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For me, high school wasn't a very typical experience. Well, maybe it was typical for the majority of the population, but it wasn't what I had envisioned for myself.
When I pictured high school, I imagined epic parties, and amazing adventures at 2 AM, and the greatest four years of my life. Instead, I got about ten friends that I could stand, intense boredom, and an unrivaled hatred for the Rocky Mountains.
I love Canada, I do. It's populated by incredible people, has indescribable landscapes, and most importantly, it's where I grew up. It's my home. But at the same time, if I didn't leave that small town when I did, I don't know what I would've done.
So I worked hard in all my classes, graduated at the end of January, and was living at my grandfather's house, near Manchester, by March 11.
So, it turns out that going to a country across the ocean at 17 is actually terrifying. Sure, I may have been born in England, and my dad's entire family lives here, but I'd only visited three times in my life. Not to mention that all of those visits were around three weeks long, and now I would be living here for over four months.
Everyone kept telling me how brave I was for leaving home, but to be honest, I was more relieved than anything else. I had finally achieved what I wanted for years, to get out of that town, and I couldn't be more excited.
Besides, almost as soon as I got there, I began traveling as much as I could, so I didn't really have time to be stressed about what I was doing.
Ah, The City of Love, a place that I had been to once before, but only for 16 hours. Now, I had an entire week to experience the magic, and I couldn't wait to experience everything.
I was with my aunt, uncle, cousin, her husband, and their four-year-old son. So needless to say, we went to Disneyland and played in the pool, but my favorite part was the city itself.
If you grew up anywhere in North America, the architecture in a European city will always be stunning to you. The history behind every brick that's laid still gives me chills, and I think it always will.
Canada is 150 years old this year, so I'm pretty sure I was in bathrooms older than my country the day I went to Paris. Which is why the city is so magical to me, you can feel the energy radiating around you, and it's addictive.
The Arc de Triomphe was gorgeous, but what really struck me was Notre Dame. Obviously the outside was beautiful, the carvings were incredible and the building was intimidating as heck. But what people don't tell you is about a certain aspect of the inside.
On two different walls in the cathedral are carvings depicting different scenes from the bible. They were carefully and painfully created and painted centuries ago. Now, I am not religious, but there was something about these murals that were so magical to me, they made me want to believe.
All in all, Paris was a great experience despite how I was still suffering from very severe jet lag.
After Paris, I did a lot of day trips to different cities, and Nottingham was the first.
While I didn't see Robin Hood while I was there, I did learn a lot about the man who stole from the rich to give to the poor. The history behind that man is fascinating, but if you're a big fan of Maid Marian, I wouldn't look it up.
This was also the first place that I went around a castle, however, I would soon discover that there are castles literally everywhere. But that doesn't make this one any less impressive.
The city of York is one of the most interesting places I've ever been to. There's an area called The Shambles, which is actually where J.K. Rowling got a lot of inspiration for Diagon Alley. Being a massive Harry Potter fan, I was very excited about that, but the city is really cool for other reasons too.
There was a market set up selling food and little, locally built trinkets. Buskers were all over the road, in between the doors of old-fashioned fudge and sweet shops. An energy pulsed from York that I've never experienced anywhere else.
Also, there's a bridge in the train station that was in the first Harry Potter movie, so a win there.
Chester is a walled city, which already makes it incredible. Also, the walls were built around 120 AD, and if that doesn't make you want to throw up, then you're more resilient than I am. I can barely grasp that things occurred in the 1600s, let alone in the year 120.
There is also a section of Chester with multi-level shops. By that, I mean that there is a line of shops at street level, with people eating outside and window shopping. But there are also staircases up to above those shops, where there is another street full of shops.
My grandmother and I ate lunch at one of the cafes on the upper layer. Our table was outside the cafe, at the edge of the floor, and we watched people walk below us as we consumed our food.
Very, very cool.
The home of good old William Shakespeare, that literally leaks culture. My grandfather and I saw where he grew up, where he wooed his wife, and the footprint of where his house stood.
Yeah, you heard that right, footprint. Shakespeare's house isn't there anymore because he didn't get famous until after he was dead, and the guy who lived there after him didn't want so many people visiting. The fact that one of the greatest, if not the greatest writer ever, got his house torn down because the guy who lived there after him hated the tourists is absolutely crazy to me.
But the city screams Shakespeare and is inspiring for any writer that makes their way there.
I spent a week near this small town in Scotland, and it's my favourite place I've ever been. I don't know what it was about it because it's in the middle of nowhere, the Wi-Fi made me feel like I was in the apocalypse, and there wasn't a ton to do.
But I think that may have been why I liked it so much. Everyone from my town was always so worried about likes and followers and beating everyone else at everything. It was refreshing to be somewhere that my phone wasn't buzzing and I was forced to do things like talk to people and go for walks.
Also, it was absolutely stunning. With the ocean right at your doorstep, misty mountains in the distance, and pockets of forest all over. Every new place I went felt like a secret that only I, and a select few people, have seen.
It is the number one place that I would recommend going before I'd recommend Paris and the big places. This small town is a small slice of paradise and it's a little bit of magic.
Also, you should stay at Ballochgair Farmhouse because it's a large manor house right next to the ocean and the farmer next to it let me feed his lambs.
The next place my camera and I traveled to was Edinburgh, in Scotland. Not only is this city Harry Potter central, but it also has the coolest castle in the entire world.
The castle once housed around 3,000 people, and inside its walls is an entire town. Sitting on a cliff high above the rest of the city, the castle is grand and intimidating at the same time. Walking around it is like stepping back in time, as you can even see the crown jewels if you go inside the building.
Not to mention that the city itself is expansive and beautiful. It stretches around cliffs and has a mysterious air about it that cannot be matched. The cobblestone streets and old architecture make for an atmosphere that's indescribable, unless you've been there.
J.K. Rowling herself was inspired by the city and you can visit the cafe where she started the books, the hotel where she ended them, and the places that inspired her vision.
Truly, a city full of magic.
This was my first trip to Spain, and I can assure you that I will be heading back. Palma, an old city on the island of Mallorca, is filled with winding streets and true Spanish culture.
I'm a firm believer that being surrounded by a foreign language is one of the most humbling and unique experiences ever. Somehow not being able to understand exactly what someone is saying reminds me how little I know of the world and it's kind of intoxicating.
The city has an epic cathedral with small streets below it, where the buildings nearly touch. I spent a day with my aunt getting lost in the streets and trying to soak in as much as possible. Not to mention trying the Paella, which is the best rice I have ever eaten.
Spain is on top of my list of places to return to, especially after I learn more Spanish at university.
I have about five weeks left in Europe and within that time I'm going to Amsterdam and Rome. However, I am strangely not dreading my return home.
Every other time I have gone away, the thought of that town has made me queasy, but now I'm actually kind of excited. I can't wait to see my friends, drive my car, and get packed for university.
This adventure was perfect and exactly what I needed, but it morphed from running away to a journey about discovering more about myself and growing as a person.
I am not the same girl that I was when I first got off that plane, but I don't want to be. Although, I do think a part of me will always be that small town girl.
If you want to see more pictures of my trip go follow me on Instagram @harri.smith.photos