jessica lee travels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruges, Belgium, in black and white by Jessica Lee

On the weekend, my friend Guilhem and I went to the medieval-looking town of Bruges, Belgium. It's a beautiful town, but unfortunately, there's not much to do there.

The main attractions would probably be 1. the palace 2. the folklore museum 3. the beautiful architecture and 4. maybe the shopping, as that's what most people were doing.

I don't enjoy "touristy" towns where bad gimmicky shopping is a pastime. I also don't like being surrounded by too many tourists. I heard that after the movie In Bruges (2008) came out, the town was suddenly flooded with tourists- which can be a good thing for the economy, but I imagine slightly annoying to the residents.

Here is the main square:

Bruges has this nice canal, much like in Venice, which would have been nice to explore on a rowboat. They had a speedboat tour, but I tend to not go for pre-rehearsed, mass-information-directed tours; instead, I gravitate towards smaller, improvised tours which can allow for unique moments to happen.

I think my favourite moment in Bruges would have to be the hot chocolate we had near the end of the day. Belgium is known for it's good chocolate, and the place we went to, Bitter Sweet, was no exception.

We were brought two cups of steamed milk and told to place our dark chocolate tulips in the cups. The tulips would float, then sink to the bottom and melt into the milk. It was fun, and absolutely delicious.

Bruges would be a fun place for a day trip. I wouldn't recommend more than two days here as the cafes and chocolate shops (great as they are) will probably get old fast. The town is more suited for slow travel, as in taking the time to walk around and discover places, as opposed to a bigger city where you're always stimulated by different attractions and rushing around to get to places.

Here are more photos of the trip:

Edmonton: Art Gallery of Alberta, aimless wandering and Muttart Conservatory by Jessica Lee

It was 7 am. I had just stumbled off of the Via Rail in Edmonton, caught a cab to my hotel and was trying to figure out what to do next.

My room wasn't ready to be checked into yet so the possibility of trying to catch some Zs was out. Luckily, I remembered my friend Josh had moved here for law school just a week ago. I pulled out my phone to see if he was up for some breakfast.

He was.

20 minutes later, we were wandering around Old Strathcona, looking for grub.

This is what the bridge from Old Strathcona to downtown looks like:

The river reminded me of Saskatoon. It is the same river after all, as Saskatchewan is right beside Alberta and the river runs through both provinces.

We arrived downtown, and Josh showed me the water fountains. Unlike most water fountains in other cities, the crowd in Edmonton likes to swim in their water fountains during the summer. It looked really fun, so we ran in too.

We were still hungry though, so we asked around for food recommendations. Note to everyone reading this. Don't go to a place called "Alberts". That is where we went and let's just say it wasn't that great.

This is cool though. I love food trucks.

We also wandered into the nearby mall

This is Edmonton's version of Toronto's "Dundas Square". Or if you're from Melbourne, "Federation Square", basically a central gathering location.

As you can see, here's another fountain.

What's really cool is that city hall is nearby too. I love the architecture and its eco-friendly design. There are public tables and I was saying to Josh how it would be a perfect study space, with its high ceilings and relatively quiet atmosphere.

Next, we ventured into another magnificently-designed building, the Alberta Art Gallery.

The insides are pretty cool too.

Here was an art installation that I found interesting. It juxtaposes a bar with a piano.

There's also a cafe on the top floor, which again would be a great study spot, or just a spot to read a book.

I'm constantly looking for places like this in Toronto, somewhere where there isn't a lot of chatter or people, but has a few souls in there to make the place alive, as quiet motivators working off to the side. For me, the perfect empty to full coffee shop patron ratio is about three to four people who are quietly working- they may occasionally start a conversation to keep things interesting.

Here is the roof of the Art Gallery of Alberta. Again, a good reading spot. Notice the patio chairs and tables in the back of this impressive art display.

They had these little ghost-shaped mirror cut-outs. Here's a photo of Josh and I.

Here's some more amazing architecture, shot from the top of the stairs at the gallery.

This is me at one of the installations. Can you spot words?

After the gallery, with no set agenda, we decided to just wander around the city on foot.

This is what the city centre/ main mall looks like. (This isn't the West Edmonton Mall, I'll show you that in a later post)

I thought the ad below looked cool, so I shot a photo of it. This is in the chinatown area.

There's also a gorgeous view of the city and river from Chinatown. This is what it looks like:

We saw a path and decided to explore. It definitely led away from the city, but I theorized that since I had walked through the prairies of Saskatoon for hours at a time earlier this summer, a walk around the neighbourhoods of Edmonton would be small potatoes. Josh was game, so onward we went.

The path led to a nice walk along the river.

You're probably looking at these photos from your computer or mobile device and thinking "oh that looks like a nice walk". Truth be told, this walk took around 2 hours. I just didn't take photos of the boring parts. It was quite nice though, and worth the while if you have a day to spend.

Here is the Saskatchewan River:

We walked by this interesting building that looked like the Louvre from the outside (with the glass pyramids) and decided to see what it was.

It was a nature conservatory.

Since it was half an hour till closing time, the nice lady at the front just let us in for free.

It was absolutely beautiful.

There were four different curations of plants with different themes.

In this particular one, the theme was around the story sword in the stone. It was so calm and peaceful, I wanted to do yoga in there. So we did (no photos, of it sorry!).

The next one was a desert-themed curation.

The below corpse flower wasn't really a flower when we arrived, because it was in its dormancy/ regrowing stage. You can view its full growth here at this link. Even though this flower was just a patch of soil when we were there, I enjoyed the story, especially when it opened on Earth Day. You can read the timeline below. Since the plant is also from Sumatra, it brought me back to my travels last year in Indonesia.

Afterwards, wandered around and stumbled upon a music festival, where we were fortunate enough to meet a lovely Albertan who drove us back near our starting point.

This is Whyte Avenue, which is the main street near University of Alberta.

We ended our day with a Southern-inspired meal at Dadeos.

I loved the retro feel of the place with its checkerboard floor and vinyl booths. They had small details on each table too:

This is what dinner looked like. Blackened catfish with jambalaya rice.

It was a wildly successful first day in Edmonton. I got back to my hotel and got ready for the next day's adventures.