Saturday, December 31, 2016

Let's See How Far We've Come

I'm back!
I haven't written anything since July.... I tried, many many times, but I just didn't have the motivation anymore, then when I changed jobs, I just didn't have the time anymore. I did miss blogging, but couldn't bring myself to pick it up again. Then my sister messaged me yesterday asking me to write more and even giving me a list of ideas to write about! So I might as well write something for New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, and after that, we will see what happens. I have a ton of stuff to catch everyone up on!
2016 has been a rollercoaster of a year. A ton of good and a whole lot of bad as well. Even though the bad is easy to remember and complain about, I will try to concentrate on the good. After all, the good parts of life is what keeps us living.

2016: A Year in Review
January was amazing. I left Winnipeg on January 5th to start my travels in Great Britain. I landed in lively but rainy Dublin, explored the overwhelming Cliffs of Moher, spent a few days in Belfast and took a tour of the breathtaking Giant's Causeway, then flew to Glasgow. This is where things changed for me. Walking through Glasgow and taking a trip to the Highlands up to Loch Ness is how I fell completely in love with Scotland. Even more so in Edinburgh. There's just something about the Highlands that stay with you, touch your soul somehow. Edinburgh, this beautiful, old city where you feel like you stepped through time as you walk down the Royal Mile, was incredible. After the short love affair with this incredible country and vowing to come back as soon as I could, I headed south to Liverpool, to follow the steps of The Beatles. Heading more south, I visited a friend in Bristol, and together we visited Stonehenge before I made my way to London.

I finished my incredible trip with 10 days in London where I stayed with a friend of mine. Admittedly, I spent most of my time on the Tube, trying to get to one end of the city to another in order to really see as much as possible, but I did explore a whole lot of what London had to offer, including the Harry Potter Studios, one of the highlights of the trip! After fast-paced London tired me out, I flew over to Germany to visit my host family in Kassel, who had hosted me during my student exchange in 2013. I visited for a few days, but soon enough, it was time to start my new life in Berlin, where I had decided to spend a year. I was living in a hostel in the mean time and had a job lined up at a museum, so everything seemed to be coming together nicely. I started my job at the museum, which ended up being an unimportant internship where we had maybe one task a day and the rest of the time we tried to keep ourselves busy with random things on the internet (or blogging, in my case). I finally found a temporary apartment when my hostel room was robbed clean... I lost all my valuables aside from my phone, laptop, passport and money, which I thankfully had on me. But that meant my GoPro, my brand-new Polaroid camera, all my charging cables (including my laptop cable), my backpack which they used to take everything, and heartbreakingly enough, my running shoes. I gave a statement to the police (all in German, I might add), and then called my mom, crying. She told me to wipe my tears, that things would turn out okay. And they did.

March was a good month. Though there wasn't anything incredible that happened, it was when life seemed to have finally stabilized itself. I joined and sometimes organized a running group, where I met my running friend Gaurav, and just simply enjoyed living in the wonderful city that is Berlin.

I started the month by running the Berlin Half Marathon, which didn't go quite as I had hoped, but it was still a great race. The weather was incredible and I was lucky to be in Berlin. A week later, I ran the Airport Night Run, another half marathon, this one taking place on the not-yet-finished airport just outside Berlin, where I beat my personal record by NINE seconds! At the end of April, I found a new job in a restaurant, which was full time and paid a great deal more than the internship salary of the museum. So I went from invisible intern to full-time waitress.

In May I found a new, more permanent place to live and spent a lot of time running around the neighbourhood, which bordered the great Tiergarten, the "Central Park" of Berlin. I got injured, of course, with a case of Achille's Tendonitis, but that wasn't going to stop me. I joined the gym across the street from my apartment and started working out instead of running.

For my 21st birthday, I flew to Scotland and ran a half marathon on the Isle of Skye, where I renewed my deep love for the country. I camped in a campground just outside the capital of Skye, Portree. The whole island seemed to be straight out of a Scottish legend. Every gust of wind, every rock, mountain, moor and river has a story and you can feel it surround you. I dream of going back to Skye just to see its beauty again. Once I got back to Berlin, my parents came to visit for two weeks and together we explored a bit of more Berlin together. We hadn't seen each other in six months, so you could imagine how good it was to see them!

I worked hard in July, barely taking a day off, slowly dying from the suffocating heat. It seemed to be the month of travelling for everyone else as I had a ton of visitors! There was a solid two-week period where I was constantly spending time with people from home that were in Berlin! Between that and the running, it was definitely not a boring month.

In August, I ran my 10th (yes, TENTH!) half-marathon! I ran it in Rostock, a small harbour town in Northern Germany. Though the terrain and route was clearly never meant to be ran as a marathon, it was still a beautiful area and nothing beat the feeling of hitting the double digits. Right after I got back to Berlin, it was now my sister's turn to come visit! We found each other at the airport, nearly in tears, and then made sure to see as much of the city as possible. My sister really did her research; she had a list of things she wanted to see and what others had recommended she saw. We topped off her visit with a quick day trip to Tropical Islands, this amazing indoor tropical world just outside Berlin. Right when she left, I found a new job at a new restaurant as the boss of the other place had decided to shut down the restaurant and gave me a week's warning, so miraculously, I managed to find something else very quickly.

I slowly started adjusting to the new job, with an insane schedule. We were so low-staffed that we were all working way too much. But they invited me to join them in a team run in the Olympic Stadium. These types of run are very popular in Berlin; teams from different companies get together to run a 5km race or something as a relay. We definitely weren't the fastest, but it was so nice to be part of the team! The rest of September was spent really training for the impeding marathon, though it was really tough as we had a crazy Indian Summer with temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius...!

I ran my first FULL marathon in October! It was most definitely not the time I had hoped for, but I finished it and I was damn proud. I had met my mom in Munich to then road trip together to Lindau, a beautiful city-island on the Lake Constance in Southern Germany, where the race would start. This marathon is quite special: it stretches over three countries over its 42km. During this run, I ran in Germany, Austria and Switzerland! It's an absolutely beautiful area of Europe and I'm so glad I got to see it. We even did a small detour to visit Liechtenstein, and Rothenburg ob der Tauber on our way back to Munich. All in all, it was a really, really great trip.

Complaining of stomach pains, I went to my doctor to try and see what was wrong, and was sent to a specialist, who told me it was appendicitis and that "I have time today if you want, we can have it out within the hour, or we can wait a couple of weeks to see if it gets worse." So, 2 hours later, I woke up post-surgery. Talk about Germany efficiency! I was in the hospital for two nights, and then within 5 days, was back on my feet as if nothing had happened. Of course, one of the incisions got infected and I had to get it re-opened and cleaned out, because life can never be that simple, but once that was done, all was well again! While I was recovering, I took an online TEFL course (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and got certified to teach English. After sending a few emails to different schools, I landed three different job interviews and got two of the jobs! On top of offers to hire me once I got my visa for next year!

Christmas time in Germany is like non other. Markets and beautiful lights everywhere... It's magical. My good friend Megan came to visit and we explored the Christmas Markets as well as all the rest of Berlin, as any good tourist should. The day after she left, there was an attack on a Christmas Market in Berlin. One of the ones I had been too a couples day prior. It was heartbreaking and terrifying, but the Berliners are a tough bunch and within a few days, life went back to normal. I, on the other hand, ended up on the news across Canada, radio, television and online, as I gave an interview about the events. I hadn't been there the night of, but as a Winnipegger/Canadian in Berlin, they had wanted to know what I thought. I got my fifteen minutes of fame!
Christmas rolled around and it was a good one. I spent a lot of time on Skype with my family, had dinner at my boyfriend's parents' place and worked quite a bit as well, but all in all, it was a good holiday season. Berlin has truly become home.
Now here we are, it's the end of the year, and I'm looking back on this incredible year. So much happened in 2016, and I cannot wait to see what 2017 has in store for me.

What are your best memories of 2016?

Thursday, July 14, 2016


After the Second World War, Berlin was in ruins... So what do you do with rubble and ruins of thousands upon thousands of buildings? Well in Berlin, there's a place called Teufelsberg (Devi's Mountain). This mountain is a man-made mountain in the west of the city. It's one of the highest points in the city and it is where they stored some of the war's debris. It was created in the 20 years following the war, with over 75,000,000 cubic meters of rubble. Underneath all this was a Nazi-military college that was still under construction, and on top of this mountain? A US NSA listening station called Field Station Berlin, built during the Cold War. After the war, the building was abandoned and eventually taken over by a group who takes care of the place, and it has now become a huge street art/graffiti exhibit.

It's a pretty amazing place with so much history, though most of it is not visible on its surface. The debris was covered with greenery to try and mask/beautify the area, and without knowing what the buildings were, you would have no idea that they were an American spy station.

It's quite a long walk to get there, but it's definitely worth it. This is such a different thing to visit; very typical of Berlin in a way: it's quite hidden, not very advertised, not exactly beautiful in any way, but full of history and you can spend hours there, wandering and wondering.

Rather than try to explain it, I'll just show you. Here are some pictures of Teufelsberg!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

3-Laender Marathon 2016

This year is the year I really dive in. I decided that this year would be the year I run my first full marathon. I had been thinking about it for a while and finally set my mind to it when I heard of the 3-Country marathon. This marathon starts in Lindau, Germany, makes its way through Austria, Switzerland and back, finishing in Bregenz, Austria. The whole race takes place by Constance Lake, which is meant to be absolutely beautiful.

I'm so excited to finally be training for something new while at the same time, I'm totally terrified! 13.1 miles is hard enough as it is to add another 13.1! But I can do it!

I'll be using Hal Higdon's training plan which looks a little like this:

I'm just hoping I won't get any more injuries so I can finish strong! I definitely don't plan on quitting!

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye is one of those places that you see in pictures on Pinterest on in travel magazines and wonder how much of it is photoshopped. It's just too beautiful to be true. It's an island on the western coast of Scotland and part of what the call the Hebrides, which is a series of islands on the coast.

Skye is known for its breathtaking landscapes, and that's exactly why I wanted to see it. That, and the half marathon, of course!

From Glasgow, I took a 7-hour bus ride to Portree, the capital of Skye, where the half marathon was taking place, and also where I would be staying. I had decided to do something a bit different than my recent trips and go camping! The Torvaig campground was only 1 mile from the town centre and was only £7 a night!

I'm glad I did. The campground was well-mantained, with hot showers, wifi, laundry, a friendly staff and the most amazing view of the Black Cuillin mountains. It was far enough from town that you felt deep in the woods while being conveniently close!

If you're on foot like I was, there's a network of busses designed for school children and adapted for the rest of the citizens so you don't need a car to make your way around the island. The busses will bring you to every tourist spot and reaches almost every town and village!

My first day there I spent getting oriented and went hiking around the harbour. Everything was so beautiful and green! I also did a boat tour to go see some of the wildlife around the island and got to see a sea eagle, some seals and lots of little sea creatures. I wasn't lucky enough to see dolphins though... Next time!

One of my most memorable days on the island was spent on a day tour of the island with the Skye Scenic Tours company (if you ever go, definitely go with them, they're great!). We visited all the sights to see and with our local tour guide, we got all the history and stories that came with each place. 
On that tour, I got to see some amazing places on the island; the Old Man of Storr, the Kilt Rock, the Quiraing, the Fairy Glens and Neist Point with its famous lighthouse, though none of pictures do them justice.
Old Man of Storr

Kilt Rock


Fairy Glens

Neist Point

One of my favourite stories is of the Dunvegan Castle: for a long time  in Scotland there was a clan system that basically governed all of Scotland. Each clan had its own tartan and land rights. On Skye, the clan MacLeod owned most of the lands. The Chiefs have been living at Dunvegan for over 800 years and in the early 2000s, the 29th chief was getting worried about his castle: the roof was leaking badly, and it was starting to fall apart. After all, it was an old castle. He brought it experts to survey and see what needed to be repaired and renovated. After a week, the surveyors gave him a long list of things and at the end, an estimated cost of 19 million pounds. The chief obviously didn't have that kind of money, so he decided to sell part of his land. The famous Black Cuillin mountains were on MacLeod lands, so he said they belonged to him and could do with them what he pleaded. So he went to Edinburgh and set up an ad: 10 million pounds for the Black Cuillin mountains on Skye. People weren't very pleased and eventually the government made a deal to help finance the repairs if part of the castle became a museum during the summer and the mountains stayed open for the public.
Only in Scotland, am I right?!

I also went for a wee dip in the Fairy Pools, and though the water was freezing, I was pretty proud of myself! This crazy Canadian went swimming in her underwear in freezing water at the foot of a mountain range. Doesn't get much better than that!

My last day on Slye was short: I rushed first thing in the morning to pack up my wet tent (it rained every day) and went to visit the Castle before I had to head back to Portree to catch my bus back to Glasgow. 

What's amazing about this island is that there's only about 10,000 people living there all year, but it doubles during the summer season with the tourists. It's also totally normal to go a couple of days without any electricity as there's only one power station for the island and the closest hospital with emergency care is in Inverness, a 2-hour drive away. 

It's such a wonderful place, and a perfect city-break. I fell completely in love and I can't wait to be back on the Isle of Skye. 

To finish off, here's a bit of a conversation I had with a local about the weather on Skye:

"How much rainfall do you get?"
"Lots. We don't use numbers... We just say lots."
"How much sunshine do you get?"
"Depends on the rain."
"What about the average temperature?"
"Anything above 22 degrees is a heat wave and if it lasts longer than 3 days it's a drought."

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