2018 was an incredible year and to be honest, probably the best year I've had in the 27 years of my life. It was full of travels, adventures, stories and new friendships. It certainly had its moments that made me question a lot about myself, others, and life in general, but looking back on the year, I became more confident and knowledgeable. I also managed to cross off a couple things from my bucket list, such as living in another country for at least 3 months, getting a Master's degree, and much more. Read on to learn about my best year yet!
BEING AN EXPAT
I've lived outside of Toronto before, but never for as long as I have been in Dublin. September marked 1 year of living in Ireland, and I love every single moment of it! I miss(ed) home a lot, but a year later I have realized that the expat life is the life for me. I enjoy being abroad, having the ability to travel Europe so easily, seeing my European friends and family I hadn't in years, and just the simple excitement of being away from "home". While my life is wonderful here, the reality is that I will not be in Ireland much longer. My career is in the museum field and that is something I'm not willing to give up, which I would have to do if I want to remain in Ireland and meet visa requirements. The museum and heritage sector is so severely underfunded in this country leaving emerging museum professionals like me struggling to find a well paying and relevant position. So the thought of having to move back to Canada leaves me feeling constantly anxious, but that's why I spent the year travelling as much as I could and not regretting a single minute.
The reason I moved to Ireland in September 2017 was to do a Master's degree in History at University College Dublin. In August, I submitted my 12, 000 word thesis paper and subsequently graduated in early December. This was a huge undertaking and along with it came stress, some tears, and being very close to giving up. There were times when I regretted even doing the Masters, but finishing it was an accomplishment and a relief! I was thinking of a PhD but after this, I think I'll wait another few years before doing a higher degree...
If I include travelling Ireland, I visited 9 countries this year, and 5 of those were new countries: Romania, Luxembourg, Portugal, Czech Republic and Austria. I have yet to write a blog post about each of these places but here is a quick summary:
I visited a Romanian friend and her family who live in Cluj-Napoca for a few days. As I wasn't there for that long, I missed out on Bucharest. Although Cluj is the second largest city in Romania, it didn't feel that way. There weren't many tourists and that was probably why. My friend, her sister, and her sister's friend were kind enough to show me around. I was even invited to a symphony concert at a prestigious music school! After Cluj, I went to Bran, which is home to Dracula's castle. This town is only 45 minutes by bus from the beautiful early medieval city of Brasov. Brasov was probably my most favourite place to visit on this trip because most of the buildings are so well preserved. Girl loves her history! I definitely needed 2 days as there was a lot to see in the city. Overall, the trip was incredible but it was also the trip that made me question if I (as a person of colour) should bother travelling Eastern Europe or pre-dominantly white countries. There's a lot to say on this, so I'll save it for it another post.
Statue of Mathias Rex in Cluj
Luxembourg was my least favourite place I visited this year and probably ever. I went with two of my German-born cousins on a day trip to Luxembourg city. We were so excited for an adventure, but it turned into a nightmare. It was a Sunday and most shops were closed. Wanting a souvenir, we went into a souvenir shop (owned by Sylvie Thoma) in front of the Musée national d'histoire et d'art Luxembourg, only to be kicked out because of our skin colour. The owner caused a commotion over the fact that one of my cousins had a small backpack. She said no backpacks in the store, which was fair, so my cousin waited outside. Despite the no backpack rule, all three of us noticed other (white) customers with massive backpacks (the kind you'd take on long backpacking trips) inside the shop, but the owner did not say anything to them. So, my cousin waited outside but near the front door (not blocking it though) as she was taking cover from the rain while my other cousin and I continued browsing. The owner then rudely asked why she was standing there, to which my cousin explained that it was raining, that her sister and I were in the shop, and that she was not actually in the store (with her backpack) nor blocking anyone from entering or leaving. The owner went ballistic and we were kicked out while people inside and outside the shop watched and did nothing. It completely ruined our trip and was traumatizing. After returning home, I did some research and found that racism is high in Luxembourg (a 2018 report ranked it 2nd for the most racist place for Blacks). Furthermore, I looked up the souvenir shop and found negative reviews from a variety of people accusing the owner of racism (the Google review page has since been deleted as I can't find it at the time of publishing). So if you go to Luxembourg and you visit this shop (if it's still there), watch how the owner interacts with white tourists versus those of colour. If you see something that isn't right, speak out against it. One of the things I wished had occurred when my cousins and I experienced this was that a witness had said something to the owner. It was pure racism and not one person stood up for is. It's disgraceful.
View of Luxembourg City
I went to Portugal for a wedding in Albufeira. I had no expectations for the country, and this was probably the best way to see it because I had an absolute blast! In contrast to my experience in Luxembourg, people in Portugal were welcoming and friendly. I stayed in Albufeira 2 nights and the day after the wedding, I took a train to Lisbon for 1 night and 2 full days. Lisbon was stunning and is truly a photogenic city. My highlight was taking Naky's African food and history walking tour. 6 hours of walking, sitting, eating, and chatting away about Lisbon and Portugal's African slave history was an eye opener to how descendants of European colonizers view colonial history today and refuse to acknowledge its devastating consequences. Overall, Portugal was my top destination of 2018.
Czech Republic and Austria
Both Prague and Vienna were perfect places to round out my year. I went at the perfect time because I got to see what real European Christmas markets were like. While Prague was a beautiful city architecturally, the markets were disappointing. There were more food stalls than craft, and they seemed to be aimed more at tourists. On the other hand, Vienna was also equally beautiful, but their Christmas markets threw me for a surprise. A good surprise. Vienna's markets were massive and numerous, with each offering unique handmade crafts. Each market also offers Christmas drinks in unique mugs that you can keep for additional €3-4! Not too bad for a souvenir that you can re-use.
A year in Dublin also meant exploring Ireland. New places I visited this year include Cork (Cork city and Cobh), Wicklow (the mountains and Glendalough), Tipperary (I spent a night at a friend's stone cottage), Glenstal Abbey, Kilkenny, Malahide, Bray, and a few interesting places in the Dublin area. I've lived here for one year and 3 months and somehow haven't seen all that this beautiful country with beautiful people has to offer. Each town and county are so different and has a charm that I haven't found outside of Ireland.
Glendalough in the Wicklow Mountains
Other items worthy of note: I met a couple celebrities at work, I saw my favourite band (Imagine Dragons) twice in concert, had friends and a cousin visit me, and spent Christmas in another country (Ireland, of course), which I had never done before.
It's hard to say what 2019 will hold for me. The only plans set in stone is London for mid-January, but a larger Europe trip will happen at some point. Cannot wait for what the new year brings!
HAPPY NEW YEAR to all you travellers!
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