In Photos: India, Sri Lanka and more... by Jessica Lee

The Taj Mahal in Agra, as captured at 6 am. I went early to avoid tourists, but it turns out everyone had the same idea.

The Taj Mahal in Agra, as captured at 6 am. I went early to avoid tourists, but it turns out everyone had the same idea.

India was not an easy, every moment photo-worthy trip to make – it was a long-awaited journey, finally fulfilled. I had put off travelling to India on my own for years, thinking that eventually one day, everything would fall into place; that friends who also wanted to travel to India would also be able to go at the same time and that by travelling together and sticking to a pack, India would be less confronting. I had heard stories of India being unsafe for solo women travellers, but also many stories that countered that narrative. In the end, I decided that if I didn’t go now, I may never go.

The hustle and bustle of Elephanta Island, off of Mumbai, India

The hustle and bustle of Elephanta Island, off of Mumbai, India

In my youth, I met many who were only a few decades older than me who said to me ‘I wish I had travelled more when I was younger’; thus I am only following the hidden advice in the trail of their regretful longings while I still have the energy, time and freedom.

There were two sides of India – the India portrayed on blogs as alluring, exotic, with bold colours… and the India that was dirty, polluted, hot and humid; filled with plastic garbage and dusty air.

Delhi/ Agra / Jaipur / Mumbai
I spent the first five days in Delhi in a haze of sleepiness, still on North American time, waking up at 5 pm and faithfully navigating to Rajiv Chowk every day to take in the crowds, the markets and the night life. I watched young couples sit together after a night out at the cinema, families at leisure, and the peddlers at the market stalls eager for a sale. I ate as many different Indian dishes as I could: paneer curries, tikkas, daals, samosas; enjoying all the bold flavours in a wide-eyed enthusiasm. During this time, I also learned to put up higher walls than usual as I unintentionally picked up unexpected and unwanted companions on the way.

JP, from Lebanon, at the W Hotel in Northern Goa and a hut in Southern Goa

JP, from Lebanon, at the W Hotel in Northern Goa and a hut in Southern Goa

Filled with palm trees and the soft ambience in the brushing of ocean waves in the background, Goa was a welcome break from the rush of city life. The beaches had a laidback, hippie vibe. Dreadlocks, hemp clothing and tie-dye all made an appearance. I felt more space around me than I had the previous three weeks spent in the large cities and I could finally breathe, literally and metaphorically. The air was better near the beaches and there were less crowds. My favourite days were spent on motorcycles, exploring the nearby areas on open roads, looking up to open skies, discovering lakes or hidden beaches – impromptu road trips where I didn’t know where I would end up.

I spent my first night in South Goa at a bar talking to a well-travelled stranger who had been to a few of the same places I had been to. We compared experiences and found that we had a strikingly similar experience while tubing in Vang Vieng, Laos. At this point, we had been chatting for over an hour and had moved on to dinner on the beach. It turns out we had met before – I met Liam from England (the stranger) two years ago and we had spent an entire day tubing down a river together. Two years had changed his appearance dramatically and I no longer recognized him – and he did not recognize me as he was inebriated the entire day that we had been tubing. The world is large but small at the same time. It is random and full of wonder.

Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo

Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo

I arrived by plane in the middle of the night in Colombo. This was two weeks after the terrorism attacks on the country that left the country in a fragile state in morale and finances as many tourists cancelled their trips fearing for their safety.

I have a theory that destinations off of the usual tourist radar attracts the most compelling people and it was in this way I met Marina, a seal trainer (and former Miss California) working in Dubai. She invited me to see elephants with her at the elephant orphanage in Pinawalla and off we went the next day. Our hotel overlooked a bay where the orphanage would take their elephants to bathe twice every day. Watching baby elephants playfully splash themselves in water was not something I thought I would enjoy as much as I did, but it was truthfully one of the highlights of my trip.

Marina at Pinawalla

Marina at Pinawalla

Locals in Kandy

Locals in Kandy

After blissful days of elephant watching, Marina and I parted ways in Kandy and I met a traveller who was polite and well-meaning but unfortunately tightly-strung and distressed. He had spent his entire day in the guest house, fearing for his life, not daring to leave. He counted down the days until his flight out of Sri Lanka. He had been on a bus where allegedly, a bomb was found. When he had left his room to finally get dinner that night, he said police had found dynamite in a truck. He had been profoundly affected by his experiences and his hysteria got to me. I spent the remainder of the night editing all my photos quickly so that if something were to happen to me the next day, my work would still live on. It was a terrifying and panic-stricken night.

The train ride from Kandy to Ella passed through mountains, tea plantations and small villages

The train ride from Kandy to Ella passed through mountains, tea plantations and small villages

Ella/Arugam Bay
On the train the next day to Ella, tensions were high, but just in my head. As we waited for the train, every little movement by the other passengers caused alarms in my head – would this be the moment someone would pull out a bomb? But the train arrived and we all boarded without incident. Where the train would have been full or close to full just a few weeks ago, now there was plenty of room to stretch out because of all the missing tourists. As the train rolled forward, little by little, as we passed the peaceful backgrounds of quaint villages, lush forests, tea plantations and mountains, I slowly began to relax. On the train, I met Robin from Switzerland who had travelled through Sri Lanka the last several weeks by himself. His ease in the environment calmed me down. We sat in between the railway cars, our legs dangling out the open doors, our gaze ahead to where the ever-changing scenic landscape appeared and disappeared in seconds as our train passed by. I was looking for a spot to go surfing after Ella and had planned to go to Weligama, when he told me about Arugam Bay, where he had been before and was heading back himself.

Robin from Switzerland in Ella. It had started to rain but the light was beautiful so we got in a few frames.

Robin from Switzerland in Ella. It had started to rain but the light was beautiful so we got in a few frames.

And this was how I found myself in surfer’s paradise – a long stretch of sandy beach filled with ramshackle beach huts, restaurants and surf shops. It was a low-key place for an acquired taste. The entire town was like existing in a bit of a dream. Besides the locals, everywhere I looked was filled with young, tanned, toned and beautiful surfers with the goal of catching the best waves. These twenty and thirty-somethings had been travelling back and forth between India and Sri Lanka for months and had devoted weeks to the ocean – a rebellion from the normalcy of western society’s workaholism and structure. At dinner, we exchanged stories of long-term travel, where we were going and where we had been. Stomachs full and satisfied with the night’s festivities, we stumbled off to bed, ready to do it all again the next day. I was sad to finally leave but made a mental note to come back again one day.

Ananuri Mountains, Georgia

Ananuri Mountains, Georgia

Georgia/ Ukraine

At this point of my trip, I had been gone for over a month. I was ready to head back home, but wanted to make a pit stop in Europe first. I had first heard of Georgia from a girl who loved it when I was staying at a hostel in Macedonia. Georgia exceeded my expectations. I had expected a cookie-cutter Eastern-European city with stark brutalist architecture and unmemorable food. I received a fresh, mostly tourist-free city and a delicious smattering of local cuisines. One day, I rented a four-wheel drive and drove to the mountains. Along the way, sheep and cattle and their herders ran across the road and I got out to take some pictures. An older couple saw me and invited me to join their picnic lunch. I took their portrait too. In Kiev, I met up with Marta, a photographer and videographer who I knew from Toronto but had moved to Kiev to reconnect with her roots. After a weekend of beers, chats and folk dancing, it was time to go home.

Georgian woman at Ananuri Fortress

Georgian woman at Ananuri Fortress

Sheep herding outside of Tbilisi, Georgia

Sheep herding outside of Tbilisi, Georgia

2016 My Year in Review by Jessica Lee

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap Cambodia. Photo: Najeer Yusof

Angkor Wat, Siem Reap Cambodia. Photo: Najeer Yusof

2016, for me, was a year that could only be described as “FULL”. I spent a record (in a year) total of 110 days (30% of the year) travelling locally and also to other eight countries, five of which were new to me; had a full-time job; on top of another full-time job (freelance photography); on top of helping my best friend get married (almost a full-time job); and also managed to accomplish some personal goals like reading 52 books this year, getting my motorcycle license, finally paying off all of my student loans (phew!) and getting my Open Water Diving Scuba certification. I also finally went on my South East Asia backpacking trip which I had been planning for since 2012 but something always came in the way. 

I spent this year climbing, swimming to the depths of the ocean, tanning on exotic beaches, exploring new careers (I spent ten days as a bartender on a Thai island), going on motorcycle trips around Vietnam; and subsequently also spending some time at the hospital getting minor surgery because of the aforementioned motorcycle trip. It’s been a fantastic journey and though it was exhausting at times, there’s no way I would stop living so fully.

Exploring Koh Chang, Thailand by motorcycle

Exploring Koh Chang, Thailand by motorcycle

While I didn’t get everything I wanted handed to me this year (bummer), I am truly satisfied with where I am in this moment in my life. I am grateful for the richness of experiences I’ve been fortunate to have, for old friends, new friends and beautiful moments I’ve been able to share with people this year.

Here is what I learned from 2016:

Ngapali Beach, Myanmar

Ngapali Beach, Myanmar

1. Don’t take for granted where you are now and have insurance for the future, or at least an exit strategy or escape plan. Earlier this year, I was photographing a news event with a bunch of photographers. There was one photographer who caught my eye because though he was in his late 40s or early 50s, he had sense of style that belonged to someone in their teens or late thirties. It was really cool. I later found out that he used to be the editor in chief of this niche national magazine I loved back in high school. Back then, in my teenage eyes, he had the dream job. Now, ten years later, he was reporting for a publication that no one reads. I do not know his entire story (and also everyone knows print journalism is declining) but was sad to see how his career and situation changed so drastically. What I’ve learned from this is that careers don’t always advance, sometimes they go the other way – have a good back-up plan for ten/twenty/thirty years from now.

They're married! Photo: Dave and Jen Stark

They're married! Photo: Dave and Jen Stark

2. Spend more time with people you love. Life is short! This year, my best friend of 20 years got married to the love of her life. Her and I had been dreaming of this day since we were six, and how we agreed we would be maid of honour for each other. The wedding was a major milestone – we were waiting our whole lives for this moment and now it was finally here. While standing at the altar, supporting her, I realized how quickly 20 years had passed, and how quickly the next 20 years will pass. Make sure you make time for the people important to you before life passes you by.

Giving my Maid of Honour speech, notice how everyone is laughing but the groom appears worried. :) Photo: Dave and Jen Stark

Giving my Maid of Honour speech, notice how everyone is laughing but the groom appears worried. :) Photo: Dave and Jen Stark

Photo: Dave and Jen Stark

Photo: Dave and Jen Stark

3. Follow your own plans, don’t get swayed by other people’s projections on you. Earlier this year, I worked in a fancy corporate office where most of the people had mortgages, multiple cars, and cottages. They had comfortable lives in the same job for several years and were planning to retire in the same state. It wasn’t the life I wanted for myself – at least not yet; but in conversations, I was made to feel like I wasn’t a complete person just because I didn’t own a car like everyone else. In the end, I stuck to my guns and chose not to buy a car (I walked 20 minutes to the office each day) because I knew that if I had to make car payments, I wouldn’t be able to do other things I wanted to do more. Like right now, I’m writing this from a sunny, pristine beach in Myanmar while sipping a pina colada. I can afford this lifestyle because I chose to follow my own dreams and not be swayed by other people’s opinions.

Ngapali Beach, Myanmar

Ngapali Beach, Myanmar

4. Know your own value. This is what I had to deal with earlier this year while quoting rates for photography: “Are you even that good?” “You’re not even a wedding photographer, why are you so expensive?” “The real photographer will be here on Wednesday”. The truth of it is, photography seems like it’s easy to do, but it’s more complicated than that. Behind the scenes, photographers are constantly testing new lighting techniques, reading about new equipment and researching locations. There is so much work that goes into things a non-photographer doesn’t even think about, like photography permits or post-processing. Anyway, I’m not bitter if people don’t understand this all at first. I keep getting photography jobs at rates I’m happy with so I must be doing something right.

Exploring the 'Tomb Raider' temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Exploring the 'Tomb Raider' temple in Siem Reap, Cambodia

5. Great things take time. I think when you’re young and you have the fortune of meeting extraordinary people who have done amazing things, you tend to get overwhelmed by their stories. But over the years, I’ve learned that you can’t do everything (well) in a short period of time. Many significant projects take years. When I was 21, I met so many older, well-travelled people who seemed so knowledgeable and cultured. But throughout the years I’ve been slowly accumulating experience and going to far-flung places myself. Now, I am the one getting asked for advice from 18 year olds. Just be patient, keep working hard, enjoy your life and great things will come.  

6. Slow down and do things right the first time. I wish someone had whispered this into my ear several times this year. Once, when I was trying to claim something from my health insurance and got denied because I didn’t read the instructions thoroughly – this led to so much wasted time trying to wrap up loose ends. And second, before I got on the motorbike and drove 182 km on dirt roads during the night time in northern Vietnam. We swerved off an indent in the road I didn’t see until it was too late (it had been a nice smooth road until that point). We were just an hour from our destination before we hit the indent, flew off the bike and I had to go to the hospital to get minor surgery to clean my wound. Three stitches, some morphine and acetaminophen, a tetanus shot and a prescription for eight antibiotic pills a day later, I hobbled out of the hospital and continued my travels around South East Asia, but with much more difficulty, inconvenience and pain. (My friend was fine, except for one cut.) We were rushing back from Halong Bay to Hanoi to catch my friend’s flight that next morning, but I keep thinking that if we gave ourselves more time or if I drove just a little slower, we wouldn’t have had this accident. Of course, at worst, this accident is just an inconvenience in a minor part of my life. There were some things I couldn’t do because of my injury, some days I had to stay at the guest house and rest; and I had to constantly clean my wounds when I would rather be doing other things. Yet, the important thing is I haven’t permanently ruined any lives or done anything that is irreversible; so I think if flying off the bike and suffering the week after while recovering was meant to be a lesson, it was a good one.

E.R. in Hanoi, Vietnam. One of the worst days of 2016

E.R. in Hanoi, Vietnam. One of the worst days of 2016

Chicago in September

Chicago in September

7. Be bold and ask for what you want – because sometimes you will get it. This one keeps surprising me: all the times I got yeses when I thought I would be met with a no. Earlier this Fall, I received a photo assignment in Singapore where I had to find someone to model in a product shoot – keeping in mind I know no one in Singapore – I somehow met a girl at a lounge who was willing to let me photograph her and also several people who were just curious and volunteered to help. They became my set assistants for the morning. If there is one piece of good advice I leave you for 2017, it’s this: be direct and ask for what you need/want. You never know what might happen.

Koh Chang, Thailand

Koh Chang, Thailand

My favourite books I read this year:

Fifteen Dogs - André Alexis
What I was Doing While You Were Breeding - Kristen Newman
Catherine the Great - Robert K. Massie
A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway
How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia - Mohsin Hamid
The Song Machine - John Seabrook

Favourite places I went to:

Chicago, Illinois
Koh Chang, Thailand
Koh Phi Phi, Thailand
Siem Reap, Cambodia
Singapore, Singapore
Cat Ba Island, Vietnam
Ngapali Beach, Myanmar

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

Watching fire dancers on the beach on Koh Chang, Thailand. One of my favourite days of 2016.

Watching fire dancers on the beach on Koh Chang, Thailand. One of my favourite days of 2016.

Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

Cat Ba Island, Vietnam

See ya in 2017! Stay adventurous!

See ya in 2017! Stay adventurous!

South East Asia: New adventures! by Jessica Lee

Biking around Koh Chang, Thailand

Biking around Koh Chang, Thailand

They say with every closed door, a new one opens. And to be honest, I couldn't wait for this aforementioned door to shut fast enough. I've been wanting to do this South East Asia trip since 2012 and each time, something was in the way. But now it's finally happening. I've been in Thailand for the last couple of days and can't wait to see more of the world and take some photos too.

I've been updating Instagram the most often, and you can follow along on my adventures from there.

New Orleans: 10 years after Katrina by Jessica Lee

Imagine having a home one day and then the next day not having anything.

While in New Orleans, Louisiana, after tiring of the infamous but touristy Bourbon Street, we went to the Lower Ninth Ward, the area hit hardest after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. We were curious to see what the area looked like now, 10 years after the disaster. What we saw opened our eyes to the realities of what the locals went through after the flood.

Sometimes when you're seeing images or hearing stories about tragedies that happen in places miles away, it all seems so surreal. You know it's happening out there somewhere, but when you switch the T.V. off or stop reading the article, it just isn't in the forefront of your mind anymore - at least that's the way it is for me.

When we were in New Orleans, it was as if there was a strange divide to the city. The first place we arrived to was just outside of the French Quarter. While we were elated to see the colonial French architecture of the houses, on some streets, there were broken windows and some shady characters hanging out. My friend did not feel safe leaving his car parked in that area, so we found a garage. 

In the touristy French Quarter, buildings were freshly painted, neon signs were sparkling and enticing. There were plenty of tourist gift shops and fancy restaurants. 

The Lower Ninth Ward was a stark contrast to what we had been used to seeing in the French Quarter. Many houses were left abandoned, just held up by beams; shells of what used to be family homes.

The doors to the abandoned homes were left open and with my curiosity piqued, I went in. Being in those homes was eerie. I was worried I would find a dead body somewhere, or stumble onto a violent drug addict. In some houses with greenery growing through, I was afraid a critter or snake would fall from above onto me. 

Scattered around the floors of these houses were left over children's toys; a lot of scrap wood and junk. Anything valuable had been pillaged. People had since moved on. I don't know anything about the people who lived in these houses but I can only hope their situations have improved if only so slightly.

I post these photos as a reminder of the history, a tribute to the lives that were lost and the humanity that stepped in to help after the hurricane.

Cincinnati, Ohio: an unexpected "hidden gem by Jessica Lee

On our first day driving towards the Deep South, we weren't planning on making a stop in Cincinnati, Ohio. It was supposed to be a straight plow towards Nashville, Tennessee. But we saw the tall buildings and the cityscape and couldn't resist our curiousness so we took the next exit and went in.

It was right about dinner time and the sun was setting. Locals were taking their evening strolls with their dogs and families. We went for our own walk to see the city as well and along the way, we found the most amazing park at the riverfront.

Cincinnati recently developed new infrastructure around the water area and it was so exciting to be there, enjoying the "newness".

Much of the area around hadn't been commercialized yet, but I'm sure this will change in the next few years as more businesses open near the gardens and attractions on the riverfront.

There was a beautifully curated maze garden, swings facing the river (and bridge) and a brand new water park and a very fun-looking playground for children. If I had this kind of playground when I was young, it would have been one of my favourites for sure. (I am still "young" if we are talking about life expectancy - even John F. Kennedy, who was 46, was considered a "young president", but unfortunately much too old to be running around with five year olds on a playground.)

Sometimes I wish I could have toddlers to babysit on particularly amazing playgrounds so I could experience the playground myself without being judged by parents - because no one wants to be the strange overgrown person running around on playgrounds with little kids. If you clicked the link, yes it's a completely different context since the guy was a sex offender and also the movie was a fictional scenario, but you get the idea - parents are overprotective and can sometimes be a little frosty.

Regardless, I was incredibly impressed by the riverfront area and snapped a few photos of the new playground, swings and water park. We did not have time to see the rest of the city before moving on, but if you're ever around the Cincinnati area, definitely stop in for a walk around the water. Maybe you will discover more than we did.

Goat Rock and Highway #1, California, baby! by Jessica Lee

Ever since hearing the catchy Phantom Planet song "California" in middle school at the height of when the T.V. show The O.C. was popular, I've always wanted to drive down highway #1 while playing that song.

I finally got to do that when I visited Sonoma County and went climbing at Goat Rock, about an hour away from San Francisco. Highway #1 stretches all along the shore and makes you wonder why Californians are so lucky to witness this beauty regularly.

The drive reminded me of when I drove along Great Ocean Road in Australia. I realize I've been lucky to experience so many adventures already at my age and I've seen so much first-hand. But really, check out that link. It shows how my photography skills and my eye has only gotten better since these last three years. Go on, here is another one.

Nothing's ever absolutely perfect as you can always improve your craft, but over the years, I've definitely developed a greater personal style and the confidence to try new things, such as purposely shooting into the light, or experimenting with light flares, because who says there's only one way to do photography? And sometimes overexposure looks good. And maybe once in a while, I actually want my photos to look blurred or grainy. Check out one of my first travel photo essays...

Of course a lot of it is subjective. But here are photos from that day I went to Sonoma County and drove along the Pacific Coast highway. We stopped for food at a Mexican market, then continued on to Goat Hill, where allegedly the large rocks there are smooth from mammoths rubbing their itches on their backs against the surfaces. There, we went bouldering for a good couple of hours, until magic hour hit, then we took a few snaps, and watched a sun set from the rock; which by the way, sunsets will never get old for me. Neither will singing California obviously, which we did on the way back before hitting a favourite French restaurant, tucked into a corner of slanted street.

Photos: San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge and Hawk Hill by Jessica Lee

If there’s one thing you should do in San Francisco, California, I would recommend speeding up and down the hills of the city on a motorcycle, then going by the same way to see the Golden Gate Bridge. 

That’s exactly what my friend Alek and I did when I was there earlier this year. Alek took me on a journey across the Golden Gate bridge to Hawk Hill where we observed the view from above. 

The sensation of wind brushing past you as your adrenaline races, combined with blue skies, vast green hills and the change in scenery, and not least, the putter and hum of the motor engine underneath you; is more than enough to produce a wide grin from ear to ear underneath your motorcycle helmet; while you wonder what good thing you did in your life to deserve this amazing experience.

Photos: Climbing in Mont Orford, Magog and Sherbrooke ...and Washington D.C. by Jessica Lee

Now that it's pretty much summer, I felt it would be appropriate to finally put these photos up from last fall.

My friend Olivier who lives in Washington D.C. got a few days off work and drove home to visit his family in Magog, Quebec, for Canadian Thanksgiving. Along the way, he picked me up from Montreal.

Upon hiking into the forest, we came upon a French family with small children, pointing at a tree. They had spotted a porcupine.

I've never come across a porcupine in person before, but from this experience, I can tell you that they are very slow-moving, and relatively easy to photograph because of this. You just have to make sure to get them to face the camera.

We spent the rest of the day bouldering in the area, then packed up and headed to explore Magog.

We did a quick walk-through of Magog, then headed in for the night.

To be honest, I don't think I would ever visit Magog or Sherbrooke on my own if not for Olivier.

Both are charming little towns great for raising families, and if you'd like slower pace of life. What really struck me though, was meeting and being welcomed in by Olivier's family, and listening to their stories of living on a farm, being in the country and harvesting maple syrup (they own a few acres of sugar bushes). We ate turkey with all the trimmings, and I listened to the struggles of living on a farm from Olivier's brother and sister-in-law. This is stuff people pay for when they go on cabane a sucre tours, but here I was, getting to experience all of this just because I was a friend.

I think the most endearing thing to me was how Olivier's brother explained to his young children (under five) where the turkey came from. It was one of the turkeys on the farm and the children noticed the day before that one of the turkeys had gone missing. The children were the cutest things in the world when they played and it broke my heart that Olivier was working away in another city while his niece and nephew were growing up.

I should explain how I first met Olivier. We met when I couchsurfed in his home in Washington D.C. with another friend in the summer.

Many people are averse to welcoming strangers into their home and also staying in a stranger's house, but by being open, I got to experience this weekend in Magog and Sherbrooke; and also gained a new friend.

The next day, we woke up early to go canoeing, a popular outdoor Canadian pastime.

We spotted more wild life including a crane, which we followed around the lake while I took photos.

The weekend ended and Olivier had to go back to work in Washington. He offered to host me again in Washington D.C., and because I can't seem to turn down road trip offers, I went along for the 9 hour drive.

This brief trip gave me sunshine and the opportunity to finish browsing museums I didn't have enough time for the first time around.

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!

New York City round two! by Jessica Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York, New York by Jessica Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I had a stroll around Manhattan.

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

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

Check out this cool, curved building.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homelife by Jessica Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wandering around Washington D.C. by Jessica Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chemin du Roy/Quebec City Part 1 by Jessica Lee

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

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

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

And views like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Montreal update #1 by Jessica Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Camping and climbing in Val David, Quebec by Jessica Lee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It tasted alright.

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

I would do it all again in a second.