travel blog

Things I learned in 2015 by Jessica Lee

San Diego, U.S.A.

San Diego, U.S.A.

I began January 2015 in San Diego, California, a place where I realized I was at the happiest in my 20’s. It was a big gamble to go to California for a month at this time because though I knew I needed a break from the Winter in Canada, I still wanted and needed to hold on to my job in Montreal and also I needed to watch my budget. However, the sunshine, break and change of lifestyle was exactly what I needed to refresh myself to get ready for the rest of 2015.

San Diego also taught me a lot about myself and my resiliency, as the second day of my stay there, my wallet mysteriously disappeared. 2015 was a year of great breakthroughs, adventure and double-takes. I got published for the first time in the Toronto Star and made it to Canadian Press’ freelance photographer’s list. I spent a grand total of 59 days this year on the road when I wasn’t in Toronto or Montreal. There were so many good times and laughter, but also a few tough moments, which is where the learning comes in.

This is what I learned in 2015:

1. How to say no to things
Learning to say ‘no’ to multiple projects or people was one of the most difficult things I learned to do this year. It felt odd and there was a tension within myself. But to make room for bigger and better things, sometimes you just have to say no to projects that don’t pay enough or people who don’t respect your time or situations that drain you emotionally. Because I said no to some projects and contracts, I was able to say yes to spontaneous road trips, shooting for McDonald's Canada and shooting for Frito-Lay.

Road trip through the States!

Road trip through the States!

2. Take things slow.
This is your life, enjoy it. As much as you’re supposed to work hard and constantly better yourself (growing up in hyper-competitive Toronto, working hard is ingrained into you), sometimes you just need to relax. After living for a year in Montreal (I moved back to Toronto this summer), I learned to adopt the carefree French attitude of enjoying life’s pleasures. Every weekend, my routine included a leisurely brunch with friends followed by tanning and reading in the park. What is the point of life if you don’t get to enjoy the beautiful moments? I once knew a guy who was hardworking and had a great job and a great salary and a great apartment, but he spent so much of his youth working, he didn't have time to develop his relationships or even go out and now in his late 20's he doesn't have anyone to enjoy his life with and even worse, his social skills are so rusty, he is having trouble finding people to spend time with him. Anyway, the point of this message is: you don't have to be working hard all the time and you should keep a balance in your life.

San Diego living :)

San Diego living :)

3. Visualize the bigger picture.
Early on in my photography/writing career I did work for free and I also devoted a large amount of time developing my own blog (which was a labour of love) but with every photo I took and every blog post I wrote, I slowly got better at what I was doing and all my work became my portfolio and ended up getting me into the door of some bigger companies. I made huge strides (Toronto Star, Canadian Press) in my freelance career this year because of all that experience. You give some away, and you get some more. Don’t get discouraged if early on in your career you have to give away some (or all) of your work for free; all of it is coming back to you in experience, just remember to look at the bigger picture.

Crete, Greece

Crete, Greece

4. How to tell the client they are wrong (respectfully and politely).
Sometimes you can do all the work the client asked for, the way they asked for it, sometimes doing it several times over and still the client isn’t happy for whatever reason. This is not your fault. Early on in our lives, we learn to make people happy, whether it is our teachers or parents; by meeting their expectations in whatever way they expect from you; or at your first job where you’re told the customer is always right. Yet as you get more life experience, you realize that some people just can't be pleased, and sometimes the customer is just an unhappy person and that has nothing to do with you. The solution to this is to surround yourself with a network of other freelancers who will give you support and encouragement. 

Tanning in Montreal with fellow photographer, Dale.

Tanning in Montreal with fellow photographer, Dale.

5. How to live with little to none (this is especially useful for a freelancer)
As I mentioned earlier, this year in January, my wallet went missing on my second day in San Diego and I had to live with no money for a whole four days before my credit card, which was express-shipped, arrived in California. Through this experience (literally one of my worst fears while travelling), I learned just how little I could live with and still survive and have fun - sort of like how Evey in V For Vendetta, toughens up at the end when V put her through all that crap. The truth is, many of us have all of these built-up fears of “what if”s, but when things actually happen, we cope better than we think we can. Through the experience, I ate a lot of bread, and grumbled about being hungry, but a lot of people live with much worse. Also, a majority of people think they need a lot of money to have a great life (according to a study, after a certain point, money won't make you happier), but really it’s all about attitude, which brings me to the next point.

Friend owned the boat, so free ride :)

Friend owned the boat, so free ride :)

6. Money is just something that can be made again (spend on people you love). Earlier this year, after making a transition from working at a full-time job to being a freelance photojournalist, I lived minimally for a while – rarely going out or having dinners at restaurants. Then in March, someone I met started taking me out a bunch, spending a lot of cash on food and drinks. When I asked him why he was doing all of this, he said "money is something you can make again", which I understand more now. At the end of your life, it's much better to have memories made with people, facilitated by money, than to die with a pile of money and no fond memories.

Sailing in the Bosphorus in Istanbul with my friend Dave!

Sailing in the Bosphorus in Istanbul with my friend Dave!

7. Be patient, and wait for your moment. Earlier this year, as a newly hired contractor for a project, things at the company shifted and suddenly there was a lot more than the team could handle. It was brought up in a team meeting that there was a need for a writer who could take on a couple more assignments each week. As the new person, I wanted to jump in and show initiative, yet somehow I knew this wasn’t the right opportunity for me as I knew I wanted to focus more on my photography. There was a tension in my chest as I held my tongue and didn't volunteer - they had to hire someone else, but in the end I was glad I didn't jump in as a few weeks later, there was a need for someone with video skills, which is much closer to photography than writing. The lesson to come away with is to wait for your moment. This is true for everything else in life, if something doesn't feel right don’t feel pressured to jump into a business opportunity, buying a property or a marriage, because if it’s truly right for you, it will come again. You just need to have faith!

Old Port Montreal office space

Old Port Montreal office space

8. You don’t get anywhere if you don’t ask. Earlier this Fall, I missed my flight home from Istanbul to Toronto because there was this thing called Passport Control where before you even enter security to board your flight, you have to get in this big line where it’s a pre-screen. In my entire life of catching planes and travelling, I’ve only ever missed one flight, so I didn’t accommodate for this extra two hours of waiting before boarding. In Toronto (and other airports around the world), if you’re about to miss your flight, there are airport employees who can push you through the lines so that you don’t miss your flight, but no such thing existed in Turkey. You are on your own in this country. Anyway, as I was about to miss my flight because I was in this line, I started asking people if I could skip ahead of them. I found that many people are surprisingly accommodating if you tell them you’re about to miss your flight and will let you go ahead of them, no questions asked. Unfortunately, I did this near the end of my wait, and still ended up missing last boarding call by 10 minutes. But now I’m less hesitant about asking for things, even from strangers.

Nashville, earlier this August.

Nashville, earlier this August.

9. Photography is not real. I knew this before, but I understand more of the depth of it now. I don't mean obvious things like photoshopping pigs in the sky, but rather things like how lighting can make a picture dramatically different. Through a lot of varied photography jobs this year, where I had to make products or people look good, I learned just how much work goes into lighting or waiting for that one key moment to get a frame. There was this local politician I saw quite often day-to-day professionally, who wasn’t the best looking guy out there in the world – but that’s okay, not everyone needs to be Brad Pitt. But in a photo I saw of him, this photographer managed to make him look attractive, even slightly appealing (with no photo alterations, just good use of lighting!). This is the power of photography. Hire the best photographers you can, it's worth it! :)

Tijuana, Mexico, in January

Tijuana, Mexico, in January

10. The gifts you receive aren’t really because you deserve them but because the people you know are AWESOME, big-hearted and generous. This year, I’ve been blessed by so many delicious treats, great meals and fantastic experiences. A lot of it was the plain luck of having the right people in my life or meeting the right people (like when I met my friend Alek who gave me an unforgettable motorcycle ride through San Francisco up to Hawk Hill, with sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge), but then there are the times when you try to give back to people who gave to you first and they end up giving you even more. And then there are things you receive which you just can't ever repay (like photography advice that ends with you getting published in Rock and Ice), so you just learn to be grateful and try to give back to the world in some other way. What I am trying to say here is that I'm really grateful for everyone who has contributed in some way to my life this year, so thank you.

Dave and I in Istanbul, Turkey

Dave and I in Istanbul, Turkey

*Bonus*: Always consider opportunity cost! This year, I found a cheap flight from Oslo, Norway to Crete, Greece. It was $53, what a steal! But what I didn't consider was that the flight time, 6 am, meant that I wouldn't sleep all night and would arrive to Greece sleep-deprived and cranky. It also cost $53 for the bus to the further airport in Oslo that this flight operated from. So if you see something that looks like a good deal, always consider the other factors.

Here's to an even more awesome 2016! Stay adventurous!

Alek and I on Hawk Hill, San Francisco

Alek and I on Hawk Hill, San Francisco

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.

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.

Coffee, trust and thieves: Saturday photo editing by Jessica Lee

I was in a coffeeshop in Barcelona, Spain, editing photos like I am now.

I always like to go to coffee shops to edit photos because I like sitting around other people who are working, it's a motivating atmosphere and I like tasty drinks that I can't always make by myself at home.

I'm quite relaxed in coffee shops. I pick a big space, spread my stuff around and get to work. Inevitably, after the second coffee or so, I need to use the facilities. I usually have no problem leaving my things (even my computer) lying around for the two minutes I'll be gone because I rationalize that usually, other people who go to coffee shops are well off enough to spend $3-5 on a coffee, they probably aren't the type of people who would be interested in a computer. Besides, there are usually other people around who will notice if someone is stealing your things.

Anyway, during this particular session in Barcelona, when I came back, the barista approached me.

"Where are you from?", he asked.


"That's great, but around here, you can't leave your computer by itself! You're lucky it isn't stolen."

I thanked the guy and continued working.

I've haven't had anything stolen from me yet while travelling, but I am more aware these days. I still go off on my intuition, but I realize now maybe I am more lucky than intuitive.

I once left for a five minute bathroom break on a bus from Essaouria, Morocco to Casablanca, Morocco, and came back to find a local woman had boarded the bus and was staring at my things. I think the only reasons why she didn't make off with my stuff was because 1. I had two bags, so it would have been difficult for her to carry both 2. It wouldn't have looked like her things, and thus obvious that she was stealing (I had a new backpack that you can't buy in Morocco. It definitely looked foreign) 3. There were other passengers who were watching her. She asked me for money when I got back, possibly because she felt I owed her something since she didn't take anything. I said no. I don't like to be guilted into anything.

It's a difficult dilemma for solo travellers. When you leave for a bathroom break, do you carry all 10 kilos of your things? It seems silly, doesn't it?

I still leave my things lying around in Canada at coffee shops. Perhaps I am too open and trusting for someone who has experienced so many close calls with theft, but I genuinely believe people here are good. I'm not naive either. I choose to live as an open person rather than a person full of fear and distrust. I think there's more opportunities to experience by living this way and more people to meet. There's also less stress in your life.

I don't do stupid things like leave all of my possessions to someone I just met for an hour (that is creating more stress), but I take reasonable risks like leaving a library book I don't want to carry to a job interview with a retail worker, whom I know will probably still be in the same spot after an hour. It feels good when you trust someone and they turn out to be a trustworthy person. You can usually reverse situations early on when you don't feel comfortable anyway. I was in Indonesia once, and a local I had just met said he would carry my wallet for me (because I took really long fumbling for change), but I didn't feel good about that, so I asked for it back (after much awkwardness of course, but very rarely do you get an ideal situation in real life, you just have to do the best you can).

Readers: How much do you trust the strangers around you? Share some stories!

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.

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?

Shady in Sydney- Night photos and aimless wandering by Jessica Lee

I was walking through downtown Toronto yesterday night when an Israeli traveler approached me with a question.

"Why is everyone in this city in such a hurry?"

I told him because it was cold. It was well below zero degrees.

That was my truthful answer because if it were warmer, I would totally be exploring and poking my nose around and discovering new things to do.

I love walking through cities at night. There are less people out (unless you're in a nightclub area) and things just seem more still. I feel like I can reflect and just enjoy things for myself.

I'm glad I bumped into him though because he reminded me of myself when I exploring Australia.

Here are a few photos taken near Miller's Point, Sydney:

We started the night with low expectations and no set agenda. Usually, I find the best nights come from spontaneity and an open mind.

The weather is much warmer than Toronto, as you can see by the clothes we are wearing. These photos don't really tell a chronological story, but they capture a feeling.

These photos capture a point in time. I will never be 21 again, but hopefully I will feel just as free in future pictures.

Here I am practicing my runway model pose on Sydney's Harbour Bridge:

We had just left the library after an intense all-day study session and the excitement of the sprawling Sydney nightlife was beckoning. Oh to be young and alive!

I thought the below tunnel looked really cool, so I asked for a photo. This was somewhere near Luna Park.

All photos were taken by me except the ones I'm in, which were taken by my good friend Bon Ng.

Readers: Do you have any photos of yourself connected to fond memories?

Byron Bay: more evidence Australia has way too many beautiful shorelines by Jessica Lee

I've concluded that Byron Bay is for lovers. With a sandy beach, a horizon that stretches for miles and a romantic lighthouse; how can you not fall in love with this town?

It was a little rainy the day we drove in, but I was able to imagine it in sunnier weather.

I spent the morning trying to surf, then the afternoon was spent walking around town looking at the different shops.

The place is a little "tourist-geared", but I didn't mind.

I love learning about a place based on what they sell in their shops. For example, the shoes below would rarely be sold in Toronto, where I'm from. Though we have the same brands, there are no shoes like these in shoe stores in Toronto.

That's because the shoes below are lightweight, with foam soles and geared for walking on sand, they would disintegrate so quickly on the pavement/ seasonal snow/ ice we have. They are nice beach shoes though. I would definitely have bought myself a pair had there been a pair my size.

I also noticed when I was in Sydney that there are a lot more singlets (in bright colours) for guys sold in stores. Singlets just aren't very fashionable in Toronto I guess, neither are bright colours. Personally if I had to choose between the fashion in Australia or Canada, I would choose Australia. I will explain why in a later post, but for now...

We hiked up to see the light house as it was getting dark. My housemate Tara lives near Byron Bay, so she knew all of the neat places and told us to come here.

It was absolutely breath-taking. If I ever had to fill a film clip with pretty places, Byron Bay would be a top destination for sure.

What made the place more magical was the fact that we were the only ones at the lighthouse at one point. It was like the lighthouse was here just for us so we could look into the horizon and dream...

Great Ocean Road, Victoria by Jessica Lee

I woke up on a beach this morning. There was dew in the grass and mist on the outside of our van. The waves rose and crashed in gentle caresses and the sun shone brightly, beckoning us to get out and explore. And so we did.

It was night time when we drove into the humble town of Port Fairy, Victoria. We saw signs pointing to the beach and decided to park there for the night.

When we woke, it was to this spectacular sight:

Port Fairy is a quiet, coastal town. There was only one person waking his dog when we got up. It was the kind of serenely peaceful quiet people hope for in their retirement.

I wanted to stay for longer but we hurried on and got back into the car as we would have a lot of driving to do that day.

As we drove, there were many fields. I asked to stop by this one to take a photo of some cows.

What was interesting is that when we stopped the cows were all lying on their front, but when I got closer to them, they must have felt threatened as all of them "mooed" at me and stood up.

Then they all faced me and tried to stare me down.

And finally when I still stood there taking photos, they moved in as a group.

I thought this was awesome because I had never seen anything like that. Though cattle aren't really "wildlife", when you go to the fair and meet the cows, they don't do this sort of behaviour. In petting farms and fairs, all they do is eat off your hand, which is cool as well, but I sort of felt like a National Geographic photographer watching the cows protect themselves.

We drove for a bit and got to our first lookout point.

Australia used to be used as a colony for criminals because it was so far away from the rest of the world. Honestly though, whoever made that decision clearly didn't realize Australia was paradise.

This place is not jail-like at all!

It was quite lovely.

This is somewhere near the 12 Apostles.

This was called Thunder Cave because every time a wave crashed into the cave, it's supposed to sound like thunder. I think it would be a good rafting spot.

If you walk further down the trail, it will take you to a beach.

It was too cold to swim that day, but I bet this is a popular spot during the summer.

Below is a photo of me. We tried to get one of those photos where the waves are crashing behind me but the timing was a bit off.

That's okay. The photo will forever capture the moment where I stood on a rock and got spritzed by the mist and saw rainbows in the light. The air was cold and refreshing and I could look out into the distance and see miles of the endless turquoise sea.

Later, we arrived at Gibson Steps.

As we had started our traveling early, the beaches were still pretty empty as people were probably eating breakfast at that time. (We eat breakfast too, we just eat things on the go and straight out of the box.)

Secluded beaches are my favourite kind of beaches. It felt like I owned the land for miles around.

Below was a photo I took while the wave was curling in. It looks like snow on the ground but really the water was just super foamy.

The Great Ocean Road was definitely one of my favourite moments in Australia and you should definitely give it a go if you're ever in the area, or if you've never done it before.

Aspiring for natural holes in my pants by Jessica Lee

I wrote the following back in July, after my road trip through the East Coast of Australia:
Living with two guys out of a campervan for the last few weeks has been eye opening. It’s in the smaller details where you will find out more about a person, his values, and the way he lives.

After the trip, I was hanging laundry for one of the boys when I noticed some small holes in his jeans in a part that was obviously worn in, but not noticeable while the jeans were worn. This is one of the pairs of maybe two to three pairs of pants this guy owns.

I think it’s great he can be so simple. As I like to constantly improve myself, I make it a habit observe the way other people are, then try to pick up their good traits and incorporate them into my own life.

I realize now how ridiculous the amount of clothing/luggage I’m carrying around with me is. One of my resolutions for 2012 was to be more minimalistic, but obviously it didn’t work out.

I still buy loads of things and acquire items. I am also sentimental about the items I own, which is terrible for traveling, as it’s much easier to travel light.

I once read a book about a person who only owned 80 items, which I find amazing. Even if he was given something, he didn’t keep it unless he parted with one of his previous items. Items included clothing, electronics and toiletries. It was fictional, but I’m sure there are people in the world who do this as well. I liked the message of the book as it commented on the materialism of the world.

I don’t think it’s possible for me to buck down to just 80 items (come on, I have way too many interests), but one day, I would like to be so committed to a pair of pants that they develop natural holes in them.

For me, natural holes in clothing mean 1. Adventure 2. Being able to have a favourite item of clothing to fall back on 3. Focus, as opposed to being lured in by fancy store windows 4. Contentment in what you have 5. Environment conservation and being earth-friendly.

What are some strange details you love related to traveling that other people might think would be weird?

Montreal, briefly by Jessica Lee

When we stepped into Montreal, the sun was just setting and the night life was revving up. Montreal is known for its night life and food apparently, so I thought it would only be fitting to check it out.

We stumbled into an indy car festival, right on the street which I thought was awesome. They closed down a street so people could look at cars. Street festivals are one of my favourite things to attend so Montreal was already growing on me.

My absolute favourite thing about Montreal however was all the French people!

I loved how they would speak in French with me because they assumed I was francophone. I had read articles in the paper before about how it was difficult for an anglophone person to fit in with the culture and how they feel alienated and such. Controversial former Globe and Mail columnist Jan Wong even suggested the Polytechnique Montreal, Concordia University and Dawson College massacres were because the three shooters didn't fit in.

I also enjoyed their French accents when they would switch to English to talk to me once they realized my French level was subpar. Montreal feels more like a European city than a Canadian one.

This was a free concert by Karl Wolf, a Canadian singer most known for his hit "Africa". It was just down the road from where we ate.

In the morning we got out of bed relatively early (9 am), but Montreal turns out to be somewhat laid back. Rarely anything was open for breakfast even though it was a Friday.

I thought the below bank was somewhat fishy. Bank of Toronto in Montreal? What is going on!

We walked up Rue Catherine, which is one of the main streets (kind of like Queen St. in Toronto) and sat down at Cacao, a chocolate cafe.

They had about 30 different varieties of chocolate from different regions in the world. I was in love.

We ordered breakfast, but it also came with a dipping plate with fruit and melted chocolate. It was really delicious.

I also ordered a Belgian hot chocolate which was extremely rich and lovely.

Here is the "lazy breakfast":

I didn't do much in Montreal before having to leave and go back to Toronto, but I'm heading up there next week again. More to follow...

Lost at sea: sailing at the Whitsunday Islands by Jessica Lee

 We pulled into Airlie Beach just as the sun was setting. It looked like paradise. For a nice long stretch, there were dinghies and yachts set on water with a vibrant purple and orange backdrop. Right from the get-go, I knew I wanted to live here. The air was relaxed and everyone seemed to be having a great time.

I had never seen so many sailboats in one place at the same time and I wanted to absorb the sailing culture into my being, be with the people who love sailing as much as I do, breathe in the salty air; soak up the atmosphere.

After cooking a meal on the beach, we settled in for the night. I woke up the next day and knew I wanted to go sailing.

I booked a two-day, two-night sailing trip and got on the boat later that afternoon (the boys didn't want to come because of the added cost- they waited on land and did some work). It was very spontaneous and I don’t regret it at all. Here’s a tip for all of you: booking things last minute doesn’t give you a lot of time to pack (I had twenty minutes to cram my things in a bag) BUT you tend to get the best deals because they’re trying to fill up spots on the boat.

Here is a photo of the boardwalk on the way to Abel Point Marina where I boarded:

The day was perfect. The water was shimmering, there was a slight breeze and the sun cast a warm glow on my skin.

I absolutely adored the dock. In a few years when my ship comes in (hopefully), I'd love to have my own beautiful white yacht.

I enjoyed admiring the boats and speculating and imagining whom the yachts were named after and why.

I also enjoyed that the sailors actually wore boat shoes. It confirms the stereotype but it isn't contrived.

The sailboat that I boarded was run by a company called Southern Cross and was named Boomerang. It was raced from Sydney to Hobart a decade ago but now has been converted into a tourism boat.

There were 19 passengers in total, which was a great number. It wasn't too crowded and not too lonely either.

This was my berth.

And this is what the general area below the deck looks like:

My bed was right beside the main dining area, thus guaranteeing that I wouldn't miss any meals (especially breakfast) because I'd be woken up by the commotion beside me.

Here is a photo of everyone on the deck:

One day I'd like the experience of actually sailing somewhere by my own effort instead of being taken care of a crew, but I suppose this is close enough for now. When we were far away from land, I looked out to sea and tried to imagine myself as Captain Cook or some sort of explorer like Columbus, but I just couldn't because we were too well taken care of- not that that is a bad thing, but I feel lazy, coddled and useless when I spend most of my day suntanning on the deck instead of being productive. It was lovely and relaxing though.

The crew made sure we weren't relaxed for too long though as we were called to help raise the sails.

Here is a photo of the men working hard to raise the main sail by rotating the gears:

Gorgeous right?

We lay sprawled on the deck, hair softly blowing around and the sun working on our skin.

If you turned your head towards the water, there would be mountains in the distance and a stretch of  turquoise sea for miles around.

The sun soon faded and we enjoyed a beautiful sunset as we anchored ourselves for the night.

The thing about being on a boat with 19 strangers is that soon these people aren't strangers anymore. With nowhere to go on a small ship, you get to know people quickly. There is also no such thing as being put on hold by someone attending to something else more important because there are no emails to answer, no important phone calls to make; nothing else that begs for attention.

We woke up at 6:30 am the next morning to get a good start on the day.

I saw my first sunrise in Australia. And it was from a boat too. We ate breakfast and drank hot tea as it slowly lit up the water.

I somehow knew it was going to be a good day.

After breakfast, we were taken to White Haven Bay, voted the 2nd best beach in the world.

I'm not sure where the best beach in the world is, but on my list, White Haven ranks number 1.

The water was clear and a lovely shade of turquoise. The sand was almost white and according to the crew, 99 percent pure silica, which is a higher standard than required for making glass.

The beach was unpolluted and only had a small amount of people on it, making it peaceful and wonderful.

No one is allowed to live here, which keeps the place unruined and paradise-like. There were few foot prints. It felt like we were the first to discover the island.

Look how clear the water is:

It was incredibly easy to float in too.

Check out the funky wave patterns on the sand:

There was also some coral that washed up on the shore.

I picked a piece up. Turns out coral is bone-like and not soft and squishy like I had imagined it to be.

We hung around the beach, tanned and did some typical beach activities. 

We attempted a pyramid which was a success for about one second.

Then it was time to head back to the boat as the tide was changing in otherwise we'd be stranded on the beach- which wouldn't be such a bad thing as it is so beautiful. But we had other things to do and other places to be.

Like eating lunch:

Or catching more rays.

I sat at the bow of the boat for a while and pretended to be an explorer and then a mermaid. And then I pretended I was on the Titanic and that I was Rose. I stretched out my arms and waited for Jack Dawson.

I waited for a long time.

No one came.

It was disappointing but my spirits weren't sunk as we got to go snorkelling, which I will write about in a future post.

As the day ended, we stopped off at a random island to enjoy another sunset.

It's a peculiar feeling, being on a small boat for two days.

It's not quite like being on a cruise ship where there is an endless amount of things to do such as casinos, shopping, food, hundreds of people to talk to and other attractions.

You're given a lot of time to reflect and think, to relax and re-evaluate on your travels so far. You get to know the few people on the boat quite well if you There really isn't much to do on a small boat, but at the same time it is paradise. I didn't want to leave the ship but at the same time I knew there was a lot more road I had to travel and many more places and things waiting for me in Australia.

Regardless, if you're ever in the Whitsundays, don't stay landlocked. Definitely shell out a few dollars and experience being out on the water.

Life in a car by Jessica Lee

You would think that driving along the coast with friends would be romantic and fun and all.

Here is how I imagined it:

Driving while the sun sets in the distant horizon over cornfields; finding a beach to camp in, falling asleep watching the stars and waking up to sunrises; cooking breakfast to birds chirping, roasting marshmallows at night…

In reality, living on the road is not like that at all.

We have driven to sunsets in the background and we have encountered a couple of beaches, however life on the road is quite rough. Here is what I've discovered so far:

1. You never know if you will get to shower, and on the off chance that there is a shower on the beach, the shower is usually cold water.
2. If it's cold and you just want to drink tea, it's not so easily accessible. I've come to realize how much I take hot water for granted, especially since some restaurants have a nasty habit of charging money for hot water.
3. Depending on where you are, you may or may not have to pee in some questionable places. I'm not going to go into further detail on this...
4. Sometimes the car smells because someone wears the same pair of socks over and over again. I am not naming any names except for the fact that this person's name starts with the letter D. And he is reading this as I am typing this... I hope you get the hint. *Ahem.*
5. Driving for long distances and waking up early because of the sunlight wears you out pretty fast. Despite being on the road only for a little more than a week, I am quite tired.

It's not all bad though. Some of the landscapes are really quite pretty. I wish I could have taken more photos from the road.

These were taken early in the morning on our way to Noosa.

Another benefit (or disadvantage- you decide!) of road trips is that you get to know your friends really really well. Like who snores for instance (you know who you are).

You can also understand someone just by the way he drives. This would be 1. without a seat belt on highways, 2. while looking at the GPS on his phone 3. sometimes not holding the wheel at all, and 4. hitting as many curbs as possible in a single block while remaining completely relaxed.

I have never been in a car where so many people have honked their horn at us!

I have also never encountered the police so many times in such a short period of time.

It is okay though. We are still alive!

Don't get mad, Dan. These are just the facts. And it's not so bad because throughout the years, you've become quite proficient at handling cops (no tickets so far! woohoo!).

Another benefit (for real) of driving on your own as opposed to taking a bus from one town to another or going with a tour bus (these are generally a bad idea) is that we get to stop wherever and whenever we want for lunch.

In previous years, I have sat through more than enough crappy all-you-can-eat lunch buffets provided by tour buses or being dropped off at a random fast food chain somewhere along the road.

This is why I am glad everyone on our trip is onboard with being hedonistic in the sense that we pick beautiful, scenic places to stop for lunch at and we really pamper ourselves in terms of diet.

Look, we are on a beach!

I made grilled fish and steamed vegetables for lunch the other day.

Then for dinner, Dan made Kangaroo steak, which we had with mashed potatoes and more veggies.

We even celebrated a birthday on the side of the road!

Though nothing is perfect, and though I miss the luxuries of readily available electricity and hot showers; I would still heartily recommend taking a long road trip with a couple of buddies. It's a unique experience in that no two road trips are exactly the same and that the people you're with make up most of what you take in. It's cliched, but it's true: "It's not what you're doing, it's who you're with."

On top of Mount Stuart by Jessica Lee

If you pitch a tent on a pullout on the side of Mount Stuart in Townsville, Australia, it is highly likely on any given day that in the middle of the night, some crazy motorcyclists will come tearing down the side of the mountain and crash into you. Or even worse, you may wake up disoriented during the night and accidentally topple over the edge of the cliff- even if you're metres away from the edge.

This is all according to the local cops of course, the friendly guys who kicked us off of the mountain past midnight (after we had set up camp) and made us go look for another resting place.

We had planned to camp on the side of the mountain during the night so we could wake up bright and early during the morning to go rock climbing.

No such luck, however.

There was a thick fog in the morning and it looked like it was going to rain.

It was still early, so we set up breakfast, hoping for the best.

This is what breakfast usually looks like: scrambled eggs for the guys and fruit, muesli and yoghurt for me. I do not like eggs. In this photo though, I am eating warmed canned soup.

Some of the fog cleared up so we started hiking up towards the climbs.

Did you know that in Australia, they call hiking "bushwalking"? Interesting right?

I loved the texture of the long grass. It's not something you see every day when you live in a neatly manicured city.

If you are ever in Townsville, climb up Mount Stuart. It is beautiful, and you can see the whole town from up there. These photos really don’t do the view any justice (sorry no wide-angle lens)! It is so gorgeous, I can definitely picture myself living at the top of Mount Stuart and eating picnics there every day. It would be a lovely life.

Here is an obligatory feet photo:

Unfortunately we didn't get any climbing in as it started to drizzle the moment we got to the climb.

However, as we were hiking back, a nice fog started to set in, so at least I got some great photos out of it.

Check out the cool fungi on these rocks:

A really cool flower:

This is what we were going to climb:

A walk through Hyde Park and NSW State Library by Jessica Lee

I had my last day of class yesterday so it's officially exam season. Which means an excuse for an hour walk to the NSW state library to get some hardcore studying on! Above photo is me at the library.

This library is intense! It reminds me of the library in the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast. It's got the wood paneling, sunroof, marble floors, fancy marble detailing on the roofs, etc, etc.

This is the Mitchell Room. You're not allowed to bring your camera inside, so I had to take this photo from outside.

It reminds me of the Harvard library. I haven't actually been in the Harvard library but I've seen it from various movies.

Security here is pretty strict. You're not allowed to bring bags in, only laptops and books. You have to rent a locker to put your stuff in.

This is what it looks like from the outside. It's quite impressive.

This is the entrance:

Back home (Toronto), our most impressive library would probably be the Robarts Library, which is shaped like a phoenix, but only the outside looks nice. Inside, the air is stuffy, the lighting is not the best and I feel like I'm in a prison.

They have high ceilings here so I feel fine.

Check out the bookcases! I guess the books are a pretty big deal too. Leather-bound and all.

Here is a photo of Sydney University's nicest library (in my opinion) as a comparison. Take into note Sydney University's libraries are pretty nice (compared to the gross gross gross library at University of Toronto Scarborough). This is the visual arts library. Not many students at the university know about this library.

Libraries like these make me feel like a prestigious academic. I feel "smarter" and somewhat pretentious being in the visual arts library, like I'm doing real work instead of just checking Facebook.

My favourite library at Sydney University would have to be the Law Library because it's clean-looking and has lots of outlet plugs. I do not have a photo of this library though because it's huge and really silent. If I took a photo, everyone would hear the shutter click and look over at me. My favourite library used to be the SciTech Library because of the booths with the cushions but then I got into the security guard's bad books. It's a long story.

To the NSW state library, instead of taking the bus, we decided to go on foot. It was a long walk, but it was also justified because we were going to the library to "study".

Here is Hyde Park, which we passed through to get to the library.

I love how this place is completely surrounded in trees. It's in the downtown core, just across the street from some office buildings. On our walk through, we saw some business men having lunch. If I worked near here, I would definitely have lunch here as well.

Here is another fancy building, as if Sydney doesn't have enough fancy buildings already.

Walk further along and you'll find a gorgeous water fountain.

Before coming to Sydney I never thought there would be so many nice buildings. Apparently they take their architecture seriously here.

Guess what this nice building is? (scroll down for answer)

It's a hospital!

If I were sick, staying in this building would cheer me up.

I'd never think of Sydney as an "architectural city"- those would be European cities, but now my mind is changing.

Readers: What is your favourite building for its architecture? It can be in any city in the world.

Vivid Sydney + Guylian Cafe by Jessica Lee

While in Sydney, one of the things I had been missing about Toronto was its big arts festivals and events.

I finally got my wish for an arts event as this week the Vivid festival was happening down at Circular Quay.

There's something lovely about big crowds, a good vibe and lots of interesting things to stimulate the mind and imagination.

I think it's great cities are putting on free cultural events to enrich the minds of its people.

The quay was lit up with installations and it reminded me of a smaller-scale Nuit Blanche back in Toronto, which is an all-night arts fest that goes on until the wee hours of morning. It's pretty intense.

Sydney has the sun, surf and weather, but I think in terms of arts festivals, my hometown takes the cake. Toronto's council was talking about slashing funding to the arts a few months ago, and I hope they never do because it would be a great loss for Toronto. Art inspires and educates. It sparks creativity. I could write a whole speech about art, but I don't want to get preachy.

At the quay, there were some pretty cool things. An artist took Sydney's cultural icon and made it look like different things was happening to it.

Here, it looks like there is a hand sticking out of it.

Here is a closer look.

The artist did some other pretty cool things, like making the opera house look like it was catching wind like the sails of a ship or projecting images of cartoons.

That was pretty much the main attraction.

Here are some giant glow sticks: 

And here is a glowing giant fish.

It's definitely cooler in real life than in the picture because this fish actually moves. Not sure if you can see, but there is someone inside the fish, cycling the fish around the dock. There were a set of three fish that just cycled around the dock and a crowd of fascinated people just followed these fish around. It was surreal and kind of weird- like a movie.

We decided to take a break from the festival midway and stopped at the Guylian cafe right on the quay. For those of you that don't know, Guylian makes fine Belgian chocolates. They are my second favourite chocolates after Ferrero Rocher. Godiva is okay too.

They had a menu full of things like sandwiches and salads. But honestly who goes to the Guylian cafe to eat sandwiches and salads? I think it's just there as an option incase you are like my housemate Myra who doesn't eat sweet things but is sometimes dragged by me or the rest of the housemates to some place (usually cafes).

Here is a bunch of pastries that look appealing.

The fifth one from the left looked particularly good. It was creme brule but with a chocolate topping!

Here is a closer look at other pastries. See the impeccable perfectionism?

We ordered a tiramisu and a pot of hot chocolate to share on their heated patio.

I made these next photos black and white so the food and people in them would look classier.

See? Doesn't it look like we're in a French cafe or something?

The tiramisu and hot chocolate were delicious. Then we ordered hot water (big mistake) to follow the chocolate.

Did you know it is $0.75 for a cup of hot water at the Guylian cafe?

I know it is tacky to take pictures of your bills and post them online but this is atrocious!

Actually, it is not that atrocious but I know even Citizen Kane would not approve if that happened to him when he first met Susan Alexander.

Anyway, we got past that and continued to work our way across the harbour.

Beautiful isn't it?

We also encountered a colourful fibre optic display.

Here come the bokeh photos:

Some artist made a giant tic-tac-toe board. It would have been interesting reading the artist statement for this one. Sadly I passed over it.

These are some kids playing tic-tac-toe with each other.

Here is a photo of me riding a bike where the wings on the back are lit by kinetic energy.

More wings...

This exhibition was really fun.

Basically the structure reacts to noise (the cards flip up) so every five seconds, there would be crowds of people screaming at the structure, mostly kids because most adults are too boring to do anything.

This is a photo I took of kids screaming. I love the energy.

See what I mean about a great vibe at art festivals?

People just seem more open towards each other, interacting with each other and smiling more.

Here are some buildings with lights imposed on them.

The Museum of Contemporary Art (which I still have to visit!) had a DJ party thing going on.

I took a photo of the street full of people to capture what the mood of the night was like. It was bustling.

This is a giant cube that spins when people pull it in a direction.

I didn't read the artist statement but I like how it got strangers to talk to each other and interact. I mean, you see people every day on the subway or on the street but rarely do you share smiles or moments.

I think this feeling of being "connected" to other people at events like these is similar to being at a sports game, being part of a big crowd cheering for your team.

It was a pretty good night. I got some good photos, enjoyed some art and had gourmet chocolate.

Pilot Episode by Jessica Lee

It's much colder here than I thought it would be.

And this is coming from a Canadian who has lived in cold weather her whole life.

Currently, I'm in Hong Kong visiting my relatives. In about two weeks, I'll be in Sydney, Australia, settling down before starting a semester there to complete some of my university degree in Psychology.

I haven't done much in Hong Kong yet because I pretty much just got off the plane last night, but here are a few things I've noticed so far:

1. Both the water and the milk here in Hong Kong taste different. The water has a bit more of a chlorinated taste and the milk is richer, much creamier- but not like table cream back home. I don't know how else to describe it.

2. I encountered my vice as soon I stepped off the plane: shopping. Oh my. I've been to Hong Kong a few times in my life and I only remember this place as a shopping heaven. There are just shops and shops and department stores and from my apartment, I already can spot a store that I loved the last time I was here.

This time though, I've bought a guidebook here with me and I'm determined to explore- and not just the shopping malls.

I plan to take photos, eat my heart out, and blog about it.

I hope you'll stick around and read!