experience

All posts tagged experience

All things four twenty…

Published April 22, 2017 by jillamatt

We sat on the beach, and enjoyed the bright, hot sun on our skins. It was a welcome dose of vitamin D after the brutally wet and soggy spring that we have been enduring.

The sparkling ocean danced before our eyes and the murmur of voices coming from the stage, wafted over our heads.

As I scanned the crowd of people around me, 10’s of 1000’s at least, it struck me at how peaceful this scene was at Sunset Beach.

——-

Pure fate had brought us to Vancouver on the auspicious day of April 20th.  (For those who don’t know what April 20th represents, or about 4/20, please click here.)

My partner, Chris, had to go there to get his Yellow Fever vaccine for our upcoming journey. Apparently there is a worldwide shortage of the vaccine, and it was proving difficult to get a full dose close to where we live.

When he called the Vancouver clinic on Tuesday, the Nurse told him that he better get there ASAP to be guaranteed a full dose, which will last a lifetime. Nearer where we live, but still a ferry ride away, he could only get a 1/4 dose, which they state only lasts a year.

And so, that was it!  Chris made the appointment for Thursday, as we could both leave work that day, and we decided to make the trip.  We realized immediately that it was 4/20.

I have lived on the West Coast of Canada for 15 years, and have watched the Vancouver 420 festival grow by seeing it on the news, and reading articles about it, but had never gotten down there to check it out first hand. Seeing that we are leaving here this fall for a big adventure into the world, I was excited at the opportunity to finally go and check it out.

TO HAVE A NEW EXPERIENCE.

I really had no idea of what I was in for.

———-

Our day started at 6:20 in the morning, when we started driving from our home of Powell River, tucked along the mainland of the West Coast of Canada.

A series of roads and ferries takes us across 2 major fjords to get us to Vancouver. All told, it’s a 4-5 hour journey, one way, on a good day. We decided that we would go back and forth in one day, it would just be a long day. Our plan was simple, we needed to go to the Clinic for 2:00 and then get down to Sunset Beach, the site of the 420 event, by 4:00 or so.  This would give us an hour or so there, before we had to head back to the ferry terminal for our 7:20 ferry back home.

Figuring that it would be busy in the city because of the event, we decided to leave our car in Langdale, at the start of the second, and last, ferry leg of the trip, and just walk on the boat and ride public transit for the day. We planned out our bus route, and the app said that it would take 50 minutes from where the ferry arrived in Horseshoe Bay, to the clinic.

Great!  We would have lots of time to get there……or so we thought. The ferry arrived at about 11:40 (of course, half an hour late) but we still had tons of time to get over to the clinic. However, as we emerged out of the ferry terminal, it was instantly obvious just how busy things were going to be that day. There stood a HUGE line up of people waiting at the bus stop.

We had no choice but to get in line with the rest, and wait with earnest until the next bus came. Of course, because the ferry was late arriving, the bus schedule didn’t quite sync up, so we had to wait about 20 minutes for the next one.

The worrisome clock in my brain is now ticking.

Tick. Tock.

I start checking the time on my phone repeatedly.

It doesn’t help, either, that a guy walks by announcing “Geez!  I hope they are sending a barge for you all.”  Meaning that there were a lot of us, and one bus wasn’t going to cut it!

Thanks pal.

The bus pulls up at noon and we clamber on like a herd of sheep. The bus driver all the while yelling “Move further back!”  Only 6-8 people got on behind Chris and I so we considered ourselves lucky as we stood in the aisle holding on to the swinging handholds above, while many unfortunate patrons waited on the sidewalk for the next bus.

The bus pulls out and my eavesdropping ear kicks in immediately. As I start to overhear various conversations, I realize that many of the people on the bus, are headed down to Sunset Beach as well.

One young lady in particular asked a few people in general, how long of a walk it was from the bus drop off to the 420 party. She was sitting right below where I stood so I was within ear shot of her conversations that she was having with complete strangers.

She was maybe 18 or 19 with a soft, unimposing demeanor. Her innocent look and braided pigtails would probably profile her as a straight arrow, that wouldn’t have anything to do with an event like this. However, when she learned that others were going to the same event, she stood up from her seat, and loudly yelled to her partner, who was now sandwiched at the back of the bus, “Hey there are more 420 people up here, we can go with them!”  Then she looked up at me with a gaping mouth. A huge smile came over her face and she said, “This is my first time to the 420 event.”  As if to gently let me know that we all should be excusing her behaviour.  A silent way of declaring that she is excited.  I gave her a kind smile and thought to myself (now wishing I had have said it out loud) ‘me too’.

After that moment, it was as if most people in there realized that we were all heading to the same place. The mood instantly turned from the typical icy city demeanor that you normally find on the bus, to that of a more relaxed and chill vibe. The bus seemed to erupt in conversation as happy revelers exchanged words.

All was good until we hit the other side of Stanley Park. On a good day, the bus would take about 5-10 minutes to get down to Burrard street from where we were, to where the party goers needed to get off. But we immediately hit a wall of standstill traffic, and started inching along at a snails pace.

It didn’t take long for the mood to shift from light and jovial, to easing towards annoyed and hostile. By the time somebody announced that maybe walking would be better, we had entered into a HUGE gap between stops, as many had signs on the bus stop saying “Buses re-routed due to 420 Protest.” Which meant that they weren’t stopping in those spots.

Apparently we weren’t getting off until we reached Burrard, and that was that.

Tick. Tock.

—–

Protest?  It seemed a strange word. I never felt like this was a protest.  I always just thought of it as a celebration.  Where people could, for just one day, happily enjoy a joint in public, without fear of being arrested. I saw it as more of a feeling of being alive and having freedom, without the reign of authority breathing down our necks. A rare moment these days.

FINALLY, the bus arrived at Burrard St. And everybody piled off the with glee, scattering themselves down the sidewalk, all heading in the same direction.

Chris and I were actually meant to get off a couple blocks later, on Granville, as we were taking the Skytrain over to Broadway for his appointment. However, we got off and walked, saving ourselves from more inching torture on the bus.

Things went well from here on in, and we arrived to Broadway with enough time to grab a quick snack at the taco stand, as we hadn’t eaten since 6:00am. (We were both pissed off that the ferry wasn’t serving poutine, only breakfast items.  As we both had our hearts set on Poutine,  we silently protested by not ordering anything, and then both found ourselves very hungry!  We sure showed them………?)

—–

After the appointment, we headed back towards downtown by bus, being dropped off just on the other side of Granville St bridge around 3:30.

We started to walk towards the park, and quickly realized that we were part of a massive group, all descending down to the beach to be in place for the magic 420 hour. I would love to have seen the above image of people coming from all angles of the city.  We were like a swarm of mosquitoes, all buzzing in on their pray at once. However, we were happy mosquitoes, all walking quite quickly and with much anticipation.

The smell of marijuana started to fill the air from blocks away. I’m pretty sure upon smelling this, I giggled and jumped a little in my step. I just had a massive overwhelming feeling of how big this was going to be. As I said earlier, I really didn’t know what I was in for.

As we got closer to the beach we started to see a lot of Ambulance presence, but surprisingly not much Police presence. We saw more police directing traffic in the busy streets above the event, than we certainly did AT the event.  Even still, I had my hawk eyes out trying to spot them in the crowds.

I’ve always been one of those people that are scared of the Police. A rule follower, a normal citizen, a “don’t ruffle any feathers” kind of gal. My passport is my most valued possession, and I’m not likely to get in a situation where I might lose it over some silly injustice. So when I’m approaching a place where everyone is doing something “technically” illegal, my senses can’t help but jump into overdrive. (Not too mention I feel very brave in posting this blog post…..even just admitting my participation in the event.)

The closer we got the more rigid I became. It’s like I needed to see it for myself before I could decide if it was okay or not. I needed to formulate my own opinions based on my feelings when I got there. Even though I knew it was all ALLOWED, and all OKAY, my rule following anxiety was on high alert.

It wasn’t long before we were part of the mob, disappearing into a gently smoke filled cloud that hung invisibly in the air, and obviously realizing that everything is just A-okay……man.

Vendors were selling all manner of Marijuana infused edibles, skin creams, bath bombs, you name it!  There were marijuana infused rice crispy squares, popsicles, cookies, lollipops……like I said, you name it, it was there!! Not too mention there were people smoking weed everywhere you looked.

‘Okay’, I thought, ‘it’s okay.’

Deep Breathe.

‘You aren’t doing anything wrong.’

I took a moment to re-collect myself and take a breathe, and then forced myself to relax, and just take it all in.

We wandered amongst the booths and pushed our way through the crowds. It was amazing!  There were what felt like AT LEAST 100 booths lining the walkways, selling all manner of the aforementioned. Crowds amongst the boothspeople everywhere

People, young and old, took it all in, wandering to and fro and inspecting what was on offer in each booth.

We wandered and wandered along aisles of goodies, all the while subconsciously following the sound of a distant loud speaker, which somehow seemed to be beckoning us.

We arrived at the stage only to realize that there were limited spaces to sit on the grassy slope near the stage, and way to many people.

These small townies needed some elbow room!
We snaked our way back through the booths, down towards the beach, and found ourselves a patch of sand to call our own. We sat down in the warm sun and reveled in the occasion. Beach 4Beach 3Beach 2Beach 1

At about 4:18 they started to get the crowd excited and the anticipation grew of the magic time coming nearer. Much like we countdown for New Years, this had its own kind of excitement building with it.

Free joints were being handed out to those on the grassy slope because, in the words of the announcer “I want us all to light up at once so that we can be happy at once, and to send a cloud of smoke as a message to our government.”

For me, it wasn’t the excitement that we would all be “lighting up” at 420, it was more the excitement of thousands of people, collected together in a peaceful celebration. As the clock got closer, they started a 20 second countdown. It started at the stage, then moved to the crowd, and reached us and those beyond us. It was an invisible sound wave that pulsed out like a pebble being dropped in a pond, creates ripples. In no time flat approximately 35 000 people were counting down in unison.

The moment came and we all shouted and cheered!  Smoke filled the air above us, people hugged and celebrated.

421

Whoops!  Missed it by seconds!

It WAS a celebration after all!

It was a celebration of a plant, of a coming together of people, of a peaceful unity.

We sat quietly for many minutes, just taking it all in.  I looked around and realized that there was no arguing going on, there were no drunk people running around making asses of themselves.  It was a simple, peaceful gathering, in celebration of a plant!

Really!  Can you believe how powerful this plant is?  It kind of reminds me of a certain book that was written so many years ago.  A certain book that changed the world as we know it.

I wonder if this plant has the same power to change the world?  To help people to understand that life is wonderful and that we get too wrapped up in nonsense and the “First World” problems that we have.

___

News story about the 420 event.

___

We headed out around 5:00, thinking that it would be good to get some more food before we started our journey back to the ferry.  We figured that if the buses were that full coming in, then they would likely be just as bad heading out.

We made our way up towards West Georgia St by foot and happened to  stumble upon a “La Belle Patate” poutine shop!  Finally, we were going to get our Poutine after all!  We got in just before massive crowds starting making their way up the sidewalks.  Just as we all descended on the park, there was a massive exodus, and those walking by, with no knowledge of what was going on, clearly looked bewildered by the crowds (but surely they could smell it in the air and figure it out?)Labelle Patate

We decided to take our poutine to go, and would just get on a bus and eat at the ferry terminal while we waited.  After all, there were lots of people walking by, and we were quite concerned about getting a bus out of there.  As we approached the bus stop, our bus number drove by with a “Sorry bus is full” sign shining down on us.  I let out an exasperated sigh as we approached the waiting zone, thinking there was no way that we were going to get out of there and to the ferry on time.

City from the Lionsgate Bridge

View out the bus window from the Lions Gate Bridge.

Chris with Poutine

Chris walked our precious Poutine cargo like this all the way from downtown and on to the ferry!

Just as we reached the back of the lineup that had assembled, another bus pulled up with room for all of us.  We all squeezed on, again moving all the way to the back.  The driver stopped at a couple other stops to let the odd person off, and a couple more on until finally we  were full as well.  As buses were now also behind schedule, and this bus was supposed to keep time to the ferries, the driver stood up at some point and asked if “Anybody needed to get off before Horseshoe Bay (the ferry terminal)?”  He asked three times, making sure that  there was nobody that didn’t.  He said “Okay, I am going to make up time by going straight to the Ferry Terminal, this bus will not stop again until we get there.”

As nobody protested, he sat back down, flashed his “bus is full” sign, and whisked us off to the ferry terminal.  I couldn’t help myself but think of how kind and considerate that driver was.  He went outside of his call of duty, to make sure that we got to where we needed to go, as close to on time as he could get us.

As we jumped off the bus, I thanked him for his dedication to our needs and our precious timetables.  And I couldn’t help but wonder; is this a Canadian thing, or a Vancouver thing?  How many bus drivers in the world would care that much about the customers on the bus?  Are they all like that?  I guess I have never been in that situation before, so it’s hard to say.

I do know one thing for sure though, on a day that would normally be stressful, annoying and aggravating for us small town people to make our way into the city, my faith in humanity was once again renewed, and I marveled at the wonderful day that we had had.

Arriving to the ferry terminal at about 6:10, we were told that the last ferry was meant to have left at 5:50 and it was just arriving.  Hallelujah!  For likely the first time EVER, our ferry was going to leave early!  This meant that we would have time to visit friends on the next coast up, that we didn’t think we would have time to visit.

Our delicious Poutine!

Looks like heaven?  I got the Donair Poutine…..I know!  Seriously, so good!!

We had a quick visit with them and made our way up to the next ferry which was set to depart at 10:30.  Unfortunately, after boarding, an announcement told us that we had to wait for the last ferry out of Horseshoe Bay (as it was obviously late.  Those people needed to get this last ferry to get them home that night.)  And so, in  state of complete exhaustion, but happy that BC Ferries was actually doing the right thing by waiting for people, we both drifted off to sleep before an announcement woke us from our slumber that we were nearing our destination.

All told, our one day trip to the city was 18 hours from door to door.  Under normal conditions, a day like this to the city would leave us both tired and drained.  But this time we saw only the best of humanity, and we both felt enlightened and happy that we had had such an interesting day, with tons of new and exciting EXPERIENCES.

**Thanks for reading!  For those new to my blog, my partner and I are in the process of selling everything to head out into the world to make traveling a priority in our lives .  If you would like to read about our letting go process, please start here.  If you would like to follow us along on our journey, please enter your e-mail address on the right hand side of this page to subscribe.** 

 

 

March 23, 2017 – Regret

Published March 23, 2017 by jillamatt

***Jill’s ‘letting go’ Diary***

This is part of a series of posts (ordered by Dated Titles) where I am recording my thoughts and emotions as we tackle getting rid of all of our possessions.  From the day that I came up with this idea, to sell everything and travel the world, I have recorded my thoughts on certain days where I feel like writing.  These are real time, and not edited (except for grammatical corrections.) 

As I pondered a topic for this blog post this morning, I thought about the number one word that has stuck out to me over the last couple weeks.  That word has been REGRET.

Most importantly this word is included in sentences about selling our house.  “I hope you don’t regret selling your house.”  I have heard it time and time again, and my response has started to be “I don’t really live with regret, so I’m not really worried that I will regret this.”

I suppose I am fortunate in that I haven’t lived a life full of regret.  I am keenly aware that every moment of our lives, has transpired into where we are today.  And I suppose, that if I was in a place where I was utterly unhappy, then I guess regret may play a more prominent role.  But, even through the trials and tribulations that I have had in my life,  I have mostly chosen a happy path.  Whenever I start to find myself in an unhappy situation, I know that it is time to change things up, and I realize that it is time to go out and find what it is that makes me happy.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not always roses.  I’ve had many things that have happened in my life that I consider to be failures.  Failed businesses, a failed marriage, failed friendships.  Sometimes I just FEEL like an utter failure, and sometimes the unhappiness creeps in when I’m not looking, and I find myself in a bit of a rut before I have some major breaking point that snaps me out of it.

But, the point IS, is that I do eventually snap out of it!

__

I’ll never forget an experience that I had when I was kayaking in the Bahamas at the age of 24.  (Some of you will have already read part one of this adventure!  If not, read here.)  My ex husband and I were paddling a chain of islands called the Exumas.  There were a few fresh water cisterns that dotted the islands, and were indicated on our marine charts, but they were usually quite brackish and didn’t look very appetizing.

We had with us 2 collapsible 5 gallon water jugs.  When we ran out of one of them, we usually got antsy about getting more water.  So we would look at our Marine Charts, and would figure out where the closest popular boat anchorage was located.  Most boats had mechanisms to desalinate (ie. remove salt) from their water, so they could use ocean water for drinking, which vastly reduces the need to fill up cargo space with water.

We would simply paddle up to boats and start chatting with sailors, and as soon as they heard what we were up to, they would generally not only offer to fill our water up, they would also offer to give us food.  Now, this was never our plan, to get more food, but if someone offered, we sure weren’t going to say no.

On a side note here: Sailors, and the sailing community in general, have got to be the most community minded and helpful group of people there is on the planet.  Never have I experienced a large group of people who are so eager to help out one another, that they literally clamber at the opportunity. 

One boat in particular had an older gentleman that was so intrigued by us.  In the course of us staying in one spot for about 5 days, he would repeatedly come and find us on the beach where we were camping, just to chat and ask us questions.  The last day we saw him, we had paddled over to his boat, as he had told us that he had some food and stuff that he wanted to give us before we continued on our journey.  We paddled up to his beautiful trawler and he stood above us with his hands on the railing.

He was a man that appeared to have everything.  A beautiful boat, nice things, an easy life.  But when we pulled up to his boat, he looked down at us with the most sorrowful eyes I think I have ever seen, and said, “Boy, did I ever live my life backwards.  I worked my butt off my whole life so that I could retire and do what you are doing now.  But never once did I consider that by the time I retired, I would be too old to do the things I wanted to do in my twenties.  You guys are really doing it right.”

I get chills even now when I think of this experience in my past.  The regret in his eyes in that moment, pierced my soul.  It subconsciously became a marker of how I have lived my life, and I believe was instrumental in helping to shape the person that I am today.  It has made me fearless in trying new things, with re-inventing myself when I feel like it is time, with always moving forward, and never regretting my decisions in the past.

And so, as we move through this phase of our lives, we will not look back.  We will not regret.  We will launch out into the world completely open and vulnerable, BUT safe in the knowing that whatever is out ahead, is far more exciting than what we have left behind, and NO MATTER WHAT, our lives will be better for it.

And let’s not forget the most important thing of all:

A house, is simply, just a house.

Our lives, and what we put into them, is everything!

** Thanks for reading!  This is part of a larger group of blog posts about us letting go of all of our possessions to go traveling.  If you would like to read from the beginning, click here.**

To learn about where I have previously traveled, click here.

To see my blog post menu, click here.

 

I dream a dream…..

Published January 28, 2017 by jillamatt

I dream a dream where every day is new and exciting.  Where the ordinary things in life, cease to exist.  Where time stretches on into infinity.  Where the sun kisses my skin, and the warm wind blows through my hair.

I dream a dream of visiting far off destinations, of meeting new people, of discovering the world. I feel like I was born a traveler, and there is so much to see out there in the world.  It boggles my mind…….  I want to see it all……..  I want to do it all.

This is my dream…….

It all seems so far off, but this dreams’ realities CAN come true.

And I have figured out how!

For about 6 months to a year now, I have really started to ask myself “Is there more to life than this?”  I would even go so far as to ask my partner what his thoughts were on the matter.  After a long and exhausting day at work I would look him squarely in the eyes and say “Do you ever think that there is more out there in life than running on the hamster wheel, working 9-5 and feeling like we are never getting ahead?”  He would shrug his shoulders and say things like “Well that is what we are working towards aren’t we?”

Yes, we worked!  And worked, and worked and worked……and then worked some more! 

We still work and work and work.  We are both self employed.  He is a Landscaper and I am a House Painter.  Together we make a good team.  We both have experience doing each others’ jobs, so helping each other when needed works well for us, and we rarely need to hire subcontractors.  We are also both artists.  Chris is a tattoo artist, and I muck about with many different art forms (visit www.jillianamatt.com if you want to see a bit.) Neither of us have ever made a living at our art, but it has been something that we have both wanted to do at some point.

Sometime last fall I realized that despite the fact that we were working and working and working as hard as we could, we were falling behind financially.  We were eating out frequently because we were too tired to cook, we were going away on weekends because we just needed a change of scenery.  We were exhausted from a busy summer of gardening and transforming our yard from a rectangular patch of grass to a stunning park like setting.  We also grew food!  Lots of it!  We didn’t buy produce or fruit for months last year, but we were still sinking into a pile of debt.

I also started to get completely overwhelmed with our stuff!  In fact, we had a shed built (that we couldn’t afford) with the intention of moving “stuff” from the basement to the shed, so that we could gain some breathing room down there.  Our ultimate plan was to open the basement up so that we could create the perfect artist studio, so that we could finally start working seriously on our passions.  (My passion, in fact, is not art after all……but there will be lots more about that to come.)

Now, I should also note here that with Chris being such a great tattoo artist, he decided to take over a tattoo shop in September that was about to close down.  He hadn’t worked in a shop in a while, and he felt it time to get back at it, and to build his portfolio once again.  (www.facebook.com/inkcaptattoos) While he was getting some business, it surely wasn’t paying for itself (we all know these things take time), so we were forced to try and pay for that, as well as all of our other bills that we already had.  We have payments on 2 vehicles, 2 car insurance policies, house insurance, mortgage, workers compensation, cell phones, utilities, business insurance, etc. etc. etc……. you name it, we have it.

But tattooing is Chris’ passion, so although we knew that it wasn’t currently sustaining itself, we held faith that the clients would come.  Unfortunately with the winter being a quiet season in the tattoo business (coupled with living in a smallish, and remote town), things were grim.  He was only in there 2 days of the week, while landscaping the rest, but being away from landscaping for those 2 days, while taking on more debt, was not a happy scenario.

At some point, I realized that I had been down this path before.  My now ended (for 5 years now) marriage was a string of bad financial choices and too much stuff.  We were also constantly drowning in stuff and to top it off,  we moved 5 times in 6 years!  Not a happy scenario!  (Oh did I say that already?!)  I knew that I was headed in the same direction (although this time I wasn’t moving anywhere), and I knew that things needed to change.

After Christmas, when I got back home, I decided for once and for all that it was time to seriously sit down and take a look at what bills were coming out of our account, and how much it all was.  I’ve never been a budget-er, but I have excellent credit.  I always find a way to make just minimum payments, but even that was starting to become really hard.  2 credit cards had approached their limits, and there was no sign that this was going to be corrected anytime soon.  After doing my calculations, I knew that something major had to change.  We were in way over our heads, and there was no end in sight.

Coincidentally (or more appropriately “synchronistic-ly”), an interesting documentary had just come out called Minimalism. I’m sure you have heard of it, it is getting rave reviews right now.  I watched Minimalism on January 11th.  That evening as I sat and watched it, while working on my artwork, it was like a lightening bolt erupted out of the sky and blasted me right in the back of the head.

I thought “This is it!  Can it really be this easy?”

I left my art bench and went into the living room to talk to Chris.  I said “Can I talk to you for a minute?”  He said “Sure.”  I could tell that he was nervous about this conversation.  After all, we have been dealing with a huge amount of stress around money, and conversations weren’t always the best as we really started to realize the situation we were in.

I said “How do you feel about selling everything and going traveling?”  He took a deep breath and said “Well, I wouldn’t mind, but what about my tattoo shop?”  And in one sentence I said “Sweetie, the whole world is your tattoo shop.”img_0637

Within 10 minutes, he was completely on board and even super excited!  On January 11th, our lives changed, our perspectives changed, our focus changed!  On January 11th, the world became our Oyster again!

Since the decision we have been excited to face each day.  We are driven and focused, and we know that there is finally an ultimate payoff for all the hard work we have been doing.  Everything we are now working for, is worth it and has meaning.  Clarity is falling down all around us like bright comets descending from the heavens, helping to guide our way.

We don’t know ALL the details yet, but we have a general idea of how this will play out.  First off, we are headed to Central America/Southern Mexico.  Chris really wants to learn Spanish, and I could certainly use more practice.  We don’t want to flit about from place to place, but would rather rent an apartment or small house ($275 a month furnished in some places!), for 3-6 months and REALLY experience a place.  Experience the people, the food, the culture.

Chris will bring his tattoo gear with us, and be a roaming tattoo artist, while I attempt to create a living at writing.  Which, by the way, I have wanted to do for quite some time, but never felt like I had the time (surprise, surprise!).

The plan is ambitious. We have A LOT of stuff!

It will take us a few months, maybe a year, to get everything sold, and get our ducks in a row.  But we are focused!  Focused on creating a life that we LOVE!  Focused on finding HAPPINESS and CONTENTMENT!  Focused on cultivating our passions (mine is traveling in case you didn’t figure that out yet). Focused on living a meaningful, exciting and, even, EXHILARATING life!

I knew when I turned 40 in October that life was “just beginning”, but I could never have predicted how true that was!  Look out world!  Here we come!

** Follow our letting go process (already there has been tears!) through this blog by signing up with your email address.  I will update frequently and let you all know how it is going!**

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Just some skiing….

Published January 17, 2016 by jillamatt

“Holy smokes!”  I breathlessly announced as I slid to a stop on one of the slopes at Bansko.

I looked at Chris completely perplexed, and was very reassured to see that, indeed, he was as exhausted as I was.  We both stood there and huffed and puffed for a couple minutes, looking down the slope and taking in our surroundings.

We had only skied about 20 turns on our first run, but our quads were already screaming, and we were totally breathless.

“Are we THAT out of skiing shape, or is this snow just REALLY heavy?”  I asked, laughing at the ridiculousness of our situation.

Afterall, we hadn’t really skied in a couple of seasons. The conditions at our West Coast hill on Vancouver Island, Canada, had been sporadic to say the least. The hill had had no snow, and the conditions unstable, so we never skied, and now we were paying for it.

We weren’t altogether surprised by this turn of events, as our morning had already started out quite interesting to say the least.

We awoke early to get to our ski rental shop, donned our gear quite quickly, and then crossed the street to take the gondola up to the base of the mountain. The hill opened at 8:00, and we were grabbing our tickets by 8:30. Already, there was a large line up that had formed, and we dropped into it eager to get going and make the most of our day.

Now, we have learned, the line up situation in Europe, is quite different than the line up situation in Canada. At least, that of which is in Bulgaria, Greece, or Italy.  Since it seemed the same in these three countries, I’m willing to generalize that it’s likely similar across the continent.

As we stood innocently in line, feeling just as eager to get going as everyone else, we started to notice some interesting trends. We noticed that MANY people outside the line, in fact knew MANY people inside the line, and it was common practice to throw your skis to whoever you knew, and either climb the fence to get into that spot, or go to the back of the line and push your way forward, all the while explaining that you know someone up front.

Obviously people would let others through, and it started to become quite obvious that the line was hardly moving, because of all the extra bodies coming into it.

The other thing we noticed is that there is literally NO personal space in line ups, and you just nudge and push and jostle your way through, until you finally get somewhere. We were part of a giant amoebic blob, like a school of fish, where each vacated space was immediately filled with some sense of urgency.

We remembered the days of Gabrovo, and our fun nightclub experience, where our host dragged us through the line announcing “We must be impudent if we are to get anywhere in life!”

The channel between fences, that the line up had filled was about 6 feet across, and we were located on the left side of it, against the railing. At some point I looked to the right and noticed a faster “current” of people floating past us. The people that had just been in front of us, we’re now 10 feet ahead in this new current. I elbowed Chris and said, “we need to get over there.”

In that moment, our lesson from Ahmed, our friend in Gabrovo, came forth, and we both became quite impudent ourselves. We pushed and jostled and wiggled our way over to the quick moving current, and sure enough, we were swept away, much quicker than the stale left hand section of the line.

The pushing and wiggling went on for about 45 minutes. We climbed 2 sets of metal stairs, in the same way as if we were walking on the ground. Everyone was so jammed together, you hardly had room to bend your knee, and your waist, in order to get up to the next step. Never mind the fact that everyone is carrying heavy skis, snowboards, and ski poles that were wildly flying to and fro. Also add this to the fact that walking in ski boots is difficult to start with, climbing stairs is an entirely different phenomenon.

At one point the lady in front of me teetered backwards, and I feared she would fall on us all below. At another point, a small boy behind me was exhausted by it all, and decided to pretty much lean his whole body onto me, trying to get some rest.

It was a challenge for the senses, and we were happy when we came to the top of the stairs and we could see the gondolas. However, this too was a test of our resolve.

There were about 4 turnstiles that people filtered off into to approach the gondola, and to scan their tickets into an automatic reader. Once scanned, the light would go green, and the turnstile would release, allowing you to walk through. I noticed the girl in front of me had walked through quickly behind the woman in front of her, and had actually gained access on the same green light, as the lady in front. I wondered how often that scam was played out to gain free access to the mountain.

We got through the turnstiles, and awaited the gondolas to swing by us. However, the pushing and chaos to get on them was again a new sensation for us, and it took us a minute to get the gumption to be able to force our way onto the lift, as the rest of them were doing. People were clambering every which way, and it made for a lot of banging, noise and chaos.

We collapsed onto the gondola, and Chris announced for the first time “I think it’s okay if we only ski one day.”  Ha!  We hadn’t even gotten NEAR the slopes, and we were already exhausted with it all.

We proceeded up the mountain, in typical fashion.  I had grown up near Sunshine Village, in the Canadian Rockies, where it was also necessary to take a gondola to the base of the slope. So this was very familiar territory to me. It turned out to be a nice transition from the crazy bustling below, and we arrived in much better spirits at the top.

Ready to go!

We exited the gondola station and were presented with what looked like a typical ski hill. We were immediately impressed with the mountain itself, and the runs looked to be very decent, even from that vantage point.

As eager as we were to get going, we hadn’t eaten breakfast yet, and we were both  looking forward to some protein to fill us up and provide some much needed energy for what we were about to do. We eyed up the closest ski lodge, and immediately found the cafeteria. I headed straight to the start of the line up, grabbed a tray, grabbed some napkins and cutlery, and proceeded down the line.

Not once did I notice that no one else was in there. I just sauntered up to the windows, that should have been full of food, and stood and starred, mouth agape at the obvious lack of said food. Not one tray had any steaming goodness coming out of it. Chris came along and grabbed his tray behind me and I turned to him and said “Don’t bother.”

He too looked around completely aghast and horrified that there were no hot steaming eggs, sausages, bacon, or pancakes. You name it, WE WANTED IT!

We stood there staring in utter disbelief for a few moments, put our trays and cutlery back, and then proceeded to the cashier to see what the heck was going on.

“There is no breakfast here?”  I asked still stupefied.

“No, cafeteria opens at 11:00.”  She told us, seemingly confused by our inquiry.

“Is there anywhere that we can get breakfast around here?”  I asked in a quite desperate manner.

She shook her head, still not sure, it seemed, why we would be asking such absurd questions.

We looked around us at the shelves close to the cashier, and noted the choices available; Chocolate bars, coffee, beer and potato chips. So, that is what we had!

We had a mars bar for desert!

We headed over to a table and just sat in shock, picking away at our chips. We couldn’t believe this!  Images of bustling ski lodges came to our mind, throngs of skiers eagerly filling up on carbs and protein, making themselves ready for a big day on the slopes. Didn’t they know how much money they could make?  Didn’t they realize that breakfast is the most important meal of the day?  It was totally shocking to us both, and I still have half a mind to send them a letter to let them know what they are missing out on. Ha!

After finishing our, AHEM, “Breakfast”, we headed out to don our skis, and get at it!  There was a very busy lift to our left, but the one in front of us had very few people at it, so we decided to approach it.  We realized quite quickly why it wasn’t very busy.  There were warnings that it was for more advanced skiers, but showed both red and black runs (the equivalent to blue and black in Canada), so we knew we would be fine.  I was actually quite surprised, all day, that the majority of the skiers there seemed to be in the more beginner category.  I had had previous visions of super fast, great European skiers zipping down the slopes.  However, we only did see a few of those, but enjoyed the ease of lineups at the lifts for the more advanced skiers anyways.

As we got to the front of the small line, and reached the gate to get on the lift, a worker from the hill approached me quite solemnly and asked me to step out of the line.  Ummmmm okaaaaayyyyyy.  We both side stepped over to the side, and had no idea what was going on.  He asked for my ski pass, which is actually a plastic card that you receive, with a barcode on the back, that lets you scan into each lift you get on.  Of course, I gave it to him, and he took it into the small cubicle that sat next to the line up.  Chris was not impressed with this turn of events, and we both just felt helpless as we were desperate to get on the hill by now.  I managed to glance through one of the windows to see what they were looking at and THAT was when I realized what was happening.  There on their computer screen was images of the turn style that we passed through below, heading onto the gondola.  Peoples faces were on multiple camera screens, and I realized that they were looking for the girl that scooted through in front of me, and had gotten through on the ladies pass in front of her.  Because I was one of the people that was nearby, I guess they had noted my description, and were looking for the culprit that was scamming the hill.  I realized at that moment, that it is quite obvious that not many people were actually getting away with that scam, and that they had a much better control on things than I had initially realized.  The worker apologized profusely, gave me my card back, and let us get back to the business of skiing.

Wow!  What a trip!  We weren’t even skiing yet, and we had already been through so much!  Again, as our chair lifted us off into the sky, Chris repeated very seriously “We only have to ski one day.”

Finally on the lift!!

I now realize that we never actually did what this told us to do. We lifted the bar way too early.

Looks like the underneath of most chairlifts!

Our initial plan, for the skiing segment of our holiday, was to ski for 4 days.  However, we approached this cautiously, especially when we realized that the conditions were likely not the best.  We also knew that only 8 out of 17 runs were open, so after a few days, I can imagine that it would get quite repetitive.   Instead of buying a multiple day lift ticket, and committing to rentals for many days, we instead opted to just try it for one day.  Thank goodness for that.

We made it to the top of the lift, and realized quite quickly that the conditions were indeed not the best.  Our out of shape legs let us know pretty quickly that this heavy, wet snow, was going to make our day difficult.  Things did smooth out eventually, and the lactic acid in our legs eased off, but we were definitely tired, and had to stop quite frequently to catch our breath (maybe we can blame it on the elevation??)

An idea of the slopes. Totally decent!

One bonus of the hill, though, was the fact that there were ski lodges (ie. places to get food and drinks), all over the place!  After we figured out what was where, we would plan our routes accordingly.  The discussions went like this:  “If we take that lift up to that point, and then ski down to the right, we can get to that lodge and get something to eat.”  As soon as we had eaten, it became: “If we ski down that hill, and then go left at that turn, we can get a drink at that lodge.”

And so, this became our mantra for the rest of the day, and needless to say, we would only do about 2 runs in a row (or sometimes 1.5) and then would deem it time for a drink.

180 degree bar on the hill. It was a great place to watch the skiers go by.

Lovin’ the slopeside bar action!

I should let readers know at this point that the food and beverage on the hill was outrageously expensive!  The prices were comparable, if not more, than our hills in Canada.  However, we had planned for 4 days of skiing, and now were only doing one, so we decided that we may as well live it up!  The skiing wasn’t the best, and we even got RAINED on, but WE would have fun and make the most of it anyways!  Damn it!!

By 3:00 we were finished!  Finished in body and in mind, and were likely starting to get a bit tipsy by then.  We decided to beat the crowds and get down off the mountain before the gondola line up became the nightmare that it had been in the morning.

After limping in extreme pain (our ski boots were killing both of us!) back to the rental shop, we bid our farewells and headed off to Happy End.  Yes, the name was Happy End.  We have no idea if they actually GET the connotation of that name, but we were definitely very happy that it was over, and it was time for a celebratory drink (of course!).  We listened to some live music, laughed about our crazy day of skiing, had some dinner, and headed back to our hotel.

Hanging outside under heat lamps, and in some hanging swings. 

Looked like a stairway to a dungeon!

 

Such a great menu cover!  I wanted a sticker badly!

Awesome Chandeliers!

Great Band playing classic American Rock Covers.

 

Happy campers……or skiers!

That was that!  We had skied in Bulgaria, and quite frankly, we were very happy to not have to do it again.  We both surmised that if the conditions had of been awesome, we would likely do it all over again.  But, we were happy with what we got, appreciated the experience, and were ready to move on.

More fantastic architecture.

Inside a traditional Baltic restaurant, and the oldest building in town!

This guy was great!!

Mmmmmm Bulgarian candy!

Many meats were roasting on spits around Bansko.

We were meant to spend 4 more nights in Bansko, skiing of course,  but we cut our stay short.  We stayed for 2 more nights, took in more of the sights around town, and then happily headed back to Sofia to while away the rest of our trip in a familiar surrounding.  We were headed back to the Art Hostel.  The place where we started this incredible journey.  We had 4 days of rest and relaxation ahead of us, and we looked forward to just sitting and enjoying them, and not having the need to run around and see new places.  In retrospect, we were finished.  It had been almost 6 weeks on the road, and we were ready to go home.

Next up, 4 more days in Sofia and then our journey home!  Wow, what a trip it had been!

Italy in a wink ;)

Published January 10, 2016 by jillamatt

As the fireworks exploded over the Piazza in Reggio Emilia, our group of friends exchanged hugs to officially bring in 2016. I hugged Jasmine, we gave each other an extra squeeze,  and she said “I’m glad you are here.”

It had been about 5 years since I last saw her in the town we both lived in. One year before that, she had moved to Italy to chase an Italian man that she had fallen in love with in Canada. She was an English teacher there, and students arrived from all over the world to experience the Canadian culture and learn our language. One of them caught her eye, and her heart, and very quickly, she was off, chasing him across the globe. 

I had been telling her for AT LEAST 4 of those years that I wanted to come and see her, and experience her new found life. I was incredibly proud of her for taking such a leap, and chasing her dreams. I marvelled at her courage, and her belief that across the world, she could carve out a better life for herself.  

I was certainly NOT surprised to find that she had INDEED found the life of her dreams, but I was a bit surprised that she DEFINITELY is an old Italian soul at heart. I couldn’t imagine seeing her more happy, content, and at peace with her surroundings, as I experienced during our visit. 

For many reasons, the original relationship that brought here there, was no longer. But she had found new love, and this I can see, is love that will last. She is now in very high demand as an English teacher, commanding a very reasonable wage in a country where the economy is definitely not what it once was. She has declared Reggio Emilia “her town”, and every where we went, she would hug and kiss and wave at familiar faces. One of her ex students we met declared her “the best English teacher in the city!”  Her Italian is so flawless that friends she has had for years, are still just realizing that she is Canadian and her native language is English. Yes!  I would say that she has found her groove alright!  

We arrived in Milan, still reeling from our experiences in Greece, but feeling better after our 2 complimentary (small) bottles of wine on the plane. We are sure that the old Italian lady sitting next to us, was a little disgusted with our drinking at 9:00 in the morning, but we were certainly beyond caring about that.  (I’m also realizing that by now, many of my readers are starting to see a trend in our behaviour. Yes, we do like to drink!)

  We caught the train from the Milan airport that would take us to the Milano Centrale train station, where we would then catch the train to Reggio Emilia, a city of 170 000 people, close to the more major center of Bologna.  

Happy to touch down in Italy!

  

Milano Centrale Train Station.

  

Waiting for our platform to be announced.

 As we rode the train to Reggio (as the locals refer to it as), we were very aware of what time it was as we had noticed that nobody was announcing what station we are arriving at, during the previous stops.  Therefore , we devised that it would have been very easy to miss our station, as we had no idea where we were or what we were looking at.  A couple minutes past our scheduled arrival time, the train came to a stop.  It was just a concrete platform a ways away from the station but we got off anyways, hopeful that it was the right place.    

Milan to Reggio.

 

 
Sure enough, once we entered the station, we saw the familiar name on a sign and felt immediate relief. Jasmine (but I prefer to call her Jasi) was there to pick us up a few minutes later, and we were off to explore Northern Italy!

As it was December 30, Jasi and her partner Raffaele, or affectionately referred to as Raffa, were finished with work for the next few days, so we were able to do some exploring together. Her brother and his girlfriend were also coincidently visiting her at the same time, and the 6 of us rented a mini van together, to be able to have the freedom to drive around and see the sights. This would also ensure saving money on individual train tickets, and make our schedule more flexible. 

New Years Eve we explored around Reggio, taking in sights and learning various tid bits about the city. For example, the Italian Flag was designed and made in Reggio, and the ever so popular, world renown cheese Parmigiano-Reggiano, or better known as Parmesan, was invented there, both of which bring great pride to its residents, fondly referred to as Reggiani.   

Upside down Christmas bicycle lights, and of course, PIZZA!

  

Beautiful archways abound!

  

One of the many amazing buildings in one Piazza.

 The Italian architecture and beauty of the streets was something that we had been eager to see, and we were not disappointed. Within the city Center, where Jasi’s apartment was, there is very limited car usage, making it a mostly pedestrian friendly zone. In fact, in most Italian communities, you need to go through an extensive proof of residency to be able to actually get a permit to bring your car into the Center of the city. Of course, with many things in Italy, there is a fee attached, which likely deters lots of people who, thankfully, do not bring their vehicles into the ZTL (zona traffico limitado), and park them in one of the many parking lots dotting the City Center outskirts instead.  Because of this, it was nice to wander around without worrying about tons of cars flying everywhere.

We meandered from Piazza (central gathering squares) to Piazza and marvelled at the sights as we went.  

These grande promenades link storefronts and bustling coffee shops.

  

Very pedestrian friendly.

  

Plenty of huge, beautiful doors!

 We had decided to experience New Years from one of the near by Piazzas, and then to mostly celebrate back at their apartment. We loved the local feel if it all.  Families, the young and the old, counted down and then danced waltzes to the local 5 piece orchestra that played while fireworks lit up the sky and many bottles of champagne were uncorked and consumed. It was a wonderful cultural experience. We took it a little bit easy as the following day Raffa’s family was to host us for a traditional Italian meal at their home.  

A fitting display for the birthplace of the Italian flag.

  

Countdown!

  

Happy Revelers!

   

The orchestra.

 We arrived at the family home around 12:30, and were immediately welcomed with open arms. It was 2016, and everyone was in a festive mood. Although, we didn’t speak the language, Raffa’s relatives knew a bit of English, and Jasi translated for us when needed.  (I’m bummed that I didn’t get any photos to remember is event.)

We had an incredible meal that lasted over 3 hours, several courses, and many bottles of wine. I knew that Italy in general had a bit of a thing for food, but I never really realized that it’s (Italy’s) actual THING IS FOOD!

Every Italian community has a specialized food item that comes specifically from their region. Certain types of sausage or cheese, and many times a whole dish, belongs solely to the community that invented it. We also learned that specific sauces go with specific types of pastas, and heaven forbid if you mix them up!

It just so happens that other than being Reggios best English teacher, Jasi is also, likely, Reggio’s most informed officianado on Italian food. She travels around Italy as much as possible and experiences each local dish as she does it. In fact when we were in Milan, we both had the Risotto Milanese, Milan’s specific risotto made with its own unique sauce. While we were there, I had pestered her to write an Italian food blog on her experiences, and I still hope she does it. (Hint hint if you are reading this!!)

Our meal at Raffa’s parents’ house was very special indeed. Being that I don’t eat wheat, his mom and sister, went out of their way to make me gluten free dishes, and also bought me some gluten free, freshly made baguettes, which are surprisingly available in a couple different bakeries around the city. Such a treat!  There was so much happiness and joy, and even with language limitations, there was plenty of laughter as we exchanged stories and jokes all round. And Uncle Sergio, who with broken English told us many things, proved to us that he is QUITE the character. 

We felt so lucky and thankful to have had a real Italian experience such as this!  I have said it before, but it bears saying again. Travelling is such a wonderful way to bring people from different cultures together. It makes the world a smaller place when we take the time to talk with people from different backgrounds, and to experience their traditions and customs. It makes you realize that we really are just one, one unique being that walks the planet, however, all in different ways. It’s a beautiful thing!

We pretty much rolled out of Raffa’s families house, and all fell into heavy afternoon naps. We really only woke up for a small snack, and then hit the hay again to prepare for two full days of sight seeing. 

Day one we were off early to Florence.  We drove through rain and wet weather to get there, and unfortunately through plenty of fog, which meant that we didn’t get to see the famous rolling hills and fields of Tuscany, the province that contains Florence. Jasi told us that there really isn’t much to see in the winter anyways, and like most places we have been on this trip, we were told to come back in the summer. 

Back in Canada, friends had informed us that Florence was really worth seeing, and they were not mistaken!  In fact, Forbes has declared it one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and it was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1982.  

  

Florence’s Duomo (church).

   

Is it just me or is this guy being rude;)?

   

Carved marble pillars and cast bronze doors.

  

Wonder how many times this knocker has been knocked??

  

Dante’s House

   
Known for its culture, renaissance art and architecture and its numerous monuments, it is home to approximately 382 000 people within the city limits. It attracts millions of tourists every year, and in fact, I could have sworn there were millions of people there that day!  I’m sure half of Italy, and many other tourists, had decided that the Saturday after New Year’s Day, was the perfect day to visit this lovely city. We jostled around and bumped around with hoards of eager tourists ecstatic to see the fabulous sights it offered. 

Despite the foul, wet weather, we managed to see many famous Florence sights, do a little shopping, and of course, had a wonderful Italian lunch. Our restaurant even had gluten free pizza and pasta!  I felt completely spoiled all round.  

  

No visit to Florence is complete without walking on the famous Ponte Vecchio.

  

Massive statues everywhere!

 I must admit that being allergic to wheat, had me quite concerned that there wouldn’t be much for me to eat in this famously wheat filled country. However, Jasi had informed me prior to coming, that there were plenty of gluten free offerings, and she was certainly correct. One just DOES NOT starve in Italy! This, I’m sure would certainly be the biggest crime against humanity in a place that worships food at every level. (However, as with every country in the world, I’m sure they do have their problems with those less fortunate, and I’m sure many may actually be starving, so please don’t take this too literally, or think that I take it lightly.) 

Veggies are everywhere!

  

Yum! GF PIZZA!!

  

Beautiful displays.

 At around 4:00 pm, we declared ourselves wet and sight see’d out (if that’s even a thing), and headed back to Reggio. We were all eager to get back by 7:00 for happy hour at one of Raffa and Jasi’s local watering spots Mexicana, where they offered half price drinks for happy hour. Their signature drink is the “Hurricane”, featuring 5 different types of rum and a bit of juice for flavour. They are definitely delicious, and they definitely make you feel like you have been hit by a hurricane after a couple! 

Hurricanes from below!

 It was a great day, but we knew there was more to come!  The next day we were off to Milan, and then Bergamo, where we would be flying back to Bulgaria from, the day after that. 

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in Milan. Of course I knew that it was the home of much fashion, high end clothing, run ways, and shopping. I think I actually envisioned the city to be one, modern, giant shopping plaza, with the likes of Gucci, Armani, Louis Vuitton and Prada emblazoned on the sides of buildings.  Although these shops did exist, I was delightfully surprised to find that the historic city Center, also has a huge history (duh), and features many spectacular sights itself. 

The Duomo, a term for an Italian church, was absolutely mind blowing. In fact, while writing this, I was not surprised to find that when I typed Duomo into Wikipedia, to provide the link above, that the feature picture is in fact Milan’s Doumo. I certainly cannot imagine a more fabulous Cathedral than that building. 

    The entire structure is made out of marble, and bronze. The detail of which the carvings are done, are absolutely mind blowing, and I felt obligated to take a bazillion pictures to try and prove my point. Thank god for digital is all I can say!!  Be thankful that you only get to see a few here, and believe me it is painstakingly difficult trying to pick just a few! 

The portion of the bronze door that everybody touches. The tarnish had been rubbed right off revealing the beautiful bronze below.

  

All bronze under the tarnish! MASSIVE! And check out the carved marble around the door!

  

All marble. So many faces!

 We also wandered around looking at other cool sights, including the Castello Sforzesco (Castle Sforza), that was built in the 15th century. We ate roasted chestnuts, and drank mulled wine from the street vendors, and floated along, lazily taking it all in. We had another wonderful Italian meal, and as stated before, Jasi and I ate Milan’s signature dish, Risotto Milanese. Delicious! 

A bit of an optical illusion with the archways leading elsewhere

  

Entering the castle.

  
 

I’m thinking that is where the royalty sat, looking down on the commoners.

 
 

One shopping plaza we passed through. Notice the brand names and the Swarovski tree! it was covered with hundreds of crystals!

  

Balconies of Milan.

  

Lunchtime with wonderful people and amazing artwork!

 
Unfortunately, we knew our time was short, and we needed to head off to Bergamo, so that Jasi and Raffa (her brother and his girlfriend had opted out on the trip to Milan) could get back to Reggio in time for another meal with his parents. We parted ways with much sorrow, but all so thankful for the absolutely wonderful few days that we had spent together. As Jasi told me, the Italians love to fuss over their guests, and never rest until they are sure they are completely happy and satisfied. I can attest once again to Jasi being an old Italian soul, because we both left feeling very satisfyingly fussed over!  

Our Italian experience had gone by as quick as a wink!  But we have both gotten a taste for more. Like most places we have been on this trip (except for the one certain island that I’m sure you can guess) we look forward to returning.  Next time will be longer!  I can imagine that Italy has so many more secrets to reveal. Thank you soooooooo much Jasi and Raffa for such a wonderful introduction to your exquisite country. WE WILL BE BACK!!

Next up, we are heading back to Bulgaria for our ski holiday in Bansko!  Skiing in the Balkans, another great start to the New Year. 

Idle working days on Paros Island. 

Published December 25, 2015 by jillamatt

Capturing an experience such as this, is difficult to describe in words. However, I feel it necessary to spread the joy that we have experienced, and so, I will give it a whirl. 

Our Wwoofing (see my last post ‘Gone Wwoofin’ to learn about woofing) hosts, Jim (from England) and Irini (from Greece), are fabulous! They have been sculpting the land they live on for 15 years.  And when I say sculpting, I mean sculpting! With the help of numerous Wwoofers, they have turned a hillside of prickle bushes and scrub brush into a venerable landscaped oasis. 

Jim, Irini and their dogs. Taken circa 2013

 
Brilliant plants, constantly bursting into various colours, line impossibly adorable pathways, that lead to even more adorable cottages. We have spent the last two weeks absolutely in awe of the utter beauty around   us, that looks like it has been dropped from the heavens.  

Just one of the beautiful cottages to rent, and the one we were fortunate enough to call home for two weeks.


 

The closeup of ‘our cottage.’

 
 

Gorgeous handbuilt pathways run every which way!

    

Yes, thats a Rosemary bush! And there are many more like it!

 

More adorable cottages, more adorable pathways!

   
On a daily basis, we inspect the plants, and constantly find something new that we didn’t know existed before.  Some days I feel like Alice in Wonderland, completely aware and wide eyed, discovering new and exciting plants and nooks and crannies, around every corner. 

   

Aloe Vera!

  

  

 Yes, there has been work. But it’s been the sort of work that provides so much reward.  At the beginning of our time with them, I asked Jim what he expected in terms of how many hours we needed to contribute in a day, in exchange for our accommodation and meals. We are both very honest, hard working people, and the last thing we want is to be taking more than we are giving.

Succulents bloom everywhere!

Bouganvillia cascading from above.

Yes, that is a Geranium, planted in the ground and huge!

 Jim’s answer wasn’t exactly cut and dried. Instead of demanding 5 or 6 hours per day, Mon-Fri,
with weekends off, he attempted to explain his philosophy while successfully sidestepping my question. 
It became clear to us, quite quickly, that Jim does NOT do the nine to five routine. He is more free wheeling and doesn’t conform to any sort of “societal standards.”  

So, it was no surprise to me to hear his philosophy on the whole Wwoofing process. His philosophy, in basic terms, is that humans are meant to interact, learn things from each other, inspire each other, help each other, lean on each other. We are meant to cooperate as a community. We are meant to trust in each other, see the good in each other, celebrate each other’s talents, and help each other to improve. 

He really wants nothing more than to see people learn and grow, as they contribute to the improvement, and overall vision of his property.  And his hope is that they will take their learned knowledge out into the world, to positively contribute to the growth of humanity. 

He and Irini, have created, from scratch, a place where people can come to explore themselves. Whether it be through Wwoofing, as a guest, or as a paid customer in the cottages, they encourage a space of personal freedom, inspiration and growth.  

The oasis from above

 While his property isn’t technically a “farm”, and we haven’t learned much about what we set out to learn originally (about growing different foods in other parts of the world), we have come away completely inspired, and better as humans than when we arrived. If it wasn’t for some amazing travelling that we still need to do, I would be super excited (and still will be at the end of the trip), to get home and tackle my yard!

They operate the development of the property using perma-culture techniques. Everything that is pulled out of one thing, is used somewhere else. We started out constructing a pathway, and my thoughts were that we need to get it done as quick as possible, which is the hurried, more corporate way of things. However, we spent more time sifting the soil, removing rocks, combing through massive piles of rocks, to find just the right one to line the path, and getting everything ‘just right’ before moving on to the next step. 

For example, the stones we pulled out of the surface of the pathways that we built, were piled up to be used to build walls, or become filler for areas of the property that needed to be raised up a bit. Like I said, everything is used, nothing is wasted.  

Before

After

In progress

 

After. Jim had previously constructed the round concrete bits from leftover concrete used for larger projects. I was happy to put my mosaic skills to good use.

 
Jim made it clear that slow, intentional steps, are more important than rushing about, and doing things hastily, therefore possibly creating problems in the future. He also assured me that if he felt our work wasn’t a fair exchange, he would let me know. Good enough. 

We worked away on an area of the property that started out as a few small plants (and when I say small plants, I mean massive Rosemary bushes,) and ended up as a sculptured garden, with pathways and rock walls, ready to be transformed into another garden oasis. Jim was pleased with our work, and we are thrilled with what we accomplished. As a first Wwoofing experience, we both couldn’t be happier with the results! 

 

Before

 

After

  
Our work days ran from approximately 9:00 or 9:30, and ended pretty much when we had finished a section of what we were working on. Sometimes it was 4:00, other times it was 2:00. As long as progress was made, everyone was happy.  

I think everyone is happy!

 Our evenings were spent in Jim and Irini’s house, sometimes with other Wwoofers, around the fireplace. Here, many philosophical conversations were held, as we imparted our individual views on the world to each other. Incredible meals were constructed by Irini (and sometimes Jim), and we generally followed that up with a movie or tv series of some sort.  

Not alot of room for Humans in this house! :). They like to relax by the fire as well!

 Our accomodations were spectacular!  Normally, Wwoofers stay off the main house, but because another girl was there before us, we were able to stay in our own guest cottage. Let me tell you, it may well be the cutest fairy tale cottage that I have ever stayed in! 

Stairs up to the bedroom, stairs down to the kitchen.

Looking down on our living area and the entrance.

I can’t imagine Hansel and Gretel having a cuter kitchen. Can you?

 In the summer (but also year round if necessary), these beautiful cottages are rented out to vacationers and the like. It’s called ‘Living in the Garden’, and let me be the first to tell you that, YES, you will be living in the garden! 

(Click here for their website and to book a stay.)  

Because they are both artists themselves, they have a special knack for attracting similar craftsmen, that are doing artist retreats, or who come to help with working on the property, in exchange for the chance to work on their art and become inspired. They are open and welcoming to many different arrangements, because, as Jim insists, their aim is to inspire. 

Jim, himself, is currently creating the most magnificent Men’s rings from scratch (but will also do Women’s by request), which, in his words is “managing to finance our way through the diabolical Greek economic crisis.”  His years of craftsmanship are paying off, and he feels extremely lucky to be able to survive in the hard economic times that the entire country is facing.  

 

Visit his Etsy shop here!

Our days on Paros were not all filled with work, we did a couple excursions to explore this island, and also a trip to Antiparos, a neighbouring island. But those stories will have to wait for another post. 

For now, I would just like to wish everyone an amazing Christmas!  We are so very thankful to be exactly where we are, and hope that happiness and joy is finding everyone, today and always.  

  

 

We are off to Santorini tomorrow!  Can’t wait to see this amazing spectacle. 

Just some thoughts…..

Published December 6, 2015 by jillamatt

As this blog, and our trip progresses, I am finding myself wondering how I should be organizing my blog posts? Should I be doing a chronological order of events? Or should I just be capturing highlights of our trip? 

I feel like everyday there are a hundred different things that I could be reporting on. However, I also realize that this isn’t a travel diary, and maybe I should be keeping one of those on the side as well. In the past I was pretty rigid with myself when it came to my travel diary. I would write in it almost every day, recording where I went and what I did on each specific day. 

However, this is clearly a different medium, and I am quite aware that my readers don’t need to know what I ate for lunch every day, or exactly what museum, church, or attraction that I have visited. So, I have decided that it will specifically highlight events, or information that stands out in my mind. 

I have also been approached by individuals interested in learning about specific travel tips, such as my packing philosophy, lists that I make, how to plan ahead, safety issues etc. Although I realize that this is valuable information for potential travellers, I feel that my strength lies in story telling and recapping my experiences, therefore, hopefully, inspiring others to travel. 

There are many travel blogs out there where travellers help people to learn HOW to travel, but I just want to highlight the EXPERIENCE of travelling. 

I have always been fully aware that every day we live is an experience. I have rarely let great experiences pass me by. If something seems exciting and fun, I will generally get on board. I get very bored with monotony and living day to day without anything to look forward to. 

Travelling, to me, is the ultimate thing to look forward to. The minute I know I’m going somewhere, I start to research. I love knowing about where I am going, gazing at maps to get the lay of the land, learning about their customs and traditions, and possibly learning a few words of the language before hand. This trip has been no exception. And I guess, in realizing what I am writing here, THIS is my preparation.  

I feel with this sort of preparation, I am more able to embrace the local customs, blend into the fabric of the country that I am visiting, and not stand out as the stereotypical tourist that wants to act just like they do at home, and pretend like nothing is different. I believe we MUST be able to adapt, to accept what comes to us, to respect the land and the people of which we are visiting. And I believe that THIS will enrich our experience. 

And so, this blog will highlight my (for this trip “our”) experiences, because, after all, what is life without them??

I think it’s clear now, that I LOVE TO TRAVEL, and I love to share my stories. I hope that I can inspire you to get out there and do some wandering too!!

The next blog post (coming soon!) will highlight our initial experiences in Bulgaria:) 

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