Tag Archives: family

Dear Mom: A Letter to My Family 

On April 10, 2009, you drove me to the airport. I had a blank passport and a round trip ticket to Europe. I didn’t have a choice, not that I would have protested, but it was just expected that I would follow what my sister did 4 years earlier with her high school class. You paid for everything. The plane tickets, the tour costs, the insurance, and many more things I probably don’t even know about. I had 4 disposable cameras packed in my carry-on and my 2 best friends in the whole world next to me. You took pictures with your windup flash camera as we stood in front of the departure gate with Canadian flags pinned to our bags and terror and excitement in our eyes. One by one, the three of you wished me luck, health, and fun on my trip. First you, Mom, who probably said something like “be careful, have fun, and call us!” (This was before the days of smartphones, and pay phones were our only means of communication). You probably teared up as you said this, and I did too. Next, Dad, your speech might have gone like this, “have fun, be smart”. You would have added a slight nod in my direction as you said the “be smart” part, as if there was a deeper meaning that would be communicated with just a nod. There was. Lastly, Grandma would have stepped up to the plate for a big hug. I don’t know what she would have said, something ridiculous, possibly inappropriate, but I don’t remember anything other than the giant kiss that inevitably followed. It would have lasted for approximately one calendar year (realistically about 10 seconds) and included some side to side rocking. We would have made kissing noises and finished with a big “muah!” followed by a loud laugh that only comes from a Grandma. You stood at security and waved until I was past inspections and safely through the gates. You then waited at the giant window overlooking the runway until my plane had taken off and was safely out of site. I know this because I have pictures from the disposable camera. You then returned home and ultimately didn’t sleep for 12 days. Your biggest worries in the world were over once I set foot back on Saskatchewan soil.

Seven years and multiple passport stamps later, you now know that that day in the Saskatoon airport was only the beginning. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, growing up, I never wanted to leave Saskatchewan. 12 days in Europe completely changed the course of my life and this was of your making. I had mono for that entire trip and you told me you wanted to send me on the trip again the next year so that I could have a better experience, but that it wasn’t fair to Wendy who only got to go once. I understood this, but it broke my heart and for two years I dreamed of going back to have this “full” experience that everyone, who wasn’t infected with mono, had. 

Fast forward 3 years to where, again, I held a round trip ticket for 17 days in Europe. I had only a backpack and was prepared for my epic return to finally experience Europe the way it was supposed to be experienced, without mono. Again, I had my best friend by my side, but this time I was the “expert” and she was the one with terror and excitement in her eyes. I had paid for my own trip this time around. During the previous summer, I had worked 4 part time jobs, most of which I detested. On many occasions, I wanted to quit, but you both encouraged me to push through it and reminded me that I was an Armstrong and could make the most of any situation. I stuck it out for a whole summer and banked enough money to fund my journey. I ditched the disposable cameras, because I was fancy now, and took my digital with me. Upon arriving home, you all sat down with me and I got to share my pictures and my stories with you. Never having travelled overseas before, you told me that you couldn’t believe places like these existed. The Sagrada Familia, the Firenze Duomo, the Ponte Vecchio, and the Colosseum. I tried explaining that it was even more amazing in person and that pictures would never do justice to the real thing, but it was a lost cause as you would never leave home; you didn’t even have a passport.  

 Two years down the road and we stood at the airport again. This time, I was the only one holding a ticket and a fresh passport. My “goodbye entourage” had grown to include my university roommates, and my previous travel companion and her mom, but you remained the same. Before leaving home, Grandma said to me that if she couldn’t hold me in her arms, at least I could hold her in my hands. She gave me a picture of herself to take with me. She always traveled with me. She probably gave me some wildly inappropriate advice, but all I remember is the kiss that lasted a few decades, swaying back and forth, ending with a loud “muah!” and a hearty chuckle. At the airport we engaged in small talk to ease my nerves, but when the time came to say our goodbyes, we all teared up. It was going to be a long time apart this time. Mom, you would have said goodbye first, telling me to have fun, be safe, and make sure to text when I got there (we upgraded from pay phones). Dad you would have followed by telling me to have fun, and be smart, with an Alistair nod. Wendy ended the line with a hug and a promise to see me soon. You stood outside security, waving until we couldn’t see each other anymore. Staring out the large window at the runways, you watched my plane take off and safely fly into the distance. As if, in some way, if it were to fall from the sky you would at least be there to watch it happen. 

 After years of you supporting me, I was so excited to finally support you as you got your first passport and you and Wendy purchased flights to come visit me. It was one of the best experiences of all of our lives and we have the pictures to prove it. When we returned home, we were flipping through our photo album of travel pictures, showing your friends over a coffee break, and you said something that I’ll never forget. As the ladies were commenting on the beautiful pictures, you told them, in your recently acquired “I’m such a world traveler” voice, that pictures will never do justice to the beauty of the real things. You had directly quoted me from two years earlier and this was the most obvious sign that you had also caught the most dangerous disease: the travel bug.  

 A few months after returning from my study abroad, I felt as though my world was ending. My life took so many twists and turns that I had never anticipated and I threatened running away back to the other side of the world where “all was good”. All it took was one text from Dad. You said now was not the right time. That’s all I needed, as over the years I had learned that only one person could give advice that, despite my greatest doubts, was spot on 100% of the time. You were right, again, and you all supported me through the difficult times and celebrated with me as I began to smile again. To travel angry is not travelling, it’s only running. Somehow, at the time, you knew this better than I did. 

On October 18, 2015 we stood back at the Saskatoon security gates where it all began 7 years earlier. Before leaving home, Grandma made her inappropriate comment about bringing home a Japanese baby before she planted one of her famous smooches on me. Light years passed, and she ended it with a “muah!” and a delightful little cackle that I can still hear. At the airport, Dad had accompanied me to the check in desk, as he always does. He seemed to be the most ridiculous person to be there with me, as he had never flown before, but at the same time I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else. Keeping the “I am Alistair and I am the calmest person in this airport” vibe going strong. We small talked over cups of Tim Horton’s until the time came. We snapped a few pictures, all of us red eyed, but smiling. You’d think by now, we would all be used to these moments, but it was never more difficult than that morning. Dad, you were first this time. We hugged and you reminded me that you were proud of me, told me to have some fun, and to be smart *cue nod*. I nodded back in agreement, as if to say “I promise no midnight phone calls from the Italian police”. Mom you were last, and we sobbed and laughed at the same time as we do. You told me to have fun, be safe, and you would see me soon. I sobbed my way through security, alongside the business men and families. You waited at security, waving until we could no longer see each other. Yet again, you stood at the giant window as my plane pulled away from the gate and took flight.  

 Three months later, mom, you world traveller you, arrived in Florence. Not only had you navigated the airports along the way without Wendy’s help this time, but you had also committed to seeing new countries (countries you didn’t even know were countries until I asked if you wanted to go). You officially had the “fill up the passport” mentality. On our final day in Florence, while sitting at a large table of my friends, you started to cry listening to this group of 9 young women talk about their traveling lives. You said it was because you were so happy to see me here with these people all doing what we love. On our way out that night you hugged me and said “You might not know it yet, but I know you’ll be back”.  

 You returned home, and I continued on my journey. Now here we are, 6 months into my travels. This is the longest I have ever been away from home and away from you all. Yesterday, I told you about my decision to extend things, delaying my return for another 8 months. After many sleepless nights, thinking of how I could possibly tell you this, your reaction was nothing short of supportive, yet again. You told me that although you were saddened by this, that it was not entirely a surprise. 

I have met hundreds of people over the course of my travels. Many of them have told me how easy it was to leave home and travel because they had nothing at home. I have experienced the entirely opposite. I have the most supportive family in the world waiting for me at home, and that is what makes it easy for me to travel. Knowing you are at home, waiting with open arms, means I have a reason to go home and a reason to keep travelling instead of running. 

 This was never how I intended to live my life and this was never how I intended to spend my money, but this happened because of you. You supported me financially as a small town high school student, emotionally as a rebelling university student off to experience the world, academically while pursuing my studies around the world, and now professionally and lovingly as the adult I have become. That adult being obsessed with the thought of experiencing life from as many different perspectives as possible. The best decision you ever made, was signing me up to get on that plane in 2009.

I don’t know what the future holds for me, or for my passport, but I know that you’ll be right there with me, staring out that giant airport window as I depart to God-only-knows-where and standing right there when I return again. 

  

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Oh, It’ll Fit: Airport Struggles and Many, Many Giggles

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Exactly two weeks to go in this adventure of a lifetime and I am now completely alone. Alone, however not lonely. I can’t wait to make some decisions completely on my own and just get up and go every morning.

The last two weeks have been some of the best memories I have ever made with my family. We did things and saw things together that I never would have ever imagined we would get the chance to do together. It was so much fun to be able to play tour guide and take them all around Florence, and then join in with them to be tourists in Rome and Barcelona.

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Having them with me in Italy made me realize how much I have learned since being here. They made all the classic “you’re clearly not from here” mistakes. As we walked into the cafe for breakfast Wendy says to me, “the lady working here is French” when I asked how she knew that she replied, “well she said bonjour when we came in, so I replied bonjour”… No, no she said buongiorno, which is Italian for good morning… She’s definitely Italian. Translating for them was one of my favourite things. I really got to show off my less than outstanding language skills. We had some terrible luck throughout the trip, but what else is new with the Armstrong family. Riding the train two and a half hours to Naples only to find out that our next train to Pompeii wouldn’t be running because of flooding underground. So, we went to Naples for lunch, turned around and went back to Rome.

I am not sure if I have ever laughed so hard as I did in Rome getting ready for our plane ride to Barcelona. Oh Ryanair, as long as you continue to sell scratch and win tickets during the flight, I will never consider you a real airline. After reading the “luggage requirements” the night before our flight, we came to realize that there was no way we were within the size and weight restrictions. For those of you who don’t know my family, we are literally the cheapest people ever and go to great lengths to save money anywhere we can, because we would rather spend it on fun things than extra luggage costs. That being said, we attempted The funniest thing we have ever collectively come up with. Can’t fit your clothes in your bag? Why no wear them all? And so collectively on a 26 degree day, we wore: 6 sweaters, 3 jackets, 3 bathing suits, 2 pairs of leggings, 3 pairs of pants, a pair of shorts, 2 tank tops, 2 shirts, 2 scarves, socks, underwear, headbands, sunglasses, 2 pairs of runnings shoes, and a pair of winter boots. After a 15 minute metro ride, an hour bus ride, and being sent to the wrong terminal twice, we finally arrived in security where we had to take everything off, and put it back on again. Oh, and mom got a pat down. Finally, after our flight was delayed and we were forced to sweat for an extra hour, we were on the plane and soon arrived in Barcelona where we immediately stripped.

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Barcelona was amazing and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and our Starbucks. Thank you Spain! We laid on the beach where the two of them found out quickly that their skin was still in winter mode and not ready for the sun yet. However, despite the crisp skin and blistered feet, we walked and walked and saw so many beautiful things and enjoyed amazing food. We then saw all those sights again from above as we took a gondola across the port. It was amazing.

I was so sad to see them go, but I am so glad they came. I will never forget the last thing Mom said before they left, “thank you, this was MY trip of a lifetime.” This meant more to me than I think she will ever know. I hope they have both caught the same travel bug that I have. 🙂

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Since I have been on my own I have decided to stop making a list of things I want to do, and start crossing things off instead. I have gone for a midnight swim in the ocean, been rollerblading from one side of the beach to the other, eaten more coconut than is probably healthy, went for a run down a street lined with palm trees, and watched the sun set over Barceloneta. What a wonderful last day I had there. I am on the bus on my way to Madrid. What will I do there you ask? I literally have no idea, but I am sure I’ll find something to do!

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Although not in Italy anymore,
Still your Italian Armstrong

Bitter Sweet Goodbyes …. And Gelato

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The last few weeks of March were bitter sweet. I am tempted to say more bitter than sweet, but in all reality, they were simply amazing. Although I had to say goodbye to everyone I met in January at Linguaviva, co-workers I had learned so much from, and roommates I had grown to treat like sisters, I also got to make some memories I will never forget. The amount of goodbye parties, dinners, socials, and outings I attended lately always left me feeling a little bit emptier inside after each one, as I could finally see the end in the near future. We have built a little family here. A multi-cultural, multi-lingual, diverse in every way possible, family. Allow me to introduce you to my roommates who were forced to spend three months by my side. As I infested our apartment with my multiple sicknesses, they bought me chocolate bars, picked up my prescriptions, and continually bought toilet paper as I used it up roll by roll blowing my endlessly runny nose. Most of this was even done without complaining and I love them for every memory they have helped me create.

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First, Ella, the one who gets to share tea and crumpets with the Queen (AKA British) This spunky young thing is out to make her mark on the world and, if I do say so myself, seems to be on her way to doing just that. She sleeps like a log, never waking as we dropped plates in the kitchen at 4am, she likes “CHIPS AND CAKE!”, and told me one of the best “we know, but she doesn’t know we know” stories I have ever heard. Thanks for the tons of laughs, being so laid back, and joining in on my ridiculous behaviour sometimes.

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Next, Sofia, that girl from Mean Girls (AKA South African). This avid tea and hot chocolate drinker survived life in Italy without eating pizza OR pasta… You poor gluten intolerant people. Her delicate personality and appreciation for a good art exhibition made her a wonderful person to have around in this historic city. We got along perfectly despite our differences in food preferences… Never have I ever seen so many sardines eaten by one person, you go girl. You are so smart and talented in everything you do, I can’t wait to continue following your travels via blog.

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Last but not least, the mysterious one. There’s always got to be that one roommate who you only ever see like once a week, who only ever mumbles a quiet “good morning” or “hello” as they pass you in the kitchen. It was never a mystery, however, to whether she was home or not (except for that one week…). We could blame “thin walls” for a few things, but we won’t. I don’t really know you, so I’m going to go with the classic high school yearbook quote and simply say “Goodluck in your future endeavours” oh, and take that damn sign off the bathroom toilet. Cheers. (No picture available at this time)

That only leaves Lauren, the desensitized American with a brother named Kevin. Without this girl, let me just say, I think I would have ended up like the above roommate… Huddled in my room for days on end yelling into my Skype. Alone. I could devote an entire blog to our events as a team and the developments in our ‘relationship’ ;), but I won’t. I will simply say that in three months this girl became my best friend, my partner in crime, my comedic assistant, my dinner date, my study buddy, my right hand man, my left hand man, the person I discussed life with, my sister, even my daughter at times, my photographer, my pick-me-upper, and my most favourite American of all time. At many times it was just like hanging out with myself, but in the best possible way. They say when you travel on your own, no one will ever understand because you’re the only one who has seen what you’ve seen, done what you’ve done, and felt what you’ve felt, but we shared even those things. In fact, on most occasions, nobody understands our conversations… I can’t image what my life will be like without her by my side in everything I do. As our favourite Italian proverb goes: “If you can’t live longer, live deeper”, I think we lived very deeply for the last three months with the help of each other. And even took a few crazy chances, which is sort of unlike us… But hey, Sopravvivere.

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My last day in Florence was perfect. Walking the streets casually, having a delicious lunch after visiting the market, enjoying free champagne, taking in one final apperitivo, getting gelato from Neri, riding the carousel, sitting on the bridge with Sebastian for hours, and then finally hitting up the secret bakery before saying a very teary goodbye. Although I hate all of the goodbyes I have had to say, I wouldn’t change the fact that I met so many wonderful people, even if it meant having to say those goodbyes. I now have so many places I can visit in the future all around this beautiful world.

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Finally, as you all may be wondering…. YES. THEY’RE HERE! Wendy and Mom are finally here to take in the rest of this adventure with me. We have been so busy having such a wonderful time. From spending Mom’s birthday in Cinque Terre, to silly pictures in the Boboli Gardens, to markets in Parco Della Cascine and San Lorenzo, making several mistakes while also doing so many things absolutely perfect, and climbing thousands of stairs (literally) to see every view of the city including Fiesole by night, the famous Duomo and Bell Tower, and the panoramic views at Piazzale Michelangelo. Needless to say, they deserve a break. We have discovered new calf muscles on Wendy, guilt-free indulged in pastries and gelato, band-aided and re band-aided blisters (amateurs), taken more ridiculously hilarious pictures than most people take in their life time, and became masters at uncorking wine bottles (not so much champagne bottles). Mom has learned that the men walking up to her pushing flowers in her face are not actually GIVING her flowers. Wendy has learned the importance of cardio and that “it’s only a few blocks from here” doesn’t always hold true. I have learned that not everyone sees beauty in the same things, but that sometimes the smallest things are more beautiful and create better memories than the big things.

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We are currently sitting on our train to Roma, spending a rainy day travelling the countryside, soon to arrive at our destination. We will make sure to keep in touch with people and try to not get too out of control. You know us, always getting into some kind of trouble….

Until next time,
Your Italian Armstrong(s)
(I also have no idea why half of the writing is red. I apologize)

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