Tag Archives: work abroad

Ranting, Raving, and Real Life

I’m going to get real here for a second, because, as much as I love people supporting me in my life abroad (and I do), it’s more than roses and sparkles over here. Only those who have been a traveller themselves, will understand half of the joys that I’ve talked about in my blog. However, on the same level, only those who have been abroad for any period of time will understand the stresses and frustrations that come with it as well. Before I continue sharing my unicorns and rainbows with you, I want to be honest. Every single day I wake up alone, in a bed made for a small child, in a room the size of a closet, but doesn’t have a closet, that I pay way too much for. I get up, eat the same thing, put on the same boring pantsuit and head to the train for my 1-2 hour commute. I eat the same foods everyday because I don’t actually like Japanese food, and my grocery budget isn’t exactly something to brag about. I’ve lived here almost 9 months now and I still sometimes go home at the end of the day and cry because I can’t understand anything. I’m an extremely independent person and having to ask people for help everyday really wears down on your self confidence. You will never realize your pet peeves faster than when you’re in another country and suddenly they’re all around you. Get your damn bicycle off the sidewalk. If I’m walking and you narrowly miss me with you bike, and then ring your bell at me, I’m going to give you the deathiest death stare there ever was (yes I just made death an adjective). And at the end of the day, I take the same commute home, with a couple hundred other people, who all wish there were more seats on the train so we didn’t have to stand for an hour. I go back to my closet house and binge watch Netflix until I fall asleep, alone, and do it all again the next day. (Can anyone tell me how to turn on the heating in my house?)

So then, why do I do it? You must be thinking that, right? I do it because that one time that I go to the grocery store, the coffee shop, or the train station, and I actually understand what they say to me, or they understand my question, makes it all worth it. I literally said “can I have a bag please?” at the store the other day in Japanese, and they gave me a bag without any hassle or confusion, and I felt like I just won an Olympic gold medal. Recently, I ordered an egg mcmuffin and asked for it without meat. She asked if cheese was still okay and I said yes, with the biggest smile on my face, because I actually had a useful conversation (she probably just thought I was really stoked about cheese or something). 

I want nothing more than for people to choose to travel and experience this for themselves. For me, the days I feel like an absolute piece of garbage, are all part of the journey. The boulder of anxiety that hits me when I lay in bed at night and realize I’m going home in a month, reminds me that I’m going to feel the same kind of shock and frustrations when I return back to Canada. I’m going to get angry and frustrated when people talk to non-English speakers like they are stupid and incapable, because I know EXACTLY how that feels. I’m going to be upset when I realize the grocery store doesn’t carry okra and that the 7-11 is not a gem like it is here. Selfishly, I’m going to put up a stink when Starbucks tells me they don’t serve matcha frappes, and that I can’t use my Tokyo card there. But, again, its all part of the journey. 

 You might be sitting at home thinking ‘wow, her life is so cool, I’m so jealous.’ Thanks, but no thanks. For one, it’s a hella lot of ups and downs. It’s missing out on the most important people in my life and not being there for people when they need me most. And second, to say you’re jealous is an insult. Don’t you dare be jealous. First of all, realize that I didn’t have this opportunity handed to me. I worked my butt off to get where I am, I gave up all of the comforts of my Canadian life, and I continue to work hard every single day. Nothing was easy. Also, if you feel ‘jealous’ because you’re bored with where you are in life right now, then YOU need to make a change. And if I can help in any way, I’d be more than happy to, but being jealous isn’t healthy for anyone and it’s not going to change anything for you. Let your feet take you wherever makes you happy. 

That all being said, I simply can’t wait to see you all at home so soon (anxiety attacks aside). Please be patient with me as I adjust to life in Canada again. I can’t wait to hear about all your lives, see your wedding pictures and your babies that I haven’t met yet. Take a tour of your new houses and chug back Bear Flag with you (you know who you are). I’m so excited!

So, rant over, and back to the last month! Whirlwind of adventures and emotions (clearly. Reference to above rant). It’s become like a game. Crossing things off my Japan bucket list. You know that feeling where you finally get to cross something off a to-do list that you’ve been staring at for months; or rather it’s been staring at you (shout out to all my list people, you know what I mean). I have to face the facts at this point, I won’t be able to cross everything off, but I think I did some serious damage to the list in these last two months. To be completely honest, at this point my body and my brain are a mix of complete exhaustion and a child who just drank their first red bull. It’s a weird combination, but so far it’s working for me. 

This summer I got myself a Hanshin Tigers hat (the Japanese major league beloved baseball team in Osaka/Kobe area) and I finally got to show it off. My friend Andy and I pretty much went for the beer (they walk around the stands with a keg backpack filling people’s cups… unreal) as we don’t really follow baseball. By the last inning, we were so into it (the beer helped, I won’t lie) and our team ended up winning. The crowd had a different cheer for each athlete.. and I mean like a full song, that everyone knew and sang together as they went up to bat. Crazy fans. It was like being at a Saskatchewan Roughriders game, but on an even bigger scale. I would have loved to go again, but time did not allow for that, and we lost out of the playoffs pretty quickly. 

My 2 minutes of fame finally aired on Japanese TV, and my students all found it incredibly quickly. I felt like a big deal for about 3 days and then it all blew over. I have the DVD copy to prove it really happened though. If anyone wants to watch some ridiculous Japanese TV when I come home we can easily make a comedy movie night out of it. Crack open the さけ (sake- Japanese rice wine). After writing this the first time, I had to come back and edit it. I went to the university yesterday and a student came in, looked at my name tag and said, “are you Jody?” I said yes, obviously… “Did you wear a kimono on TV for a Japanese show?” Wow.. five minutes of fame continues. “Yes, yes I did”. He ended by saying he knew I looked familiar from somewhere and then fan boyed for a bit before leaving . I felt like Joey from friends when people recognized him from Days of Our Lives. #winning.

Taking Saturdays off this month proved to be the best idea, as me and my friend have the same days off now. We made a point of doing something new every weekend. He is Japanese and a low level English, so it was also great practice for both of us culturally and language wise. We went hiking to the famous Minō waterfall, saw a wild monkey, hiked the trail marked “じごく だに” (jigoku dani) which literally translates to Hell Valley. He told me this translation AFTER we hiked it. We made a day of it and headed to Kobe city to enjoy the cooler weather at the port and watch all the city lights come on. It was so beautiful. 

Our next day off we headed to Katano city to hike to ほし の ブランコ (hoshi no buranco- kind of translates to star swing). It was a really long walking bridge hanging over a valley. The momiji trees were starting to change colours and it was beautiful. After that we went to a famous shrine (which apparently no foreigners know about!) To be completely honest, I didn’t want to go, but I didn’t want to say that. Well, man, am I glad I went! We couldn’t take our bags or cameras and I wondered why. We also had to fill out some sort of safety form before going in, I was confused. Then we stepped inside and I understood.

A bunch of massive boulders had fallen onto each other and we had to squeeze between, under, over, and around them in almost complete darkness. At one point we actually had to lay down flat on our backs and use the rocks like a slide to get to the underground part. I barely fit! Clearly, this is why no foreigners go there. The crawl spaces were so incredibly tiny and you had to really trust yourself (and the arrows) when we got to the end it was like getting off a roller coaster and he looked at me and said “I want to do that again!” 

Another friend and I headed to Hiroshima (finally!). We took the night bus there and arrived around 6am. I, surprisingly, slept the whole way there, and he did not. Also surprising, because I now have a stereotype that Japanese people can sleep anywhere at anytime. We started on the island of Miyajima, famous for いつくしま (itsukushima) which is a giant red tori gate that, when the tide comes in, looks to be floating in the ocean. We climbed Mt. Misen and he fell asleep on top of the mountain (There. Like I said, typical Japanese, can fall asleep anywhere). We enjoyed a few different flavours of もみじまんじゅう (momijimanju – like pancake batter shaped like maple leaves with red bean paste inside) and some Hiroshima Carp chu-hi (Carp = Hiroshima baseball team. Chu-hi = like an alcoholic cooler) before heading back to Hiroshima city. 

The next day, we went to the Hiroshima Peace museum and saw the Peace Park. This was a big ol’ check off the life bucket list, not just the Japan bucket list. I have been looking forward to this for so long, and it didn’t disappoint. If you EVER have the opportunity to go, GO! It’s an absolute must if you visit Japan. I was really overwhelmed and full of emotions, but I felt like I learned so much. After that we visited a traditional Japanese garden before eating はろしまやき (Hiroshimayaki – noodles, cabbage and egg fried together) and some more あげまんじゆう (agemanju – deep friend momijimanju). Hiroshima did not disappoint, and I’m so satisfied with Japan now.

For Halloween, I agreed to go out with my American friend who is crazy about Halloween. I personally, am not a fan of all the Halloween chaos, I’m more of Christmas person. However, I thought it was probably something I should experience here. After putting off costume making for a solid month, I whipped together something the night before the party. I decided to be a Pokeball (Monsterball). I didn’t feel the costume was very impressive, but at least it had relevance in Japan. So I made a sign, which, on one side, said ポケモン ゲット だぜ!(which is the Japanese equivalent of Gotta Catch ’em All). On the other side I wrote 黙ってポケバール に 入れ (dammate pokeball ni haire. Which translates to ‘shut up and get in the ball’). The sign is definitely what made me popular. Nobody expected this blonde girl to be yelling Japanese Pokemon phrases at them all night. Not many people celebrate Halloween here, but those who do go all out. I was so impressed with the costumes, and it was nice to be in a country where October isn’t freezing and we could enjoy being outside. Also, drinking in the street is legal, so that’s a plus. (Costumes I didn’t get a picture of: guy dressed as a person at an Onsen, wearing only a towel and walking around washing himself with bubble bath; mom dressed her 4 year old child as Chuckie and he would scream at you and chase you with a knife; guy in full Chubaka get up and committed to character; two guys dressed in female 80s workout attire including blonde wigs. Nobody does Halloween half assed here, except me.)

Finally, it seems, all the ridiculous weather has subsided. And by this, I mean no more +50 days, no more spur of the moment downpours, no more cicadas, and no more typhoons. You know how at home when there’s a storm coming, animals get a little crazy? Well it’s the same here with insects. The last typhoon that hit my area made the cockroaches fly for no apparent reason (oh yeah, that’s right, cockroaches fly here). When I got home from work, there was a big ol roach walking across the head of my bed. I (of course) freaked out and attempted to kill it, but it ran somewhere and I couldn’t find it. As mentioned before, my house is closet sized, and so I felt I had nowhere “safe” to sleep. I considered going to a 24 hour McDonalds, a Karaoke place, or back to my office in Osaka to stay the night, but that wouldn’t have worked. So, I poisoned the crap out of my house and proceeded to make myself a tiny bed…. in my bathtub. I didn’t want to use the pillows or blankets that the cockroach had been walking on, so I took all my sweaters and lined the tub with them. Fast forward to the next day at work, I had bruises on my knees and elbows and a sore back from trying to fit in the tub all night, and was running on 3 hours of sleep. Learn from me, not worth it. Thank God no more typhoons are being predicted, and its getting too cold for cockroaches now. 

That being said, earthquakes still strike in any season. I felt my first earthquake in April, but it was at night and only registered a level 1. This time, I was at work at the university. I was talking with a student and a coworker when suddenly this ringing sound started echoing around the whole building. We had about 60 students in for an activity, so I thought it was part of that, until my coworker loudly stated “earthquake!”. I just had enough time to say “how do we know when it hits?” When everything started moving under my feet. I started freaking out a bit, as I really don’t know what to do in a quake. My coworkers assured me we were safe where we were. I said I was feeling really dizzy, but they told me I wasn’t dizzy and that it was actually everything moving around me. After about 30 seconds, everything was stable again. This was the 6.6 quake that hit Tottori, for those who saw it on the news, and it was about a 3 when it hit us. For the rest of the day I felt a bit sick and had a really bad headache. They told me lots of people experience motion sickness and that that is probably what it was. Turns out, the ringing was a emergency disaster warning sent out to all Japanese cell phones as soon as they know a quake is going to hit. The ringing I heard was about 60 phones all buzzing at the same time. Efficiency is Japans middle name. Glad I got to experience it, but I don’t want anything stronger to hit while I’m still here. 

In terms of everyday life funnies, I’ve seen some characters on the train recently, including Asian George Bush, an elderly man who kept track of every person getting on the train (clearly his hobby), and I myself got the be the interesting character too. Morning after Halloween, with no change of clothes, I had to take the 6am train from Osaka to Kyoto wearing my Pokeball costume, sitting next to the salarymen on their way to work. I then had to walk home from the train station wearing it. Everyone dressed in winter coats and scarves… me in a t-shirt and a tutu. Also, when October hit, Japan exploded with pumpkin everything, including ice cream. And, to round off the randomness of this paragraph, I was finally instructed on how to wear a face bag while trying clothing on. It’s a real thing. 

To wrap this one up, I’ve started saying my goodbyes to students and friends, as I only have a few more days of work left. I’ve started selling my belongings, and packing things up in my place. As I’ll get home around Christmas, I’ve started a very real wish list (you’ve got to know by now how much I love lists). This list includes: a job, a home, underwear, a cat, and Tims coffee. It’s very serious. I’ve put a lot of thought into it so far. If you can help out with anything, that’d be great.

Keep the countdown going. 20 days left in Japan and 34 until I’m home. 

Stay beautiful,
Your Armstrong Abroad

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Give Me Florence and a Little Italian Drama

Ciao Firenze! I have arrived! 
  Although I promised myself I would blog more often to keep things shorter…. As usual things have been hectic and this will be a catch-up post. So buckle up here we go.

Let’s start with the positives of the trip over: I think I had the easiest flights in the history of my travels, the terribly creepy hat guy in Saskatoon was NOT on my flight, I had a row to myself on each plane, I made it to all of my flights with time to spare which never happens, and… my bags made it with me! Smooth sailing from Saskatoon to Vancouver, Vancouver to Frankfurt, and Frankfurt to Florence. Even the bus from the airport to the station, and taxi from the station to Annie’s was cheap and easy…. Too easy. Yeah sure I cried through security when they took away half my liquids, through boarding as the tiny lady from the bag check-in asked me if I said goodbye to my parents okay, most of the way to Vancouver, throughout the flight to Frankfurt as I opened the goodbye cards from the amazing Laura and Kelsey (who drove all the way to Saskatoon just to be with me and say goodbye. Precious friends I love you dearly!), and when Kelsey sent me the pictures she took of my goodbye with mom and Emory. But all in all, much easier than anticipated. I honestly thought to myself, wow, maybe I’m just so accustomed to Italy and this whole travel thing that I’ve got it all figured out now. WRONG. Big fat wrong…. But I’ll get to that soon. 

  
Sorry, I’ve already strayed from my first topic; Positives, right. Getting to Annie’s and seeing a familiar face after travelling over 21 hours, 8 time zones, and carrying a giant blue whale of a backpack on my poor old back was so comforting. (side note: on top of having all my shoulder problems prior to this trip, the day before my departure I went to the emergency room for some crazy back pain which they believed to be a slipped disc in my lower back… Totally typical… But nothing a shot in the butt won’t fix) It was great to see Annie, even though she’s a die hard Kansas City Royals fan (poor Blue Jays), I love her to death. She allowed me into her home, every nook and cranny let me tell you, for a gracious week! That poor girl had to deal with jet legged, missing her family and friends, sore, cranky and stressed out Jody for 6 days! Yup, there’s the kicker. 6 days people… Now we’re getting to the big fat wrong part I mentioned earlier..

  
My original ‘plan’ was to land, stay a night or two at Annie’s, and find a room to rent ASAP. That last part did not happen as per ‘the plan’. Day 1 and 2 I got to see my babies at the school right away and casually started looking for a place. It was nice to be back. Day 3 and 4 were a complete 360 of Holy Jesus of Italy where are all the rentals at?! Those of you who have had to look for a rental before, whether it be for vacationing, school, whatever, it sucks right? Now try doing it in a foreign country, in a foreign language, with a ticking clock breathing down your neck and your bank account shaking its fist at you. Try that for an image, am I right? This brings us to day 7…. After walking 15 Km a day (I’m not joking at all, my feet and calves are dying) all over the city looking at apartments, meeting potential roommates, and realizing what my price range actually got me, I was stressed to the max. And I mean max. I trekked an hour and a half across the city to a sketchy neighbourhood that I didn’t even feel safe during the day in to look at a room where the landlord didn’t even show up (I cried on his front porch) and then used my best Italian to score a viewing of a “cute little room” in the centre only to find out the bedroom was just a mattress on the floor (I cried shamelessly walking down the street). Finally it was time to leave Annie’s so I checked into a hostel. After contacting an uncountable number of people in the morning, I returned to my hostel and wifi on the evening of day 7 to find I had been accepted! I have a room, ladies and gentlemen, I’m not going to be homeless! Sure I had to up my budget a bit, but it’s much better than sleeping on the streets of Italy in the winter during a financial crisis. Thanks to my sister for helping me search from back home, mom and dad for continually telling me it’ll get better, Annie for offering everything to me, the random girl in the coffee shop that sent me room listings, and Emory for continuing to Skype me even though all I did was cry and complain. Needless to say I ate, drank, and slept better that night than I had in a long time.  

So, what now? Well, I’m still in the hostel for a couple more sleeps until my room is ready. November 1 marks the beginning of my adventure when I can FINALLY unpack my bag, maybe wear a new outfit, and definitely wash the 3 outfits I have been wearing on a rotational basis. I haven’t cried in 2 days, so that’s a big deal, as you may have noticed there was a trend going on above. Things are looking up and I am sitting in a little coffee shop with a fellow Canadian right now planning a few adventures I have up my sleeve. Amen for wifi and espresso.

Today I am meeting up with some Italians to do a conversation exchange and tonight is my first run with FirenzeCorre ( a running group in the centre. Wait till you see the sexy vest I get to wear). Next week I will be extremely busy with the kids at the school. Halloween is this weekend and I got myself invited to a little party. Thanksgiving is just around the corner and with the plethora of Americans that I have here with me, I’ll be eating well that night. 

So far I have had my favourite schiacciata from Puggi, a real espresso macchiato (suck it Starbucks), gelato from De Neri, pocket coffee, ricotta cheese (no, it’s not the same as home), breadsticks with fennel, bought a jar of fig jam, and I had a glass of limoncello (terrible, but like a right of passage). I’m going to be okay I think. 
  
So who wants to come visit? Taking applications.

Until next time,

Once your Italian Armstrong, now your Armstrong Abroad.

Xoxo

At This Point, My Blood Has Turned To Espresso

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Ciao Ragazzi!

So it’s March I’ve been told. So let’s be honest here, February was kind of boring in terms of doing awesome things and having new experiences. March though, March has exceeded expectations. I really delayed this post because things kept happening and I knew I wanted to write about it all. So, my bad I guess.

I didn’t particularly want to post about our trip to Venice, but I needed to get this off my chest, because I agreed to share my experiences through this blog, and I guess that includes my strong dislike for Venice. I will however sum it up with this (to the tune of the Christmas favourite, the Ten Days of Christmas):
10 Hours in a monsoon
9 Umbrella funerals
8 Times almost buying boot sacks (see page called “no giving any cares” for a visual)
7 Billion people trying to catch the same taxi
6 “Zero out of 5” Trip Advisor restaurant reviews from angry GE students
5 Failed attempts to dodge the falling hail
4 Flooded Piazzas
3 Hours of driving on a bus with soaking wet feet
2 Hours waiting Titanic style for our lifeboats
1 Mess of a trip to Venice
The end!

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On to more positive thoughts. Finally! Finally, ladies and gentleman, I got to visit the love of my life: Cinque Terre. You would think every picture you see of this majestic sight on the internet is edited with crazy “filters” that kids use these days, but I swear they are accurate. I can now say that with confidence. After almost dying twice, being rebels and getting lost on a “closed” trail, and crying (actually though) over the natural beauty of this place, I am able to say that I’m starting a piggy bank to buy a house there. Who’s in for visiting?/paying my mortgage? I’m now accepting donations. I am already looking forward to going again in two weeks. That is actually all I can say about this place because nothing else can sum up my feelings other than, “Wow”. You done good Italy, you done good.

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Crossing things off my “to do before I die” list, is exactly what I’ve been doing. Last Friday I was given such a great opportunity to enjoy the wonderful weather on a bicycle in the Tuscan countryside. Having connections here has paid off. I had a blast and took some ridiculous pictures (as usual with this group). Saturday was Compleanno di le Donne, and I ran in the Rosamamosa women’s race through the hills in Firenze with a wonderful friend from work. After convincing the officials that yes, yes indeed I did have my heart examined by a doctor prior to registering but I forgot my papers in Canada, I was able to race and ended up finishing in the first quarter of the runners. Proud proud. But above all, we got t-shirts… So that happened. Enjoyed supper out with my work family and then wine with lady roommates. Wonderful celebrations. Sunday I finally went on my tour of the Tuscan countryside which Lauren and I won in January. We had a BLAST! So much wine, not enough food, meeting the equivalent of Irene in Italian male form, and baby sheep. BABY SHEEP! needless to say, it was a stellar weekend. Oh, yeah, and I now have an addiction to fresh ricotta.

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This week after having 2 lovely dinners with the Linguaviva family I had to say my first real goodbye. Our family of 4 surprised Boas at the train station before he left. It was film worthy. Climbing on board the train 5 minutes before it left for a bitter sweet group hug and tearful goodbye. It’s really hard to say goodbye to someone you love so much when you know you’ll most likely never see them again in your life. No. No! We will see each other again. We will. This I promise to myself.

After 3 hours of sleep we were up Sunday morning and at the bus station for our final GE group trip to Chianti country for hiking and wine tasting. What a great day full of funny pictures (duh), great wine, quality time with my lovelies, and of course grappa.

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I hate goodbyes and lay awake at night thinking about how I don’t know if I can say goodbye to these people. The thought alone breaks my heart. At the same time, guess what, Jo-Anne and Wendy are coming in 10 days!!! I simply cannot wait. I can’t wait to show them just how much I have learned and share with them as much as I possibly can.

I have been in pure bliss lately as I try and take in as much as I possibly can with two weeks left with my wonderful Lauren and everyone else I’ve met through this experience, but that aside, I am still my ridiculous self and so I shall share a few stories with you as per usual:
1) An elderly lady started talking to me on the bus. Instead of listening and figuring out what she was saying, my brain went into panic mode. As she babbled away, she winked at me and started laughing. I joined in and said “hahaha ohhh, si, si!”, which must have been the appropriate answer because she continued. The only word I caught was “Domenica”…Sunday. What? She cackled in the liveliest, friendliest way and yelled a bubbly “Ciao, Ciao!” as she got off the bus. To this moment I have NO idea what she said, or what was suppose to happen on Sunday. I can only imagine my facial expression after she exited. Brain dead.

2) So our kitchen flooded (aka a nameless roommate opened the washing machine while it was still going and then left for 5 days…. #responsibility). As Lauren tried to clean up the mess, she used every towel we have (which unfortunately makes a grand, sad total of 3). She rung them out our window and two minutes later an angry, old woman appeared at our door yelling in Italian, explaining that Lauren had poured water out the window onto her head below. Hilarious now…. Not funny then. Needless to say, we have made zero friends in our apartment building.

As our time here comes to an end, we are trying to come up with something crazy to do…. Were officially taking suggestions. But seriously… I have Italian blood running through my veins (espresso), as I prepare myself for the next two weeks of sleepless nights and long days filled with everything I have put off until now.

~ If you can’t life longer, live deeper ~
– Italian Proverb

Until next time,
Your Italian Armstrong

Saying Goodbye to Swanky

Have you ever said something, then wondered if you’ve ever said that exact thing before in your life? Well I’m moving to Japan tomorrow. There’s something brand new. But I have 3 weeks to tell you about before I catch that plane, so here we go.Well I am on my own once again.

After waking up at 4am to say goodbye to my mom and auntie, I grabbed a couple more hours of sleep before heading to the bus depot to catch the next bus back to Kotor, Montenegro. I fell so in love with the beautiful landscape that I wanted to explore some more of the town. Once I made it to Kotor I found myself an awesome hostel. Hostel Old Town, though in the low season, had such a great atmosphere. With only about ten people staying there at any time, we all ate dinner together and spent the evening at the hostel playing games and chatting with our new friends. The staff was so amazingly friendly and helpful. A few of us took the bus to a nearby town called Perast where we ran into a few others from the hostel who had rented a boat. They offered to drive us back. So we hopped on this tiny boat and enjoyed the scenery from a new viewpoint. Among this group was one of the coolest Japanese guys ever, who I will totally be staying in contact with when I make my way to Tokyo. That boat ride could have been the opening line of a joke: two Dutch, a polish girl, Spanish guy, Canadian girl, Australian guy, and a Japanese guy get on a boat…. 

 On my last day In Montenegro, I went for a much needed run up to the fortress. I found a hole in one of the walls and climbed through. On the other side I was able to do some pretty cool hiking and rock climbing. It’s so peaceful when you find a place all to your own, where you can’t see anyone and no one can see you, where you can just yell and no one will hear you, but it can be risky too. Later on I was told a story about a young girl who feel and broke her neck and when they called her parents in Australia, they didn’t even know where she was…. Be smart when you travel people. Make sure someone always knows where you are, no matter how hard you’re trying to run away from everyone.  

 People came and went pretty quickly and so me and my new Aussie friend Joe decided we would head to Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina together. No need for public transportation, we got in a car with two Montenegrins and they drove us 4 hours right to our hostel. Get to know people who have vehicles, or who have friends with vehicles, it always pays off. I got to see snow for the first time, as well as some beautiful scenery. We hit up Hostel Miran where we met an awesome man. Miran owns and runs the hostel himself. He is one of the nicest, most knowledgable guys I’ve met. If you are ever in Mostar, stay with him and take the tour. Joe and I did exactly that. We hopped into his car and he took us on a 7 hour, all day tour of Mostar and area. He not only lived through the war as a teenager, but also served his country when he was older. He took us to beautiful waterfalls, told us hilarious stories, shared lunch with us while we ripped around the countryside cranking Bosnian music, and then took us on a history lesson. We learned about the war and even walked through an active field of land mines. No words can describe how we felt after that day. Things so recent that they were actually happening in my lifetime and I had no idea. Crazy. After the tour, Joe and I found the abandoned sniper tower, hopped over the cement wall, and climbed inside. Amon many other damaged buildings remaining from the war, we also found the old concentration camp. I don’t have much else to say about Mostar, other than it was one of the best decisions of my journey.  

      

As I have to keep moving, I said another goodbye to Miran and Joe and headed to Split, Croatia. I walked into my hostel, said hello, pulled out my passport and next thing I hear is a voice from the kitchen saying “Canadian?!”. Finally! I met some other Canadians! Of course an Aussie was in the mix as well, but Thomas from Toronto and John from Halifax became my first Canadian companions. Split was a blast, but these guys made it even better. My time there was short and consisted mostly of walking around and laughing at the boys.   
My plan was to head to Zagreb after Split to start working at a hostel there, but the guys convinced me to come with them to Ljubljana, Slovenia. As much as I wanted to kill them both on multiple occasions, and they the same for me I’m sure, we had a blast together. So, I thought why not add another country to my list. Seven hours later we arrived in Ljubljana. Ya, try and pronounce that. We set up camp at a cute hostel called Zeppelin and toured around the city. Our Aussie friend prepared a huge meal for the whole hostel and it was so nice to be able to sit down all together and have a proper meal. Castle upon castle, when will it end Europe? I’m all about views and landscapes, so I’m not even mad about having to hike up to every castle in every town I visit. My thighs and lungs are also thanking me. Yay exercise.  

   
Finally I left the Canadians (even though I’m sure they were so sad to see my go…). I made it to the station to got my ticket to go back to Croatia. And here is where my day goes downhill. After buying my ticket, I realized I purchased a train ticket and not a bus ticket. I went back and the lady, who clearly already hated my face, and she firmly said “no returns”. A man in line, who could clearly tell I was upset and confused, asked me what was wrong and I told him (as I was tearing up). He wished me goodluck and pointed me in the direction of the bus ticket office. I needed to take the next bus to get to Zagreb before dark. I went to get a bus ticket and was told it would be an EXTRA 12€. Sorry, but I’m country my pennies everyday, I can’t afford ANOTHER ticket when I just paid 9€. The same man from the train station came running in and tapped me on the shoulder. He said he spoke with the woman at the train station and they would give me my money back. He took me by the arm back to the station where, after much convincing, they gave me my money back! It’s people like this that make me so thankful everyday. I don’t know your name sir, but I’m forever thankful for your help! So I ran back to the bus station as my bus was supposed to leave in 2 minutes ( keep in mind I have my whole life strapped to my back as I’m doing all this back and forth). Just my luck, they don’t take cards, or Kuna (Croatian currency), but only Euros, which of course I don’t have. They told me to try my luck buying it from the bus driver himself who might take Kuna instead. She wished me goodluck and pointed me in the right direction. After MUCH convincing and even a bit of begging, the driver let me buy a ticket in Kuna. And so, AMEN, I’m on my way back to Zagreb. 

 

I have now spent two weeks working at The Swanky Mint Hostel in Zagreb, Croatia. I’ve always wanted to be behind the works in a hostel, as I’ve stayed in so many, I felt I wanted to be on the other side for once. Also, if you know me at all, you know I hate being bored and I love working. Needless to say, after a month of just wandering, I needed some purpose, and working was such a good way to get some structure back in my days before I head to Japan where I’ll probably be working like a dog. The Swanky Mint is such a cool place to stay and they recently won best hostel in Croatia, so of course we had a grand party to celebrate. The staff is like a little family and they welcomed me with open arms. I hate to say goodbye to them so soon because I feel we were just getting things started here. Although Croatia is now checked off my list, I would definitely visit again, especially my Swanky family. Zagreb has completely exceeded my expectations, probably because I had no idea what to expect, but it is big enough there is always something to do, but small enough that it is comfortable. 

I have been trying to get back into running, as I haven’t been on an actual structured run since December (not proud), but with the beautiful scenery in the city here, I’ve been able to hop right back into things. Who knew Croatia could have more hills than Italy…. I’ll probably just get use to running hills and then I’ll return to flat Saskatchewan. Aside from running, ive been trying to walk around the city and explore. I went to the Museum of Broken Relationships; not your typical museum. It is a collection of items donated from people around the world along with a story specific to the item that tells a story of their broken relationship. I know what you’re thinking, how depressing, but it was actually amazing. A mix of sad, weird, crazy, hilarious, and heartwarming stories about love in all its forms, I left feeling really good, surprisingly. Warning: don’t go if you’ve just gotten out of a relationship….  

 

I met a wonderful American girl (yes! I finallllllly met another girl, AND she was super awesome) and we decided to go to Plitvice Lakes together on my day off. We were told the lakes were closed for construction and we both cried on the inside and a little bit on the outside. This is why we came to Croatia. So, we went anyways. On our to hour drive with a random family from Hong Kong, we also met an Australian girl (seriously, girl power, finally) and the three of us girls had an unforgettable day together. Because of off season and construction, basically nobody was at the park. We spent a half hour at the giant waterfall completely alone, taking so many pictures and not having anyone else in them. Something that rarely happens. On our walk back on the path, they had (magically) opened the remaining paths for us to go into the park! We were so excited. Oh man. It was so breathtaking. I am forever happy that Elena convinced me to go in the first place. What a day.  

    
   
  Though my Croatian is less than something to brag about, I’m pretty proud of myself for picking up anything at all. What a weird language. I can say hello, good day, thank you, beer, chicken, milk, coffee (obviously all the necessities). I must confess that my favourite word is kikiriki… Which in Italian is the noise a rooster makes… But in Croatian, it means peanut. What a language. I am now attempting to learn Japanese, which is even more ridiculous, so this should be fun. 

Finally, it is Valentine’s Day. Although I am not in Italy for the In Love festivals, or the chocolate festivals, I have found myself a chocolate and coffee festival in Zagreb (my two favourite things). My final shift of work is over and I am all packed and ready for the next 48 hours of pure hysteria. I am also totally unprepared to give up my addiction to Burek (cheese wrapped in phyllo), don’t try and take away sweets from me yet. I more or less have absolutely no idea what is to come. All I know is I’m not going to sleep tonight, and I’m going to cry in at least one airport and two train stations in the next two days out of pure frustration and being overwhelmed.    

Here is my Valentines send off: to everyone at home who has followed me on my journey so far, thank you for the encouragement. For everyone only beginning to follow me, I apologize in advance for anything to come. To my friends and family at home, I miss you and love you all every single day I am away from you. And to my special Valentine, may you eat loads of chocolate and cuddle with your dog knowing I’m eating dinner alone and only have a neck pillow to cuddle with tonight. Goodbye Europe. See you all in the future, 15 time zones in the future to be exact.

Love, your sappy Armstrong Abroad

Home, Now I Call it Home

One month! Hello there my beautiful followers, how have you been? Oh me, I’ve been alright.. Ok I’ve been great! Busy, busy, I can’t believe it’s already been a month. Time really is flying by.

Before I say anything I want to say thank you for the concern from family and friends after the attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Baghdad. I am safe. It is scary being so close to something like that, but it is important when travelling, anywhere, to educate yourself on the risks. Safety is a basic human right and the violation of this right is happening all over the world, even at home. Don’t fall into this. Stand together with those everywhere who are hurting as this fight rages on. Keep love in your heart and teach peace wherever you travel. Stay safe friends at home and around the world.   

Since my last blog I have done a lot… So here we go. I moved into my apartment, got to teach my first English class, met some really cool people, travelled to Sienna, got really sick, escaped the Pope, travelled to Milan, accepted my very own class, did some running and here we are. Ok well I’ll talk to you all again soon, ciao. Oh, you wanted some more detail, ohhhhh okay. 

So, I left off last time as I was just about to go for a language exchange with a strange Italian man (the opening scene to any Liam Neeson movie, just kidding mom). Well I’m alive and fine, surprise! It is wonderful to have someone local to chat with. He is also a doctor which, if you know me at all, is the greatest person I could have around me while travelling. Ive been here a month and he has already assisted me in getting the right medication and not poisoning myself. So I now have a really rad language partner who knows some pretty awesome gelaterias and coffee shops, so I’d say it was well worth the risk. At our last meeting I got to try La Dolce Vita chocolate gelato which was voted best in Italy! Chocolate coma. Speaking of chocolate, if you haven’t had Nutella mixed with ricotta cheese you haven’t lived yet. Don’t try this at home though, ricotta cheese in Canada tastes like dying goat… Hope I painted a nice picture for you there. 

I also finally moved into my flat! As I was getting ready to leave my hostel, the workers came to the conclusion that my new place didn’t actually exist and that I was being scammed because my street was unfindable on Google maps. I persisted. A friend helped me take my bags to the bus (which we finally found after what seemed like an hour… Stupid construction) and as we were waiting for it to arrive, standing with all my bags sweating like mad, my purse ripped. It just fell off of me. My first thought was someone had cut the strap and was trying to rob me, but apparently the strap had finally seen its final journey and I had one more bag to carry. I crammed myself and all my bags onto an already full bus, and after 2 hours of struggling and sweating, I finally found my house. And let me tell you, it exists (apparently Google Maps decided to abbreviate and change the spelling of my street name to make it unfindable – cool thanks). It was so beautiful and I was so relieved that when my landlady let me into my room I just laid down on the bed and cried… Then I unpacked, showered, and did laundry. Amen. I have two roommates, German and Italian, both pretty cool guys. I have only met one neighbour, a sweet little old lady who I share a wall with. The walls are incredibly thin and each night when she enjoys her 9 o’clock news I also get to listen to it. She also has the voice of Mrs. Doubtfire.. With an Italian accent of course, so I love her a little bit more. Every morning I wake up thinking I have a rash or breakout of some sort on my hands and face, only to realize that no, I was just the appetizer for the 47 mosquitos living in my room during the night. I finally bought a mosquito killing contraption of sorts, so here’s hoping I finally can sleep at night and stop looking like I have a disease.

Last week I had a some free time and decided to get out of the city. I travelled to Sienna for the day and oh, the bus ride was sensational. I mean not the actual bus ride, that was terrifying of course. (Italian road rage in a giant bus speeding down winding Tuscan highways that haven’t been patched up in, I’m sure, 100 years.) The view, though, was worth It. It was like Canadian fall mixed with everything I love about Italy. The vineyards still had their leaves, but they were all yellow and orange. Fields and hillsides of Tuscan valleys lined with rows of this, amazing. Siena itself was also beautiful, small and quiet, but beautiful. I had a peaceful day of climbing towers and enjoying some people watching in the centre. I wasn’t allowed to take any bags up into the tower, only my camera. Once I got up there I realized I forgot the picture of Grandma, so on my way down I asked the guard if I could get it from my bag and go back up the stairs without buying another ticket. I explained the picture, grandma, and the significance to me, and she thought it was so adorable and let me go back up. She also told me, in broken English, that he sister would totally do something like that and that she would pass my story on to her. Feel good moment of the day.  It also happened to be the “Fat Lady” art show across the city. It was hilarity and brilliance combined. I joined in the fat lady fun before returning to Florence.

   After spending the weekend in Florence with a new friend from France, enjoying the beautiful weather, and attending a baby shower for a colleague, I ended up sick in bed for two days battling a gross fever – typical. The Pope was scheduled to visit Florence on November 10 and I had already purchased tickets to leave the city and go to Milan for two days to avoid all the crazy. So I got my disgusting butt out of bed at 5am and caught the bus to Milan. I have been to Italy 3 times, and each time someone asks me if I went to Milan… I figured I better go this time. So worth it, Milan is beautiful! I spent some time alone taking in the sights, the amazing Disney store and discount chocolate warehouse (was totally tempted to buy the 3kg bucket of Nutella and take it as my carry on). I met a nice guy from Argentina at my hostel and he accompanied me to the top of the duomo, the chapel, the park, and didn’t even complain or make strange when I went crazy over the possy of kittens in the park that we found, when I spent way too long in the Disney store again, when I asked him to take a picture of me doing handstands with a street dance crew, or when I whipped out a picture of grandma. Pretty cool. So Marco if you ever stumble upon this, thanks for agreeing to do whatever I asked of you and for playing along so well. I had to get up at 4:30 to catch the bus home on the 12th, which was gross. A large group of foreign men were making their way to work at this time and we all got on the same night bus together. After asking them for directions in my best Italian, they not only cleared a seat for me on the bus, but also helped me switch busses, check schedules, and get me to the bus station on time. I am always astounded by the helpfulness of strangers. I won’t soon forget our nonverbal goodbye we shared through the window of the bus as we silently gave each other a smile and a nod as we parted ways. The ride back to Florence was amazing. Tips to seeing Toscana by bus: get on a bus in Toscana, sit back, don’t bother taking any pictures because it’s impossible to capture it, and just enjoy. Apparently if you are an engineer interested in bridges, the Tuscan countryside is the place for you. So many amazing bridges and hillside sights, I was in awe. Driving past massive country houses with pools and tennis courts in the backyard thinking, like, who are you, and do you need any more friends? My mouth was actually open, gaping open. Not my most attractive moment I’m sure, but worthy of the reaction. There was also a guy in a team Canada jersey on my bus. I chatted with him for a bit, only to realize he wasn’t from Canada at all…. Portugal actually… So that happened..

   
 In the past couple of weeks, I’ve been able to get some experience at the school here teaching English. My boss had some wonderful compliments for me and they have now offered me my own class… 2 weeks with 4 year olds… Oh boy oh boy this will be interesting. My class will consist of children from Scotland, Switzerland, Japan, and Colombia… Diversity at its finest… Looking forward to the challenge. I’m also doing some lessons for older kids. So I’ve been studying up on my English grammar, you know, adjectives, possessives, past continuous, objective verbs, articles… All the things we chose to forget after school. To all my English teacher friends, or friends that have English as another language, props to you. English is actually the stupidest language ever. If there’s a rule, there’s an exception to it…. And probably an exception to the exception, and an irregular on top of that. I met a guy here who speaks French, Spanish, Italian, and Arabic, but no English. When I asked him why he didn’t learn English, he simply said, it’s too damn hard. And now I get it. 

On that note, I will say arrivederci! 

  “Hey good lookin’, why the frown? You always look better when it’s upside down. You say you’ve got nowhere that you’re going to, can I go nowhere with you?”

Xoxo,

Your Armstrong Abroad

Where Art Thou Romeo… Romeo?..

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Since my last post I have actually left Florence a few times (gasps)! I couldn’t stop thinking about the night I went to Fiesole and I knew I had to go again, so, I did! Instead of taking the bus to the top of this (what we Saskatchewanians would call) mountain, I decided I’d run it. In short: I got lost with no Internet, ended up two peaks over, had no money for the bus home, didn’t have my house keys, had no warm clothes as the storm approached, had no phone as the sun started to set and darkness approached in the mountains. My obvious though was: I’m going to die. So I decided to just keep running (only logical thing to do). There really is a God! After 8km directly up hill, I made it to Fiesole just in time to meet my friends to watch the sun drop over the city of Florence and take some majestic pictures before taking the bus home. 20140304-222647.jpg
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Valentine’s Day weekend I attended the Verona In Love festivities in, well, Verona of course. For those of you who are saying, “soooo thats cool because?”… well it is the home of Romeo and Giulietta thank you very much! And although (drum roll please) I was painfully sick, I loved it! Such a romantic city. After writng my letter to Giulietta, standing on her balcony, and attaching my very own lock to her wall of love locks, (although i did miss out on the famous one minute kiss-a-thon) I returned home to find (a few days late.. typical Italy) a huge bouquet of beautiful roses. To my parents: you better thank a certain someone named Tyler. If it weren’t for him, I’m not sure if I’d come home in 2 months. 20140304-222714.jpg

Work, work, work; sick, sick, sick. FINALLY! I got days off of both and I spent them wonderfully. lounging in a classic caffe, climbing the famous Duomo and Bell Tower, doing some colleague bonding, meeting some awesome Australians at the top off the tower, running through the Cascine market like a mad man (best market ever: drooling), and then relaxing and finally Skyping some wonderful people. Two days well spent, t-shirt 19 degree weather, tiramisu gelato in one hand and frizzante in the other. What a happy girl over here.20140304-222835.jpg

I must be fitting in better, my YouTube commercials have changed to Italian mascara commercials instead of Coors Light and Canadian Tire. I have become much more assertive, I have grown my Italian elbows as they say, and have openly accepted a new Italian concept: not giving a care. I have even made a new page on this blog dedicated to pictures and facts about Italians “not giving a care” (so check that out!). Not wearing makeup? Wearing the same outfit as yesterday? Haven’t showered this morning yet? No cares given. It’s beautiful.

Things I will never get use to no matter how long I am here:
– How people drive and park
– nobody wears a helmet here
– dogs. Dogs everywhere. Glass stores, museums, busses, trains, restaurants, you name it, theres a dog there.
– personal space is non-existent
– the “mating call” (or something) is stroking someone’s face…. No, cattivo.

Things I’ve learnt from watching the Olympics in Italian
– they only care about skiing and skating
– when they do decide to cover a hockey game it is very clear that the announcers have a man crush on Carey Price
– in general, they really don’t care about the Olympics
– did I mention they love Carey Price?
– they understand and use the phrase “Sid the Kid”

My appologies for this being short and late. My next one will be up soon and then the world at home will be up to date on my adventures and misadventures. And as I crawl in to bed here, I wish goodluck to my fellow university students preparing for midterms. In bocca al lupa! Dai!

As always,
Your Italian Armstrong

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