Brussels is kind of dingy. That’s what a few people told me before I went.
This happens to me frequently. People find out what I do and then insert (sometimes without me even asking) their point of view about a city or country.
I’ve become a pregnant woman.
Pregnant women are often given unsolicited advice on what they should or shouldn’t do with their fetus and this continues well after the child is born. It must be worse with the onset of social media. A well meaning baby photo posted on Facebook becomes an advice column for the mommy critics.
Travelers love to talk about their travels with others, which is cool. They also become heady with tips. Do this. Go here. I hated that.
What people constantly forget is a destination is very much opinion. It depends on who you were with. How long you stayed. What you chose to see.
Brussels is the de facto capital of the European Union, has three official languages — Dutch, German and French, and is home to the waffle. But it’s so much more than that.
Belguim marked a return to Europe since my running with the bulls experience in 2012. It’s been 2 years since I’ve seen medieval or gothic buildings, tasted cuisine that didn’t have chillies or loads of garlic, had to make sure my right ankle didn’t wrench on a cobblestoned street.
Travel is both personal and mainstream. I say mainstream because inevitably, we all gravitate to famous landmarks that teem with crowds and touts, but how we process them is intimate. Why we go is sometimes private.
Often my travels revolve around people and Brussels was about connecting with my friend Alison Cornford-Matheson, the blogging queen of CheeseWeb, the source for all things Belgium. We spent a few days together and enjoyed some sights, conversations and tasty food.
“You have two hours in Winnipeg,” said the cabin steward. “Enjoy it.”
Manitoba was a surprise. My mind was blank on what this province might be. It could be so many things, but also nothing.
Once the Via Rail train arrived to the Ontario-Manitoba border, a thick blanket of trees fell back and revealed open, bursting plains in golds. I was charmed.
Via Rail calls each transition corridors and once the Manitoba one began, I felt nudged back in time, when existence was simpler and nature was the jewel of beauty, not what was a glorified manmade machine.
Winnipeg is a diamond in itself. The downtown is called the Chicago of the north and it definitely had that feel of history carved in marble and stone — a resonance of a grand past melding quite well to the present day.
The most compelling thing about Winnipeg is the devotion to the arts, the food scene and the staggering amount of festivals (19 plus!). I was sure nothing could compel me to live in the prairies ever again, after concluding that Calgary held some depressing views (looking at those endless skies all your life can lead to an empty feeling) but Winnipeg made me rethink my ignorance.
I was so happy to connect with my designer, Janelle of Bloom & Brilliance once the train stopped in Winnipeg. She took me to the distinctive Exchange District, the French Quarter (she speaks French, uh huh), where we ended at the Forks, a green space downtown where the Assiniboine and the Red Rivers converge. I’m not sure what rocked the most, meeting her or exploring Manitoba. Basically, it all felt right and good.
Hopefully my photos tell you everything you need to know. Sign up for that damn Via Rail trip already, would ya?
I’m beyond excited!!
I’m proud to finally unveil our writer’s retreat location and details. Leigh and I had many sleepless nights crafting and creating the ultimate retreat. We are finally ready. Drum roll…!
What are we going to do? Spark Your Revolution!
This is the beginning of something amazing. Renewal always happens this way.
Writing taught me to express myself.
Writing gave me confidence.
Travel and writing about it gave me my voice.
Just writing period told me that I’m a writer.
The journey began in the dark.
Night had taken over Toronto. Black, all encompassing, a slithering cloud of sleep dust.
Red lights flickered on, then off, and on again.
I stirred, tilted my head and saw velocity. Felt its power. Twinkling dots, shadows, those tremors that rumble from deep in the earth and rise – swooping past my window. I was watching atoms split and merge together.
So this is a Via Rail experience.
The train rattled and I slept.
A lurch woke me.
I opened my eyes. We were in Ontario.
It’s come full circle.
There I was writing a freelance article when I realized that today marks 1, 460 days on the road.
If you were here at the beginning, I did one post, the one that recounted the first year of this personal journey that suddenly became a public display.
I opened up a vein to you and here we are again, four years later.
I was sure I wouldn’t last this long. There were so many self doubting moments when I’d seriously ponder booking a ticket home and forgetting the whole thing.
I had a good run, just pack it in.
Ultimately my mind came up blank on what I’d exactly do if I came home, knowing that even at my darkest moments, I couldn’t go backwards.
It was always about moving forwards.
In that first anniversary post, I referred to the ‘shake and slap’ syndrome, the intense desire to wake up my life — so what is the shakedown after four years then? The same or amazingly different?
“I’m gonna leave Canada, travel the world, have rich experiences and make friends from all four corners of the globe, and even make money at writing and creativity… OH, and then live in whatever country that strikes my fancy at the time.”
If someone told me this five years ago, I wouldn’t have believed them for a second. Not one. I would have laughed, told them good luck (means, highly doubt it) and walked away from the interaction smiling smugly.
But, it’s true.
I’m now in Calgary having left Vancouver this past weekend and in another week I’ll be off again, with trips planned to Europe, then onwards to Central America (maybe a little South thrown in).
I am doing it. I am traveling as a viable lifestyle.
My European trip is chock full of friends that I’ve met through this blog or on social media — flesh and blood people that I will see, hug and hang out with.
I make money at this lifestyle that I once feared, but wanted — through freelance writing, partnerships, teaching, speaking engagements and any entrepreneurial idea that bursts open, my bookstore being one.
Just yesterday I had a conversation with my brother, when he finally told me that he’s proud of me. It felt so good to hear that.
Then, I told him, “I don’t make as much money as I use to for sure, but I’m so much happier. I wake up wanting to work, to tackle the day. I get to write all day long, a gift I thought I’d never see.”
His response? “I’m so happy that you are happy, sis.”