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.

Photos: Copenhagen, Denmark by Jessica Lee

I landed in Copenhagen, Denmark, as dinner time was just beginning.

I had just come from Reykjavik, Iceland, where the community was small and there wasn't much to explore.

Copenhagen was perfect in that there was lots going on, lights everywhere and people travelling about.

A rush of cyclists sped past me towards the lit-up city and I followed them in that direction, excited by a new city to explore.

The thing I loved most about Copenhagen was its gorgeous aesthetics. There were cafes on every corner and all the buildings were meticulously kept.

I didn't see trash on any of the streets. There were only friends meeting with each other and happy couples. I definitely fell in love with this city at first sight. I wanted to move here for maybe a year or so. Waking up each day to beautiful streets and charming cafes would be wonderful.

Copenhagen was still early in my backpacking trip and I had spent the past year weening myself off of shopping and needless money spending to save up for this trip, so I quickly grew tired of walking through the commercial centre, despite all the cool boutiques. I settled down in a cafe and just people watched.

Danish people are quite fashionable.

I wandered towards the main square and stumbled upon the Christmas Market.

There's a Christmas Market in Toronto (third last photo) which started a couple of years ago, and is based on these European Christmas Markets. I had gone, and loved it. But being in a European one definitely beat out the Toronto one. I think it has something to do with the old buildings and cobblestone floors around you.

It feels more authentic with European cuisines, rather than poutine. But if you're in Toronto during Christmas season, you might as well check it out because it's beautiful with all the lights.

Another thing I loved about Copenhagen was its walkability. I never took the public transportation because everything I wanted to go to was easily accessible.

The only downside about Copenhagen are its expensive prices. As the third richest city in the world, it can be difficult to afford to live there. I spent $8 on a hot chocolate, and it was normal pricing. A bar meal was $20 for bangers and mash. It was delicious, but you can definitely get better value in less expensive cities.

Will I try to move to Copenhagen in the future? Perhaps. Currently Sydney, Melbourne, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Rome are on my list for top places to try to live in (for reasons I will later explain), but Copenhagen ranks pretty high up there too.

More photos of my time in Copenhagen:

Lund, Sweden: minimalist designs and progressive views by Jessica Lee

Lund, Sweden, was one of the first places I visited in Europe.

Unfortunately, I didn't get to see a lot of it in the daytime because I was still recovering from jet lag and Sweden only gets about 3 hours of sunlight a day in Winter. The mood of walking around at night is dark and sombre- exactly like a Swedish film I saw a couple of years ago, Let the Right One In (2008). That's okay though, because the city centre was inviting and warm.

I think my favourite part about Lund was its small size. There aren't many tourist attractions so I didn't feel the pressure to rush from place to place. I took my time, went window shopping and sat in cafes.

One of the things I noticed about Lund (and I suppose Sweden in general) was its minimalistic design in everything from architecture to interiors.

The simple, practical design of the buildings in Sweden are quite different from say, the fancy Haussmann style of Paris.

I liked the design of this bathroom in their community centre. It was non-gendered, with just one big room and a communal sink but different stalls. It's utilitarian and gender-friendly. It allows women to use the men's stalls if there is a huge line-up of women and no men's line-up, because usually that's what happens. It also puts less pressure on transgendered people.

I think it's really cool Sweden's progressive views are reflected in their designs. Swedes are known around the world for being tolerant and having great social policies such as long parental leaves (480 days, 390 of them paid), a good welfare program, and fairly equal gender equality.

As much as I liked the aesthetics and generous amount of cafes in Sweden however, I think my favourite memory of Lund was taking part in an elaborate dinner with my friend's Swedish buddies.

It's always nice to have locals explain delicacies to you while showing you how to cook in their homes. It feels much more authentic than going to a restaurant. It's also really cool to know they play the same games we do in North America. We played a sweet game of charades after dinner. But of course, the pop culture references are different. For example, I didn't know some of the Swedish politicians the group brought up. Also, because I'm Canadian, whenever I play a guessing-type game with people of other nationalities, "Justin Bieber" always gets thrown into the hat (lucky me).

By the way, Swedes really love their cheese. Here is a photo of me with an "ordinary" sized block of cheese in a grocery store, which is HUGE even by North American standards:

I hope I get to visit Lund again a few years down the road. Of course, everything will be different because I won't know anyone there anymore (everyone I do know there is a temporary student), but I love to revisit places, retrace steps and relive memories.

Malmo, Sweden by Jessica Lee

Malmo, Sweden, is not where my trip to Europe began, but it is pretty close.

After a brief two days in Copenhagen, Denmark, I went to stay with my friend Myra in Lund.

I remember having trouble adjusting to the new timezones in Europe. I would sleep until noon, not make it out of the house until 1 pm, then find that the sun set in Sweden at around 3 pm. I never really got to see Sweden in the daylight as much as I would have liked to.

Then one day, we took a day trip to Malmo, to see one of her friends for dinner.

A train ride from Lund to Malmo is around 12 minutes. It was amazing to see another fully formed city with a square and established businesses within such a short distance.

In other big cities such as Berlin, it takes much longer to get to another suburb by train. Why are some cities bigger geographically? I am not an expert in urban sprawl, but I liked seeing the differences myself firsthand.

Anyway, here is what Malmo looks like:

One thing that stuck out to me the most was the design and the architecture.

We went into this furniture store which was full of fresh and inspiring ideas.

Usually, travellers don't like "consumerism" because buying more things means more things to carry around with them. Most hardcore travellers I know/ read about don't usually hang around the urban shopping centres, but I find this tragic because when a store is artfully done, it's like going to a design museum- for free!

This Swedish store we were in even offered free tea and coffee.

While we were in Malmo, they also had some sort of festival. Candles were being lit in the streets.

And there was a market of vintage/ handmade things in the square.

We settled down for a coffee break, went grocery shopping and then night set in.

Here is a photo of our dinner: salad, lasagna, ginger cookies and Swedish tea.

Winding down post-trip by Jessica Lee

Sometimes I am in disbelief that I was in the desert. But there are photos to prove it, and so I smile and try to put myself back in that place again.

I'm currently going through all of my photos and trying to figure out how to tell this story in a compelling and personal way.

Here are the places I went to on this trip (in chronological order):

1. Reykjavik, Iceland
2. Copenhagen, Denmark
3. Lund, Sweden
4. Malmo, Sweden
5. Berlin, Germany
6. Paris, France
7. Brussels, Belgium
8. Lille, France
9. Barcelona, Spain
10. Malaga, Spain
11. Tangier, Morocco
12. Chefchaouen, Morocco
13. Fes, Morocco
14. Sahara Desert, Morocco
15. Ouarzazate, Morocco
16. Marrakech, Morocco
17. Essaouria, Morocco
18. Casablanca, Morocco
19. Rome, Italy
20. Florence, Italy
21. Pisa, Italy
22. Milan, Italy
23. Munich, Germany
24. Luxembourg, Luxembourg
25. Paris, France (again)
26. Amsterdam, Netherlands
27. Zurich, Switzerland
28. Paris, France (again)
29. London, England
30. Dublin, Ireland
31. New York, United States

16 countries and 29 different cities/towns. While there were some cities I enjoyed more than others, I cannot deny that the other cities weren't good learning experiences.

Some cities can be brought back by a certain song. I'll be out with friends or in the car, when a song plays and all of a sudden, I'm reminded of a city I was in and all the kind people I met there.

I didn't exchange contact information with everyone I would have liked to and it breaks my heart, but I hope that we meet again some day. The world is a lot smaller than it seemed to me a couple of months ago.

I remember before I booked the plane tickets and gave leave of notice at my full-time job that I had doubts about this trip. I worried about the repercussions it would have on my professional career and my finances. But the thing is, looking back, I don't regret anything at all. I got to see so many things people would have killed to see. I got to experience new food, new smells and new perspectives on life and work. 

I'm still the same person I was before I left the trip. I still have the same drive to accomplish my personal and professional goals, and I still like to complain about Canadian winters. I still enjoy maple syrup, and I still try to eat as healthy as I can. But on the other hand, I have experienced so many new things. I know so much more than I would have had I decided to stay in Toronto these past few months. For example, I now know that Amsterdam is one of my favourite cities in Europe, that German people are friendlier than they initially seem, and that I love Barcelona even though there's not much to do in that city. I know I want to move to Paris at some point in my life, but I also know I wouldn't want to live there for too long.

I discovered some things about myself as well. I realized I'm more shy than I care to admit. In new cities where I knew no one at all, I usually waited for other people to talk to me first. This sometimes worked and sometimes didn't. Sometimes you meet an interesting person to learn from and to share with, but sometimes, you get bad company (which thankfully ends in a day or two). In Toronto, where I live, I don't have to meet new people because I have friends already (why make effort when it's not needed?), but being on the road, you quickly learn these things about yourself.

There are some other odd things I learned from this trip as well. For example, in undeveloped places like most of Morocco, if you ask women for directions, they usually can't help you. For a while, because I felt unsafe asking men for help, I only asked women. But I found that they really didn't know anything (in general). It was frustrating, but it also made me realize how fortunate I was to grow up in a country that encourages equal access education.

I'm still going over everything in my head and trying to process it all. I want to write all the stories down in one go while they're fresh in my mind- but I've also discovered how enjoyable it is to slowly savour each and every experience, to take it day by day, and to prolong recounting tales of my trip- just so I can live through it again.

Berlin, Germany: long distances but lots going on by Jessica Lee

 My expectations for Berlin were high. In Lund, Sweden, I met a girl from Berlin who loved her city. Everyone I spoke to raved about this city. At the airport, I met a Brit who had recently moved to Berlin.

Perhaps my expectations were too high.

From the moment I stepped off the plane, there was a bubbling excitement in me. Berlin was the first city I had chosen to see for myself. Iceland was a layover from Canada, which I extended for two days to look around, Copenhagen was on the way to see my friend Myra in Sweden, and Lund was where she lived.

Berlin seems to have a lot to offer, but I don’t think this city is for me because of its immense size. Walking to and from my hostel to Alexanderplatz took almost an hour, even though the train stops are right beside each other. I know this seems like a minor complaint, but distance really affects how enjoyable a city is.

I once ate at a restaurant where the size of the place was so large, we asked the waitress to get us a fork and she said the kitchen was too far away (literally a minute walk away). I understand her pain and it was unfortunate that she chose to work at a restaurant where the physical distance is so big, but it's still her job to fetch utensils. I think she would have been much happier at a small cafe, and this is how I feel about Berlin. I would have been happier if everything was close together. 

Even on the metro the next day, I seemed to spend an eternity just on the trains, though they do provide a gorgeous view of the city.

And while Alexanderplatz was impressive, the distances to and from each attraction were too large to comfortably enjoy while walking. Berlin’s walk score is like Detroit, but with fancier buildings.

I really liked Hackescher Market, which is an edgier shopping district (compared to the department store vibe of Galleria) filled with design-oriented brand names like All Saints or Muji.

I wandered further south one night and came across the university. The gorgeous architecture of the older buildings was nice. And I loved that there were Christmas Markets all over the place.

Friedrichshain also seemed like a great place to spend a day. Other than that, I don't really think there's much for me in Berlin.

I still think the city for me is Sydney, where there is culture, art, surf, sail, shopping and good food. If only Sydney weren't so far away from the rest of the world...

Reykjavik, Iceland: Blue Lagoon and Northern Lights by Jessica Lee

My first day in Reykjavik, Iceland was full of big moments. I didn't waste any time and headed to the Blue Lagoon straight from the airport.

The tour companies in Iceland have got everything figured out. Many people have lengthy layovers from Iceland to other places in Europe so the tour companies have arranged for buses that go directly from the airport to the major attractions.

It was around 8 am when I landed in Iceland and the sun hadn't even risen yet. I got on the tour bus with a handful of other passengers and we drove in silence through the dark towards the Blue Lagoon.

The Blue Lagoon is a geothermic spa where all of the water is naturally replenished every 40 hours. It's full of minerals such as sulphur and silica, which are good for the skin (but terrible for hair).

It was about 10 am when we arrived and the sun was just beginning to rise turning the sky from almost black into a deep shade of blue.

After a somewhat long flight, the Blue Lagoon and its spa was exactly what I needed. The water was just the right scorching hot temperature, and staring into the sky and at the mountains was relaxing. It was a bittersweet moment when I realized that since I wouldn't likely be in Iceland again, it would be the only time I would get to enjoy the Blue Lagoon.

After spending a good couple of hours at the Lagoon, I got on the bus and headed into the city. Reykjavik surprised me a little when I realized how much it resembled a traditional European city. For some reason, I associated Iceland (since it was separate physically from Europe) with Arctic destinations in Canada such as Yellowknife or Nunavut. I didn't expect such a beautiful town, but rather just simple buildings.

I stayed at Hlemmur Square, which is on top of the main bus station. This is what the view from my hostel looked like:

Though it was a 10 bed dorm, only one other girl stayed during the first night. She was an extremely quiet and considerate roommate, so it was fantastic.

The next night, I had the entire room to myself. It was like I rented a studio apartment.

Like most Nordic countries, Iceland doesn't get a lot of daylight. I was woken up at 9 am when it was still dark by school children getting on the bus.

The sun sets around 3 pm, with the sky being completely dark by 4:30.

I walked around the city and took in the sites. It was really neat to compare even just slight differences from back home and Reykjavik. For example, the architecture in the below building would stick out back in Toronto, but seemed to fit in in Iceland.

I was extremely excited when I stumbled onto a restaurant that served traditional Icelandic food, but decided not to blow my budget on the first night.

Instead, I went out for a night time excursion to see the Northern Lights.

I have never seen the lights in-person before, despite living in Canada.

It was a wonderful moment, when the lights showed up. Everyone who was there let out a cheer, as we had been waiting for a few hours. It was also extremely cold. I have a newfound appreciation for outdoor photographers after waiting outside for the lights to show up.

In real life, the lights were nowhere as bright as the photos because the photos were long exposures, but it was still amazing to see a long strip of light in the sky I wasn't used to seeing. Seeing and photographing the lights is also one of the things on my checklist for this trip, so it was nice to be able to accomplish it on the first day.

I hope the rest of Europe brings experiences as exciting as the Blue Lagoon and Northern Lights!

23 and Europe by Jessica Lee

On my 23rd birthday, I got on a plane to Europe and landed in Reykjavik, Iceland, 5 hours later.

I plan to start off 23 with a mini retirement/ learning sabbatical /inspirational intermission. Length of time? Around 2-3 months.

My mission for this trip is:

1. To see parts of the world I haven't seen before
2. Experience several different cultures/ways of living
3. Figure out my favourite cities/ find inspiration for how I want to plan my future lifestyle
4. Fill my photography portfolio with more travel photography
5. Further educate myself on different parts of the world (in depth and with personal connections)
6. Relax a bit
7. See my friends and create wonderful memories

I think it's important to have these little gaps in between a professional career to step out of a routine, stretch comfort zones and disrupt life (in a good way). New experiences (and meeting new people, sometimes) always bring more insight and learning but they don't always happen by themselves, which is why sometimes you have to create opportunities for things to happen organically...

We shall see what comes about in the next couple of months. I'll keep writing if you keep reading. Deal?

Backpacking in Europe: what I'm bringing by Jessica Lee

I'm heading to Europe for a classic backpacking trip and this is what my life is going to look like for the next two or so months.

I tried to keep it as simple as possible, following with the theme of minimalism

Of course, travelling to Europe during the winter is going to be a little more difficult than in the summer because now I'll have to bring heavy jackets, boots, scarves and heavy sweaters. In the summer, I wouldn't need all of that, which would cut my packing essential list to about half the size.

For my trip, I'm bringing a 30 L backpack and a small day purse. At weighing time, the pack came to just over 12 kilos, which isn't terrible, but not as light as I would have liked my pack to be.

The point of packing light is so I can hop out of each airport/bus station/train station and just get on with exploring the city without ordering a taxi or first dropping off my things at the place I'm staying at. I want to be mobile and efficient.

Here's what I'm bringing:

1 pair of pants, dark blue and quite functional- matches with everything 
(I plan to do laundry frequently throughout the trip)
1 grey hoodie
2 cardigans
3 dresses (all very versatile, can be work to a professional environment or a casual environment, or even worn to go out to nice places)
2 pairs of wool socks (necessary!)
2 pairs of tights
1 t-shirt for sleeping in
3 casual tops
1 pair of combat boots (my main choice of footwear, as it will be snowing)
1 pair of flats (in case it's warm. The flats I chose are black and match with everything. They are also two years old (purchased in Australia!), and somewhat worn in. If I need to make space in my pack, these will be the first to go)
1 pair of lounge pants (for sleeping in)
1 scarf
1 pair of gloves
1 swimsuit
1 microfiber towel and one face cloth
1 pair of flip flops (for walking around hostels or hotels)
1 winter hat
1 rainjacket

Professional gear:
Besides, experiencing European culture, and visiting friends, the purpose for this trip is to take photos and develop my portfolio. I do plan to travel light however. My photography kit is minimal, which will force me to be creative. 
I am only bringing:
1 Mark 5D SLR (and charger)
1 24-70mm lens
1 tripod (which was purchased specifically for this trip)

I have a nice, quality tripod which I use in Toronto on professional shoots and for events. I can't bring that one though because unfortunately, it's built well and quite heavy.

This Polaroid tripod I bought for the trip was only $20 on Amazon and made of really light materials. It's broken on me twice already just while I was packing it in my backpack. I don't mind though as it still works and because of the cheap price, it means I can throw it away at any point during my trip if it becomes too heavy. It was mainly purchased so I can get good Northern Lights photos.

Personal care:
I packed essentials such as shampoo, face wash, lotion, body wash, toothpaste, etc.
An item some may find strange is a 100ml container of tea tree oil beauty mask.

The story behind the beauty mask dates back to 2012, on my study exchange to Sydney, Australia, where I met my housemate Myra. We started doing these masks together as a girly way to bond and now since I'm visiting her (she's doing a study exchange in Sweden), I had to keep up the tradition.

Make-up for this trip is also minimal. Everything fits into a small pouch. I have basics such as lip balm, foundation, black and brown eyeliner, mascara, lip stain... and for those days I'm feeling wild, shimmery violet eyeliner (purchased in Korea) and gold eyeshadow.
I also brought lots of bobby pins and hair ties.

I packed all liquids in a plastic bag for easy airport security access.

Odds and ends:

2 notebooks (one journal, and one travel planner)
2 language guides (French and German)
1 small London guidebook
1 tea tumbler
1 day purse
Lock and keys

This section started off with three books, but I couldn't close my backpack initally, so I took out two. I plan to exchange books with people I meet or buy a new one and drop off the finished one during my trip now. I have a E-reader, but I'm still not comfortable with it and it would be another thing that I would worry about getting stolen.

1 mp3
1 book (Richard Florida's Who's Your City, which I find fitting since I will be travelling to so many)
1 laptop (for blogging, work and keeping in touch with friends)
1 harmonica, which I plan to get really good at playing during my trip

What do you think? Would you take any items out? Put anything in?

The story of the mix CD or why I know all the words of a random Portuguese song by Jessica Lee

About a month ago, I set off on a road trip with a couple of friends around the eastern coast of Australia.

We had all been on road trips before but we all made the same rookie mistake in not bringing along music for the long 3500 km drive.

We were in luck however as we found out the person who rented the campervan before us had left a mix CD in the player. The twelve songs on this CD would be the only music we had during the full two weeks of our driving. As a result, we became extremely familiar with all the songs.

Though it has been more than a month, I can still tell you which song is on which track.

We didn't mind most of the songs, in fact they were songs we would have listened to anyway. There was some Coldplay, Gotye's "Somebody That I Used To Know" (very fitting for an Australian road trip), Michael Jackson, Mumford and Sons, and some indie bands.

One song stood out in particular because it was in a language we didn't recognize and because the tune was more cultural than the rest of the songs on the CD.

I immediately took a liking to this strange and mysterious song and soon learned the words after playing it many many times repeatedly to the chagrin of my travel buddies. They liked the song too, just not as much as I did.

It's refreshing and a little exciting to not know what the words you sing mean. Or to not even know the language of what you're singing. We had deduced the song was European, but that's as far as we got despite my repeated google searches to find out more about the song. In my travels, I met a lovely German couple who recognized the song when I sung it to them, but they didn't know the origins either. However the fact that they knew the song confirmed it was popular in the European market. I didn't figure out more about the song after that. My search to find out more about the song ended soon after the trip finished.

That is, until the other day.

I met three Italian men on the beach in Bali. We got to talking about music and they revealed the song was actually Portuguese. This time, I managed to find out the name of the song through Google after adding "portuguese" beside a lyric I sounded out. After a month and a half, I FINALLY found the name of the song.

The song is called "Ai Se Eu Te Pego" and is performed by Michel Telo. In English, the title is roughly translated to "Ah When I Get My Hands On You".

Basically for the past month, I've been singing in Portuguese of the naughty things I'm going to do to some hot girl at a dance club when I get my hands on her. I think this is hilarious because now I know how to pick up chicks in Portuguese. I mean, if I ever wanted to.

It's a really catchy song so you can't really blame me for singing it nonstop. Even now that I know what the lyrics mean, I would still sing it aloud in public if I ever went to visit Portugal.

Listen here for yourself and let me know what you think:

Readers, I'd love to hear from you! Do you have any strange or funny stories involving language on your travels?