Strolling With My Homies… Part 1: Downtown Toronto

Hello Poppets!

I’m very excited for this post as it’s the first in a new blog series I’m embarking on, called “Strolling With My Homies” based on the “wildly popular” book series by Nathalie Prézeau, “Toronto Urban Strolls…for Girlfriends”. I happened upon this book in my local Chapters and decided I would go on every one of Nathalie’s 28 Toronto walks stopping at every one of her suggested pit stops. SUMMER GOALS!

For this experiment, every stroll I go on must include a girlfriend or suitable alternative. Otherwise, what am I really doing here. On stroll 1, I was accompanied by one of my most favourite people, my friend Kate! She was the perfect partner for the first stroll because she has the same love for exploring that I do, and the same ability to pause reality for a few hours to pretend that the places we are visiting are not ones we see every day, but fresh new places like we are tourists in an exciting foreign city!

Stroll 1: Downtown

Full Loop: 4.6 km (1 hr, 10 minutes, but it took us 5 hours because we ate and gossiped and took elaborate photo shoots also)

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Katie Mae: Navigator

This stroll starts at Roy Thompson Hall, goes east along King St. then takes you down through the Courtyards in and around the Financial District, spitting you out near Front St. near the Esplanade, where you walk back West towards the CBC building (which is perfect because Kate HAPPENS to work at the CBC and gave me an exclusive tour of the building).

LET US BEGIN. (Story told mostly through photo captions because I don’t have all day!)

Stroll 1 of 28 complete!

Ugly: I guess I’ll say that the construction downtown in this area at the moment was not the greatest, but then again, looking back over the photos, I don’t notice it at all. Also, it did rain for a hot minute but that wasn’t even bad because it forced us down into a warm and cozy pub for brownies. Can’t actually see the downside there…

Awesome: I just really loved this day! Most of these routes I’ve walked a thousand times in the 14 years I’ve lived in Toronto, but this was a great way to prove to myself, there’s still so much I walk past but take for granted. I flipped a switch in my brain this day to really look around and take things in – the landscape, the atmosphere, the architecture, the art and try to experience it like it was brand new to me. And I was surprised by how many things I’ve never noticed! Also Kate was the perfect stroll companion and I hope she will do many more strolls with me!

Viking Tombs and Blue Lagoons – Iceland Part 3

Here we arrive at part 3, the final contribution to my Iceland saga! If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, check them out!

On the 7th day of our trip, we woke up in our favourite campsite, Kirkjubæjarklaustur to the sounds of sheep bleeting and children yelling to their parents about how high up they’ve climbed the mountain behind us. And the craziest thing happened. I listened for rain and I didn’t hear it. I felt for the howling wind pushing our van around and I didn’t feel it. For the first morning since we arrived, I opened the van door to shining sun! This made for a good morning as we ate our Skyr and granola and set out to find our free coffee at the gas station down to the road.

We were heading west this morning, on our way to The Blue Lagoon which we would be visiting later in the afternoon. We planned to stop at a few places on the way back, the first of which was Hjörleifshöfði, a supposedly haunted hill just east of Vik. The legend goes that the hill’s namesake, Hjörleifur Hróðmarsson was a Nordic viking who settled on the hill, building a farm, during the winter of 874 with his Irish slaves. Within a year, the slaves had killed the Viking. His brother, Ingólfur Arnarson, (who because of Hróðmarsson’s death became known as the first Nordic settler in Iceland), sought revenge on the slaves and killed them one by one. Ever since, this hill is said to be haunted, the tomb of Hjörleifur sitting at the very top, overlooking the Ocean.

After climbing the hill, visiting the tomb, signing the guestbook (weird…), and walking through some farm ruins (not the original farm…a more recent farm), we got in the van and drove towards Vik to fill up on gas and chocolate.

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Driving to Hjörleifshöfði
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Driving to Hjörleifshöfði
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Driving to Hjörleifshöfði
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So much time was spent in this van…
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This happened all the time…
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Starting the trek up the haunted hill.
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At the top of Hjörleifshöfði.
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The Viking tomb and guestbook.
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Hjörleifshöfði

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These are the graves of a family who built a farm on this hill a very long time ago.
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Together at the top.
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Overlooking the black sand beaches.
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On our way down.
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The remains of the stone farmhouse.
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nestled between hills.
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Hjörleifshöfði
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At the bottom of Hjörleifshöfði
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Jamie in the flowers

After surviving the insanity of a rare gas station on a lonely road on a Sunday afternoon, we drove to Reynisfjara Beach to check out the basalt columns (the black rock that looks like cubes stacked on top of each other), the big cave and of course, the black sand. This is the most famous of Iceland’s black sand beaches, and it’s got the tourists to prove it.This was a beautiful spot and the islands jutting out of the ocean are cool to see in person. If we had more time, I would have liked to hang out more here, but we had a plan! There’s a restaurant called Black Beach restaurant which we considered eating at, but instead decided we would hit up the Fish and Chips truck we saw earlier in the trip at Skogafoss.

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Reynisfjara Beach
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Reynisfjara Beach
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Reynisfjara Beach
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Reynisfjara Beach basalt columns
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Reynisfjara Beach basalt columns
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Cute church at Reynisfjara Beach
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Fish and Chips truck at Skogafoss
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Fish and Chips truck at Skogafoss

So back we drove to the Fish and Chips truck. Let me tell you, on a long, mostly desolate road, seeing this bright red, adorable Fish and Chips shack seems like a gift from the heavens. But in all honesty, although the owners were lovely and there was nothing really wrong with our meals, I was hoping to get a bit more out of this. Back home, chip trucks are where you get the most delicious, fresh french fries. These fries were very clearly frozen McCain or similar. The battered fish was yummy and filled us up. But for both of our baskets which each contained 1 small piece of fish and a handful of fries, the $40 didn’t seem worth it. I would recommend trying out the Skogafoss restaurant or the Black Beach restaurant instead.

Then it was my turn in the driver’s seat, taking us the rest of the way to The Blue Lagoon. This was by far the most recommended experience in Iceland – everyone asked if we were going, everyone wanted to make sure we had booked in advance (we booked a spot in the pool a week in advance but were too late to book massages – some people book 6 months in advance for this). I had a perception of this place before we went that it would be a very serene, spa like experience. And to a certain extent it was – there were luxurious change rooms to get into your bathing suits (with futuristic lockers that were hard to figure out), then you go through a door to the indoor co-ed hot tub entrance. Once you decide it’s time to venture outside, theres a half-underwater door that takes you through an “informational cave” that has a recording of the facts about the Blue Lagoon (it’s man made lagoon that’s full of natural mineral-rich water that comes from underground – the minerals in the water are said to have many health benefits). And then you just float around in the warm water! You’re also encouraged to get a free mud mask, so when you look around it’s just a sea of people with white goo on their faces. There’s a nice section that has a dry sauna, a wet sauna and a steam room like other spas I’ve been to. But unlike other spas I’ve been to, this one also had large groups of tourist children on school trips. Because although this is spa-like it’s also a very popular tour destination. So while I might have expected a quiet, float around the pool, I didn’t expect there to be several 15 year old Scottish boys on a field trip doing pull-up competitions on the wooden archs. I also didn’t expect there to be a swim up bar either, but that was more of a happy surprise. All in all, it was gorgeous and I loved it. Floating in warm water can do no wrong.

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At The Blue Lagoon…In the information cave
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At The Blue Lagoon…In the information cave
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Out in the foggy mist at The Blue Lagoon
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Jamie also thinks this is a romantic place.
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The hoards lining up for free face mud masks
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mud masks acquired.
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Mud monster in the mist…

That night, we had our one and only restaurant dinner in Iceland at Snaps Bistro. I had mussels and frites and a pistachio, goat cheese, honey concoction for dessert. It was delicious. Slightly better than hot dogs and Sidekicks, I will admit. The next morning was our last in Iceland and we spent it roaming around Reykjavik looking for souvenirs and taking in the city. It was so charming and there were so many lovely shops with lots of unique stuff.

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Delicious…and yes the French Onion Soup is 2.300 Icelandic Krona. Or $23 Canadian dollars… This is why we only ate out once.
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cheeyaws!
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Americans at the bar drinking $25 Long Island Iced Teas.
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Reykjavik
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Rooster in Reykjavik
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The Always Christmas store!
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Such nostalgia for childhood here
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Fancy stores selling fancy designer stuff
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lots of yummy smelling things
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Just the kind of random cute shops I love
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Love all the paintings on the wall
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The famous Hallgrímskirkja Church
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HOT BUNS
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Pretty red door
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Reykjavik street art
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More Reykjavik street art

We had breakfast at one of the most delightful cafes I’ve ever seen, called Stofan Cafe. If you’re in Iceland looking for Hipsters, go here. They’re all here drinking coffee out of adorable tea cups and eating pastries on varying, eclectic antique chairs. Jamie had a healthy granola and berries while I dampened my sadness at this being our last day by eating a piece of chocolate cake. We strolled around until we caught our bus to Kaflavik to catch our flight home.

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Stofan Cafe – best for Icelandic hipsters
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Love the eclectic feel of this place
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In love with the retro antiques
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Healthy breakfast for Jamie
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Chocolate Cake for me.

Ugly: In Iceland, we could only afford dinner at one restaurant, the Fish and Chips truck was too expensive, and I found myself craving hot dogs and sidekicks for months afterwards. I did this to myself.

Awesome: I loved that for the last couple days of our trip, the sun came out to put a positive spin on everything we did. It’s crazy how much the sun/ weather colours our memories in a certain way. I loved walking around the city with our coffee in the sun, the fresh breeze feeling like fall. I love that it’s my last memory of Iceland.

Well, that concludes the Iceland saga! I hope I’ve provided some info for those making the trek seeing as EVERYONE I KNOW seems to be travelling there. And I couldn’t be happier – if you have the opportunity, don’t miss it. And tell me all about it when you get back.

 

 

 

 

ART ATTACK!

HI ALL!

In accordance with official 100th blog post protocol (Section 5, paragraph 2) I took a little break from blogging. In that time, I had a Super Bowl party, attended an Anne of Green Gables marathon, spent Valentine’s Day with my friend, Kari, while our menfolk shot a commercial in Capetown, South Africa, went to the AGO, saw my new favourite band, Cousins, live in concert and on the same day, sprained my ankle giving my pal, Sandy, a hug.

I hope to post a few mini-posts in the next few days with fun pictures from all these random events – mainly because I now have an internal, personal obligation to post all of my memories to the inter webs where they will live forever and ever.

So, I’ll start with my visit to the AGO to see The Great Upheaval Exhibition. I wasn’t allowed to take photos in the exhibit, but I captured some of my other favourite parts of the AGO. I went with my friends, Adam and Leigh which proved to be lucky because Adam is basically a human art encyclopedia and provided a lovely, interactive, British audio guide as we toured the exhibit. Although, I bet the mechanical, plastic audio guide wouldn’t have stared blankly at me when I frequently stated “This one has too many colours”.

UGLY: Getting to the gym every single day with increasing motivation, only to sprain my ankle hugging someone and slipping on the ice. USELESS.

AWESOME: I bought a 1000 piece puzzle of The Lady of Shalott at the AGO and it will take me 7 years to finish.

TIME CAPSULE DISCOVERY!

Attention everybody’s 10 year old self – the time capsule works. IT WORKS!

I just assumed that every kid who made a time capsule ended up either losing it, throwing it out accidentally (or on purpose if you have no heart or sense of adventure) or couldn’t wait and opened it three days after they made it. But this weekend, I came home for Thanksgiving and my mom told me she had found the time capsule I made when I was 10 in the garage. JACKPOT TIMES A MILLION! VICTORY FOR CHILDREN EVERYWHERE!

The most fun part is I have absolutely no memory of making it. I think I must have made it as a project for French class because there is a homemade French booklet that appears to predict my future from age 10 to 53. I also think I must have been instructed to include pieces of paper that explained all the items I included, because I don’t think I would have thought of that myself, and it was very helpful…

So now, I will walk you through all the exciting discoveries from my past:

This is the time capsule. It was made using a used Chicken Nuggets box.

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On the back, it instructed me not to open until 2006 (I would have been 20). Opening it in 2013 makes it that much better.

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Glorious memories!…?

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My address book. For a 10 year old, I was very popular – this book contains 5 phone numbers, one of which is my own house.

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She-Ra doll! This basically sums up my childhood. Also: THAT’s where my She-Ra doll went!!!

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This was a friendship bracelet and pin from my friend, Julie. Note: It’s an official document, as it was signed by Julie herself for authenticity.

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This is gross…

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On the back of this paper, I had taped a Werther’s Original…

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This is a “stuffed animal” I apparently made at Brownie’s. I’m convinced this is going to re-animate and kill me while I’m sleeping.

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POGS! Please note, one of my handmade POGs (yah…I had a POG maker…) reads “PPP POG GGG”. The other reads “Matt + Caitlin = <3”. Because love is ART.

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I do remember Bruce Coville being my favourite childhood author. He also wrote such literary masterpieces as “Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher”, “My Teacher is an Alien”, “There’s an Alien in My Underwear” and the “Space Brat” series.

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GAWD, MOM! Guilt trip…

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Apparently, when someone gave me a gift in 1996, I just put it in this box. That’s how much I treasured them.

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An Invitation to my 10th birthday party. I think I’ll be late…

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I understand putting the paper in to prove the date. I don’t understand why I included two articles: one about a Ford plant and the other about a stranger receiving military medals.

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This was the best part: a note to my future self. I won’t transcribe this verbatim, but the highlights are:

– “I have a major crush on Matt who lives across the street, but he is going out with my best friend Brandy-Jo Leslie.” (Future Self Note: she was NOT my best friend…)

– “I will now tell you all about my life right now. I will also make lists.”

– “Now I will tell you the kids in my class now. The ones with a black dot in front of them are NOT my friends. The ones with the red spots are my friends.” (Future Self Note: There are no black spots and I put a really big red spot next to my own name…narcissist)

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A comic book I started to write when I was 10 called “The She Devil”…it may or may not have been about an evil prostitute…

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This is the French book that was perhaps the start of it all.

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I’m pretty terrible with French, so I’m going to entertain us all by using Google translate to enlighten us to my 10 year old predictions for my future.

1997:

1. “I’ve been dancing 6 years” (Still dancing – WIN)

2. “I’ll be 10”

3. “I’m going to want a new teacher”. (BURN)

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2000 (13 years old):

“I’ll have beautiful clothes” (Wow, I was really shooting for the stars here…)

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2010 (Age 23):

“I’ll be at University” (Graduated at 20 boom)

“I’ll have a car” (NOPE, NO YOU WON’T…especially not one like the death trap in your picture, you masochist)

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2020 (Age 33):

“I’ll be famous”. (This might be the most heartbreaking news I have to deliver to 10 year old Caitlin. You are not famous. YET….come on, INTERNET!)

#3 is either “I’ll be loved” or “I’ll be love” (French people?). Either way, get a hold of yourself. I’d also like to note, that at age 10, I did NOT have glasses yet, but for some reason I really wanted them, so I’ve drawn myself here with “fake glasses” as if I would wear them without needing them. I’m also wearing a wig made of blonde ringlets? Who knows.

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2030 (Age 43):

Judging from the picture, my life is basically now over and I’m waving goodbye to good times.

I’ve also written “I’m going to ride”…into the sunset? And “I’ll be love” again. I was desperate for love, guys!

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2040 (Age 53):

I look like I’m bedridden here… I’ve written “I’ll be One Thousand”. Clearly, I was not doing as well in Math as I was in French. Or I knew that by age 53, I would have discovered the secret to youth and I will live forever.

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yyyyeeeaaaahhhhh

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There was also a really important looking letter inside an envelope…

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It was actually sealed, so I knew it had to be something very special and personal for me from me…

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The emotional rollercoaster that was this letter to myself is as follows:

Dear Caitlin, age 20,

When I’m 20 years old, I hope to be an actress, singer or cartoonist, maybe artist. Also at that age, I hope to be dating, engaged or married to Matt M. These are two things I learned to see your future: MASH tells your future in life and the other is to see your percentage of marrying a guy.

Number 1 – MASH: I will be married to David I will live in a shack, I will have 2 kids and I will drive a Limo.

Number 2 – “Matt loves Caitlin”: <gibberish math equation>. I have 65% of marrying Matt.

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I’m happy to know that even at a young age, I was concerned with the important things in life, and I had high and lofty goals for my future. Finding this time capsule has provided me with mental entertainment for years to come. I may even make another one which I will open on my One Thousandth birthday.

UGLY: Several of the things in this box were sticky…

AWESOME: Going through all this crap was sooooo fun! It’s also interesting because I’ve been thinking a lot about getting back in to Improv recently but I’ve been dragging my feet. Reading my life goals from when I was 10 reminded me how much I used to want to be on stage and how I thought it would be my whole life. It was like getting a letter from myself, telling me I should go for it. Weird. And awesome.

Nuit Blanche Toronto: A Review

Hello art lovers! This weekend was Nuit Blanche in Toronto and I have to tell you, if you’re looking for a great blog post regarding all the incredible art that was displayed last night, then you have come to exactly the wrong place. I’m sorry. You’ve been led astray. My life’s happiness relies on higher view counts on my blog stats page, so I will really say absolutely anything to get you to read this thing, including lying to you in the title.

I did attend Nuit Blanche last night and had a great time! But for me, Nuit Blanche is about walking around the city in amongst the other wide-eyed, mostly inebriated crazies. I like stumbling across the odd occurrence you would’t see on a regular night downtown, but I find for the most part, I don’t have the patience for many of the larger exhibits. You line up for an hour and whatever you end up seeing at the end of it never meets your expectations. I’m sure there are exceptions to this rule, but I’ve never lined up long enough to see those ones.

My Nuit Blanche consists of drinking ciders in the street, with my best lady friends, hugging unicorns and people made of beanie babies. It’s singing techno music and parking for a couple hours on a picnic table in the middle of the street supplied by a mystery picnic table donor. It’s eating savoury AND sweet crepes at 2am complimented by ice cream and a SEPARATE milkshake (didn’t think that order through) while a 7ft tall Batman and several of his masked friends eat at the table across from us. It’s spending an hour playing a rousing game of “catch the cab” with fellow art lovers at 3am. This is why you wear comfy shoes to Nuit Blanche.

For better or worse, I don’t see a lot of art at Nuit Blanche, but there is something special and social and communal about wandering around your city with all the other wanderers in the middle of the night… where the roads are closed and your hearts are open… (WINK).

UGLY: That sentence up there. The one I just wrote.

AWESOME:
The fact that Nuit Blanche was not completely freezing this year! Made it much more enjoyable.

Holiday Hiatus?

Weird post, weird week!

So, I arrived in Toronto to spend some excellent quality time with Jamie’s family and had a great few days. We went to the gym (once…), ate leftovers and terrible treats and most importantly, spent time laughing and being silly together. Jamie and I were planning on driving back to Kingston on Saturday to continue Christmasing, after Jamie’s uncle Phil had left. Come Saturday, my poor Mom and Dad called to say they were both very sick with a gross flu that EVERYONE IN THE UNIVERSE HAS. Jamie was also sick with the cursed disease, so we hunkered down to spend some intense lazy, restful flu-cure time inside. I made it my mission to cure him of his ailments (and I was pretty happy to be doing nothing I have to say) and we had a great day of Upstairs, Downstairs (the new one), movies, ham and eggs, leftover turkey, and chocolate chip pancakes and bacon for dinner. It was actually the best. Unfortunately, I woke up today with the exact same symptoms everyone else had before they were launched into flu time city, so although I feel OK now, I worry it’s only a matter of time before the thing takes me down. So this pause in Holiday momentum has caused my brain to think that Christmasing is over, when in fact, it will start again once we get to Kingston on Monday. So I’m considering this weird limbo my Christmas hiatus.

During this hiatus of nesting and snuggling in blankets and tea, I also spent some time thinking about the current state of my apartment decor and how pretty it is now with all the Christmas decorations. Come January, I’ll have to put all the Christmas away and go back to real life, which makes me sad and in the market for ways to spruce. I started putting together a design board for my Living room, beginning with the elements I already have and know I won’t be losing any time soon: Brown couch (although less fancy than the one on my board), brown and beige walls, exact rug, exact bookshelves, brown dresser thing and ottoman. After I stuck in the basics, I started adding little accents that I know I either already have or can get for cheap. All of a sudden, I had this cool little design board which I’ve shared with you today, because for unknown reasons, I took absolutely no pictures in the last 4 days. I can’t believe I didn’t even document the chocolate chip pancake dinner. I am ashamed.

Ugly:
Forgetting to take bloggy photos! Throat burn, sniffle nose.

Awesome:
The recent days of extreme laziness have been amazing, despite my getting ill.
Even if I don’t end up realizing my little design board dreams, I had so much fun making it, I’m going to do the same thing for my other rooms!
Going to Kingston tomorrow for continued family time and New Year’s Eve shenanigans (hopefully neither of us will be too ill for shenanigans)!

Brown Living Room
Brown Living Room

There Can Be Only One…

Um…did you notice my blog is snowing? It is. I’m making it happen with my Christmas magic.

This weekend I had a crafty-fun time at the One of a Kind Christmas Show at the Direct Energy center! I love seeing interesting, creative works of art and craft, even if I don’t buy anything. It always inspires me to pick up a paintbrush or a crochet hook, look at it intensely and then put it down as I slowly back away until next year’s bout of insanity.

This year, I went with Kate and Cheryl and I bought food. Some food I can’t talk about because it’s Top Secret possible Christmas presents. But if I end up eating it myself, I’ll tell you what it is. I did buy a bottle of my favourite Smokey Balsamic vinegar which I buy every year. I like to pretend it’s for making salad dressing, but mostly I just dip bread in it. IT IS DELICIOUS.

I also went to the Frida and Diego show at the AGO, thanks to Kate! I didn’t take any pictures for fear of being tackled, but I have to say I loved the exhibit. It was super inspiring, and I never realized how much I loved Frida’s work. I guess I just hadn’t been exposed to it much, but she’s just my cup of Mexican tea.

Ugly: The nasty headache/cold monster I continue to battle…so far I’ve held strong…

Awesome: A great weekend of artsy fartsy inspiration. After the Frida exhibit, Kate helped me buy paintbrushes and a piece of wood and now I’m a gonna paint me some purty pictures!

La Nuit des pantalons rouges.

This week we got a happy and unexpected surprise from two of our great friends, Chuck and Gabie who needed a place to crash for a couple days while they were in Toronto doing a camera test.

As they live in le Quebec, it is not often that we get to hang out with them so we’re always excited when they appear out of nowhere like magic.

Earlier in the summer they were married in Inverness, QC and Jamie and I were lucky enough to be invited to stay for their Cottage weekend nuptial spectacular. Since then, we’ve seen them more in two months than we did all last year, so I consider us lucky.

They were in town making sure their SkyMotion Video crazy robot helicopter camera device can perform using the Red Epic and they ended up sharing their demo online. They shoot the craziest arial photography and cinematography – recently they shot some footage for Newfoundland tourism and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Makes me crave the sea…

We had a fun, short visit and we said goodbye as they ran off to hang out with some mutual friends at their cottage (jealous).

Last night was my good old friend, Cheryl’s birthday party at The Gem at Ossington and Davenport. I read about their nachos online so I had to try them and let me tell you- the internet reviewers do not lie about epic dill sauce. On top of seeing lots of people I never get to see, and being able to celebrate with Cheryl, it was also an excellent excuse to wear bright red pants. I’m trying to integrate colour into my life.

After that, it was off to Kipling to smash a metaphorical champagne bottle against the side of my friend, Cristina’s new apartment. Thats what they do with new ships when they’re ready to sail. Sail, Cristina…sail with the wind.

It was fun times of dancing, wine-ing, new friend-ing and watching Aaron unpacking. Huzzah!

Unfortunately, I had to work today, so my football Sunday started late, but I am managing to catch the Giants game which we recorded earlier! Mushroom soup and grilled cheese for dinner, lovely crisp fall evening. Snuggles on the coach with Jamie. Good times in the end.

Ugly:

Working on the weekend (blech)

Awesome:

When you’re the only one in the office, you can use the great acoustics to your advantage and practise singing Christmas Carols. A the top of your lungs.

The Final European Chapter

We made it!! After more than a year, I have finally motivated my lazy ass to blog the final chapter of my Europe trip!! I promise, after this I will stop living in the past. I feel like a hibernating bear crawling out of his cave of Europe photos after a whole year of comfy slumber. Time to catch some fish.

Sooo…the final leg of our journey after the relaxing Benalmadena beach trip was a few days of urban culture in Madrid. The first thing we did after surviving the packed bus trip to the city center was unload our bags at the hostel and head down to the restaurant square to have a pint.

The first thing we noticed in Madrid was that we actually needed to use our limited Spanish. No one spoke English and after spending a week in the British stomping grounds of Benalmadena this seemed somehow shocking to us. It was was a welcome change of authenticity, so we busted out our Spanish/English dictionary and actually started trying.

We took a walk to the Royal Palace of Madrid, watched a Bride to Be wade through an ancient fountain in a strawberry costume and enjoyed the Spanish sunset. After the sun went down, we began our hunt for food. First we stumbled upon the Mercado de San Miguel (San Miguel Market) which was incredible, with food stands offering a wide variety of every food and dessert under the sun, but it was packed and we were looking for somewhere to sit down and relax. So we continued happily roaming the streets and even happened upon a few surprises along the way like the hard apple cider slushy cart (Waupoos slushy anyone!?!?!?!) and a sausage snack stand! As you know by now, our previous Spanish tapas experience had been been less than satisfactory along the way, so we were searching for something authentic but maybe a little more our style. We found exactly that at an amazing restaurant that served unique tapas like walnut and brie on a baguette smeared with caramelized onion jelly and smoked salmon with dill and brie (again…I love brie)…it was perfect. We also loved it for it’s young, fun, atmosphere – it was like the Dundas and Ossington of Madrid. I can’t find what street it was exactly, but if you Google map “cafe majaderitos Madrid”, that’s the street we were on. You know, in case you’re going to Madrid.

The next day we woke up at 9 to start our day. When we left our hostel, we realized that in a city where everyone goes to sleep at 4am, no one wakes up until 11. Especially on a Sunday. We traveled the streets searching for a cup of coffee on our way to ‘El Rastro”, a flea market said to be the largest in Europe. No coffee was to be had until we reached the market, where thankfully one of the 3,500 stalls served Jamie’s and my lifeblood. We spent several hours at this market, which was surprising because I assumed after a couple hours, Jamie would fold as many men do in shopping situations. But he bravely explored with me, as we looked for gifts for loved ones, interesting antiques and various markety snacks, even when it started pouring rain.

That afternoon, we went to The Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum where we saw some of my favourite artists’ works up close. We were going to go to the Museo del Prado which is the most famous Art Museum in Madrid, but we kind of ran out of time, chose which artists were our personal favourites and most of those works were in the Thyssen. It was amazing until the museum started to close and we had to leave…then we went for a walk over to the Museo del Prado and took pictures there as if we actually went inside. Which we didn’t. We hung around on the grassy hill and people watched, then walked back to our hostel through the Parque del Retiro, a big, pretty park next to the Artists Walk. We soaked up the sunset and took as many photos of random architecture as we could because tonight was our last night in Europe. We finished off the day at the same restaurant as the night before, got gelato and went went to sleep.

The next day, we had a fancy shmancy breakfast to cheer us up because we were leaving.

This was the best trip of my life so far (hence why I spent an entire year focusing on it) and I feel really lucky because a lot of people never get to get to experience a trip like that in their lifetime. It also proved that Jamie and I travel well together, which I’ve heard is not always the case with some couples. We are in the process of trying to decide where to go next, so I’ll let you know when we figure it out. But for now, I’m going to try this new thing called blogging about what’s currently happening, not what happened a year ago. We’ll see how that goes 🙂

Ugly:

Not being in Europe.

Awesome:

One of my favourite parts of Madrid was seeing paintings which I’ve admired since I was a small child, in person. I’ve been to art museums before, but I don’t think I ever saw paintings in real life that I’ve been staring at for my entire life in books. I saw paintings by Picasso, Dali, Degas, Renoir, Vermeer, Van Gogh and it was awesome.

Next time on Ugly/Awesome: Who knows!? It’s back to blogging real time!

Benalmadena – Your Home Away From Dublin!

Welcome to the museum of random tiles and archways and doors. Oh no, I’m sorry this is my blog post. I became confused because of how many random photos there are of architectural marvels (and non marvels) that occupy the space of this post.

Last time on Ugly Awesome we were rushing around Barcelona eating fried mush balls and drinking cava. This time on Ugly Awesome, we eat fried mush balls and drink Sangria and Cerveza… Andelé!

We landed in Malaga in the dead of night. We rented a space-aged European car and started our journey through winding roads and unfamiliar highways. Our GPS system kept directing us directly into water and hills and such so we were reduced to asking a man dressed as Elvis to direct us to Sunset Beach Club resort in the Beach town of Benalmadena. When we arrived, the area was pitch black and the only thing we could really see about our hotel was that it was right next to the beach – success! We checked in to our odd room with two single beds (Apparently it was the only option…I’d like to see the Honeymoon Suite). The room was good and our harrowing journey had made us tired, so we shook hands and retired to our own beds.

In the morning, when I woke up, I opened my eyes and had the surprise of my life – in front of me, through the window, was the most beautiful view of the Mountains. I hadn’t even realized the mountains were there the night before and here they were like they’d grown there over night. Thus began our week of Beach goodness.

I’d never had a vacation where the purpose of the trip was to sit on a beach and drink cocktails and soak up the sun (Sheryl Crow) so I was beyond excited. I threw on a bikini and informed Jamie it was Red Lobster time (time for me to sit in the sun until I resembled my arch nemesis). We head down to the pool and grew comfortable there. Along with the sandy, wavy beach, the pool became our grazing ground for the next several days. It was magic.

I should mention that our initial expectation of Benalmadena was that it was an exotic place filled with the scent of various spices and the sight of shirtless Spanish men (and women) and we would sip on coconut milk whist the breeze combed our sandy hair with it’s warm tines. That first day on the beach, we were informed through casual conversation that Benalmadena was the prime vacation choice for Irish, Scottish and English tourists. So instead of various spices, the boardwalk smelled more like Bangers and Mash. The shirtless Spanish men were in fact fat, sunburnt Irishmen (and women) and could be heard most times of the day slurring about more “pints from the dollar machines, you tosser!”. Jamie and I were surprised at first, but grew to love our Coronation Street companions and re-adjusted our beach vacation rose coloured glasses.

About half way through our beach week, we decided we should do something historic and productive, so we asked the resident event planner for ideas. She told us about Alhambra – Apparently the main reason why many tourists come to Spain, Alhambra is a collection of very impressive palaces located in Granada. It was built in the mid 14th century by Moorish rulers before it was re-possessed by Catholic Monarchs. It’s famous for being built by several different cultures, depending on who owned it over the years and who built more additions to the palaces. In the end, it incorporates traditional Arabic design elements with Christian and Jewish additions as well as parts of the palaces which are French and Italian inspired. Basically it looks like Paradise.

Jamie and I awoke extremely early in the morning in hopes that we could secure a spot to tour the grounds (Most people book weeks ahead – but we had only just heard of it!) We arrived at 8am and managed to grab a tour at 2 in the afternoon. We whiled away the time sipping delicious Café con leche and watching a mama cat transport her new kittens from their little nest in a tree to their new home behind the restaurant. We explored Granada – the town Alhambra sits in, and hiked up a steep, foresty hill to the entrance where we took our tour.

Alhambra can only be described in pictures, which is why there are so many of them down there! It was probably the most impressive place I’ve seen in real life and I would recommend going to anyone who happens to be doing the Spain thing. I won’t go on and on about it, just promise to look at some of the seemingly boring pictures…but then imagine someone making it by hand in the mid 14th century…And if it’s still boring, imagine them doing the hustle in the nuddy pants. See, history can be exciting!

Ugly

My red, blotchy face in most of these pictures. I walked too much that day. Too much.
Eating a questionable egg salad sandwich after it was in my hot backpack for several hours…bad idea.
Most British people, apparently. I watch Corrie – I should have known.

Awesome

Pretending you are a Ferrero Rocher goddess in Paradise who walks on water whilst eating the chocolate of the Gods…(it was actually a Haagen Dazs Ice Cream Bar, but it was tasty and refreshing after our long tour of the amazing Alhambra)
BEACH VACAY #1! (Hopefully 1 of several more)

NEXT TIME ON UGLY AWESOME:

Caitlin’s Birthday – Will it involve a Spanish carnival? YOU DECIDE!

Picaso Museum – White and bare just like my bikini bod!

Mountain Climbing – Not just for goats anymore!

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