feel better I had decided to get my certification in Australia with a Groupon as opposed to doing it legitimately back home in Canada. Everything is just so much more fun in an Aussie accent!

We went snorkelling in the ocean afterwards. It's supposed to lead up to the scuba diving, to make us feel more comfortable. The snorkelling was beautiful except when a massive condom hit my arm in the water! Gross gross gross! I am just glad it didn't hit my face.

And that was the end of day one.

Day two started at 8:00 am. Or it was supposed to anyway. I woke up at 6 am (earlier than I would have for any class at university) just so I could make it to the beach on time.

Guess what time the diving instructors showed up?

8:52 am.

We were not impressed. Minus professionalism points right there.

Regardless, it's not like I had other plans, so it didn't affect me too much. I would have liked to be able to sleep in though.

We started the day off with lessons on how to put together our oxygen tanks. It reminded me of a university lecture, except the classroom was a gorgeous environment of ocean and sun.

Back in Toronto around this time (April), I'd probably be just waiting for the snow to melt so I could finally head out to play a game of basketball. This is why I love Australia's weather.

The whole set-up seemed a little complicated at first, but after doing it a couple of times, I am now confident in setting up my own scuba gear.

Side note: did you know SCUBA stands for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus?

After a quick theory lesson (seriously, it was so quick, I felt like I didn't know what I was doing) we were thrown into the water. There were way too many people in the group 11 people for two instructors so we had to divide into two diving groups, which meant five newbies diving with one person who was responsible for our lives. Probably not the most ideal condition to do your first ocean dive in, but hey, you get what you pay for and I paid less than $200.

Funny thing. Everyone else bought off Groupon too, leading me to think this company was run solely through Groupon (a little sketchy). But an internationally recognized SCUBA certification for less than $200 is an extremely good deal and I'm still alive. I didn't get the bends and my lungs didn't rupture either. Everything's fine.

The quality of the instruction was extremely varied. I got the guy who didn't speak English leading me (he was nice, but I didn't really learn much from him), so I had to figure things out for myself in the water. Though this could have been potentially life-threatening, the lack of instruction made me feel more proactive once I figured everything out.

Being under water was amazing. I had visualized a scene from Disney's The Little Mermaid where Sebastian (the crab) is singing, and little fish are dancing in harmony to music. Being near the coral and reefs and the fish in Sydney was somewhat like The Little Mermaid, except without the music and the fish dancing and there were no singing crabs.

There were no sharks either, though I was expecting to encounter one at any moment. Has anyone seen the movie Jaws (1975)? My goodness Steven Spielberg, you have conditioned in me an intense anxiety of being in deep waters.

One thing about diving you should know about is that it requires a lot more physical activity than you would expect. First of all, we were required to carry about 25 kg of gear down to where we actually dived. This included the weigh belt (for us featherweights who can't get to the bottom of the ocean without some help) and the tank and the vest. I was near dying just walking down the trail which couldn't have been more than 300 metres. Seriously I've developed a six-pack just from that walk alone.

After that, we had to get out into the water and pass a huge tide that kept pushing us back to shore while we were wearing 25 kg of gear.

The actual dive was probably the least physically-demanding. It's hard to kick underwater (and there's a special way to kick using flippers, where you kick from the hip), but it's not like I was trying to get somewhere in a hurry so it didn't matter how slow I was going.

I still have a few more dives I have to do before I can get my certification, but things are going swimmingly for now. I don't think I'm going to die from scuba diving with this company.

I'll update you as I go along.

Or not.

If you don't see any more posts from me, you can assume I died from diving.

A first impression of Hillsong Church by Jessica Lee

Today was just a strange day. There is no other way to describe it.

It was like a movie where unexpected things happen to you and you just take it in but at the same time, you're a bit dazed.

The day started out normally with me waking up and going to class.

It's kind of crazy how a boring class can cause a turn of events in your world. Or it did in my world at least.

The class was so boring that I started checking Facebook on my phone (which is something I hardly ever do). And on Facebook, a girl had posted that there was an event happening at the Hillsong Church tonight.

I had always wanted to visit the Hillsong Church. It is the most well-known church in the world. They have concerts and conferences every year.

I wasn't doing anything particularly exciting tonight so I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to go.

Normally, when you think of church, you think of a Sunday gospel where there is a choir and wooden pews. Something calm and conservative. Something traditional.

I wasn't sure what to expect, but when I arrived at Hillsong, I was immediately overwhelmed.

It was more like a hipster gathering at a concert than a church service. Outside in the garage, there was a group of very fashionably-dressed people just chatting with indie music playing in the background (Arcade Fire was playing! Go Canada!). A make-shift coffee stand was set up, food and tables were around. An easy going "party" vibe was definitely there. This was while we were waiting for service to start.

Then the program started and an incredible energy came from the crowd. During gospel songs, it was like a rock concert with everyone crowding the stage, jumping up and down and singing. There were stage lights and a live screen projection.

Back home, I come from a conservative church, so I am used to just singing out of hymn books and quiet acoustic music.

The community in Sydney is really lively. There is a lot of supportive energy with people cheering for random things, or just greeting each other. It's extremely positive.

A speaker came on, followed by music again.

And then, something I've never experienced in a church before:

A dance party complete with DJs, strobe lighting and lasers!

It was bizarre because you normally don't expect dance parties to happen inside churches. Hillsong Church is definitely the most hip and modern church I've ever been to.

As a newcomer, I was treated to a free cup of coffee. I ordered a mocha. It was such a hip atmosphere. Which other churches have pop-up coffee stands? It was amazing.

I chatted with some other people for a while, then around 11, it was time to go home. But not before another strange event where I found myself taking photos of a car wreck.

It was pretty bad but the good thing is no one was hurt.

I happened to be carrying my DSLR and there happened to be a three-vehicle car crash outside the church as we were walking to the car. For insurance purposes, I was asked by the owner of one of the cars to take some high quality photos. So now I have some new friends, but it was strange to meet them because their car was crashed. Maybe this crash was divine intervention so I could meet them. Maybe we will be best friends. Who knows?

All I know is that I definitely did not wake up this morning knowing all these crazy events would take place. And from now on, I am going to be carrying my DSLR camera everywhere I go. You just never know what could happen.

Tour of The Rocks by Jessica Lee

This is where I went today: also known as "The Rocks"

Not only is this place one of the top tourist destinations, because of the fabulous view of the Harbour Bridge and Sydney Opera House, it also has an interesting history. It was the first European settlement in Sydney and used to be an open air jail, and then became a "hotbed of vice" full of sailors, drunks and brothels in the late 19th century.

One of my favourite things about this place is its old buildings and its architecture.

Here is a picture:

The whole place is just beautiful and lively. If I were to compare it to an area of Toronto, it would be the Distillery District and Harbourfront combined. And those just happen to be two of my favourite areas of Toronto. So you can imagine what emotions were evoked in me from being at The Rocks.

I caught the free bus from Central Station early in the morning and arrived just before 11 am.

I was greeted by the guttural sound of a didgeridoo, which is an aboriginal Australian instrument- the busker obviously there to appease the tourists in the area. Can you imagine having to put on all that face paint and body paint every weekend to play the didgeridoo?

This is what Circular Quay (this is all part of The Rocks) looks like: (below) Lots of ferries go to different islands/beaches all around Sydney and this is where they all depart from, so the place is pretty busy.

This is the Harbour Bridge.

Circular Quay from the viewpoint of boats and ferries coming in.

The Sydney Opera House!

At one point, I sat down and just sketched the Opera House over and over again. I really admired the architecture of the building. It's just brilliant, how nicely the curves go together, if you notice, all the curves are at different angles and all the lines that fall down from the curves are different angles as well. The whole thing really is quite complex and must have taken forever to design and do all the equations for the physics of the building so that the whole thing doesn't fall down. Keep in mind it's on top of water too!

Below is a photo of the Park Hyatt hotel right beside the Harbour. Imagine staying here! Looks pricey, but I'd love to be able to do that some day. I bet the beds inside are just gorgeous with high thread count sheets and flowing curtains when you open up the windows. And the view would just be spectacular.

This is one of the restaurants at The Rocks. I loved its classiness and how most of the walls were made of glass. Just beautiful.

I was walking around just exploring when suddenly, I happened upon Pancakes on The Rocks!

I had been feeling quite deprived of pancakes since I used to go out for breakfast in Toronto all the time, and then not having them when I was in Hong Kong (because it's just not a thing there), and then not having them for two weeks or so since being in Sydney. This was the first time having restaurant-made pancakes for maybe a month.

I was elated.

The menu kind of scared me. They had all sorts, chocolate, with all kinds of fruit, etc, etc.

To keep things simple, I just ordered a short stack.

To be honest, they weren't that great. They came with ice cream but not butter, though I had requested butter, which made me question whether if this place was for real or not.

How can you not eat pancakes without butter!?! That is just disrespectful to whoever invented pancakes!

Anyway, I got out of that place and wandered around the markets at The Rocks. The vendors sold mostly touristy products like candles, gems, leather, clothes, etc etc. I didn't get anything.

This is what it looked like.

The vibe there was great. They had graffiti artists "performing" in one corner and a DJ spinning beats. The whole place was just full of happy people enjoying their day.

I snuck into a bookstore and an authentically Australian Ugg boot shop. Both made me happy.

This made me smile too:

I hope everyone else is having a lovely weekend as well!