The Amazing Aussie Adventure: Surfing Dude


surfing WA

Image: allianceabroad.com

One of the things I wanted to take up when I came to Australia was learn to surf.

It seemed like a simple enough task — I’d surfed once or twice in the past and had managed to get to my feet. I figured some dedicated lessons would refresh my memory and after a short course I’d be ready to buy my own surfboard and start hitting the surf at weekends.

My first surf lesson in Australia, a wave hit me the wrong way and I wrenched my shoulder. These things happen, I didn’t think so much of it at the time. Except it carried on hurting throughout the day, in a way a pulled muscle doesn’t.

I cancelled my following day’s lesson to avoid making it any worse, but by the Monday morning although it wasn’t any better I didn’t want to miss another day’s lesson (they’re non-refundable) so got through it with pain killers.

My ideas of buying my own surfboard were seeming more far-fetched: I wasn’t getting any better at surfing (that is, I still couldn’t stand on the board without falling off) but it was only my second lesson…

A few days later, with my shoulder still hurting, I saw a doctor. I described the pain, how it happened, and demonstrated the limited range of movement. The doctor told me it was a torn shoulder rotator cuff, and referred me for an ultrasound.

An ultrasound and an x-ray later confirmed a partial tear, but luckily not a bone chip that the ultrasound suggested.

It was more than six weeks before I was able to surf again, and complete the surf lesson course. By this time, summer had faded in Western Australia but sunny mornings spent in the surf, mostly falling off, were time well spent.

And no, I never did buy that surfboard, or really ever manage to learn to surf properly.

Although I did get a certificate.

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The Amazing Aussie Adventure: Beach life

Greens Pool, Western AustraliaI wrote a few weeks ago about swimming outdoors at Serpentine Falls, and how it was the only time I’ve been wild swimming other than at Highgate Ponds in London. Swimming is something I enjoy a lot. I like the meditative calm of just pushing through the water, thinking quietly, and the variety of being able to pick up the pace if I feel the need: and being non-impact, it’s much better suited to me than running.

Naturally, on this amazing Aussie adventure of mine I have embraced with open arms the many opportunities for swimming in the ocean.

Admittedly, I am still a little nervous venturing into the ocean in the knowledge that there’s so many things that can kill you. This is not helped by the government-fuelled hysteria over sharks. This isn’t a place for a full-scale rant about the WA shark cull, but the fact is that sharks still kill fewer people than careless drivers. Sharks are an easy target, however, and have been a figure of fear ever since Jaws.

Green’s Pool

My first opportunity to get into the ocean in Australia was at Greens Pool, in William Bay National Park. The “pool” has almost completely calm waters because the bay is sheltered from the waves of the Great Southern Ocean by large, round boulders. When I was told we were going to Greens Pool I didn’t immediately make the connection that this “pool” was the ocean: in the UK if you told me we were going to visit a pool, I’d just presume it was a particularly good swimming pool. In Australia, if you’re going swimming anywhere it’s safe to presume it will be outside.

Greens Pool was a great way to get in the ocean in Australia, with a gradual slope into clear waters and no waves. It’s also fairly typical of beaches on the Southern ocean, because the water is freezing cold. Being English, I’m not unused to cold water, although I can’t remember the last time I went in the ocean in the UK without a wetsuit (because the last few times were surf-related).

Albany, WA

Middleton beach, Albany, WAI’ve been spending a lot of time in Albany, on the southern coast of WA, an area famous for its whales.

There’s also a choice of beaches, and on a warm afternoon, one of the last of the summer, we went swimming at Middleton beach. The last time I came to Middleton Beach it was October, and a humpback whale was merrily splashing in the water a short distance off the beach. This time, there were no whales, and although it was not quite as cold as Greens Pool, and even though it’s protected by King George Sound, it was noticeably cold.

The beach has a floating pontoon in the summer months — I guess for jumping and diving — and we made use of it for that. What the two beaches had in common were their calm waters, ideal for leisurely swimming, and hot days combined with cold waters.

Perth’s beaches

Recently, I visited two Perth beaches: Cottesloe and Scarborough, though I only swam at the latter of the two. Cottesloe is Perth’s most popular beach, but despite temperatures in the high 30s on Friday, by Saturday they had dropped 10 degrees — the multitude of visitors to the beach were there for Sculpture by the Sea.

A short drive along the coast from Cottesloe is Scarborough beach. Unlike Middleton beach and Greens Pool in the south of WA that are on the Southern ocean, Perth’s beaches are Indian ocean — bringing with it warmer waters.

Scarborough is a popular surfing beach, and it was easy to see why on this particular day.

Scarborough beach, Perth

Scarborough is a long, beautiful beach, with sand banks and rolling waves. With a strong swell there was less swimming to be done, and more diving into the waves, and avoiding being knocked off your feet.

I’ll be returning to Scarborough beach in the near future for several days of surfing lessons: watch this space.

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It’s raining in Esperance

Esperance, Western Australia

Esperance is an odd kind of city, on the south-west coast of Western Australia. It has a modest population of about 15,000 people, but with a reputation for the best beaches in the world Esperance is a draw for cruise ships and tour groups from around the world.

I arrived in Esperance at the start of Autumn, 10 days into March, with the heat mostly gone out of the summer and the tourists largely moved on. Though already Autumn, it would be mistaken for a good summer’s day back home: deep blue skies and sun sparkling on the southern ocean like thousands of fireflies.

Esperance — so I am told, and I am little sceptical — officially boasts the best beaches in the world. Apparently this is based on something like the lightness of the sand, or perhaps length of beaches. The city is a 6-hour drive from the city of Albany, hardly a bustling metropolis in its own right but many times the size of this city 500 km further along the cost.

That’s not to say Eleven Mile beach is unremarkable. With the sky a deep blue and the sun shining on the ocean, it was sparkling like thousands of fireflies on the surface of the water. The beach’s soft sands weren’t so “white”, though — and it’s not a criticism, merely an observation that it would be lazy to describe them so simply. They are an incredibly pale yellow, a soft cream, perhaps.

This morning, on my second day in town, I woke up to rain. After a month in Australia not seeing rain, and apparently no significant rain in this region since the year began, it was welcomed. Although I had been looking forward to visiting a beach properly, and experiencing its famous icy waters, I was content to listen to the sound of heavy rain on a tin roof — and when the rain eased, listening to the streams of water as it ran down to the parched garden.

In the afternoon, with the rain and thunder behind us, our host took us out in his four-wheel drive vehicle to experience up close many of the city’s bays and beaches. Even if the rain had stopped, it still wasn’t a day for swimming, but that was OK too — because there’s plenty to see on the beaches and the surrounding areas without having to get your feet wet. Intentionally.

I don’t remember the names of all the bays and harbours we visited, driving down on to the wet sand and following the tracks of vehicles that had gone before us earlier in the day. The names don’t matter, I’m not a tour guide.

On one beach a group of vehicles stood, seemingly abandoned, with doors hanging open and belongings on the sand around them, until we noticed half a dozen surfers out in the water. The swell wasn’t large, but what I enjoy about surfing is sometimes as much about the zen of it: sitting on a board in the water, just quietly and peacefully waiting for the next wave. They weren’t chasing adrenaline today, they were just enjoying being out surfing at all.

On one beach I stopped to look at the line in the sand where the tide reached. Whether the tide was coming in or going out I didn’t stay long enough to make out, but at a certain point the sand was darker and uniformly speckled, while past that point it was glassy and smooth. Perhaps the mottled side of the sand was marked by the morning’s heavy rain, and the great southern ocean was edging its way up the shore to wipe the slate clean.

rock pools, EsperanceI could have stood for hours by one collection of rocks. The rocks were mixtures of dark greys and browns, with white sand dusting their crevices like snow. Every now and then a larger wave would come along and wash all around them, and I’d watch as the water drained back through all the small gaps between them. The ocean was a light aquamarine, but in the small rockpools that briefly formed it barely reflected the cloudy sky — in my pictures the water is all but invisible apart from where it catches the light.

On the beach, the pale glassy sand met a white-fringed ocean that went from the slightest hint of blue to aquamarine and out to a deeper blue as it swept out to more distant islands.

The islands themselves seemed to be fighting a war between rock and vegetation, overseen by the patient ocean. Out of the ocean rose smooth reddish brown rock, streaked grey and black in places, and it was impossible to tell if the greenish black vegetation that covered the rock so completely on top was spreading downwards to the sea to cover every last remaining stone, or if the island was balding, with the vegetation receding up the front and sides.

Above the beaches, the same greenish black vegetation was cut through with the dusty red tracks of roads, and up out of the foliage rose monoliths of that reddish brown rock, crusted with yellow moss in its cracks, and worn into the familiar shapes of people and animals by countless seasons of wind, rain and sun.

From high vantage points you could look across the harbours as the sun briefly came out and bleached the sandy shores of colour so that the almost resembled Dover’s chalk cliffs and made that same ocean — still aquamarine darkening almost in a line to a slate or cobalt blue — shine against it where it swept up and retreated. In the sun my attention was directed back towards the houses of Esperance, where a dark curtain of rain was again falling on the city.

rock formations, EsperanceAround the beaches, up the paths in the vegetation and rock, were areas for campsites — no doubt filled to capacity in the high season, and a ranger’s house a short distance away. I was reminded of Edward Abbey’s season in the wilderness of Arches National Park in the USA, and wondered what a life would be like as a ranger: wanting to live among the nature of national parks, and recognising that the roads and campgrounds and tourists are in part necessary encroachments for civilisations that must see value from these places: a value that comes from making them easily accessible and habitable.

 

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Sculpture by the Sea: Cottesloe beach

Red Centre, by Carl Billingsley: Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe beachThis weekend the Amazing Aussie Adventure continued as I got the opportunity to check out the opening of Sculpture by the Sea on Cottesloe beach.

Cottesloe is a tremendously popular beach in Perth, but I’d never visited it properly before — then again, I’d never been to Perth at this time of year before, either, and visiting at the end of summer makes a big difference.

Making the beach even more attractive was a range of sculptures by more than 70 artists — local artists and artists from WA were exhibited alongside international artists, making the beach and surrounds into one big modern art gallery.

“Ocean Cathedral” by Debbie Harding

Ocean Cathedral

Among the sculptures were “Ocean Cathedral” by Debbie Harding, a cathedral window made out of bamboo with a view of the ocean, “Wave 1″ by Annette Thas a wave made out of plastic Barbie dolls, and “Red Center” by Carl Billingsley, a veritable sea of red and yellow survey flags, that reminded me, in my exceedingly amateur opinion, of some of Van Gogh’s paintings.

“150 Surfboard Graveyard” by Chris Anderson: Sculpture by the Sea, Cottesloe beach

150 Surfboard Graveyard

Other sculptures had an ecological message: including “150 Surfboard Graveyard” by Chris Anderson, a “graveyard” of broken parts of surfboard, all sticking out of the sand, a life size rhinoceros knitted entirely out of black plastic bags by Mikaela Castledine, and a fish tank of “Things You Might Find On Your Trip to the Beach” (by Marina DeBris) — entirely consisting of rubbish the artist finds washed up on the beach.

There are too many sculptures and installations to list here — but if you like art, want something to talk about and think about, the exhibition is running until the end of March. I can highly recommend it.

For more photos of Sculpture by the Sea, check out my Tumblr here and check out the Sculpture by the Sea official Twitter account

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The first days in Australia: Perth zoo

Perth zoo: tree kangarooAs a belated birthday outing, we went to Perth zoo on the Friday after I arrived. Despite sleeping very little on the flight from London to Singapore earlier in the week, I’d been fortunate that I hadn’t too much difficulty adjusting to the time difference (Perth is 8 hours ahead of GMT).

Jetlagged

On a briefly unrelated side note, whenever I have a time change like this and find myself suddenly wide awake at 5 or 6am, I often think about trying to train myself to stay awake at that time permanently. After all, it would add several more productive hours to my days. As you’d probably expect, I always decide I like sleep too much, and get over the inconveniently early wakefulness without too much effort.

At this point in the adventure, I felt like I’d lost a day and a half when I left London on Monday morning and arrived in Perth on Tuesday afternoon. The feeling of things not being quite real was exacerbated by feeling a little adrift in the week. Just the same, I had largely overcome my mid-afternoon slump by the end of the week. Instead, what I had left behind felt more like a dream than the dusty red earth that was now home.

Beware: Cassawaries

Like with Serpentine National Park, going to Perth zoo on a week day in school time meant that it was reasonably quiet — with a surprising number of Scottish visitors. One of the things I noticed about Perth zoo was how spacious it felt — it had clearly been designed with a lot of thought to shade and wide open spaces.

You might think that one zoo is a lot like the next, but now that I think of it despite having visited various zoos and safari/wildlife parks at home, this was the first zoo I’d been to outside of the UK. I guess with all the travelling over the last few years, zoos were always further down the list than things like exploring the city.

Sure, Perth has its giraffes and lions and cheetahs and rhinos [fun fact: despite their intimidating appearance, rhinos are regarded by their keepers as overgrown dogs: they’re gentle creatures that like attention and a good scratch behind the ear] but the next realisation after the sense of space and shade in Perth zoo was the variety of Australian animals that I’d not experienced before.

There were the prehistoric and vicious-looking Cassawaries, the Quokkas who always look delighted about something, endangered Bilbys — and a veritable galaxy of small Australian marsupials. One of my favourite animals was the tree kangaroo, a native of Papua New Guinea, and an interesting-looking creature I’d not so much as heard of before. There were also the more familiar dingos, koalas, wallabies and a walkabout section through a wooded area where kangaroos would hop happily across the path in front of you. And despite having seen crocodiles in zoos and alligators both wild and in captivity, I wasn’t expecting a crocodile the size of the specimen in Perth zoo.

Orangutan - mother and baby at Perth zoo

Photo courtesy of Perth zoo: http://www.perthzoo.wa.gov.au/news/gallery/

Perth zoo is a fantastic place for conservation, and learning. I learned a lot about the zoo’s conservation projects in the wild, including its fantastic native breeding program, and I was educated on topics such as the importance of dingos to the ecosystem. Once regarded as a pest, it’s been found more recently that in areas where dingos are reintroduced, the feral invasive species like cats, rabbits and foxes all decline, and the native plants and marsupials recover.

At risk of sounding like a tourist guide book, Perth zoo is a great place to visit. Even if it is more conventional than a place like Serpentine National Park — it’s a place to discover animals you’ve never seen or heard of before, but also learn about conservation efforts in Australia, and around the world.

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Amazing Aussie Adventure: the facts

Western AustraliaThose of you joining this program already in progress may have questions about this Amazing Aussie Adventure I am on.

Questions like why is a 30-something marketing exec and copywriter from London in Western Australia? What is he doing? What kind of a visa is he on? And what is the purpose of this adventure? I’ll try and explain it here.

So; the why. The easiest explanation is that it’s all about a girl. Amanda, the creative genius behind Apples and Green, came to the UK 6 years ago on a working holiday visa. We have been together ever since. I always knew that one day she would want to go home, so we talked about it, and to cut out all the stuff in between: here I am.

Next, what am I doing? Am I travelling, am I writing a book, am I just having adventures and seeing where the wind takes me? Nothing quite that glamorous! Right now, I am looking to ply my digital marketing skills for a suitable employer in the shining city of Perth. I am also doing some freelance writing for various people, because I just love to write. I have an idea for a whole new blog — or even a book! — I want to research, and write, about the coolest small towns in Australia. But first I need a steady income…

What about a visa? I came into Australia on a partner visa, and I am a permanent resident — this is different from being an Australian citizen. I have no restrictions on my visa: I am free to come and go as I please for the next few years, and can work freely. Anyone interested in this kind of visa is welcome to contact me for anecdotal stories, but for anything more useful you should speak to a professional and visit the Australian government’s website.

What is the purpose of this adventure? This adventure is unlike the one-off adventures in Peru and Norway: it isn’t an adventure with a specific goal, like to raise money for charity and raise awareness, it’s more open-ended than that. It’s about life. It’s about The Flat Footed Adventurer in a wider sense.  It’s about sharing my stories to inform, entertain and, hopefully, inspire others to explore the world — while also expanding my own horizons. It’s also about overcoming adversity, sometimes.

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The first days in Australia: Serpentine Falls

Serpentine Falls, Western Australia

Serpentine Falls. Picture courtesy of Amanda http://applesandgreen.com

To begin with, it felt like a dream.

My first days in Australia were spent in a suburb in Perth’s hills, a place called Karragullen. The area is almost completely unnoticed and quiet, with a large oval just a few steps away from the house — where at night the kangaroos all come out to graze on the grass.

Standing on the oval as the sun was setting on my first night in Australia, it was hard to identify what felt more real — the people and places I had left behind in the English winter just the day before, or this warm Australia night filled with stars.

My first full day in Australia, we packed a picnic and our swimming gear, picked up some friends at Armadale train station, and all went to Serpentine National Park. The feeling of everything being not-quite-real didn’t subside with the picnic spot at Serpentine, where tame kangaroos were hopping around and begging for food. The signs warning people not to feed the ‘roos were for a good reason: they can get aggressive if you don’t feed them, as some other picnicers were finding out with one of the animals refusing to leave them alone and acting shows of dominance.

After our lunch the four of us set off uphill on a walking trail, billed as only moderate difficulty — but we hadn’t bargained on the day being as hot as it was. This was my second time walking in the Australian bush, and like the first time I quickly realised that I didn’t have what I needed to do even a moderately gentle hike properly was walking boots (especially important for me, with my feet) and a platypus for water. Carrying a large, solid plastic water bottle was too bulky and too heavy for this — even though having plenty of water is about the most important thing you can carry.

The highlight of Serpentine National Park was the Serpentine Falls, a small waterfall over a sheer granite rock face. While the waterfall itself wasn’t much to look at, the volume of water over the falls being much smaller in the summer, the fresh water pool below the falls was welcome — and very cold, especially in the deepest parts — on a hot day.

Serpentine Falls was my first experience of wild swimming in Australia — a world of difference from swimming in Highgate Ponds in London, particularly because you don’t come out muddy and smelling of pond water!

 

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The Australian adventure begins

the Australian adventure beginsI left London on a typically cold and rainy day in February, one week ago today. It’s surprising how when you’re moving to another country you can fit all the clothes you own into just a few bags — once you have decided to throw out all of those items that don’t fit, admitting that they probably won’t fit again any time soon.

Flying long-haul in Economy Class can be tough, but I recommend paying the small extra surplus on Singapore Airlines for a seat in the emergency exit row. OK, so you don’t get a window — which is usually my favourite place to sit — but it is more than made up for by the fact that you can stretch your legs so far, and that you can just stand up by your seat if you so desire. The only drawback is that because there is so much space in front of you some people may choose to stand in front of your seat while they wait to use the bathroom.

We descended into Singapore’s Changi airport, after nearly 13 hours in the air, just as the sun was rising. From the plane window behind me I saw dots of light below become boats, and I wondered what lives the people on board were leading, and what they were thinking and feeling at the start of their day on Tuesday.

My stop in Singapore was only two hours — and from bad experiences in the past in airports trying to clear customs and find boarding gates, I wouldn’t want any less than that. Soon, I was in the air again — and with my cherished window seat.

From the air, I was struck by the colours of Australia. The land was mostly brown or gold, and the trees were a very dark green. Occasionally, the land took an alien look around mine sites. It took me a short while to realise that where the land was golden coloured or brown this wasn’t abnormal: this was Australia, in the summer.

Clearing customs and immigration was surprisingly easy: I printed the details of my visa and my visa grant notice, in case they were needed, but since my visa was entirely electronic I wasn’t even asked about it.

And then there I was (after a quick stop in the airport duty free shop): a permanent resident in Australia.

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17,296km of adventure

Australia compared to EuropeIt’s a brand new year once again. And while every month and every day is, obviously, a new day for starting an adventure, I think we can’t help but consider each January as a clean sheet of paper.

A chance to write a new adventure.

In a little under a month’s time, I will be making the 17,296km journey from London, England to Perth, Australia — an indefinite relocation. All my life has been packed into boxes and sent across the seas, and now it’s time for me to go and join my girlfriend in her home country.

Making the decision to leave London wasn’t easy for either of us. The girl first came to the UK 6 years ago on a working holiday visa, before being sponsored by a company that could find no equal for her talents. Together, we made the city of London our home. We will both leave friends and co-workers behind, and have both resigned our jobs with nothing to replace them on the other side of the world: but no one gets remembered for the things they didn’t go.

We’ve asked ourselves, and each other, “Is this the right thing to do?” but there is no easy answer. Sometimes, you just have to take the chance. It’s an adventure. The same as hiking the Inca trail, or dog sledding in the Arctic, you have to make the best possible decision — and right now this is it.

It’s a different kind of adventure for me from the usual — there’s not one big challenge, but there’s lots of new things. Australia: The road aheadAside from a new country, and a new city, there will be a new job, new friends, and what amounts to a whole new life. There will also be opportunities for lots of new adventures.

This is it: a new adventure on the other side of the world. I hope you’ll join me for the journey.

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The World is a Book

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

Image Credit: wekosh.com

I met a man once who didn’t have a passport. He was middle aged, a respectable businessman. You know the sort.

I don’t know if there were complicated reasons behind his inability to travel outside of the United Kingdom, but he said that when people ask him about it he tells them that he is too busy working to go on holiday. Whose work is so important that it relies on them to be at home 365 days of the year?

Living in the UK, I can’t imagine not wanting to travel.

To me not having a passport says “This is good enough”, and that the rest of the world doesn’t measure up. What about the pyramids in the deserts of Egypt and the jungles of Central and South America? Not that interesting.

The Colosseum in Rome? Boring.

The canals of Venice? Second best to the Droitwich Junction canal.

Tokyo is waiting in the night, lit up like Piccadilly Circus on crack.

Or there’s rain forests where you can stop, and listen, and hear no signs of civilisation.
When you’ve seen how big the world is, how can you make do with this?

There are various lists of the “7 Wonders of the World”, and you can compare and contrast them all day, but at best in the UK the only real “Wonder” you are going to see without a passport is Stonehenge — even if you wanted to count the Channel Tunnel (as the American Society of Civil Engineers do with their list) you’d still need a passport.

Don’t get me wrong, Stonehenge is an amazing place in its own right — but is it so good that once you’ve seen it you don’t have to think about the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal…?

You can see most of Europe by car if you are so inclined — the channel tunnel takes no time at all, and before you know it the rest of the continent opens up before you.  Distinct and individual countries and people, side by side with their own private ways, old alliances and rivalries, rich varieties of languages and food.

Take in the view of Paris from the hills of Monmartre. Walk the streets of Madrid or Barcelona, and savour the smell of orange blossoms on the trees. Feel humbled among the orange tiled rooftops and green shutters of Dubrovnik, a city that has withstood centuries of earthquakes, fires and mortars to remain one of the closest places you will come to paradise on earth. Parts of the Berlin wall still stand, and even the city as a whole is like a living testament to some of the most important events of twentieth century.

But without a passport, they might as well be on Mars.

Even if you don’t like cities, you can find peace and solitude among the Alps, the Rockies, the Andes, the Himalayas. When you wake up one morning in the mountains and you are above the cloud layer, you know that even when you go back to your daily routine you won’t be the same again.

You can see giraffes grazing by the side of the road like cows on the African savannah, or travel the 1,100 kilometres of the Nullarbor plain through the Australian outback. Or you can stay where you are, at home, and these things will stay where they are, because there’s always work to be done.

You can take a pack of huskies across frozen lakes and hills between red painted barns and not see another living soul.

If the world’s a book and you’re on page one, who’s to say you will even like page two? You may not. You may hate it. But what about page three, or page 33? You could visit somewhere else every month for the rest of your life and never need to return to the same place twice.

Arguably, one of the greatest things about travel is returning home. Maybe nowhere will ever be as good or measure up to home, but not to travel is the equivalent of never reading more than one book because you already have a favourite, or refusing to listen to another song again because of there being one you like so much.

Sometimes I like to list all the cities whose rain I’ve known. Dublin where the locals shout across the street to comment about the weather and Lisbon, whose mosaic-tiled hills turn deadly in a storm.

Rainy cities where rivulets carry traffic cones down the road and sultry cities where middle-aged women pause with their cigarettes to offer sex when you’d rather an umbrella and cities where the dark clouds roll in over the surfers, bobbing in the water like seals. Cities where the rain is salty from the great lake. Cities where the rain fills the fountains and smooths the stone streets and cities where the rain has become part of the architecture and part of the soul of the people.

What you experience and what you learn when you explore gives richer depth and meaning to where you call home.

Originally published on Under30CEO 

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