Before I embarked on this journey I was often asked, "Why London?"
One of my main reasons 'why London' was because of the accessibility of so much of the rest of the world. Growing up in Canada meant that the United States and Mexico were key holiday choices (besides the entire rest of Canada, of course) and the opportunity to visit places in Europe and Asia were not cheap or convenient. Besides that, there's everything the UK has to offer.
Despite easy access to these places being so essential on my list, I don't feel I did as much as I'd expected. This was largely due to a lack of stable income as I worked on securing a job that met the requirements of my visa. However, despite my sporadic and rather minimal income, I've managed to see and do quite a lot. There haven't been any particularly long breaks, but it's about quality, not quantity.
At the end of January my partner treated me to a weekend in Paris, where we managed to walk from our hotel to Notre Dame to the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower in just one day. It was a magical experience made all the more delightful by the novel 'Walks in Hemingway's Paris' which was the accompanying Christmas gift to the Paris train tickets. It was this trip and this book which got my mind set on this time abroad being like my very own self-run apprenticeship.
This idea and my own personal belief that putting conditions on things can only set me up for disappointment meant I took every opportunity for adventure as it came, regardless of whether or not it was something I'd planned to do or see.
As I discovered more of the UK with a camping trip in Dorset, several weekends in Cambridge and one or two jaunts up to Norwich, I began to see why my grandma's memoirs have such a sentimental tone. This country is beautiful, warm and comforting.
For my birthday I felt that a trip was necessary to take my mind off the fact that 2010 would be the first year I'd spend my birthday away from my family. I decided that Amsterdam would be my choice. I've always been curious about Amsterdam but it wouldn't normally have been high on my list of locations to visit as I don't drink or partake in any illegal substances. I am so very glad I didn't assume that was all Amsterdam would offer. It has been one of the absolute highlights of this year and picking a highlight would be difficult. I did have an incredible time in Rembrandt's house and the HomoMonument was a very emotional sculpture to visit.
As the year drew to an end my partner and I realised we would both have the 25th to the 3rd off from work. My parents would be heading back to Canada on the 27th so the two of us decided to book a holiday starting the day they flew out. Initially the plot was to go somewhere hot with a lovely beach and lots of sun. We searched site after site trying to find something just right. Searches mostly brought up Egypt. The problem with this was that if we were going to get anything for such a small window of time it would be hugely expensive and likely in a silly resort setting. If you're the sort of person who likes to be pampered in a hotel room in a resort which could be anywhere in the world, just for the sake of a relaxing escape, that's perfectly fine. I am not that person, nor is my partner. I like to explore and if I'm going to go to Egypt I want to spend time seeing Egypt. I want old ruins and authentic market places and rickety boats down the Nile. I want a camel ride and walking in the desert.
After searching LastMinute.com for the umpteenth time we determined that perhaps sticking to the UK (sort of) would be more fun for this time round. We checked Scotland, perused Ireland and finally, upon discovering a brilliant hotel+flight deal we settled on Jersey. Jersey, one of the channel Islands, home of the prettiest cows in the world and steeped in history. There is beach which, although the ocean is too cold for swimming, is perfect for exploring tide pools and taking long, relaxing walks along. My lungs are free of the big city fumes and my ears are free from the near constant sirens and engines of London streets.
As I discover the lovely bits of Jersey art and history I'm clearing my mind and reviewing this past year.
It's been extremely difficult at times. There have been moments when I couldn't sleep because I was so homesick, moments where I've felt so lonely I thought I'd never stop crying, and moments where I felt that I would hop a plane without hesitation if it meant hugging my dad, brother, mum or an old friend.
But there have been absolutely gorgeous moments:
Like watching the Eiffel tower light up like a glitter ball after a long day of walking.
There were fresh fried prawns in garlic butter, better than any I've ever eaten before, enjoyed as a picnic on a hotel floor.
There were three adorable Indian Runner ducks sat next to me on a dock overlooking a pond. There's incredibly thick, delicious cream on fresh Scottish berries enjoyed in a lovely pergola at the end of the most perfect English garden.
There's been figuring out the tube and getting around to places that most Londoners haven't even realised are at their fingertips.
There's been mornings and afternoons spent in wonderful buildings full or incredible art, like the Saatchi Gallery, Tate Modern, V & A Museum or National Gallery.
The magnificent discovery of historic objects like the Rosetta Stone or Babbage's calculating machines.
There have been two wonderful rides on the London Eye.
There was finding Abbey Road with my mum and a long time family friend.
There was the first time I saw Buckingham Palace, Tower Bridge, the Houses of Parliament, and Royal Albert Hall.
There was the absolute delight of elephant hunting.
The wonderful entertainment of 'The Rise and Fall of Little Voice', 'Sister Act', 'Avenue Q' and Billy Bailey's 'Dandelion Mind.
I've also done a lot to stick with that idea of this being an apprenticeship. I took that course at Chelsea, attended drop-in sketch classes at the NPG, learned how to do an acrylic portrait at a class taught by Sadie Lee, attended a talk with Antony Gormley and sought out all the fantastic public art I could (Thank you Henry Moore!) I also pulled out a few of my manuscripts, began editing them and found someone to help. The thing of which I am most proud this year, however, has been the completion of ten more 24X36 inch depictions of the Major Arcana of a tarot deck.
Looking back it seems incredible to have accomplished so much in just a year. I am my own worst critic and I can easily get caught up in feeling like I'm just not doing 'enough'. I may not have done exactly what I thought I might this past year, but I certainly feel that I've done enough, and the mystery of it has been half the fun. Who knows what 2011 will bring.