Saturday, December 30, 2006

I'm Not a Citizen

When I first arrived in Toronto, I went to see a band. They played a song with a chorus that repeated itself thusly:

I'm not a citizen *clap-clap clap*

Everyone in the band, all 11 or 12 of them, chanted and clapped along. I wondered if they were trying to tell me something. Yet Toronto was a very welcoming place, so much so that I look forward to moving there in the New Year. What I didn't expect was how small it would now seem.

St. John's has been a bit of a culture shock. It's great to be home, but if I had no exit strategy I think I'd probably wind up sleeping myself into a coma.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Coined

I’ve coined a new term: proactive puttering. It means slowly making your way through the day via a series of mundane yet necessary tasks which, if left unaccomplished, will eventually incur the stress and anxiety normally associated with having to complete a mountain of tasks with a molehill of time and a firmly fixed deadline.

I’ve the day to myself as everyone I know is tucked snugly into the nook of their current occupation, and so I must currently occupy myself. What better way to do so then by meandering through laundry and household scrubbing, sifting through my personal affects and affairs, and, well, blogging? The latter’s perhaps not as practical in terms of getting me ready to leave London, but it does help put me at ease amidst a day littered with sudden little pockets of anxiety.

The party was very good fun. It seemed to go on forever, and in an instant it was over. If pressed, I’d describe my time here in London the very same way.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Two Days in Paris

I've been to some other French-speaking parts of the world, which shall remain nameless, where they mock your attempts to speak French among them by immediately replying to you in English. Not so in Paris. Here, with my sad attempts at French communication, I am treated with dignity and respect.

Je suis quelqu'un!

My immediate impression of Paris upon first stepping out into it this morning, from the luxurious flat my Mom and I arrived in late last night, was that it is much cleaner and more authentic than I'd expected. To pick up some tomatoes, bread, cheese and salami for brunch I needed to visit four different shops: the formagarie, the bakery, etc. How utterly charming and reaffirming. While I was able to put at least two of the four shopkeeps I'd visited into a grump over my not knowing the ettiquette of the French customer, I still walked away feeling the love that gives this city its romantic reputation. Love oozes out of every element and aspect of Paris... even, as it were, the air, despite its pelting us with rain from high atop the city in the Eiffel Tower this evening. The view of Paris from above at night is flawless.

I leave tomorrow night on the Eurostar for London, while my Mother remains until Monday morning. I have a leaving do to attend (apparantly I'm leaving the country in less than two weeks), which I hear is going to be huge.

See you there!

Friday, November 10, 2006

That Was Hard

I booked my ticket back to Canada tonight. From work. I was in the middle of ten other things and trying to get my head around the special event I have to run tomorrow morning, getting me out of bed at 5am for the second Saturday in a row, and then I had my ticket booked and the confirmation, so unceremonial, was there on the screen staring me in the face. I leave London, with no certainty of return, in 25 days.

I've heard of lamer excuses to throw a party...

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Time, etc.

I would have liked to have been posting to this blog with a greater frequency than never since returning from Ireland, but my internet access has been poor at best.

Today marks two weeks since I moved in with Eleanor, back into my old room. We still see each other about as much as when I didn't live with her, but plans are in the works for a meal together soon. I've been perfecting a pasta sauce recipe of minimal yet all fresh ingredients just for the occaision. Lucky us!

Work has been great, things are falling into place, everyone is doing their jobs and getting along quite well. Bob enters the mix tomorrow. This should be interesting. My commute is a dream - half by train, half by foot. It seems very few people realize the advantage of walking from Victoria to Knightsbridge over taking the tube, and for my own much-enjoyed sollitude I'd quite happily like to see it stay that way.

In harsher news, I'm running out of time. Its less than two months until the flight I have yet to buy my ticket for departs London for Toronto, thus ending my near-two year love affair with this city. At a time like this, I can't help but have my attention drawn to the eerily pessimistic tone of the word 'countdown'.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ireland

The pints and the fists were flying last night, while in Ireland things had remained mainly calm. Go figure.

We arrived back in London Tuesday night, after a three day music festival in Stradbally, Co. Laois and a seven night stay in an empty house on the seaside outside of Dingle in Co. Kerry.

The festival, Electric Picnic, hosted its fair share of intoxicated dramas among our group - mixed, occasionally, with the sporadic enjoyment of live music. Broken Social Scene were the highlight for me, 2ManyDJs were unbelievable and Yo La Tengo had me at hello.

The house was absolute serenity; epic walks along cliffs and over rolling hills, picnics, kites and sand castles on the beach, pints around the pool table at the pub, a roaring fireplace every night.

Now I find myself back in London, homeless and nearly penniless, and the harshness of reality is setting in. I start back at Harrods on Monday for seven weeks of setting up and three weeks of running the Christmas Grotto. Having a job to take me through to the end of my visa is comforting, I just need to scrape together enough money to get me back and forth until my first paycheque comes through, nevermind finding a place to live.

I miss Ireland.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Budapest

**This blog entry has been posted late. Its date has been set to August 25th, when it was intended to be uploaded, but has in fact been posted on August 30th. Apologies.**

Cosmopolitan, contemporary, ancient: Budapest is a modern, stylish city with absolute old world charm. While the shock of the Communist era of oppression may not have completely warn off, nor should it, this is very much a city in the now. In planning for this part of the journey I was expecting to find something big, bustling, a little messy and a lot of fun, and that’s exactly what I got.

The truth about Budapest is you need to have your energy reserves on full to make the most of your time there, and unfortunately by the time we arrived our tanks were coming up on empty. The St. Stephen’s Day celebrations which greeted us upon our arrival certainly got us caught up in the excitement, and the bicycle tour we took the next day gave us plenty of insight and some fantastic views, but from there on in it was pretty much up to us, and we’d unanimously declared we were going to take it easy. Fortunately for us, taking it easy was made easy on us with a trip to the thermal baths.

After over three weeks and four destinations, with lots of little destinations in between, we were finally ready to come home Thursday night. I’d happily visit each and every one of the destinations on this holiday again, but for now London will do just fine… until this Thursday when we leave for Ireland, that is.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, here's a look back at Budapest.


This mysterious hooded character is believed to be responsible for recording much of Hungary’s early history, though his identity remains unknown. His pen, when rubbed, is meant to enhance or improve one’s skills in writing. Clearly I’ve dispelled that little myth.

Having survived the long climb up the hill to Buda Castle, Laura takes a well deserved fluid break.

Meanwhile, Agnes, our tour guide, drops some knowledge as the boys from our group… admire the view.

Protected from public demolition by a fence, this monument is one of only two still standing that has any ties to the Communist Era of Budapest. A paradox, it symbolizes both Hungary’s liberation from Nazi occupation and their control under Communist oppression. In the far background is the spire of the House of Parliament, atop which the same star, the symbol of the Communist Party, once stood. Behind me, facing the Communist monument, stands the American Embassy. Even Agnes had a chuckle at that one.

The awning of the Terror Museum literally casts a shadow of terror on itself, which creeps along its fa├žade throughout the day as a chilling reminder of the recent past. If you haven’t gotten it yet, Hungary really didn’t appreciate Communism.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Storm in Budapest: Sadness Today, Anger Tomorrow

Three people are dead and two still missing, it has been reported by a government spokeswoman today. The shock and sadness was evident throughout Budapest this morning as people set out to start their work day, some to quite literally pick up the pieces from last night's sudden outbreak of violent weather. Throughout the city's squares, parks, and among the cafes and restaurants, remnants of the storm saw people sweeping with a broom, gathering in their arms or in some cases hoisting with a crane to remove the various elements of debris.
It is understandable, having witnessed the scale of the storm and the size of the crowd gathered when it struck, how devastation of this magnitude could have been caused. What can't be understood is how, despite warnings from meteorologists that this storm was going to strike when it did, the celebrations were not cancelled and the spectators not warned. The very fact that the fireworks display continued throughout the storm, the outbreak of panic, the surging and dispersing of the crowds and beyond was utterly surreal; that it shouldn't have gone ahead in the first place, utterly baffling.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Blasted in Budapest

The rumbling of fireworks and thunder battling one another continues, now 20 minutes since the storm that seemed to come from nowhere hurled itself upon the gathering of tens of thousands of people along the Danube tonight.

Torential rain, heavy wind and the debris carried with it pelted down upon us only minutes after a fireworks display began in celebration of St. Stephen's Day, a national holiday that saw a naval and air show during the daylight hours with hundreds of stalls selling food and beverage dotting both sides of the Danube between the three main bridges connecting the Buda and Pest sides of the city.

Panic set in immediately, first among the screaming children, then quickly throughout the massive gathering as branches the size of people started tearing from the trees and flying into the crowd. Fast flying debris struck myself and others in the face as we looked around in disbelief, trying to survey the scene, while others simply ran in any direction that took them away from the river, from which waves of water were lifting out and further drenching anyone within 100 or more feet of its edge.

Strangely, the fireworks continued, its colors now clashing with the blue flashes streaking through the clouds, its crumpled rumbles mere finger tappings to the oversized cracks of sound rippling through the sky.

The hostel we're in is now full of dripping, overexcited young people, eagerly exchanging stories of where they were and what it was like when it happened. Outside, the storm continues, heard best through the broken window in the hostel kitchen.

The Dalmatia Coast of Croatia

Welcome to Croatia, where the beach is always thataway...

After spending all our time in cramped hostels and cool climates, among pushy people while eating boiled meat, Croatia was a welcome oasis. Our room, a ground level appartment, was huge, with its own full sized bathroom, kitchen, even a tv. The weather was always sunny and hot, the people laid back and cool, and the cuisine a delicious fusion of Italian and fresh seafood.

Scooters, pizza, pasta and espresso done right, the Italian influence in Croatia is everywhere, as are the Italians.

Split, where we stayed, is a gorgeous and ancient city at the heart of the Dalmatia Coast on the Adriatic Sea. There are still remnants of the Roman Empire in Split, nestled in amongst the cramped, cobbled alleyways all teeming with shops and cafes. From here a constant fleet of ferry liners will take you away to the various islands along the coast. We spent a day in Bol, on the isle of Brac, where the beach extends out into the sea like a long, pebbly finger, and another day in Stari Grad on the isle of Hvar at a cozy little corner of the bay among mostly locals, snorkling and bathing in the sun. Otherwise, bumming around Split, whiling away the hot mornings and afternoons at the sandy beach, lazily wandering the evenings away through the old part of the city in search of just the right restaurant or cafe, saw us the rest of the way through.

We're now in Budapest, on the final leg of this four legged tour, and we've managed to catch up on the sleep we were in need of after soaking up all those rays. Lots of big days ahead, but here's a few to look back on...

Getting lost in amongst the tightly squeezed buildings in the old part of Split is easy, and easily romantic.

Talk about romance, try taking a ferry cruise on the Adriatic Sea to a tiny island destination.

Seriously.

When you're done being all smoochie and gross, why not try some snorkling? Its a whole other kind of being smoochie!

Doing our part to keep the post card industry alive.

Laura gears up for her first ever parasailing adventure!

I think she liked it...


Monday, August 14, 2006

Picturesque Zakopane

Welcome to Zakopane, where every days is a...
!!
One moment you'll be feasting on a waffle with your favortie topping on it...... amongst thousands of Polish tourists in the middle of the busy town center.
The next you're wandering the rustic old world market at an extremely high altitude,
then hiking down the rugged hillside,
stopping from time to time to admire the mountainous view.

What you wouldn't expect when you got back down to the bottom is that you'd suddenly find yourself 200 feet up, admiring the view all over again, only this time while teetering inside a tiny cage suspended from a giant crane with a bungee cord secured to your ankles.

The video below demonstrates my first, and certainly not last, bungee jump.

Standing on that edge, everything that makes you a living thing demands that you go no further. There is a barrier more real than thought keeping you from making that jump. That jump is clearly death; its clearly impossible. You're not thinking about whether this is safe; you're not concerned you might get hurt. You simply know, without thinking, that if you do this you're going to die. Then something happens. There is a surge from inside. Logic and illogic combine for a brief, incredible moment and burst through your primal will to survive. Suddenly you're leaning forward, your hands are letting go, you're tipping, tipping, the wind is in your hair, and your feet no longer touch the edge. No. Everything is horrible chaos. You have no control over anything. Absolute terror burns through you. Then suddenly the fear smashing all throughout inside you becomes the fuel for something so pure and euphoric. Andrenaline saturates the system and you are an endless explosion of triumph as the stretch of the chord finally takes hold and you are faster, fast, slower, slow, then sucked up into the sky, a celebration.

Or, as the instructor in the cage told me just before I jumped, in his Polish broken English, "First you will be like, 'Oh fuck! Oh fuck!' Then the adrenaline hits you and it will be like... tonight, nothing will piss you off!"



Friday, August 11, 2006

Krakow

Prague certainly was charming, but Krakow's the one with character. Particularly Kazimierz, the old Jewish Quarter, with all the gritty cafes, bars and restaurants; just far enough away from the main square, Rynek, to keep most of the tourists from wandering in and dumbing the place down. To be fair, from what I've seen Krakow is actually less a tourist destination that it is a place for travellers.

Pierogies are incredible. I love the Polish traditional food, especially the way its served to you - it ain't. Even in a proper restaurant you get a number and when your order's up your number's called and you head on over to the counter to get it yourself. I can only assume it must be helping to cut down on costs, because I can't remember the last time a ball of pocket lint got me so far.

There's nothing quite like Polish vodka, and Zubrowka is the one that takes the cake - or pie as it were... apple pie. Mixed with apple juice, you'd swear you had a slice of mom's best in your glass.

After a night of clubbing (coming right up!), tomorrow will find us on the bus to Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains for a little weekend getaway, then its one more night in Krakow before catching a flight to the beach in Split, Croatia. Plenty more to come. And now, a look back...

Rynek is a beautiful and very large town square with lots of busy surrounding side streets with shops, cafes and clubs, but turn enough corners and you're sure to find a quiet place to escape.

Inside the walls of Wawel Castle they've got cathedrals on top of cathedrals. Kind of reminded me of George Street in St. John's. If the cathedrals were all bars. And the parishners all drunk?

Sitting at my favorite cafe cum bar, Vergano in Kazimierz, Laura pens an epic postcard while I admire the striking beauty of my latte.

Vergano again - this place has totally become our haunt - and I'm slurping on a big juicy slice of apple pie. That's Zubrowka and apple juice if you've skipped past all the boring words, above.

Finally, some entertainment from Rynek Square. This is a long video, nearly 10 minutes, but I just couldn't stop shooting (unfortunately, my memory card had its limits). Breakdancing, a drum kit, coreography and all the shapes you could ever hope to throw. These kids had it going on.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Krakow Quickie

The weather's improved, my health's improved, we're totally having an awesome time.

Computers here aren't always... usable. Sometimes I'll make a post and it will be missing some content. Don't be surprised if you scroll back over something you've already viewed and there's a new passage or photo or the like. Apologies for this, but sometimes I honestly feel like I'm carving stone tablets here...

Apart from that, like I said, awesome.


The preceding has been a Krakow Quickie.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Prague to Krakow *or* How I Learned the Truth About Night Trains

First, a confession: I've been keeping things from you. For one, it rained in Prague every day apart from the day we first arrived when it was gorgeous; grey skies and generous portions of rain met us every day after. Also, I've been suffering from a cold. Every day my throat gets more and more swollen and I'm less and less able to swallow. These are things that were never really worth mentioning before since we're doing our best not to let them affect our holiday. We still had a fabulous time in Prague. But admittedly, I don't know how much more of this we can take. My throat is at its all time most swollen, and despite being met by sun and blue skies upon our arrival in Krakow today, the moment we decided to step outside we were assaulted with thunder, lightening and a torrential downpour. Still, we have hope.

The journey here was quite the affair. Sleeper trains. They should really look into renaming those. Our train was loud, cramped, stuffy, and stopped often and abruptly, making sleep an adventure in futility. At around 2am a loud persistant knocking on our cabin door introduced me to an intimidating Polish officer demanding our passports, which I supplied wearing nothing but my underpants and a groggy expression approaching fear. Satisfied, he shoved the documents to my chest and began rapping on the adjacent cabin's door. Back to broken sleep for me. Did I mention the part about my having a throat-swelling cold??

Today was a write-off in Krakow, firstly because of our extremely early arrival/lack of solid sleep, coupled with my being poorly which saw us sleeping through the sunniest part of the day, then the downpour which got us as far as the cafe around the corner where the food was delicious and cheap but came at the price of getting cold and damp from top to toe. Still, we have hope. As I write this, the storm clouds above appear to be breaking up. The rain has stopped and patches of blue sky are emerging. We've bought ourselves a deck of cards and are prepared to spend the evening in bed going fish, conserving our energy for a big, bright, adventurous day tomorrow, when and where anything is possible.

We're in Krakow! I know you're jealous.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Prague

Greetings from Prague!

A friend of mine said, shortly before my departure, that Prague is like a fairy tale. And she was right. This is a place where they let you inside the palace walls to wander in amazement. Its so easy to get lost here, and doing so without a trail of breadcrumbs to mark your way is really quite the treat. The cuisine is a delightful combination of meat, dumplings and brie, with lots and lots of cheap, delicious beer (Pilsner Urquell!!) to wash it all down. Nobody litters here, apart from the tourists. The Metro is clean and simple to navigate and the trams and plentiful and always on time...

The only thing I would caution visitors against is the marionette theatre - its HORRIBLE!!! We were expecting real marrionettes (you know, like the heart wrenching stuff from Being John Malkovich?) but instead we got two sticks attached to wrists coming up from under the stage, bopping around to a recording of Mozarts "Don Giovanni". This was meant to go on for some two hours. We left after 20 minutes and reclaimed our night by getting lost and discovering a quaint little ice cream parlour with a variety of whimzical flavours to choose from and an even more whimzical harpist plucking and strumming right there inside the shop as we browsed. Chocolate ice cream as dark and as rich as the depths of the Earth.

We leave for Krakow this evening on the night train. This journey has only just begun...

... and here is a look back so far:

This is Prague as seen from Praysky Hrad, the palace, high above the old part of the city.

A not uncommon sight, the myriad of tourists wandering the streets of Prague often consult their guidebooks as the wander. Here, Laura immitates one such tourist. Right...

Did I mention the beer? Cheap, delicious, and lets say nutritious. I love beer. I mean, Prague.

Jana, Laura´s friend from their old Harrods days who has since returned to her native Czech Republic, was unnendingly kind enough to let us stay in her very modern and conveniently located flat here in Prague. She is awesome. But she can't have my dumpling.

Below, some entertainment from the Charles Bridge.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Glade

Matt B. couldn't have known when he sent me the e-mail about The Glade that he'd be switching me on to my first ever music festival. Though, having been the year before, he surely knew how amazing it would be. Dammit if he wasn't bang on about that one.

3 days and nights of camping, electronic music and all the dancing you could muster. Everyone there had the same agenda: have a fabulous time amongst thousands of other people, all having a fabulous time. It took everyone to make it happen, but in the end we all succeeded!

I could go on about the beautiful weather, the dazzling decor, the music, the vibe, the bond, the way everything so seamlessly came together to make The Glade an unforgettable, unrelentingly incredible experience, but I'd fail if I tried. So instead I'll throw a few pictures at you, with a couple of captions to boot, and a little bitty video clip for good measure.

Welcome to our humble abode.

Beth was totally the chef!

Various elements of the decor.

The early morning queue for the showers. Most people abstained from what I could tell. I took one all weekend, and it was magic.

Most of the stages at Glade were inside giant tents. The Origin Stage was one of two exceptions. Hard thumping music got us kicking up the dust each day til sunset.

Things may have cooled a bit at night, but inside the tents it was nice and sweaty!

At 4am the main stages would all shut down til noon, but at the tea hut right on our camp doorstep an afterparty was always underway with great tunes, hot drinks and just enough happy dancing people to make staying up a couple more hours a worth while trade for a hot and stuffy tent come bed time!

Let loose. Wear a lampshade. You never know who you'll meet!

I'm told meeting and getting to know lots of different people is what's at the heart of any great music festival, and The Glade was no exception.

Of course the best part of all is you end up even closer to the one's you're with.

But what about the dancing? Its a tricky thing to describe, and photos simply don't work, so below is a small video sample of the vibe going down in the late afternoon at the Sancho Panza tent, our favorite place to boogie down at The Glade by far. The music is entirely distorted in this clip, nothing like the shiney beeps and happy thumps we bopped and waddled to, but the dancing comes through clear enough. Enjoy!