Canadians assume you go to Cuba for all-inclusive beach vacations, a normal assumption since it’s cheaper to book that type of vacation than just a flight by itself.

Having opted out of the resort-style in order to to stay right in Havana (while still getting the airport transfers and hotel included- sweet deal!), I felt a little nervous- as I always do before a trip- that I’d forgotten to how to travel and that I would never figure it out again.

But the shock of the sight of the ocean and cars from the 1940s reminded us what it is like to discover and rediscover, my mother and I dusted off the frustrations of airports and broke out our rusty Spanish. Once settled, we slowly began to learn how to navigate the puzzling streets of Old Havana.

We also learned how and where to change money (flexible fact: to change money at a fancy hotel, you have to stay at a fancy hotel… which we weren’t. Exceptions occur on Sundays, sometimes).

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Our nearly-daily money-changing ritual at la cadeca (we aren’t very good at estimating how much we’ll need, apparently).

After being taken for a ride and charged $5 for two tiny bottles of water the first day, we also learned where to eat and to ask how much things cost before agreeing to them, no matter how thirsty we were.

When our feet got tired and hot, we’d duck into fancy hotel lobbies. This is where we realised that while our little hotel may be fine for us (the towel-folding art delighted us each evening when we got back), it was no fine hotel. For instance:

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Not our hotel.

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Not our hotel.

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Not our hotel.

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Swans made out of towels in our hotel!

We did get a little sick of the dust and chaos and and noise and this was supposed to be a vacation! So I got a beautiful sunburn on the Playa del Este, the local beach (about 20km from Havana) and had the best shrimp I have ever had in my life at the canteen near the beach.

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We sat in the shade all day, and yet…

I ended up as pink as this delicious mountain of grilled shrimp.

I ended up as pink as this delicious mountain of grilled shrimp.

My mother and I went to Cuba and spent a week walking around Havana.

Despite the overwhelming taxi options in Havana (classic Cadiallac, coco taxi, horse-drawn carriage, scooters…), we walked. And slowed down by our feet and the humidity and the heat, we saw all the textures of the falling-apart colonial houses, the layers of arches and doors and courtyards, the restoration, the sleeping dogs, and the dusty streets.

Here are a few shots of walls (and one dog) in Havana:

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Every year, Ontario buildings open their doors so you get to explore places you’re usually not allowed to go. Or wouldn’t think to go. Or can only go under specific circumstances (like paying admission).

I started the morning with a walking tour led by the Theatre Museum of Canada where I learned a little bit more about downtown theatres (did you know YPT used to house horses that pulled streetcars?). Then I met my dad (and had a fancy lunch surrounded by fancy ladies wearing pearls and drinking martinis) and we joined the masses. We didn’t go into the Design Exchange because there was a line up.  But we went into Old City Hall, the Ontario Heritage Fund headquarters, the Bank of Commerce, and the Elgin and Wintergarden theatres.

Having been to both theatres before, I didn’t anticipate how magical it would be to wander around and take pictures (take pictures in a theatre! in a theatre!) It was magical indeed.

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Inside the Wintergarden Theatre in Toronto.

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Seats at the Wintergarden.

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A view of the stage from the balcony.

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The Eglin Theatre: where, in 1992, I realised I probably needed glasses during a performance of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat starring Donny Osmond.

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If this was truly “Doors Open,” we’d be allowed in the box seats. Non, mais!

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Theatre stairs. I got pretty excited taking pictures in a place you’re not supposed to take pictures, normally.

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The Elgin: a theatre of contrasts. Black brick stage surrounded by glitzy glam red and gold.

Freezing my feet off on a train platform (despite fancy new angora socks and fidgety dance moves) was worth the sight of an almost empty frost-incrusted Chateau de Versailles.

No crowds. Quiet and crisp.

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Frosty dude.

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Perfectly still lake in the gardens.

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The palace with mist and shallow frozen puddles perfect for cracking.

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Royal sheep

Peter Brook turned 90 yesterday and he’s still at it.

I feel very lucky to have seen a couple of his productions in my life. Once, when he brought Sizwe Banzi est mort to Montreal and then when we went to Paris and I finally had the chance to set foot in the Bouffes du Nord theatre.

As a once-aspiring theatre director myself (I am no longer aspiring in the sense that I have more or less given up), he inspired me with his writings and ideas and experiments. His 60-year-old production of Titus Andronicus became the backbone of my MA dissertation (for which I cherish and hate him. The reasons for these feelings will be obvious to anyone who has written a dissertation about anything). One of the most magical (nerdiest?) moments of my research was when I found my way to the theatre museum archives in London and, while leafing through Brook’s prompt book, worked on deciphering his penciled notes in the margins.

He is an important director with a career spanning 65 years. He is still working. And in January, I got to see his production of Beckett’s Fragments at the theatre he found in 1974 as the home for his company.

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Théâtre Bouffes du Nord, before the show

I was happy to be able to smugly say that I would be seeing Beckett in Paris, darling. But I was mostly happy to see the insides of this theatre. I was relieved and thrilled, really, that the building had the same magical feeling that BAM’s Harvey Theater had (also renovated for a Peter Brook production).

You can feel the history, the age, the ghosts in this theatre. The wooden seats, the unpolished clockwork-like ceiling, the distressed paint on the walls… It was great that the performance was funny and moving and that the chosen pieces exposed Beckett’s silly, human side (he can be a bit bleak, can’t he?), but I wouldn’t have cared because the space was so rich in its simplicity (much like Brook’s direction). A bit of history and lots more pictures can be found here.

People of all ages in fancy and/or bohemian Parisian garb sat on the floor in the front rows. We sat on the shallow balcony next to a couple of theatre students with hearty laughs. The place was full.

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This is the inside of the theatre (stolen from Wikipedia).

I was on a high after the show- the theatre, the play, Katherine Hunter’s amazing voice, being in Paris, taking the metro to a neighbourhood I’d never seen, having a boyfriend who will enthusiastically go see Beckett- but the night was still young. There was still steak frites and wine and beer to have and an old friend to see.

My new year’s resolution to write (more often, more consistently, better, at all) has all but been forgotten. But February 17th is a new day and to kick things off around here with a manageable post, to dust off the key board and get back into the world of words, here are some pictures from my recent escape to Iceland and France. Enjoy!

We flew to Paris with Iceland Air, taking advantage of their free stop-over option. Just a short one because Iceland is very expensive. Surprisingly for an expensive place, many hotels and shops and random ice-cream shops in the middle of nowhere will give you free coffee. “No charge,” they’d say. And we’d be happy and warm and awake.

On our first day, the only place we felt we could afford in Reykjavik was a salad and soup buffet- unlimited food and a nice ambiance!  The rest of the time we feasted on grocery-store nibbles (not pictured).

This soup was coconut (Thai-inspired) and delicious and warmed my insides. It was so good I didn't think to take a picture until it was pretty much done.

This soup was coconut (Thai-inspired) and delicious and warmed my insides. It was so good I didn’t think to take a picture until it was pretty much done.

We had heard about some sort of famous hot dogs that are a staple of drunken Icelanders. We put all our krona together and bought a couple.

Don't tell Iceland, but these hot dogs are just as horrible as they look. Both parties got sick after eating these. Never trust weird creamy mustard crap.

Don’t tell Iceland, but these hot dogs are just as horrible as they look. Both parties got sick after eating them. Never trust weird creamy mustard crap.

Our flight to Paris was cancelled due to wind, but we managed to afford another day in Iceland by getting a hotel room and meals paid for (thanks, Iceland Air!)

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This was our official voucher for our dinner at Olsen Olsen, issued by the hotel.

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This is an Icelandic hamburger and fries meal. They have powdered ketchup if you want your fries to taste like ketchup chips.

When we got to Paris (just a day later than expected), we mostly made ourselves baguette with ham and butter, being the thrifty foodies we are. These were eaten in various cemeteries and on basilica steps.

There were exceptions to the ham and baguettes since we wanted to sample Parisian delicacies. Obviously.

We braved the line-up at a very popular “best falafel” place in Le Marais and I didn’t order falafel.

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This is a chicken shwarma as big as my hand.

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This is the chicken schwarma after I ate it (with help).

After walking off the schwarma and falafel, we stopped for your typical patisseries.

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This is a chocolate eclair. I forgot to take a picture until I was halfway done.

Moving on to dinner, Paris is the city to indulge in prix-fixe, multi-course bistro dining.

For my birthday, I was taken to such a fancy-pants establishment. Check out what I ate (all in one sitting!):

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It was such a fancy-pants place that they gave us beautiful bread and a terrine and pickles. I forgot to take a picture before we massacred it.

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Fully knowing it was going to be far too rich for an appetizer, I still ordered a shrimp risotto with squid ink. The presentation was much nicer before I was half-way through with it (pictured here).

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This was some kind of lamb. I might remember what it was more clearly if I had remembered to take a picture before I was done eating.

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Delicious chocolate and cherry dessert. Looks a mess here but was quite nice when it arrived at the table when most instagrammers photograph their food.

We had big plans of avoiding touristy things and just, you know, being in Paris. Instead, we got Nutella-banana crêpes and went up the Eiffel Tower.

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Crêpe et tour Eiffel. Looks gross. Wasn’t.

So that was a compilation of some of the food I ate. One day I will write some posts about the beauty of a frosted-over Versailles, the amazing geothermal wonders of Iceland, and all the things brought into relief when you’re used to travelling solo and then suddenly aren’t.

I know New York. I need New York. I know I need unique New York.

“Hello, poor people!” cried Alan Cumming as the MC, waving his hand at us all the way up in our balcony seats.”This can’t be much fun for you.” We chuckled and we were actually having much fun, but being in New York on a budget can sometimes feel like you’re missing something.

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Broadway can be beautiful and cheap.

During a long weekend in the big apple I must admit that I thought how nice it would be to be rich in NYC.

Having spent my entire budget on somewhere to sleep (and ok, fine, a ticket to Sleep No More– just things related to sleep then), I decided that in New York, like everywhere else, the best things in life should be (and are often if you open your eyes) free.

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Look! A new, sharp, shiny building being a bit moody.

It helped that I was there because I had $25 Cabaret tickets (Roundabout Theatre has cheap tickets reserved for people under 35 at each performance) and to meet up with this guy I like.

I resisted a cashmere sweater with an elephant holding a pink ball with its trunk and didn’t even set foot into the Kate Spade stationery store.

Instead, I watched couples kiss and practice a few shy dance steps in Grand Central Station while I waited for my Baltimore boy to arrive.

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Grand Central Station is a good place to sit down and weep in, but it’s an even better place to dance in.

Instead, we walked in the rain and avoided rats in Central Park.

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Walking in the rain and discovering secret gardens is free!

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Taking multiple pictures of ducks is a cheap and entertaining way to spend a few minutes in New York’s Central Park.

We riffled through antique shops in Chelsea and Williamsburg and window shopped at my new favourite (or only favourite) jewellery store, Adorned by Love in Nolita (I thought we were in SoHo).

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Window shopping in impossibly cool and expensive places.

We found cheap breakfasts and had falafel in the park, splurged on coffees and walked until our feet fell off.

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Walking across the Williamsburg Bridge at sunset… what could be more romantic?

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View from the bridge.

I love New York. I need new York. Know I need unique New York.

When travelling, I love checking out the local markets. Some of my strongest memories include trying to buy lettuce and a tomato from farmer’s market in Bosnia, taking pictures of intense old-lady cheesemongers in Paris, and putting various foods on a stick into my mouth at a night market in Cambodia.

So I was pretty excited to discover that Toronto now hosts a flower market that features local growers, sellers, and stylists. 

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Sometimes Torontonians need it spelled out for them.

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The flower market is pretty hip.

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Getting inspired.

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Wild fields and country in the city.

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I decided to go for it and bought four bunches (for only $20!)

I loved being able to buy flowers- a wonderful perk of not travelling.

I didn’t quite realise exactly how many flowers I’d bought until I tried to figure out where to put them all. It’s a week later and my tiny apartment is still chocked with bright blooms and I’m happy. I try to remember this kind of feeling- the feeling of being home and able to buy myself flowers to liven up my own space- whenever my feet get itchy and my fingers start googling destinations and seat sales.

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I could fit the most stems into my sangria pitcher (in which I have never made sangria). On the dining room table (seen here with butter, sugar, and a brick from the beach at Leslie Spit)

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This is my only actual vase. In the kitchen.

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In a milk-bottle-looking bottle that was bought with orange juice in it in London in maybe 2008 and never re-used until this day. In the kitchen.

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In the entrance in a storage jar.

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In the bathroom in a jam jar.

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In the living room in a balsamic vinegar bottle.

The next flower market will be on September 13th. See you there!

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At the top end of Australia, over a year ago.

One year ago yesterday, my plane from London touched down in Montreal. My mother was there to meet me at arrivals and it felt a bit like one of the Love, Actually airport moments where there’s hugging and jumping up and down and perhaps even a tear of two.

I was home after over a year of travelling around the world. I was home with my mum, ready to celebrate a wedding of a dear friend with old friends, ready to take on the next adventure. A chilled-out, at-home adventure.

That was a year ago.

I’ve neglected this blog because it’s supposed to be about travel and theatre and there has been very little travel and very little theatre in this past year.

Strangely, I’ve only recently started to miss those things, things that I thought defined me more than they ultimately do, I’m realising.

This past year has been amazing and I’ve felt very happy working a 9-5 job, coming home to my one-bedroom apartment, indulging in Netflix, and having long Skype conversations.

But now seems like the perfect time to get back to it all. Shake off the comfortable routine (i.e. laziness).

And it all starts with booking stuff. My credit card has had quite the workout and (if I cover the actual costs- literally, like, with my hand so that I don’t see the numbers), I love looking at the statement. My spending represents who I think I am.

  • Train tickets to Montreal. Discount business class tickets, baby!
  • Tickets to Cabaret in New York. Alan Cumming, wait for me!
  • Tickets to Paris via Reykjavik. In January. But I love Paris when it drizzles. And days with 3 hours of light. Right?
  • And tickets to a couple of SummerWorks plays.

SummerWorks is like the Fringe Festival’s sober sister. The one who has her shit together but still likes to have a good time. But a good time with focus, if you know what I mean. So my tickets are booked for two shows that I know are going to be amazing: He Left Quietly and Unintentionally Depressing Children’s Tales. Check them out.

I’ll also be making myself a calendar of playwriting submission deadlines. So I can watch them go by. Wheeee!

And, mostly, I hope to have many amazing adventures to post here.

 

Yesterday was boring. I barely left my apartment and the sky was grey. I felt a bit lonely, more than I did when I literally was alone on the other side of the world. Even buying myself flowers didn’t make me feel much better.

So today I went out and travelled. I shook myself up and remembered what I love to do: discover the world. Even if it’s only going a few subway stops away.

I got up early (for a Sunday), and made my way east to Corktown, the oldest neighbourhood of Toronto for a Jane’s walk. It was beautiful and sunny and very chilly.

I found out about an 1800 duel caused by some rumours about a lady and that escaped slaves from Kentuky started the taxi company that would lead to the TTC (even if just in colour scheme) and saw the stables where the horses who made cookies for Mr Christie lived.

I saw the first free school and discovered the area is called Corktown because the first wave of immigrants came from Ireland- not necessarily from Cork itself, but still. And because there was a cork factory in the are. And I realised I know nothing much at all about my own city.

Everything was so colourful, I thought I’d share some pictures of this morning:

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A laneway that used to be “muddy and sketchy” (and across the street from the first Loblaws grocers’) and is now hoity toity.

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Pink building and blue sky.

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Workers’ row houses from the 1800s. That’s very old for Canada. Notice the red and white bricks- both made here but at different brickworks.

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Bright Street.

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The Magic Building.

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A guy.

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The Dominion Hotel (attached to the brewery). Now hosts jazz and rockabilly.

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Trees and shadows of trees.

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The Berkeley Cafe, where I used to go for lunch breaks when I used to work in the neighbourhood. A great place to overhear conversations and theatre gossip (lots of theatres nearby).

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The Opera Company and the Berkeley Theatre- old gas works buildings.

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