Bruges, Belgium, in black and white by Jessica Lee

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

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

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

Here is the main square:

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

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

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

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

Here are more photos of the trip:

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

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

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

He was.

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

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

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

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

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

This is cool though. I love food trucks.

We also wandered into the nearby mall

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

As you can see, here's another fountain.

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

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

The insides are pretty cool too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The path led to a nice walk along the river.

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

Here is the Saskatchewan River:

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

It was a nature conservatory.

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

It was absolutely beautiful.

There were four different curations of plants with different themes.

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

The next one was a desert-themed curation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lessons from the road by Jessica Lee

From what I’ve learned these past seven months away from home, I’ve found that the road teaches you far more practical life lessons than anything learned at University.

I am writing this sitting on the Greyhound bus from Montreal back to Toronto.

The obvious lesson for me would be to pack lighter.

No one really needs 40+ t-shirts on any trip. What happened was I packed 20 t-shirts originally, then little by little added more and more, rationalizing that t-shirts take up really little space. Things add up, and soon without realizing it, I was carrying 40 t-shirts to Australia.

I have spent way too much money posting things back home. I wince about the money amount, but I don’t regret it because it’s a lesson learnt.

I also spent way too much upgrading baggage or renting lockers or not walking places and taking cabs to hostels because I couldn’t carry all my stuff.

In the process, I have become stronger because I soldiered up and carried everything during the short walks from the bus stops to the hostels, but I wouldn’t backpack anywhere again with all the things I’ve been carrying around for the past month or so.

In reality, once one item in your backpack starts smelling like smoke or sweat, everything else starts to develop the same smell. Despite growing up and living in a very clean household all my life and being raised to be concerned about hygiene, during the past couple of weeks while backpacking throughout Australia and Indonesia; I’ve gotten used to not minding stale clothing. Doing laundry while traveling is always an option too.

Being on the road has also taught me about people’s motivations. In Toronto, people help you out of kindness because it’s a nice thing to do and it’s common courtesy. If I saw someone with their hands full, I would offer to help carry things for them. The same principle applies in Australia. Two strangers kindly helped me carry my 7 piece luggage from the bus stop to the bus station in Melbourne.

In Indonesia however, I once had a lot of luggage and had just boarded a train. I had avoided using the porters who would have helped me carry the luggage on the train. I made it onto the train without their help, carrying all of my things. Once on the train, I needed to store my luggage in the racks above the seats. A man dressed in a train uniform motioned for me to hand him my luggage and he put the luggage on the rack for me. I figured he was working for the train company and he would help me out because I had booked an executive business class ticket, so I expected this sort of service somewhat.

I found out later he wasn't employed by the train company, and he was a porter working for himself. He asked me for $1 for helping me lift 4 bags!

I have spent $1 in better ways. Like when I paid $1 for 18 bananas at Paddy's Market in Sydney. Or when I paid 50 cents for a motorcycle ride in Jakarta (still have to blog about that one). Spending a dollar to have someone lift four things for me is not an economical use of money.

It's okay though. It's only a dollar.

And it's a learning experience. That's what matters. I pay attention more to people's motivations more now.

Better to learn a lesson and lose a dollar than not learn a lesson and lose $50 later.