Solo Female Traveler: My Experience Thus Far

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In Lecco, Italy, looking out at Lake Como and the tall, rugged mountains beyond.

Travelling abroad to Europe on my own was the most challenging thing I’ve done so far, yet it was the most rewarding experience. I’ve been to Europe twice so far: I spent two months in 2015 in Como, Italy, tutoring English in a family setting. During my second trip to Europe, I stayed for three months in Germany.

Unlike my first trip, in Germany I was alone. I wasn’t completely alone; I lived in a shared accommodation setting with two other women and the landlord for six weeks in the small Bavarian village of Prien on the shores of Lake Chiemsee.  Truth be told, I felt safer on my own in Germany than I did in a family setting in Italy. I also thoroughly enjoyed the freedom to come and go as I pleased; visit friends, travel and eat whenever I wanted.

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Visiting my friend, Angela in northern Italy.

I met amazing people on both journeys: I met Angela, an Italian and English teacher during my stay in Como in 2015. We become good friends almost instantly, so during my visit in Germany in 2016, I spent a week in Italy, visiting her and her husband, Alessandro.

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I reconnected with relatives who I haven’t seen since I was fifteen years of age and established a lasting friendship with them. I spent one week in September and two weeks in December with them. Shortly before I returned to Canada, Dieter (my Uncle) taught me how to ride a horse (in the photo above). I also met some of Janna (Dieter’s daughter and my cousin/friend) friends. Despite the language barrier everyone was kind and Dieter kept joking about cancelling my place ticket and enrolling me in a university in Hannover.

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Neckargemund Alstadt, a small village situated on the Neckar River, east of Heidelberg.

Shortly after I found out that my working papers weren’t approved to teach English in Rosenheim (a village in southern Bavaria), I packed my bags and decided to travel Germany for the remainder of time I was permitted to stay there on my Canadian passport.  I stayed at an AirBnb in every town and city I visited and met some wonderful people through that experience. Not everyone spoke English. In fact, some of the people I stayed with spoke little to no English. Thankfully I knew enough German to hold a conversation, albeit a basic one.

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At some point, I’m going to write in greater detail of every place I visited in Germany, I’ve already done so with Berlin. However, to sum it up here: I loved Germany! I liked every village and city I saw even though I wasn’t in one place for very long.  However, Berlin captured my heart. The city’s alternative culture, angst, creativity and conflicted history spoke to me, drew me in so much, it’s beckoning me from across the sea to visit it once more.

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Trier is the oldest city in Germany, dating back to 16 BC, the time of the Roman Empire. This is the Porta Nigra, a structure that dates from that time way long ago.

Trier was also a city that fascinated me.  It’s old history, ancient and medieval architecture inspired me to set my new crusades history novel, ‘God’s Kingdom’ in Saarburg, a village neighboring Trier.

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Even though I spent a couple of weeks with my relatives in Verden, most of the time, I was on my own. There were times when I felt really lonely and pined for someone, or a small group of friends, to be with and to share my experiences with. I also had to navigate the complexities of living in a non-speaking English country where the culture is different on my own. Thankfully, my German background (on my mother’s side) and my relatives helped make my integration into German society much easier than it otherwise would have been.

Even though I stayed in Germany for only three months, the German culture grew on me quite quickly. I had made some good friends and learnt to speak the language proficiently. It actually took several weeks for me to fully integrate back into Canadian society after my return home.

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The Speyer Dom. This cathedral is more than a 1000 years old. Daniela, a friend who I had met while I was in Rosenheim, told me about this cathedral.

Despite the occasional bout of loneliness, travelling solo was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself: it taught me independence, it gave me inner strength and courage, enhanced the confidence in myself to embrace new adventures, no matter how hard or challenging they may be at times. Travelling solo also enabled me to expand my network of friends which has given me reason to return.

Landscape Gardening: My Experience Thus Far

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Even while I was in Germany, I decided that, when I return home, I would take up a new vocation in landscaping. Well, that desire came true this past March when the team at Tapestry Gardens hired me.

The work I am learning to do is mainly garden work: weeding, pruning and lawn mowing, but I thoroughly enjoy the work: I like working at different places every day of the week, being outside, doing physical work.

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Me, gardening on a cold, wet day in March.

Though, being a new gardener has been no walk in the park. It’s probably the most challenging thing I have done aside from going to Europe twice on my own. It’s not the job that’s so challenging; it’s the weather we have been getting in this corner of Canada: Our winter was unusually cold and our spring, cool and wet. I spent almost every day the first month on the job, working in the rain. I’ve learnt very quickly that preparation for weather conditions means dressing appropriately, not just for the job, but for the weather. I happen to get cold quite quickly, so I wear layers of clothing (I still do that to an extent now). Even so, in the cold and pouring rain, I have found myself having to work harder and a little quicker just to keep my body temperature at a healthy level.

The grass has been growing non stop. The rain and cool temperatures have made it lush and beautiful to look at, but a beast to cut. Until I learnt how to properly maintain a lawn mower and cut according to grass length, thickness and moisture level, the lawn mower cut out several times on me. Not to mention, I’ve had to stop numerous times, just to empty the bag and to make sure the blades aren’t clogged.

 

Despite the challenging conditions our climate has created this year, I wouldn’t trade this job for any other. I would still rather be outdoors than indoors, especially when the sun shines and the air is warm.

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Being able to enjoy the scenery around me and to breathe in the fresh, spring air, reminds me of how important the simplest of things are in this life.

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I am also learning something new, expanding my skillset in a whole new field.

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Landscape Gardener and BeachBody Coach

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Months before I went to Germany, I wanted to slim down a little, tone up, build up my strength and my stamina. But I didn’t know what to do to achieve that goal or where to begin. I worked full time in retail, eight and a half hours on my feet, so by the time I finished work, I was too exhausted to do any exercise. I also walked the fine line between being a social drinker and an alcoholic. I would get home from work and drink one, two, often more glasses of wine at least three evenings per week. Rather than focusing my energy on my writing or on losing weight, I caved into my excuses for why I needed to drink. As the summer wore on, I decided I would put off my weight loss and fitness goals until I was in Germany. I decided that, once I was there, I would be walking so much that losing weight shouldn’t be a problem.

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Well, as much as I loved Germany, I didn’t lose the weight I had hoped to have lost. Though, the first six weeks I spent in southern Bavaria, a region where health and fitness seem to dominate people’s lifestyle and overall well being, I became inspired and determined to make health and fitness a big part of my lifestyle. However, in order to accomplish my personal fitness goals, I had to make a few fundamental changes in my life.

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The first change was; I gave up drinking. Just like that! After hearing my friends talk about being dry for two months, I decided to give it up myself. I didn’t do it because my friends did it: I did it for myself. Alcohol had become somewhat of a problem in my life. It was interfering with my goals and threatening to ruin my overall well being. Every time I resorted to alcohol to deal with stress or even to celebrate a minor victory in my life, it almost always left me in tears, wallowing in self pity, then feeling physically drained — and sometimes — sick the next day. It just got to a point where enough was enough! I will still drink a glass of wine or a bottle of beer on occasion, but never again will I return to that lifestyle.

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The second change: I adopted a ‘Can do’ attitude in place of a ‘Can’t do’ attitude.

While I was in Germany, I spent a good deal of time contemplating the vocation I was going to take up when I returned home to Canada. The summer prior to my trip to Germany, two of my good friends worked as landscapers. I envied how toned and tanned they were and how they had the opportunity to work outdoors. That’s something I pined to do. For those reasons, as well as a desire to learn about the nature around me and how to properly maintain it, I settled on a vocation in landscaping.

A few people doubted my ability to do work as physical as landscaping. Also, my stamina wasn’t the greatest. While in Germany, I could scarcely lift my 40 pound suitcase! However, I kept telling myself, “I can do this! This is the right vocation for me. Whatever job I get, it’s going to be amazing.” At the same time, I asked myself, “How can I improve my stamina and my strength in order to succeed as a landscaper?” I started with mini workouts on the living room floor coupled with hour and two hour long power walks around the neighborhood a couple of times per week.

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Over the winter months, while waiting eagerly for the landscaping season to begin, I took an interest in Instagram. I would post photos from Germany and from the Sunshine Coast (the place I call home) on a daily basis. I ended up spending more time than I needed on Instagram. In the process, I got connected with fitness coach, Nathan Campbell. Nathan was the person who messaged me on Instagram. He told me about BeachBodyCoach.com, a website that’s devoted health and fitness (for a reasonable subscription fee, you get access to over 500 hundred workouts and healthy recipes on BeachBodyCoach.com. It’s also easy for anyone to become a fitness coach on Beach Body).

Nathan encouraged me to become a coach. He mentioned that my story and positive outlook on life would be an inspiration to others who, like me, aspire to lose weight and be fit. I took his advice, subscribed to BeachBodyCoach.com and am ever so grateful I did. I am thoroughly enjoying the workouts and am learning lots of new moves. As for becoming a coach; it was around the middle of winter when Nathan expressed his desire to have me on his team as a Beachbody coach. I turned down his offer because, at that time, even though I was passionate about health and fitness, I knew very little about it. However, I never said I would never become a coach.

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Fast forward a couple of months….I am now working fulltime as a landscape gardener for Tapestry Gardens, a small landscape and garden maintenance company based in Sechelt. I enjoy the job very much, the physicality of it gives me enough of a workout throughout the week. The workouts I do when I’m not working are tailored to become a stronger, more efficient landscape gardener. Now that I’m a little more fit and a little more experienced, I feel more ready to become a BeachBodyCoach. So, I signed up to become a BeachBodyCoach.

I do firmly believe that landscaping and fitness coaching compliment each other well and aspire to tie in my landscaping experiences with my coaching. I also plan to travel and teach fitness in the off-landscaping season. Even so, this is still such a new field to me. I realize I will have a big learning curve ahead of me, but I am going to embrace this new challenge.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dakota Ridge

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The first thing I wanted to do when I returned home from Germany was volunteer as a trail host at Dakota Ridge. I had very few opportunities to go up there and play in the snow the past couple of years: I went to Italy in the winter of 2015 and I worked almost every Saturday the winter of 2016. However, this year was completely different. The winter this year was unusually cold and long, but it brought several of feet of snow to Dakota Ridge, allowing us plenty of opportunities to get up there.

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In early 2014, our first season of volunteering at Dakota Ridge, I learnt Nordic skiing (here in Canada we call it cross-country skiing) as that’s one skill I really wanted to learn. My Mom, on the other hand, bought a pair of snowshoes, preferring that sport instead.

When I was seventeen I had gone up the tetrahedron with my boyfriend, his father, brother and some other friends and snowshoed to Bachelor Lake cabin. It was an incredibly hard workout getting there. The snow was deep and soft in places, so my feet kept sinking into it, causing me to stumble several times. That was a fun and memorable weekend getaway, but I decided then that snowshoeing was not my thing.

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In the winter of 2016, I rediscovered snowshoeing. It was partly because I didn’t want to go off cross-country skiing alone while my mother and my friends hiked on a different trail in their snowshoes. Though, I enjoy the cardio workout I get while snowshoeing. I also enjoy having the ability to stop, drink in the scenery around me and take photos whenever I desire. That’s something I can’t do so easily on skis.

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I was fortunate I was able to make it up Dakota Ridge and enjoy the snow as much as I was able to this past winter (I was up there twice a month). It’s Spring now — or should I say trying to be — so I am anticipating a summer filled with new kayaking, swimming, hiking and beach fire adventures, but I do know that, when winter comes again, I will volunteer once again at Dakota Ridge.

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Poseidon

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I first met Poseiden in September during my first visit in Verden with my relatives, Dieter, Karin and Janna. The evening before I departed for Rosenheim, Dieter took me took me to a farm, a ten minute drive outside of Verden. There, he introduced me to Poseidon, one of the horses he has trained and works with on a regular basis.

Poseidon is tall, sturdy and strong; intimidating at first (I have no previous experience with horses) but very gentle. I had the pleasure of walking him, with Dieter on the other side of course. But it wasn’t until my last visit with Dieter that I had the opportunity to learn the basics of horseback riding.

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The first time I rode Poseidon I was a little afraid that I would lose my balance and fall off Poseidon’s back. For that reason, I stressed to Dieter that I didn’t want Poseidon to trot. Dieter, though, didn’t give any heed to my lack of confidence. After a little convincing, I reluctantly agreed to let Poseidon trot. I bounced up and down like a ragdoll as I hadn’t quite figured out how to synchronize my body movements with that of Poseidon’s. But after some coaxing from Dieter, I had it figured out. That was because I told myself inwardly that I could do it! There was no such thing as can’t.

I kept my legs and feet tucked in tight against his sides and my hands strongly gripped the front of the saddle. The inside of my thighs hurt like crazy that first time, but I gradually relaxed and started to have fun.

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Horseback riding wasn’t the only thing Dieter taught me during my last days in Germany. He also taught me how to feed Poseidon (Yes, I regretfully admit, the first time I fed Poseidon which was back in September, I was worried that he might bite my hand off). While Dieter swept Poseidon’s stable, I fed Poseidon several carrots. I also helped Dieter brush Poseidon, put on and take off the harness and saddle. It was a little challenging at first: I had to jump up in order to get the blanket on and off Poseidon and some of the harness straps were stiff, but I did it! And I thoroughly enjoyed the learning process.

*Note: It won’t be my last visit to Germany! I fully intend to return there to visit my relatives.

 

 

 

Landscaping

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I’ve been home from Germany for almost two months now and after spending lots of time, figuring out what I really want to do for a living, I have decided to pursue a vocation in landscaping with the desire to learn landscape design.

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Actually, while I was in Germany, I had decided I wanted to pursue a career in landscaping. But, for a time over the past month, I have wavered somewhat, trying to come up with other ideas for a vocation. In the process, all arrows seemed to point back to landscaping and possibly painting.

Landscaping is hard physical work, so why do I want to do it? That’s one of the reasons I aspire to do it: I enjoy being outdoors, doing work that will enable me to become fit and healthy, two things I am currently striving hard to be. Also, here in Canada, landscapers earn a liveable wage and landscaping encompasses much more than just pulling weeds and mowing lawns. It’s an opportunity to learn more in depth about the nature around me.

Berlin Features

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Kreuzberg is one of many features of Berlin. It  was also the main feature of the alternative art tour. About halfway through the tour, we hopped on the U-Bahn in Alexanderplatz and headed to Kreuzberg.

“I love Kreuzberg because it’s dirty and it’s poor,” our tour guide said the moment we left the underground station and stepped out into the frigid late November air, onto the streets of Kreuzberg. She was right about that. The buildings were run down and covered in street art (most buildings in Berlin are covered to some extent in street art). Near the station there was even an old, torn up mattress laying on the street. Yet, despite the dirt and the poverty, it is a district that is colorful, imaginative and vibrant.

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I also noticed a lot of Turks and other people who hailed from the Middle East. Scarcely did I see any Germans or other Europeans in the area. The largest number of Turks and other migrants who had flocked to Berlin in 2015 live in Kreuzberg, our tour guide explained. Many young people also live in Kreuzberg. That’s because it remains a cheap place to live.

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Berlin is the only city in Germany — the only city in the world — that boasts a treehouse on the street, in the city core. This treehouse is very conveniently located in Kreuzberg. It was built by a Turkish man (I can’t remember his name) several years ago. This man, who is now in his 90s, uses water from the church (you can see the steeple from behind) to water his plants and every summer, he sits in the garden that surrounds his treehouse and waves to everyone who walks by. He has become a Berlin icon, our tour guide explained. Many people have had their photo taken with him. One person even has a tattoo of this man’s face imprinted on his or her body.

Even though Kreuzberg was part of West Berlin, the people there have adopted and held onto extreme left wing policies. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, Alexanderplatz and other areas of Eastern Germany were re-built, transforming these places into a wealthy metropolis where corporations like Starbucks and other brand-named outlets sell their merchandise to moneyed Tourists. The people of Kreuzberg are strongly against big business and have successfully kept corporations, like Starbucks and McDonalds out of their district.

The people of Kreuzberg ardently believe in community: They help one another in times of trouble, they provide shelter for the homeless and they stick up for one another. They will rise up and riot over any injustice that is inflicted on them. There is even a community of people in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin who live in small trucks on land that does not belong to them. Normally this is an illegal thing to do but in Berlin, it has become the norm.

The next day, I hopped on the U-Bahn and headed further east to Datscha, a restaurant located on Gabriel-Max Strasse. This restaurant is located in the Friedrichshain district, a district that was once part of East Berlin. Like Kreuzberg, I noticed this area also had a community of people who lived in an abandoned area. It was hard to tell exactly which type of buildings these people lived in as I was walking on a bridge and a building several stories high, partially obscured this community.

On my way to the Datscha restaurant, I took a wrong turn. I found myself walking down a street, in a community that seemed devoid of life save for a few passerbys. The buildings were old and covered in graffiti. Several stores and restaurants that once thrived, were boarded up with metal curtains. I could hear a few children playing in the park nearby, but the park itself was mostly empty. It felt like this community had been forgotten about.

The images of that community are imprinted in my mind. Never before in my life have I seen anything like it. But at the time, I wasn’t able to pause and let the surroundings evoke emotion in me because I was a little stressed out, having no clue where to find the street where the Datscha restaurant was located.

After stopping and asking for directions, I finally found the Datscha Restaurant, a quaint Soviet themed café located in a neighborhood as old as the one I had just walked through. Yet, it was more active. The server, a young lady who looked to be in her early twenties, greeted me warmly and presented me with a menu. The restaurant was not large, but it was clean and it had a traditional feel to it. I cannot find the right words to properly describe it, but the atmosphere there was welcoming.

I looked at the menu for several minutes, flipping through the pages, reading through the options and trying to decide what I wanted to eat. It was past twelve and I was quite hungry, having eaten very little that morning. However, I ended up ordering a Riesling Wine and spent at least half an hour sipping on it.

I learnt one thing from that menu: The Soviet government did allow their people to take holidays. The Datscha was a home (what we in the west refer to as a getaway home) in which people could relax and spend a given time pursuing their passion, be it gardening or sunbathing.