Sunday, October 19, 2008

Trying to be great-ful...

Another month, another place to call home. Well, that's what it seems sometimes. Dave and I now live in Scotland. We knew that moving up north was a very real possibility but it wasn't a certainty. That is, until Dave got a job offer to be a reporter, his life's ambition. It was such a wonderful day when we got the news, especially since he turned down another offer to work in London. We considered it but decided that we'd have to bankrupt ourselves just to move to The City and we'd have to scrimp by because of the astronomical cost of living. After Moscow, London is the most expensive city in the world. So that got a big ol' thumbs down. So here we are - on the east coast of Scotland. We live by the sea and I can just stare out into it's watery mysteriousness for ages. It's lovely. The weather has been alright as well. And Edinburgh. Such a beautiful city, but calm as well. It's busy, but not at all as frenetic as London. The shopping is great (a little too great), and one can waste away days in the old streets. I think I'm going to really like it here. So what's all this about trying to be great-ful, you might ask? Well, one of the drawbacks of being a frequent mover/traveller of sorts is the loneliness that accompanies re-rooting oneself. It happened in Ottawa (to a very small extent), definitely happened in Japan and re-surfaced in Nottingham. By far, Nottingham was probably the worst just because I was without a support network and initially, a job. I learned some hard lessons during my time in Notts and I'm not even going to try to go down that road again. I'm just trying to keep my head up, be optimistic, appreciate the awesome situation we're in and cherish this time here.

So here I am. Currently unemployed with money in the bank and no expenses. Such a dangerous combination. But I'm trying to keep busy. Looking for job is my new raison d'etre. This global financial crisis is definitely not helping things but yet I soldier on. I have faith in myself and I know it's just a matter of time until I'm back at work and complaining about it. I hope I find something soon though. When you're without friends, sometimes co-workers are all you've got. But I do not rest on my laurels. I've started the search for pals. I've turned to the internet like I did in Nottingham to find girlfriends and I'm hoping I will be as successful as I previously was. Fingers crossed I don't meet any psychos.

I mentioned that I don't have an expenses right now. That's because I'm living with my future parents-in-law. To some people, this would be a nightmare, but I actually like my future family and am extremely grateful for them opening their house to us. They are such lovely people and I'm so happy that my bethroed comes from such good stock.

So on the days when the sun is shining brightly and I want to explore, I head to Edinburgh by train and spend an afternoon by myself or with my future sister-in-law Louise. There are galleries and museums, shops and cafes, tourist traps and secret haunts - things that catch my eye and make me sigh. With a population of just under half a million people, it's not a big city, but it feels larger than life. It has a castle, old churches, and a rich history I'm actually gagging to learn about it. I repeat, I think I'm going to like it here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

B-dot T-dot

A couple of Saturdays ago, Dave and I took a trip to Birmingham, which is apparently England's "second city". Considering it's so close, only 1.5 hours on the train, I have no excuse for waiting until 2 weeks before we move to visit this lovely city. By all accounts, the shopping in Birmingham is to die for. Since I've been following a strict budget for the last few months, I didn't get to actually buy any of the copius amounts of eye candy that were on display, but I did get frissons from swimming in the oceans of capitalism once again. We visited a huge, stunning mall officially known as The Bullring. Now, I must preface what I'm about to say by disclosing that I don't actually like shopping or malls. Perhaps it's because I don't have the kind of money that would make buying loads of THINGS actually fun and maybe it's because I don't like the crowds, the noise and the bright lights. But The Bullring, oh, The Bullring. It was bee-yoo-tee-full. It was bright, had a beautiful glass ceiling and was huge and open. It seemed very North American, if you know what I mean. There were even three trampolines with bungee cords on the ground floor (I sat that out due to my rapidly swelling ankle - I hurt it badly the day before). But this mall wasn't just a paragon of shops and cash, but it was also a work of art. It houses Selfridges, the second biggest department store in the UK, after Harrods, and is only one of four in the country. This was my first time at Selfridges, and since I was with the boy and we actually had a purpose for coming to Birmingham, I didn't actually get to explore the store as much as I should have, but from what I saw, it was exceptional.

Now, what do you think this is? An art installation? A futuristic climbing wall? It's actually the side of the building. According to Wiki, "the store is clad in 15,000 shiny aluminium discs and was inspired by a Paco Rabanne sequinned dress." I thought it was awesome. I'm not a huge fan of new-fangled art but I was definitely digging the post-post modernity of it.

The Bullring also featured a 7 ft long bronze of bull (first pic) that was pretty cool, and nice, clean and bright washrooms. Actually, these washrooms had won awards and I was duly impressed.

Perhaps the thing that floored Dave and I the most was the food court on the ground floor of Selfridges. Forget about those antiquated cafeteria like food courts of the past. Now picture an open concept floor with Krispy Kreme (a HUGE novelty in Britain), a gelato stall, an alchohol emporium where you bottle you're own, a curry takeaway stand, a cheese counter, another 7 ft long bull but covered in jelly beans and loads of other delectable things.
But what made Dave and I actually stop and stand with our mouths agape was the Asahi robot. Asahi is a Japanese beer that Dave was quite intimate with during our time in Japan. They were giving away free samples that were poured by the freaking robot!!! I think we both squealed (or maybe it was just me). So cool.

But alas, we did not travel all the way to Birmingham to revel in the delights of The Bullring. No, we were on a much more important shopping expedition. We were on the hunt for our wedding rings. Birmingham is also home to the Jewellery Quarter, "the area [that] is said to contain the highest concentration of dedicated jewellers in Europe with about one third of the jewellery manufactured in the UK being made within one mile of Birmingham city centre." (Thanks Wiki.) There are hundreds upon hundreds of stores selling high quality jewellery usually cheaper or much cheaper that the stuff you'd find on the high street (high street - equals shopping areas). This is where Dave bought my engagement ring and I was seriously impressed that my honey did his homework when shopping for my ring. Plus the fact that he got a high quality product at a low price made me swoon!

Anyway, we knew we had a full day of looking at pretty shiny things ahead of us and we set off on our mission. The first shop we went to was incredibly helpful but more expensive than other shops (the price discrepency between shops is wild), but the proprietor was honest and forthright about what would work for me. I originally wanted a band with a little bling, but since I wanted something incredibly thin, diamonds just wouldn't have worked. He talked about stones popping out and having to be replaced and I didn't want that. I also didn't want something that was thicker but more safe to accomodate stones. With my ideas totally blitzed out of the water, I had to adjust my thinking. I lost track of how many rings I tried on, but we went to about 7 stores. I realized that the best thing for me would be to get a plain, platinum band at the thickness I wanted (2mm). It's timeless, classic, goes with my engagement ring and didn't cost the earth. Dave opted for a palladium ring that we thought would be less hassle than a white ring (you need to get it re-cast every so often) and cheaper than platinum while having most of its properties. We got a quote and were so impressed by the price. We originally thought that we'd put down a deposit and have them shipped to us when we could pay the balance, but the offer was too good to pass up and luckily we had the cash to buy them right away! We went to Subway for a tea and a cookie while we waited for the shop to decrease the thickness of my ring and size up Dave's ring. Forty minutes later, we went to pick them back and actually paid less for what we were quoted. Bloody brilliant. We were high-fiving and terrorist-bumping and it was fantastic. Even though the rain was relentless, parts of England were flooded, my ankle was killing me and I was limping like a lame dog, we were so happy.

We celebrated our victory by having a couple of pints of Peroni (now my favourite beer after experiencing it in Rome) and a pub dinner in an incredibly beautiful establishment. The pub was an old bank and kept a lot of the original features. I especially loved the domed ceiling and pillars. After we finished our very nice meal, we caught the train back to Nottingham. It was late (due to the flooding), but it didn't damper our spirits. We were the champions.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008


I’ve been away for a while, apologies. Does anyone even read this thing anymore? I’m not sure. I kinda lost the will to blog due to several factors:

1) I’ve been ODing on wedding porn. Since getting engaged, Dave and I have been through the highs and lows of wedding planning. For about three weeks, we were planning a wedding in Mexico. I found a fantastic place and made inquiries on packages and prices. Unfortunately, we really only had a couple of times in the year to do it – either Easter or Summer. Easter would have been great, but tickets double in price. Summer may have worked, but getting married in a hurricane would not have worked out for us. Also, trying to coordinate everything between four countries (England, Scotland (same country, different countries, dig?), Canada and Mexico) just proved to be too vomit-inducing. Destination wedding – scratch that.

2) We made a decision about where to have the wedding and we’ll be getting married in Scotland next summer. Not one to rest on my laurels, I jumped straight into finding a venue, a photographer and a celebrant. After weeks of searching, we went up to Scotland and met with our first choices (ok, there were no other choices) and luckily fell in like with each of them. Contracts have been signed, deposits sent away and a feeling of contentment over crossing the major things off our list is being enjoyed. Sure, we have to figure out entertainment, flowers, favours, apparel (for the boys and girls - I've already ordered my dress!), gifts, invitations (they have all been selected), and various other bits and bobs, but I’m determined to be a chilled-out bride. Also, I’ve cut down on the wedding porn.

3) Shortly after getting engaged, we went to Rome and I managed to blog about that. Then we had guests come stay with us. First, there were the lovely Atendido sisters who stayed with us twice during their whirlwind tour of Europe. Shortly after that, another set of funny Filipinas (Cheryl C , Carezza, Cheryl A and Arleen) crashed with us for a few days before we jetted to Barcelona to celebrate my 30th, which was fantastic, by the way. And oh, did I mention I started a new job at the same time???

4) I fell into a bit of a funk, read: depression. I’m not even going to lie about it. I was upset about everything – our apartment, not having a proper job, the uncertainty of our lives, worrying too much, missing everyone, lack of friends. It would grab hold of me and not let me go. Luckily, I had David to help bring me back to life and phone calls home really helped. I joined a gym in June and that has also helped tremendously. I now have a couple of tools that really help when I feel the darkness coming: a wonderful email from Shiloh that I printed out and keep in my purse, and my camera with pics that make me happy.

5) I’m just trying to have a life. Dave finished his classes a few weeks ago and we’ve just been hanging like a couple, which has been great. One of the cool things we did was go see Paddy Considine and watch his short film and hear him talk. It was a surprise for Dave and we both really enjoyed it. We love stuff like that. We also recently got back from a weekend in London. We had such an amazing time. I saw Jill Scott in concert again and absolutely loved it. I’ve done two things at a concert that I’ve never done before: I screamed “I love you Jill!!!” and I cried. And others cried. And she cried. Actually, when I think about it, I cried the last time I saw her, but that doesn’t matter. She ended the night on such an emotional high and I was so happy to be in her presence.

Dave and I also got together with some friends from Japan who live in London. It was so great seeing Jeremy, Ros, Craig and Ed again and reminiscing about J-land. We went to a Japanese restaurant and I had tempura and sushi, then grabbed some Japanese and Korean snacks and alcohol, went back to the place Ed has been squatting in (ok, that’s an exaggeration because this house was amazing and HUGE. Squatting connotes that you’re living in squalor, which is simply not the case at this crazy joint), and proceeded to talk the night away. We went to sleep when the sun came up which is something I haven’t done for a very long time. It was fantastic.

So that’s what been up with me.

I wasn't sure about what the future of this blog should be. Facebook definitely helps me keep in touch with everyone while this is an outlet for my feelings. It served its purpose of updating everyone about my life in Japan and now I’m just trying to get some permanence for the next few years (does that make sense? It definitely does to me). I’d like to turn this blog into a Blurb book and keep it on a shelf, pull it out from time to time and just remember. But after thinking about it, I've decided to continue writing. Not so much about travel as the trips will be fewer until after the wedding, but I have so many thought sabout the UK, culture, society, living and doing stuff that I think I should keep going. For the time being, anyway. So I'm back.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Roma, Roma, Roma!

On this season's "America's Next Top Model", the remaining models are off to R
ome to sashay-chante! As ANTM is my guilty pleasure du jour, I gleamed even more delight out of the show by watching the models zip around the sights I had walked around a mere few weeks ago. Admittedly, while I was there I had so many conflicting feelings that it was sometimes difficult to fully enjoy the city to the max. It was amazing to see the ruins that were built centuries upon centuries ago and walk on the same roads as ancient rulers and heroes of yesteryear. I was blown away when I saw the Colosseum and the Sistine Chapel. My jaw fell when I laid eyes on the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain. So much history and beauty. I wished I had really read up on the history before leaving for Rome, but travelling around with a history buff does have its rewards.


On the other side of all the glory and wonderment, I felt that Rome was loud, dirty, aggressive and overcrowded. There were so many people and the evidence of so many people was scattered everywhere. Rubbish littered the green spaces and groups of tours spilled into every corner of the city. Also, there were so many g-damned hawkers selling they craptastic wares. They were so annoying and aggressive. No means NO!!! And the traffic! Crossing the street was an exercise in will and determination. But we made it through. So rather than harp on the negatives, I'm going to go through my Top Ten on this trip to Rome.

1. The Colosseum. I loved this structure. Everything about it was fantastic. Dahlia told me that I should watch "Gladiator" before leaving, but I've seen that movie so many times that it wasn't necessary. Even if you've never seen the film, seeing the Colosseum was thrilling on it's own. The inside is smaller than I imagined but still awesome. For me, it ranks right up there with the Twin Towers , the Great Wall of China and the Eiffel Tower. I took about a gazillion photos, but perhaps, this one is my favorite. It was a rainy day, our first day actually, but we were content to walk around the city and acquaint ourselves with it. And what made it even better was that entry was free because it was the week of culture and most government museums and cultural sites were free to tourists. How hot is that? The Forums and the Palatine were pretty cool, but it probably would have been better for me had I known a little bit more about the history. Ah, well.

2. The Vittoriano. Apparently, it's the most hated landmark in Rome because builders destroyed part of the Roman Forum and is referred to as the "wedding cake", but I loved it. I thought it was beautiful in a "nouvelle vague" kind of way. Whereas most of the buildings and landmarks in Rome have a yellowish tint, the Vittoriano is bright white and practically glows at night. It is also where Italy house the tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I stole this pic from because it was under construction while we were there.

3. Trastevere and Janiculum Hill. I loved this area because for me, it was a slice of the "real" Italy. We went to a little shop selling antipasti and Italian pastries and I stuttered out a few lines in Italian because it didn't look like English was going on, if you know what I mean. Also, the ubiquitous hawkers weren't so present. We were there on a beautiful day (actually 6 out of the 7 days were sunny and warm), and we walked up the Janiculum Hill and looked down on Rome. All the pinks and yellows of the city were so lovely. That day was one of my favourites.

4. The Pantheon was another big winner for me. Dave and I were looking for it, just taking our time walking through the streets, kinda like "la dee da", and BAM! There it was. It was massive! Such a huge structure and the inside was impressive as well. The oculus - the opening of the dome - provides light and when it rains, 22 small holes in the marble floor drains away any rain that enters the building.

5. Trevi Fountain. I've never seen it before, even though we got "La Dolce Vita" a few weeks before we went to Rome. It was so pretty and probably one of the most romantic spots we went to. Well, when you take away the crowds, the sellers and the noise.

6. Vatican City and St. Peter's Basilica. St. Peter's is probably one, if not the, most visited church in the world, but lucky for us, the lines to get in weren't too bad. It really is a lovely example of architecture, with its highly identifiable dome and impressive interior. And the Sistine Chapel. I knew roughly what to expect but seeing the ceiling frescoes took my breath away. What was not so cool, however, was the noise factor. Every ten minutes, an announcement came over the loud speaker reminding people that they were in a sacred place and please, for the love of god, shut the fuck up. This was repeated in French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and Mandarin. The security guards also got in the action by practically yelling and pointing at people to put away their cameras and camcorders even though there are signs before entering the chapel and we were told that no photography was allowed. Sigh. Another thing that made me feel ill at ease was the amazing opulence in the the basilica, the Vatican museums and the surrounding buildings. There was so much gold and priceless treasures, and I was at odds at how the church could be so rich and withstand the ages with its fortunes intact and its worshipers had to live through wars, recessions and sometimes, poverty. Dave told me to watch myself and my deep thoughts while we in Vatican City lest the Swiss guards overhear me and promptly eject me. Still, it was an interesting and challenging (we took the stairs all the way to the top of the basilica - ouch) day out.

7. The Tomb of the Capucin Monks. This place was SO cool, but gruesome, macabre and disturbing. The tomb, or crypt, rather, located to the right and under the church of Santa Maria della Concezione holds the remains of over 4000 Capuc(h)in Monks buried between 1500 - 1870. What's different about this crypt is that the bones and skeletons of the monks are used to decorate the walls and ceilings! Clavicles, vertebrae, and jaw bones make up chandeliers. Hip bones have been turned into candle holders. Skulls are fashioned into arches. Skeletons with their flesh still on are cloaked in robes reminding you that they too used to be living. I was absolutely horrified, yet impressed. While I felt a little sick being there, I didn't turn around and leave though I wanted to. Pictures are not allowed in the tomb, but you probably wouldn't forget this place. At the end of the crypt there is a message:
"What you are now, we once were; what we are now, you shall be." Shudder.

8. The whole in the wall store where I bought my glass pendant. I forget the name of this shop, but it was one of those places where if you fail to look to the right of you, you'll miss it. It was more of a hallway with pendants, necklaces, souvenirs and various knickknacks on either side. And behind the glass counter was the littlest, oldest Italian Nonna. We were in there for about half and hour while I was trying to make up my mind on which pendant I should get. There were all handmade in the Venetian style like this (I'm too lazy to take a pic of mine, but it's black, white and yellow). She spoke fluent English with a great Italian accent and I just wanted to put her in my carry on and take her home.

9. Hanging out with Dave, Andrea and Rhys. The hot Scot and I were lucky enough to hook up with the K family and it was fantastic. After months of living without friends from home, it was so sweet just to hang out with some old skool peeps. Dave and I go wayyy back and it was nice to be around the familiar.

We went to the historic sites, ate lots of pasta and pizza and talked, and talked, and talked. Oh, and hanging out with their son Rhys was so fun. He's such a smart little boy and pleasure to be around. He's the one who took the pic on the right. Four year old and a whiz with a digicam. I heart my friends.

10. Being newly engaged in Rome. Even though the hot Scot was planning on proposing in Rome, his spur of the moment proposal in our kitchen was better than anything he could have dreamed up. To me, Rome wasn't the most romantic place, but it was still a great place to be when you're newly engaged. Dave did propose again in Villa Borghese park but no matter where we are and where we go, being with him is such a joy and blessing. We celebrated our engagement at Ditirambo Restaurant in Piazza Navano (thanks Ma and Pa B!) and it was just brilliant. I totally recommend this restaurant and have the chocolate cake dessert. Fantastic.

Honourable mentions: The Beehive Hostel and Apartment: a wonderful hostel with private shared apartments. The staff were very helpful, the apartments were clean (we stayed in 2 over 7 days) and we had huge kitchens. It's close to the Stazione Termini (central train station). Even though Dave and I decided that it was our last time staying in a hostel/shared apartment, I heartily recommend it.

Archetto Restaurant. Recommended by Jenn, we went to this place twice. It's near the Trevi Fountain and the food wasn't fancy, but it was good, filling and cheap.

Fountains, fountains everywhere. We reused our water bottles and filled up on the free flowing public drinking fountains. The water is safe to drink in Rome and it tastes delicious.

And that's Rome. Overall, I enjoyed it though I probably wouldn't go back. A week was plenty of time for me to get to know the city though I know there are more things to do. I definitely want to go to other parts of Italy, but I feel as if I can tick Rome off of my list.

I will be heading off to Barcelona in a few weeks to celebrate my entry into the "dirty thirties" and I'm looking forward to it. Four friends with Montreal and Toronto are coming to help me celebrate it and I don't plan on having an itinerary. I bought a Lonely Planet and there are a couple of things I know we'll have to see, but I'm just looking forward to the eating, drinking and screeching, er, I mean talking. We'll be going for 3 days and it's going to be good. I have another couple of girlfriends returning to Nottingham to stay with me for a couple of days starting from tomorrow. They were here for a night last week and it was screaming fun. Yeah, laughing so hard that our tummies hurt. That's the good stuff.

After Barcelona, I don't intend on doing anymore European travelling, just sticking closer to home. The hot Scot and I have a wedding to save up for and that means that I can't go off on anymore holiday jaunts for at least a year. We do plan on renting a car and exploring England on our weekends and I'll write about that and other things that are closer to home. I don't think I'll turn this into a wedding planning blog though little snippets of that part of my life may land here from time to time. What I know for sure, however, that this year will be very interesting indeed. Please come by from time to time (and comment!) and see what I'm doing on this tiny island.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Otherwise engaged...

Okay, I know I haven't blogged in over a month, and really, I should have put all my thoughts and great photos of Rome into a post weeks ago. I meant to, I really did. There are so many cool things I want to share about the city, and I promise, I will, but I need a bit more time. See, about 2 days after I published the last post, I was unexpectedly knocked out of my socks. On a Saturday much like any other, my life changed. Dave, my hot Scot, the man of my life for over the past two years, asked me to marry him. No, I didn't see it coming, and to be fair, neither did he (not on that day, anyway). It was raw, it was emotional, it was the best and sweetest thing that's ever happened in my life, and it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it right now. I was gob smacked (very British, I know) and only now am I coming back to earth. I've told the tale many times, but I'm not going to write about it because Dave did such a great job telling the story. One word: wowers.

After returning from Italy and having told everyone and changed our status on Facebook, I've been swimming in a sea of stress over where we are going to hold the wedding. Seriously, it's been sick. After many discussions, tons of research and some back and forth, we've decided to have it in Scotland. So for the past two weeks, I've been researching venues and we've narrowed the list down considerably. In between all this research and fretting, I'd been looking for a job and now I'm happy to announce I'll be starting at one tomorrow. Yeah! 4 months of not working is just too long.

So that's why I haven't posted in so long. I'm so due, I know. But I just wanted to share this news. I'll be posting a week or so, I promise. For now, I'll reminisce on Rome by watching America's Next Top Model. Ciao, bellas!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Seeing the world...

Sometime last year, I happened upon an ad for Traveleyes
which really grabbed my attention. Briefly, it's a company that was founded by a blind Glaswegian (someone from Glasgow) and it was his mission to see the world. Of course, if you have limited or no sight, this is impossible. Unless, you organize holidays pairing the blind and the sighted and offer the sighted folks a substantial discount. And voila, that was how Traveleyes was born. The founder, Amar, had a dream, and with determination, luck and some funding, his dream, and that of so many others, was realized. I really admire people who, when having found something was lacking out there, have the balls to fill that gap.

Having found myself with my own gap (February without travel plans), I contacted the Traveleyes people and signed up for their one week trip to Fuerteventura of the Canary Islands from 27 February to 5 March. The short of it is for a discount on the total price of the trip (flights and accommodations), I was expected to accompany visually impaired (VIs for short) on outings and describe the things, people and places they couldn't see. It sounded like a bit of a challenge (I'm not the most eloquent of speakers) and it gave me a chance to meet new people while helping them out AND seeing a part of the world I probably wouldn't have seen on my own. So, how was it?

Ok, first, the good. It was fantastic meeting so many people who didn't let their disabilities stop them from doing what they wanted. Sometimes, they moved me to tears. I heard stories about losing a child to cancer, going to Atlanta for the Summer Paralympics and competing in the judo competition, creating a long-distance relationship through the internet (and subsequently moving to the UK), and taking walking holidays all over the world. The VIs that I spent time with (we were assigned a different partner every day) were remarkable in their desire to live life without boundaries. It gave me such a sense of usefulness when I had to lead people around, read menus to them and describe the world through my own eyes. At first, it was a little nerve-racking, but it got comfortable really quickly. There were a few in particular that I got quite close to quite quickly. The lady in the pic above, Champa, and her husband, David, were a couple that gave me lumps in my throat a few times, as well as made me laugh.

The bad:
I have come to the conclusion that I'm totally not into organized fun. This is totally a case of "it's not you, it's me". I'm really not a group person, which I was a little surprised about, but I was a bit stifled about having an agenda everyday. I'm all for planning, but I think I like to just go where the wind takes me when I'm travelling. I'm so not an itinerary chick, and it was totally my bad for not feeling the schedule aspect of the holiday.

The ugly: Fuerteventura itself. The island was nothing more than a big, volcanic rock with some nice beaches surrounding it. There wasn't much to the interior of the island and my search for the "real Canary Islands" was in vain. Development of the island began some 30 years ago, but you wouldn't know it with all the scaffolding, plows and the signs for land for sale. Oh, and it was overrun with Brits and Germans to the point where you could get Fish and Chips everywhere, chips was the side dish of choice, and there were German channels on the tube. I saw way too many white, naked bodies on the beach (one was too many), and if I never see a "German sausage" again, it would be too soon.

In all, I was disappointed about this trip and even regretted it a bit (moi, qui ne regrette rien), but Traveleyes was NOT to blame. I admire what Amar is doing and give him mad props, even though he constantly ripped the piss out of my accent. I fully recommend it for people who are interested in helping and meeting new people and like their travel planned and surprise-free. They have some excellent trips coming up, including Cuba, Italy, Vancouver, Iceland, South Africa and the Greek Islands, and they promise to be unforgettable for the VIs and the sighted alike.

If you have any questions, you can ask me them in the comment section, visit the web site, or check out this news report which features yours truly.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I dream of Paris...

For a long time, I had my head in the sand and fully believed that the sun rose and set on Montreal. Not only was this city the centre of my universe, but also the centre of the world. I didn't believe there was any reason to leave it for a sustained period and thought the whole world could be found in my backyard. Now, several years later, while I still hold my home city in the highest regard, I know a little better. A couple of weeks ago, I visited Paris, a city I swore up and down I had no interest in visiting. Why go all the way to there when I had what the city had to offer just down my block: the French language, the beautiful architecture, the food...But I was very sorely mistaken.

I decided to take a rather spur of a moment trip to two of the world's most famous capitals - London and Paris. Nottingham is really conveniently located - it's about a two hour train/bus ride to London and 30 minutes from the airport. I decided to take the bus to London and drop in on my cousins for a couple of days then take the Eurostar to Paris.

Now, I've never been to London and didn't really expect much, but I was happy with what I saw. My cousins, Sarah and Esther, are conveniently located in South London and Esther and I went to town a couple of times and I was floored with just how dense London was. With a population of 8 million and home to so many museums, it sometimes felt like I was walking through molasses because the crowds were so thick.

I didn't really get to sample the best of what London had to offer food-wise (traveling on a budget - hoo ray!), but I tried a seminally British stalwart - the cornish pasty. You can get all sorts of pasties and pies everywhere in this country, but apparently, the Cornish Bakehouse supposedly offers one of the best. I tried it twice, and while they satisfied my hunger, I wasn't particularly crazy about them. Meat stuffed in pastry - not rocket science, but no foodgasms here. Perhaps my palate has grown too sophisticated.

I travelled on the tube a few times and I couldn't resist getting a shot under the Underground sign. What was really cool was there was a place right around the corner called "The Japan Centre" where I was able to get an onigiri (rice ball) and some yaki niku (grilled meat) sauce. There were so many Japanese people that I felt like I was back in Japan! Sigh. Excuse me, I'm digressing. London has a pretty easy metro and I found it a great way to get a taste of the characters that called the capital of England home. Unfortunately, I was not lucky enough to get treated to this event though I was in London when it happened. Damn shame.

Overall, I thought London was pretty nice, and was happy to see all those famous sites, but I wasn't particularly bowled over. London is like a song with a really loud baseline: you feel the pulsing beat but you really can't make out the details of the composition. However, I really enjoyed the the museums and the fact that entry was free. I only had enough time to visit two - the British Museum and the the National Portrait Gallery. My appreciation for art, particularly those of the impressionist persuasion, has been growing since I arrived in the UK and I plan on taking every opportunity to see the greats of the past and the future while I'm living here and traveling around.

After a couple of days in London, I set off to Paris on the very sleek, very clean and very fast Eurostar. In 2 hours and 15 minutes, I was in the centre of gay Paris and I was buzzing. Stepping off the train was like exiting a really fast revolving door - you pray you don't crash and burn. Thanks to my very handy Lonely Planet Paris, I knew I had to make my way to the metro station below Gare du Nord and buy a carnet of 10 tickets. My hostel, Oops! Budget, was located in Le Quartier Latin, an area off the beaten track, but still centrally located. At 23 euros a night, it was a steal. It was clean, practically next door to the metro, new and close to restaurants. The only downside, however, was that I was in a dorm and had to share a room with 3 men. All very nice men, mind you, but men, nonetheless. Needless to say, I didn't get a lot of sleep and it was definitely an experience, but one that I'm loathed to repeat again. I would recommend the place and I would return, with an army of girls, but I probably wouldn't stay there on my own again.

After checking in, I walked back out and headed to the Montmartre area where I got down to it. First, I went to the very beautiful Basilique du Sacre-Coeur. Finished in 1919, the basilica is perched at the very top of Butte de Montmartre and has fantastic views of the city. There are three ways to get to the top - stairs as far as the eye can see, a cable car, and a mixture of pathways and stairs, which was the route I took. There were not many tourists on that cold, gray, late-January day, but there were quite a few pushy Africans peddling their crappy wares, one of whom put their hands on my wrists and wouldn't let go. For the first time ever, I felt a shock of fear while I was travelling. He was a persistent guy and I just kept saying "no" in increasing volume until he finally let me be. I don't know why, but he was just on me. A few 100 feet later, I was greeted by more pushy creeps, including one who I could have sworn spoke in Ga.

Undeterred, your plucky heroine soldiered on and made the trek all the way to the top. It was just so stunning. I kept having to stop, look around and pinch myself. My pics really can't do the basilica justice. It was so white and clean. Inside was also lovely and I took a minute to collect myself and pray for an enjoyable and SAFE time in Paris.

After I left the Basilica, I meandered through the tourist stalls in the area and bought a couple of reproductions of paintings and posters and a pretty pair of earrings. I headed south and found myself in Sexyville, or the red light district. I noticed a few skanky ladies trying to physically pull men into their strip clubs so I stuck to the pedestrian path in the middle of the road. I was tempted to go the the Museum of Erotic Art but realized that I didn't have enough time to really give the place the attention it needed. Instead, I walked down further and danced in the glow of the Moulin Rouge. It was pretty freaking cool. Just amazing. There was a line of people all the way down the block and once again I was tempted, this time to see the burlesque show. But I just didn't have the funds to see naked ladies that night, and really, it probably wouldn't have been so fun seeing it solo.

After a simple meal of Vietnamese food (I know, how French), I headed back to the hostel to get some shuteye.

The next morning, I awoke to showers and chill but I left early and went to see the most famous Parisien sites. I went to the Charles de Gaulle-Etoile metro station and started there.

The Arc de Triomphe was the first stop, and OMG, it was beyond my wildest dreams. It was huge and imposing, but awe-inspiring at the same time. I walked the length of Champs-Elysees and kept turning back to stare at it. I took so many photos and I can still recall it clearly in my head. The feeling I felt when I saw it will probably remain with me for the rest of my days.

I spent several hours along Paris' most famous avenue and stood outside such iconic buildings as the houses of Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Remy Martin without have the courage to step inside them. Not that these places were must-sees on my list, but it was cool seeing the beautiful architecture of the exteriors.

I passed by Le Grand Palais and Le Petit Palais and was shocked by how palatial these buildings were. Further down the street, the beautiful golden dome of the Hotel des Invalides,the final resting place of Napoleon, brightened up the gray skies.

I made my way along the Seine, getting closer to what many people consider the epicenter of Paris, and took my time. The sun came out and chased the rain clouds away and I basked in the heat of it. I passed by the Flame of Liberty Memorial and looked at the place where Princess Diana died. It was eerie being so close to the place where someone died so violently and publicly and I thought about how even today, the circumstances surrounding Diana's death takes a leading place on the news roster. Though this sculpture was intended as a symbol of the friendship between France and the USA, it became a shrine of sorts for the late princess.

After hours and hours of walking around in the rain, wincing with pain with each step I took (my new shoes, in particular the right one, weren't fully broken in), I made it to the Eiffel Tower.

And it was stunning. Just indescribable.

I fell in love with it, and the sky cleared and I got to behold it in all of it's amazing beauty. And I was so glad that it didn't disappoint me. There is nothing else I can say.

After a dinner of moules-frites and a dessert of a waffle with chocolate sauce, I went to the (in)famous Louvre and was really impressed. There weren't a lot of people there because I went around 7 p.m. so I didn't have to queue to see the Venus de Milo (remarkable) and the Mona Lisa (overrated), and I took my time through the Roman and Greek sculptures and paintings (my favourites). I was so happy, I even bought a book about 300 featured masterpieces. It truly was a great day.

So there it is. I had a great time and I feel like I've relived my trip by relaying it here. I was pretty tired on the last day and it was so ball-breakingly cold, that I threw in the towel in the afternoon and went back to the warmth of the hostel before I departed in the late evening. But I left satisfied. I will definitely go back. It was a great experience for my first solo trip and highly recommend Paris to anyone.

I have two more trips before I go back to work in April: the Canary Islands and Rome. New posts soon!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Catching my breath...
I can't believe we're nearly 3 weeks into 2008. A happy new year to all 5 of my readers! It feels like a lot has happened since mid-December, a series of minor adventures in the grand scheme of things. My job ended on the 19th of December and culminated with a horrific office Christmas party with scenes that I still can't get out of my head. A couple of days later, Dave and I flew to Edinburgh Airport where we were heartily welcomed by his wonderful and warm parents. We stayed in the beautiful house near the sea in Fife, Scotland and made day trips to Edinburgh and Glasgow. Scotland is truly a heartwarming country and I loved my time there.

Me and the family. This was my second time meeting the Blackwood Family and they are truly loveable people. I love his sisters and the squabbling that went on between them made me miss my own sisters. The 'rents are fantastic people and I loved talking with them. I heart all of them.

Opening our presents Christmas morning. It was a madhouse - wrapping paper flying through the air, shouts of "Oh my god, thank you!!!" and crazy generosity. Blissful.

Dave's younger sister, the talented and pretty Louise.

Trifle - yumm. This British dessert is comprised of sponge cake soaked with sherry, a layer of Jello, or as Dave's mum kept reminding me, jelly, and a layer of whipped cream. I couldn't eat this on Christmas Day because I was absolutely stuffed to the gills, but when I ate it the next day, I fell in love with it. Sweet without being nauseatingly so, trifle is a fantastic dessert. The different textures complement each other rather than fighting for supremacy, so it all goes down rather nicely. I probably wouldn't make it because it seems rather labour intensive, but I would definitely eat it if it was on the menu.

Ahh, mince and tatties. A distinctly Scottish dish. It's a simple ensemble of stewed mince meat, a side of potatoes, steamed cabbage and suet (flour) dumplings. It's a really easy dish, but I loved it. Comfort food comes to mind.

The beau and I in a pub in Kirkcaldy. I think it's called Wetherspoon's. My fro is growing.

Gringo (Graham) and I. Lovely chap.

Dave's wee sister, Caroline and her friend Claire. We were having a photo shoot in the loo. I didn't care, I was quite tipsy at this point.

Took a scenic walk on the Fife Coastal path. It was an overcast day but the sights were really pretty, especially this waterfall that seemed to appear out of nowhere.

A rickety, old pier. I wanted to walk on it, but I didn't want to fall off and either bash my head on some rocks or get wet, so I didn't.

A beached anchor we stumbled upon on our walk.

At the end of the day, Dave and I got pretty tired (we were both sick) so we had his Dad come pick us up by the side of the road. He then drove us to the lookout point and I started snapping the sunset. I must say, sunsets in Scotland are spectacular. Then again, dusk is spectacular anywhere in the world.

Same day, same locale.

One more.

Yes, I'm a grown women, but the silliest things still crack me up.

We went to the Kelvingrove Museum in Glasgow one day and it was brilllant. I don't remember how many hours we spent in there, but it was time well spent. This war armor from a Micronesia (??) was made out of the teeth of sharks. Cool.

The various expressions of man are represented on these heads.

This reminded me of something out of Jurassic Park.

The Kelvingrove from the outside. Not only was it a beautiful and well laid out museum, but it was free! My kind of outing.

I will be travelling once again very soon, this time on a couple of solo trips. First up, I'll be off to London and Paris! Check back here soon for pics and commentary.