It feels like so much has happened since my last post. I have been to five countries and six cities, so let me catch you up with what I have been up to…
Wow, feels like it’s been a while since I last wrote anything. I have been feeling very exhausted emotionally and physically for what feels like a month if not more. I’m incredibly grateful for the life I’ve been living, but shuu, it has been challenging at times. As my gap year comes to an end soon, I have been reflecting on my progress, what I’ve learned, and what I want as I enter the next chapter of my life. I could relate to Kourtney Kardashian’s breakdown; the one she had before her 40th birthday, questioning whether she was fulfilling her life’s purpose.
However, in the same breath, during my travels, I came to the realisation that purpose is not a job, event or destination. Like life, purpose is a culmination of things that come together and lead you on the path that you are meant to be on. My life experiences make the path clearer with every year, challenge, success, failure, opportunities, hard-work and people I meet along the journey. I don’t have to have everything figured out, but things work out in the end. As my mother says, “the universe responds.” Living like a nomad, having all kinds of experiences, with only one suitcase changes your perspective on many things: less rigid and not sweating the small stuff.
After five months in South-East Asian countries, my journey to Europe was not for the short-tempered and the long-distance travelling averse. If you remember from my last post, I was in Malaysia volunteering at a hostel after things with my visa didn’t work out in China. To make the European leg of my trip, I had to book a flight from Malaysia to Shanghai, where I was going to board my original flight. After a five and a half hour flight with wailing and restless children, I was gatvol. As if that was not enough, I had to endure a 10-hour layover watched like a hawk at immigration as if I had stolen something or planned to be an illegal immigrant in the country. The female security tasked with making sure I didn’t “escape”, as if you can hide from the Chinese government, didn’t want me to close the door in the bathroom while she was standing outside waiting for me to finish. No offence China, I wanted to go to my next destination, I had had enough of Nǐ hǎo and noodles. When my flight was ready 10-hours later, I was all too eager to sit in flights for another ten or so hours. That seemed to beat having the Chinese airport security stare me down while we all try not to pay attention to the clock.
Finally, I made it to Geneva, Switzerland. I had only one day to see the city and after the minor drama and inconvenience of losing my wallet within 30min of landing the previous evening. I decided to spend what was left of my day on anything to see around the UN museum. The best thing about Geneva is that public transportation is free throughout the city, as long as you are staying at a hotel/hostel. I took a tram to Palais des Nations, where the wooden “Broken Chair” sculpture stands 12-meter high, representing the promotion of peace and a protest to cluster bombs & land mines. I, unfortunately, missed the guided tour of the United Nations, but have been told is a must-do. I did, however, make it to the beautiful Musée Ariana: Grand, neo-classical museum, which has a collection of 25,000 glass & ceramic items.
Since I had an early morning to catch my 6:00 train to Amsterdam, I called it an early night.
Note: Geneva is expensive, so be prepared to pay good money for food and lodging.
Next morning I was rushing to make it just in time (Thank God for having my hostel close to the station). After another 8-hours of travelling and a 3-hour layover in Cologne, Germany, I was happy to finally make it to the land of canals and highs 😉 Amsterdam. I stayed near the infamous Red Light District, at Shelter City Christian Hostel. I was looking forward to this part of my European trip. I always wanted to visit Amsterdam and never met anyone who has been there and didn’t love it. My favourite part of the city is the cafe and art culture, the charm of the historic buildings and the chilled nature of the Dutch. There are so many things to do in Amsterdam, deserving more than just a couple of (and often smoke-filled) days.
The city is reasonably easy to get around. The best way is to walk or hire a bike, or if your lazy the tram, however, I found it too expensive for what it’s worth.
- The Rijksmuseum in Museumplein is a must-see, even though the 20 euro entrance fee may seem steep. It not only a sublime collection of Dutch Masters, but also furniture, silverware, ceramics, and Asian artefacts. Give yourself at least three hours here; you’re going to need it. When I visited the museum, Rembrandt’s famous Night Watch was in a glass box being examined before it gets restored later in the year.
- I highly recommend (more like urge) The Modern Contemporary Museum (Moco). One of the best museum’s I visited as it offers a unique interactive experience of contemporary art. The Moco masters exhibition features some of the most significant contemporary artists like Andy Warhol, Banksy, Basquiat and Kusama.
- The pieces by these artists consider time, space, light, energy, and political and social issues such as refugees, violence, freedom, and love – highlighting the relevance the art has to society and modern consumerism. The building is an experience itself. Exhibitions displayed throughout the different levels of the Alsbury villa will challenge your senses. The permanent works by Hirst, Koons, Haring, and Warhol are often unexpected and politically themed, as well as the unauthorised collection of Banksy pieces. His iconic works including, ‘Girl with Balloon’, ‘Flower Thrower’, ‘Laugh now’ and many others are on display indefinitely. The Moco Garden is your final experience of the museum. It feels like an Alice in Wonderland stroll through the garden. The pieces within the garden are also international and continuously changing. Climb up onto the Horseback of Marcel Wander’s ‘Tempter’, and give the enormous red gummy bear a hug. The Moco Museum makes contemporary art accessible to everyone, regardless of your knowledge and interest in art. It’s worth a visit!
- Wander into De Pijp district, known for its street markets such as the Albert Cuypmarkt street market, and multi-ethnic restaurants, from North African to Korean.
- If you are a fooodie, the Foodhallen is a great place to indulge your tastebuds. A personal favourite was the butter chicken from Shirkhan.
An open-air boat tour is worth it. I got a deal from my hostel for 11 euros. It was a great way to learn about the history and navigate the city of 50km of canals. If you want a break from the waterways, Amsterdam also has some lovely parks – ranging from the vast Vondelpark to the peaceful Begijnhof.
Five days in any city is never enough time to see it. However, given Amsterdam’s compact nature, it was enough to see most of the “major” attractions.
Note: The infamous Red Light District is not as seedy as it was known for. It has some great “ambience” spots to sit and chill; whether it be one of the endless cafe’s that line the canals or cute little cafe. Yes, you can still catch a sex show if that is your vibe. The Red Light District manages to balance sex and seediness with being a friendly tourist attraction. During the day, it’s quiet. If it weren’t for the red lights and sex signs everywhere, it would look like any other part of the city. But, at night, the area does become encroached with gawking tourists moving slowly along the street as they stare at the women in the window while hopping from bar to bar and coffeeshop to coffeeshop.
Once my time in Amsterdam had come to an end, I was off to Brussels, Belgium. Since I was only going to be around for a short time, I decided to explore the city on foot. There are so many types of beautiful architecture. I found the stunning Grand Place (Grote Markt), an iconic square and UNESCO World Heritage site. I walked around and found a garden area that overlooked the city. I relaxed on the steps leading to the square and enjoyed the live entertainment of a man playing Johnny Clegg’s song Asimbonanga uMandela. I felt so happy to hear something that reminded me of home.
I learned about the city’s history and significant sites. The walking tour is one of the best ways to explore, going through the little alleyways and cobblestone walkways. The tour also meets in the main square (Rathaus) and lasts about 2-3 hours.
I am now in America. I spent a week in New York with my partner before making my way to Los Angeles (LA), California for a week.
Currently, I am on a volunteering workaway with an amazing free-spirited African American woman in New Jersey, assisting with her business’ social media strategy. I am really enjoying this workaway because the woman owns and runs a music and theatre school, which reminds me of my childhood taking drama lessons.