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Trying to figure out Kuala Lumpur


I only had two and a half days to spend in Kuala Lumpur, so I wanted to try to see as much as possible while I was here. I’m also aware that two days is nowhere near enough to really get a feel for a city, but it’s a nice start!

First of all, I think that coming in to KL was a great way to start my trip – it’s big but not scary big, the transit system is pretty straightforward, most people speak English, and it feels pretty safe.

I was able to go visit Central Market, a pretty big market that sells crafts. I didn’t love it though – most of the stuff seemed pretty cheap and geared toward mass consumption. I’m going to wait until my friends take me shopping on Indonesia to look for souvenirs! And, speaking of mass consumption, I also went to Chinatown, once for dinner and once to buy a couple knock offs 🙂



I was definitely struck by the amount of money there is in KL! I didn’t realize at first that they’re part of the oil trade, but now it all makes sense that I saw stores like Chanel, Cartier and Tiffany’s yesterday. (Fun fact – gas here costs about 35 cents a litre!)


I asked a Malaysian guy about the super expensive malls I saw downtown, and his answer was “when people have money, they want to show it”. I also asked him about income disparity, and he confirmed my impressions – there are a lot of really rich people here, and a lot of really poor people. Something else he mentioned, and said that it’s not ordinarily discussed very publicly, is that there is also tremendous income disparity between races.

So, while yesterday was my day of expensive malls and beautiful modern buildings, today I was happy to go discover Kampung Baru, a small traditional neighbourhood right next to the modern downtown core. This neighbourhood is filled with beautiful old wooden houses, and is a complete contrast to the shiny high rises that tower over it.

I still haven’t had a chance to find out what life is really like for Malays and other residents of KL, and I doubt that I will since I’m only in Malaysia for another 2 days. But, for having spent two days here, i still feel like I saw a fair part of the city!



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4 hours in Istanbul

I did it! I managed to leave the airport during a long layover, go into the city, and come back in plenty of time to catch my flight. As I mentioned in my last post, I had a 10 hour layover in Istanbul on the way to Kuala Lumpur, and I thought it would be silly to spend it at the airport, especially since I don’t particularly enjoy Ataturk airport. I know that I’m not the best planner, but I usually do pretty ok once I get to my destination.

It was actually pretty hard to plan this layover – I found it difficult to find clear information on what to do, where to go, how to get there and how late things would be open. It turns out that Istanbul is a modern, clean and friendly city, and navigating my way to Sultanahmet square was super easy. Here’s a breakdown of my afternoon, in case it can help someone else in the future!

First of all, it’s interesting to know that Turkish airlines actually organizes free guided tours of the city for long layovers, starting at 9am and 12pm – a pretty great offer, if you ask me! Unfortunately, my flight landed at 3:30pm so I was on my own.

It took just over an hour to get out of the airport after my flight touched down – the passport control line was quite long. As of 2014, a lot of nationalities (Canadians included) need to get an e-visa in advance of arrival. For Canadian passports, it costs 60 USD. The process takes about three minutes and you just print at home – once I made it to the head of the immigration line, it took about 1 minute to be waved through, no questions asked. Once I left the controlled area, everything was really clear – there’s a wall of ATMs right at the exit, and luckily, no one hanging around offering to help every two minutes. The information desk is also right there, and I headed over to grab a free map and directions to the old town. I left the airport around 4:30pm

 There is a metro station right at the airport, which I love. Each trip takes one token, and each token costs 4 lira. You can also purchase a reloadable card, and on those, each fare is 2.10 lira. Note that the actual card costs 10 lira though, so for one day it didn’t work out to be cheaper and I just bought 4 tokens. You buy the tokens from machines at the top of the metro stairs – the machines take 5, 10 and 20 lira bills and are super easy to figure out.


From the airport, I got on the metro to Aksaray station – the ride is about 45 minutes. The instructions I was given were “get out at Aksaray, and follow the tram lines until you get to the blue Mosque”. It was great advice! By doing this, you walk through a few neighbourhoods, past the Grand Bazaar (which was open! I was there until about 6pm and they showed no sign of shutting down soon) and finally into Sultanahmet square. I didn’t want to stay out too late or go too far and since that’s about all I wanted to do, I stopped there. I only stayed late enough to see the Mosque at dusk, caught a tram from Sultanahmet to Aksaray, switched to the metro and got back to Ataturk quickly and easily, with tons of time to catch my flight.

Some quick recommendations: 

– If all you’re planning is a quick in and out like I did, you won’t need more than 50 or so lira for the day. I took out way too much!

– The one thing that I would definitely recommend researching is restaurants – tons of hawkers tried calling me into their places, which was just more tiring than helpful

– I was told by the information centre that you can also continue the walk to Galata bridge into Beyoglu, which I’ve heard has many dining options. Maybe on my next layover!

– One concern that I had was over safety. I am not the authority on safety in Istanbul, but during my short time there I felt safe walking around (I was out until about 9pm). 



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Time to dust off the old blog…

It’s been a while since I’ve written, mostly since it’s been a while since I’ve had much to say. My first MSF mission was cancelled before it even started, so there wasn’t much to say about Lebanon (except oh my god, the food), and I’ve been living in Montreal for a bit now – the travel adventures have been few and far between!

But! It’s time to dust off the blog because boy, am I about to go on an adventure! I’m turning 30 next week and I decided to mark the occasion with not only a new country, but a whole new continent – I’m sitting at the airport, waiting for my first flight to Asia!

I’ll be spending the next 17 days traipsing around Malaysia and Indonesia – catching up with some old YPN friends, eating some delicious food, getting out of the endless Canadian winter an mostly just adventuring on.

My biggest problem is that I’m not that much of a planner – I got as far as booking my flight (All on aeroplan, no less! But that’s a blog for another day…) and booking hostels, but beyond that… I’m just throwing myself out there. I always figure, hey, as long as I know where I’ll be sleeping that night! (See, mom? Nothing to worry about.)

So, the first stop on my trip is an 11 hour layover in Turkey, inspired by Turnipseed Travel’s whirlwind round-the-world trip. I’ve got my visa, I’ve calculated the exchange rate, and I’ve written down the transit instructions from the airport to the Blue Mosque. That’s a good enough start, right?


I’ll let you know in 24 hours 🙂

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Leaving home, going home

I’m writing this a week before leaving Gibsons, but by the time it reaches your eyes, I’ll already be on my way home, away from home, towards a new home. I don’t know which is which.

The last few months years have been crazy. Moving to a tiny, beautiful town in British Columbia to do this crazy, wonderful, so frustrating but so rewarding job. Getting to travel all over the country, working with some phenomenal human beings, being so inspired that so many people are willing to try to make a difference. Learning so much about myself, becoming (sort of) more patient.

Fast-forward two years later, the unbelievableness of being hired by Doctors Without Borders. Meeting more amazing, inspiring humans who want to make a different kind of difference. Quitting my crazy job. Finding out where my placement will be. Packing up my life, finishing up my program, having last-for-now beers/dinners/walks/knit nights, worrying about war in the Middle East. Everything has felt so huge, organizing so many things, that I never thought about leaving, only getting to moving day.

Well, here I am, 8 sleeps away from leaving the home that I’ve been in for two years, and it’s only just hit me. I started looking for a picture to post on the morning of my departure, and in doing so, I found so many pictures from the last two years. Pictures of this stupid town that I’ve bitched about so many times, because there’s nothing to do and the ferry is so annoying and dammit, I’m scared of bears and cougars. But man, have I loved it. From the ladies at knit night who I’m proud to call my friends, to my neighbours and colleagues who kept me sane in the dead of winter, to my dear, dear friend Karen without whom I wouldn’t have made it here for this long. Pictures of my amazing Youth Peace Network families, people I’ve been so lucky to meet and I know will be a part of my life for years to come. Pictures of this incredible country, and all the accompanying memories of what this job has allowed me to learn and see.

I want to write more, but I’m about to get real depressing, so instead I’ll do two things: share some too many photos of this amazing life I’ve led, and use this opportunity to say thank you and I love you to those of you who have been a part of my life for the last two years, either here by my side or supporting me from a distance. Here’s to many, many more amazing adventures. May our paths cross again. (Especially you, Karen. You’re not getting rid of me that easily. See you in Cyprus ♥ And you, Newton family. Wherever we’re all together next, there’s a game of Cards waiting for us.)

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Where am I?

I just got off a plane, and as I took my first step onto the tarmac, I thought: “Where am I?”. My head reeled for a second until I remembered that I was in Edmonton. It’s not the first time that this has happened to me. I often forget what day it is, where I’ve just been, or where I’m about to go to next. It’s a pretty heady feeling, but I kind of love it too.

Since 2011, I’ve been lucky to have two amazing jobs – first as a Katimavik project leader until our federal budget was cancelled, and then coordinating an exchange program for the YMCA. These two jobs have allowed me to see a large part of Canada – Moncton, Halifax, and Charlottetown for Katimavik, and Victoria, Vancouver, Kelowna, Kamloops, Vernon, Calgary, Edmonton, Banff, Moosejaw, Saskatoon, Regina, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City with the YMCA. The past year and a half working for the YMCA has been insane, going back and forth and back again between all these cities – sometimes, I don’t have time to unpack before I need to pack again. It’s been an amazing, and crazy, journey. I’ve been so lucky to discover great non-profit organizations in all the cities that I’ve visited, and meet some amazing Canadians along the way. It’s also been pretty lonely – I live in a small town in BC where I’ve been lucky to make a handful of friends, but I travel every other week, which makes it difficult to commit to anything. That being said, it’s taught me to be ok with doing nothing, and it has done wonders for my shopping addiction.


Now, I’ve given the YMCA my notice, and I’m about to head off to my next adventure. There’s one month left to this crazy job of mine. I’m in Edmonton for the next two days, on my last work trip – it’s the end of my two year jet-setting period! I’m off to equally, if not more, crazy settings – more uncertainty, and even less shopping opportunities! But I’m also off to a world of people who simply shrug and say “Yes, I’m on my way to Germany/Congo/New York/[insert country name here]”, and it’s no big deal – I’m looking forward to rejoining the global expat community where I’m not the only one coming and going all the time. Most of all, I’m looking forward to finding a sense of community again, challenging as that may turn out to be.

I still don’t know what accent I will speak my tomorrows in*, but now it’s time to pack and leave the place I’ve called home for the last two years. Wish me luck.


*When it’s time to leave, by Cody Gohl












On to the next big adventure!

Big changes are happening in my life this year, and I’m so excited to be able to share my news with you!

I had this vision of writing the perfect blog post, to eloquently describe what’s happening in my life right now and what changes are happening. The thing is though, my head is just too full of plans and lists and nerves to write anything coherent, so here’s the quick rundown for now:



I first heard about Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF) when I was in high school. One of our social directors took a group of us to a Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City, where we got to learn about life in camps, as well as how food rations and health work. I remember that I kept my ration card for years afterwards. (The Australian side of MSF developed this really cool interactive experience, as well!)

The notion of MSF kind of always floated inside my head after that. I went on to take various international trips, and I studied development at university, thinking that I wanted to eventually work in refugee camps but not quite sure how to get to that point, or how to work for MSF since I’m not a doctor. A few years ago, I read 6 Months in Sudan, an amazing book that just blew my mind wide open, about a doctor who spent 6 months working for MSF in Sudan. That’s when I looked more closely at who can work for MSF, and realised that there are non-medical positions in the field as well, for logisticians and administrators. I set my sights on one of these positions, and began a certificate in Disaster and Emergency Management.

In the meantime, I’ve had some pretty amazing jobs that have allowed me to develop skills in HR, administration and management – all things that MSF looks for in their field administrator. MSF holds recruitment sessions a few times a year, where you get to hear more about what they look for when they’re recruiting field staff. I went to one last November, and was heartened when they said that anyone can apply, and then you get feedback from an HR manager, telling you what’s missing from your application so that you can better prepare for next time.

So, I applied in February, with little expectations, but hoping that they would point me in the right direction in terms of what experience I still needed to gain. To my immense surprise, they got back to me pretty quickly with an interview request!

Now, after two interviews, some tests, some references, and two days of pre-training, I just got my official welcome e-mail 🙂


There still isn’t anything set in stone, but I have an HR manager who is looking for a contract for me, likely for a 9 month posting. I’ll most likely be going to one of their projects in central or eastern Africa, at some point in September. There’s a lot to do between now and then: wrap up the program that I’m currently working on, get a variety of shots and medical tests, drive my things across the country, and a million other little things that are involved in going overseas for a 9 month contract!

So, as you can imagine, my head is pretty full. I’ll write more soon, about the preparation process, but now that I’ve officially told my employers that I’m leaving, I’m finally free to share my exciting news with the rest of the world!




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2013 in numbers and pictures

So, I haven’t been really good at posting this year. Constantly travelling made it harder for me to sit down and write, and travelling to places like Saskatchewan and Alberta made it difficult to find the motivation. Maybe that’ll be my 2014 resolution! In the meantime, here’s a quick rundown of my year, in numbers and pictures!

200: Nights spent in various hotels, houses, buses, trains and airports around the world
165: Nights spent in my own bed. It’s kind of insane that I spent more nights away than home!20131231-132305.jpg

33: Number of airplane rides. It’s come to my attention that I have flown more times this year than most people do in a lifetime. I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty tired. But I’m still, as always, itching to go on my next adventure.20131231-131446.jpg

100: Number of hours spent on trains. Taking the train across Canada does that! What a great experience, and I can’t wait to do it again next summer. My job really does come with awesome perks!20131231-131407.jpg

50+: Number of awesome new friends I’ve made, lucky me!20131231-131417.jpg


4: Number of new countries visited

Looking back, I realise how great this year has been! I got to go to California twice, once with an old friend and once with my mum, I got to spend an amazing 10 days in Amsterdam with my bestie, I got to visit Ukraine with some awesome new friends, I met my all time favourite singer Passenger, I had a job that allowed me to really see and get to know my own country (like hiking around Lake Louise for work!), I got to visit family and friends across the country more than I ever thought would be possible, and I had a cozy house to come home to at the end of it all.

Happy new year to all of you, and here’s hoping for an even better 2014!






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Photo essay: Ukraine

I just got back from Ukraine. Though I still don’t feel like writing, I figured I could at least share some pictures with you all 🙂 ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImage

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Going to Southern California? Take a detour! Don’t miss Joshua Tree

My mum and I just got back from a week of holiday in Oceanside, half an hour north of San Diego. First of all, 7 days is wayyyy too short. My mum and were both sad to leave, and would much rather still be on the beach (although she’s in Paris right now, so I don’t know why she’s complaining!)

I’m going to write some more posts shortly, about how to spend a day in San Diego, and how to spend a day in Los Angeles (Ugh! Short answer: don’t)

In the meantime, I’m going to post a few pictures of one day trip that you should make: Joshua Tree National Park. We hummed and hawed about it for a while, and finally decided that we really wanted to go. And boy, were we glad we did!

Our day didn’t really go according to plan: we had planned on going in through the North entrance, driving through the middle, and leaving through the South entrance, then going to a town called Indio, the so-called date capital of the world, on our way back to Oceanside.

We started our day by driving to the North entrance, which was a 3 hour journey from Oceanside, only to be told that it was closed due to a flash flood. The South entrance was also closed, which meant that we wouldn’t be driving through Indio either. We turned around, drove 16 miles back to the Joshua Tree entrance, and went to see some amazing, nothing-else-like-it scenery. We drove right down to the Cholla garden, which was just incredible, then straight up again, back to our same entrance. This detour added an extra two hours of driving to our trip that way.

We decided that we still wanted to go to Indio, even though it was a 30 mile detour (each way!) for us on the way home, in the hope that Shields, Indio’s famous date store and cafĂ©, would be open.

Well, it wasn’t. And then the GPS took us home on the sketchiest, mountainiest road ever. So, that part sucked. All in all, we could have skipped Indio and saved ourselves a lot of driving for nothing, but hey – live and learn! Hopefully you’ll research your trip more than I did. (All I did was think “Hey! Let’s tell the GPS to bring us to the centre of Indio!)

This awkward, unplanned, annoying detour notwithstanding, Joshua Tree is an amazing place to go. Do it!IMGP9406



Mum and the Chollas

Mum and the Chollas

Cholla Cactus Garden

Cholla Cactus Garden

A dead cholla...

A dead cholla…


Keyes view. Scared my mum by sitting (not really) close to the edge

Keyes Lookout. Scared my mum by sitting (not really) close to the edge

Actually pretty scary!

Kinda scary!

My mama, on the Hidden Valley Nature Trail

My mama, on the Hidden Valley Nature Trail

Mum wanted to go to Shields to buy dates. I wanted to go and see a movie: The Romance and Sex Life of the Date.


On being impulsive and deciding to go to Ukraine

When I was in college, my friend and I always used to laugh at how different we were – she always spent a lot of time thinking things over, and making sure that the decisions that she made were logical, practical and cost effective. I, on the other hand, have always been known for my impulsiveness. Does something sound fun? I’m there!

I decided to go to university in Ecuador over the course of an afternoon. Sure, I’d been thinking about studying abroad for a while, but one afternoon I was bored at work and I googled what my study abroad options were. Within an hour, I decided on Ecuador (for reasons I absolutely cannot remember, likely because I knew nothing about it), and chances are that by the end of that week, I had signed up to the program. While I was there, I met Marina and I believe that our friendship was forged based on this impulsiveness – Marina can always be counted on for adventure. Want to fly to the beach for the weekend? Decide at the last minute to book a hotel downtown London? Take a 24 hour bus to spend a few days in Bolivia? Marina is your perfect partner in crime. A few years ago, Marina and I decided to go to New Orleans. This happened during a brief email exchange, that probably went something like this:

18/10/10, 11:00am Alex: “Hey, Marina! What about New Orleans for New Years?”

18/10/10, 11:07am Marina: “Hmm, I don’t know. I promised my parents I’d be home for Christmas this year.”

18/10/10, 11:20am Alex: “Ok! Why don’t we meet on December 26 then? Flights are cheap!”

18/10/10, 11:30am Marina: “Let me think about it”

18/10/10, 12:00pm Marina: “Ok, let’s do it!”

18/10/10, 2:00pm – Flights purchased

This year, one of Marina’s goals is to start a family. Long term, I don’t think that this will get in the way of our adventuring, but I do think that things are going to slow down for a bit, and I might have to spend a few more holidays with her and the fam in the UK over the next few years (boohoo). In the meantime, until Marina gets pregnant, this year might be our last chance in a long while for a solo trip. Because I’ve gone to London every year for the last 3 or four years, my only condition was that we go somewhere else, so that I could scratch off another country from my travel map. Marina suggested Holland, and I’m super down, since I haven’t been and I hear that they make great cheese.

Now, here comes the impulsive part! Marina reckons that she can take one week off work, but I’m getting two, and I figure that while I’m in Europe I might as well cram in as much as I can! Over the last two summers, I got really close with a group of international volunteers, and it means that I have a lot of places to visit around the world. Based on how cheap flights are, and how cheap travel within the country is, I decided on visiting Ukraine, where I have four friends to see. I made that decision on Monday night, and I just booked my flight (today is Wednesday)

Based on the little bit of research that I’ve done so far, it’s super easy to travel around Ukraine, but only if you speak Ukrainian. I’m equal parts super nervous and super excited about that, and my friends have already said that they’ll help me with buses and trains. And I’ve just ordered my phrase book. Eek!

Now, here’s where the travel blogging community can maybe help! I land in Amsterdam on November 2nd, and am planning to be there until about the 10th of November. Therefore, I have from November 11 to the 18th to make my way to my flight home from Kiev. I’m really excited to see how things will unfold, and what options will be presented to me. I have places to stay in Western Germany, Prague, and Vienna, not to mention cheap accommodation options pretty much everywhere. My options currently include going through Dortmund (Germany), Prague, Warsaw, Vienna or Dubrovnik.

Thoughts, or recommendations? I have 10 days to spend in and around Holland with Marina, and 7 days solo, to spend getting to Kiev. I’d like to spend at least 4 of those days in Ukraine, so that I can see my friends. SO MUCH DECISION MAKING, SO EXCITING!!