Out of Order in China

Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life.

Day 95: By the time I am getting used to the currency, learn a few basic words (which I end up butchering anyway), and get acquainted with the customs of a place it is already time to leave for the next one. Seba and I knew beforehand this fast-paced whirlwind trip is not the most ideal way of traveling when you really want to deeply indulge yourself in the culture and the destination. However, with a finite time frame and a meager bag of everchanging coins, the purpose of our trip is the get a good overall first impression of the plethora of cultures South East Asia has to offer and we have not regretted our way of traveling so far.

Some moments during this trip I can’t believe I am actually here. My head is already bursting with amazing memories and sometimes I feel like I am experiencing a human ‘memory almost full’ notification. No way I am going to erase any storage, at least not deliberately. Continue reading Out of Order in China

Live A Life Worth Living

“Not that way ! That’s a jump for snowboarders” I heard my friend scream while I was concentrating on how to come down properly down a green slope for the very first time. My friend James told me a couple moments prior that I could use the whole slope to practice my skiing a bit. Everything except that part apparently.

After numerous face plants, cursing and going backwards I tried to finish the night with the bit of grace I had left in my body. Thankfully I wasn’t going to fast and could crawl back out of that lane to come down the ‘normal’ way.

Not bad for my first Monday in my new hometown. It’s been a turbulent week so far with the inevitable ups and downs.

A week ago I was still packing and sorting out what luggage to take with me while squeezing in my last goodbyes with friends and families. Those things are definitely the least fun part of the whole journey. Even though I promised not to tear up I couldn’t contain myself any longer when my little niece hugged me goodbye. Like she knewI went on a long big journey. The idea of seeing her again in a couple months comforts me.

Now the hardest part was behind me I stepped on the train towards Paris with my travel companion Kim. In Paris we would embark on our direct flight to Vancouver. With three bags and a heavy heart I got on board the plane that would bring me to my new life. Permanently this time. No fixed return date. That’s a bit of new concept for me. A million questions and some doubts race through my mind but deep inside I know I’m making a good decision and following my dreams.

After a few movies and chats with my neighbours and a sore bum we start our touchdown. With that touchdown starts an awful migraine. The exhaustion, last-minute stress and lack of sleep is getting the best of me.

The immigration procedure is going very smoothly and before we know it we are on our way to our hotel in North Vancouver where we are residing for the first week of our journey. An Advil and a hot shower later we are ready to meet up with Kim’s sister and brother in law in Coquitlam for a quick hello.

The next day is set aside for all the necessary paper work.

Getting a SIN number so I can get a job here in BC, opening my bank account, getting a phone plan and gathering information about exchanging my drivers license to a BC license. Make sure you book off enough for these things, they are quite time consuming but all worked out smoothly.

The next couple days consisted of getting used to the new time zone and going on new hikes in the area. Breathing in the old familiar fresh air while staring at waterfalls in the snow definitely feels like a warm welcome, although we were soaking wet and shivering on our way back.

Today, it’s job hunting day, a bit later than expected but more motivated and focused than a couple days ago.

As for now, this is were I will leave you, sitting in a Starbucks near English Bay and with a dozen job ads open on my computer. Back to work, looking for a living for a life that’s worth living or something like that.

Until the next update !

Oh, and just so you know, in Canada you should park at least five meters away from a fire hydrant…

Cheers

Leave it all Behind

Ever dreamed of going abroad for a year to work and travel there ?

Yeah, me too.

I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become.

These days everyone knows someone who is going/went abroad to another country for a longer time to work and travel. You see their pictures on Facebook about snorkelling in the Great Barrier Reef, conquering mountain tops in the Canadian Rockies or bungee jumping in New Zealand.

And you think to yourself. I wish I could do all of that.

Well, you can, but you didn’t realise it yet.

Continue reading Leave it all Behind

Fifty Days of Summer Part 1 : Wedding in Vancouver

Ever since I left for the Great North American Adventure last July I haven’t been able or trying to give you an update on my travels due to computer problems and time limitations. I have made tons of scribbles though that will never make it to this blog but some others will do.

And I will post those in the next few weeks.

Let’s rewind to the end of July when I shut the door behind me at 5 AM direction Paris Charles de Gaulle where I would take a flight to Vancouver.

All went pretty smooth. One travel tip ! If you fly Westjet and arrive with the train make sure to calculate enough time to walk all the way from the train station to the gate of your plane. At some point it felt like I would end up in the Paris Orly airport.

Westjet brought me all the way to Vancouver in one go.

The Wedding Days

The first few days were all about the wedding of two of my friends who live in Vancouver. He, a military guy from Vancouver. She, a young woman with a degree in psychology from Belgium. They met in a local bar in my hometown, Ieper and where both instantly smitten about each other.

They met up soon after and their love for each other has been growing ever since. Not much later she decided to leave her life behind in Belgium and follow her heart in Vancouver. The rest is history and on July 25th they sealed their lovely deal.

True story.

The wedding held place in a military base in downtown Vancouver, a great location for an unforgetable wedding.

Unchained

A couple of weeks ago I was on my way home. I was heading to my front door and grabbed my keys out of my pocket.

A keychain was holding together a bunch of keys that belonged to different places.

Each of them was a part of my life. Three keys belonged to my apartment where I lived the last four months.

One to my car my sister is driving now.

One to my old workplace and a key to both my parents their place.

As I walked out the door this morning not a single key belonged to me anymore and I was heading to the airport with an empty pocket ready to be filled with Polaroid pictures, festival stubs and a travel passport.

I am doing it again.

50 days of travel curiosity across North America.

These are my 50 Days of Summer

Squamish (Winter)

It’s being here now that’s important. There is no past and there is no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one. 

I visited Squamish for the very first time on the last day of 2014 and it was definitely one of the best days of the year.

A friend of mine transformed herself into the local guide of the day (once more) and took me to some really great places.

We left in the early morning and the weather was just fantastic ! Blue skies and some decent temperatures for British Columbia for this time of year.

Before we entered Squamish we made a stop at Whytecliff Park. Check this place out if you can ! It’s a perfect spot to chill out for a bit.

By the time we got to Squamish we were already pretty hungry and made a stop at Mag’s 99. It’s that bright yellow building along Highway 99. You can’t miss it unless you are color blind. It’s a great place to get some delicious mexican food ! The restaurant has a funky interior and with the music playing and the sun shining bright through the windows I had a feeling I was having lunch in Guadalajara instead of Squamish. Great experience !

We continued our day trip until we arrived at the new Sea to Sky Gondola. This Gondola ride gives you a great scenic view over the Howe Sound. You also can see the Stawamus Chief which I still need to climb (hopefully this summer).

Once we got to the top we had a hot beverage at the Summit Lodge and I called my parents in Belgium to wish them a Happy New Year. Very odd I must admit when you are looking at the Sky Pilot (mountain) covered with snow on a crystal clear sky afternoon.

After we enjoyed our drinks and the calls were made we crossed the suspension bridge and made a little hike to the Chief Overlook Viewing Platform where we had some more mind blowing views of this beautiful area.

Time flew by and we had to get back to Vancouver to get ready for the New Year’s Eve Party but on our way back we made one short stop at Porteau Cove, another beautiful place to hang out. After we enjoyed our last sunset of the year we set course to Vancouver again. What a fantastic day !

The second time I visited Squamish was the day before my birthday. Seems like Squamish makes a great end of a chapter every time I go. This time we visited the Squamish Estuary and Spit, a great nice look out point and great place for kite surfers.

This summer I am going back to the Squamish Music Festival in August and I hope to climb the Stawamus Chief and explore more of this awesome area.

Vancouver Island

I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it. 

Skipping Vancouver Island on your trip through Western Canada is like going to Arizona and skipping the Grand Canyon. You would miss out on a tremendous amount of beauty.

From Vancouver you can take the ferry from Tsawassen (Vancouver) to Schwartz Bay (Victoria).

I visited Vancouver Island last October. I must admit, it’s not the best time of year weather wise but if you want to avoid the crowds, this is definitely your travel period. And it’s Vancouver Island after all, so you can except rain any time of year.

Victoria is quite cozy with a bunch of nice places to eat and drink. One of those place is Jam Cafe in Victoria. An awesome breakfast place with delicious food ! Go check it out before you start your stroll through the streets of the capital city of British Columbia.

From Victoria I started a day trip to Port Renfrew. Don’t except a lot of traffic on this Highway 14 once you passed Sooke. That’s where the beautiful and sometimes bumpy road of Vancouver Island begin. We drove all the way until the end of Highway 14 where you will find the Juan de Fuca Trailhead. You can park your car there and make a nice hike to Botanical Beach where some hikers start the Juan de Fuca Marine Trail. A 47 km trail between Port Renfrew and China Beach. Unfortunately I only have a few hours left on the clock until I have to be back in Victoria. But no worries, there was time enough to get myself into some trouble.

On the way back through Port Renfrew we made a stop at the Port Renfrew Hotel for lunch. Unfortunately it was raining so we had to eat our lunch inside instead of the nice porch in the back. Once we stepped inside we could definitely separate the tourists from the locals. One of those locals walked up to my friend once we went outside and he told us about this beautiful grove we should check out. The Avatar Grove. The way to get there was kind of descriptive. They only thing missing was a wooden leg and an eyepatch to believe I was on my way to have a great storyline for a new Indiana Jones movie.

After making some snaps at the pier we took our chances and made our way to our next adventure.

It only took us one wrong turn before we found the first handmade sign to the grove. A little further we came across a fork in the road with no sign but made a right turn. From this point on we had to brace ourselves for some serious potholes so keep your eyes open. This bumpy road goes on for a while.

Just when we were almost convinced we took the wrong turn we saw a sign along the road with Avatar Grove. No parking lot, no cars, no other people since we left Port Renfrew. We parked our car along the road and made our way to the entrance.

It rained a little harder now.

We started with the lower trail and stumbled upon a hand drawn map that looked like a circle with a crooked stick and some tree names written on it. After all, the map was pretty accurate but unfortunately we had to turn around after five minutes because the whole trail was flooded.

We turned around and started the upper trail. This part of the trail also contained the Gnarly Tree. We made our way along the like coloured markers through the trees. They made it a lot easier to continue our trail. Due to the rainfall some parts of the trail were under water or washed out a bit. At the end of the Upper Trail you will find the Gnarly Tree, a giant curved tree.

I cannot describe the exhilaration I felt to walk between these massive trees. You feel so small but at the same time you feel one with this incredible place.

Getting soaked is part of the ‘Rainforest Experience’ !

So glad our local guy told my friend about this place.

But it’s time to move on.

From Victoria we left the following day to Ucluelet and Tofino, two awesome beach villages on the west coast of the island.

Our first stop was in Ucluelet where we rested our heads in the ‘Surfs Inn Hostel‘. This hostel has a good location and is a great place to meet other people. I would recommend this place to anyone. A lot of surfers stay here and they also give surf lessons (with a discount) if you stay there. Don’t forget to write your name on one of the surf boards before you leave.

Highlight of Ucluelet was the Wild Pacific Trail. This loop is an easy walk as long as the strong winds are not blowing you right into the ocean. It took me three minutes to get soaking wet. So make sure you bring a lot of clothes to the island because my clothes from the Avatar Grove where still drying on the backseat of my car. Or just bring waterproof clothes.

The drive from Ucluelet to Tofino goes along the Pacific Rim Highway and you are driving along a handful of amazing beaches. Make sure to make some stops here and also stop at Tacofino Cantina for some great food.

Tofino itself is just a paradise for every water sport fanatic and has a very chill vibe and is filled with young people. I absolutely loved it and hope to come back to this area to explore it some more.

And this is only a tip of the iceberg of what Vancouver Island has to offer so give it a shot, you won’t be disappointed !

While in Vancouver : West-Vancouver

The cost of not following your dreams, is spending the rest of your life wishing you had

After exploring Downtown and North Vancouver it’s time to stretch our legs in beautiful West-Vancouver. I visited West-Vancouver only a couple of times during my stay in Vancouver but every visit was memorable.

What I remember from this neighbourhood is a hike in Ambleside Park on Christmas morning with my roommates, a perfect Christmas start if you ask me, especially after that Christmas Breakfast with omelettes and eggnog. Not such a fan of eggnog but if you spike it enough it will be enjoyable at some point.

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On the last day of the year a good friend of mine took me on an adventure. We started the trip with a stop at Whytecliff Park, a popular place for divers and a great place to take some pictures. If you climb around the rock like a little monkey, make sure you pay attention to the slippery rocks ! No lifeguard around here to save your ass. IMG_3541

In my last week I was living in Vancouver I went to West-Vancouver twice. I already told you I am procrastinator and I had a bucket list to check off. And the list was still pretty long. I lucked out and was able to scratch two more things off the list before I left.

The first one was hiking up to the Eagle Bluffs. The hike starts at the Cypress Mountain parking lot. The hike has some switchbacks but once you get up there it’s a fairly easy hike. The hike itself is not the greatest but the view from the Eagle Bluffs is worth all of it.

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On my last day in Vancouver I went to visit Lighthouse park with two sisters from Belgium. I went to school with the oldest sister and didn’t see her for years. Funny to think that sometimes you need to be on the other side of the planet to meet people from your own country again. They showed me around and I absolute loved it, especially with Pippa, the mountain dog as company. There are a bunch of hikes to do in the park so I will definitely go back !

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While in Vancouver : North Vancouver

There are years that ask questions and years that answer

Only a sea bus away from Downtown Vancouver, North Vancouver is quite conveniently located for those who love to ski and stroll along the beach on the same day.

North Vancouver has two of the three ski hills in Vancouver. Grouse Mountain and Mount Seymour. The third one is Cypress Mountain and is located in West Vancouver.

My favourites spots in North Vancouver (so far) are :

Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge

Not as big and spectacular as the Capilano Suspension Bridge but less busy and for free. This bridge is located near the Lynn Canyon parking lot. You can do some easy hikes around here.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

The admission for the Capilano Suspension Bridge is not cheap but you do get access to the bridge, the cliff walk and the treetops. All cool adventures to go to with the family. Please note if you a permanent resident from British Columbia you only pay admission once for the whole year.

Make sure you bring a visit to the park during the winter holidays when the ‘Canyon Lights’ season is switched on (somewhere end November till begin January). The whole park is then lit up with thousand of christmas lights.

Capilano Lake and the Cleveland Dam

Very scenic spot to make awesome photos. Also a starting point to do some easy hikes in the area.

Lonsdale Quay 

A nice spot to hang out with friends or to go on a date. Stroll through the indoor market, enjoy the view from the deck or go up the red ‘Q’ staircase and have a great view of downtown Vancouver. Nice restaurants and bars nearby. Definitely give Raglan’s Bistro a try (poutine, burgers, yam fries,…).

Need more food ? 

For a hangover breakfasts (or any other meal) Eighties is your heaven on earth. Trust me, on a Saturday or Sunday morning you won’t be the only one looking hungover. The place is a little bit outdated but the food is great !

For delicious Thai food Krua Thai is always a winner !

While in Vancouver : Downtown

The trick is to enjoy life. Don’t wish away your days, waiting for better ones ahead. 

After a summer in the mountains I arrived in Vancouver for the ‘winter’ season. Six months I made one of ‘the most liveable cities on earth’ my home. The most liveable city if you keep in mind that it is also one of the most expensive cities on earth.

Nevertheless, Vancouver is and stays a great place to explore.

If you visit Downtown Vancouver then you should start your morning stroll along Kitsilano Beach Park. After the morning walk make a stop at Granville Island for lunch or coffee. If you want to be a true tourist you can take the aqua bus across to continue your walk through Sunset Beach Park. Here you’ll pass the giant Inukshuk and the famous English Bay before you enter Stanley Park.

You can walk all around the park if you have a lot of time and love the walking, it takes you about 2 to 3 hours to complete the whole Seawall around Stanley Park. Make the ‘detour’ to go up to the Lions Gate Bridge and Prospect Point for some cool views.

Want to keep going ? Sure, you unstoppable wanderer !

Keep going until you hit Coal Harbour and Canada Place for some nice snaps. If you keep going east from Canada Place you’ll end up in Gastown, a touristy and funky neighbourhood to wander through. Lots of restaurants (The Flying Pig, Steamworks,…) and bars (The Lamplighter,…) to go to.

Make sure you go check out Chinatown and its wonderful Dr Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden.

My walking tour stops here. Don’t go too far east or you’ll end up in the poorest and not so safe neighbourhood of Vancouver (stay west of Columbia street).

Just turn around and head to the Waterfront Station and take that sea bus to North Vancouver.

More about that in my next post.