Archives for the month of: July, 2012

I’m off! The first leg of my travels have taken me from Toronto to Jasper (Alberta).

Saying goodbye to my brother and father at Union Station in Toronto. My bag is very new and shiny.

Freight trains have the right of way, which means this little train had to wait and wait throughout the night. But it doesn’t matter at all to me that’s we’re two hours behind schedule.

Trains trains for days and days.

Boys from Ottawa travel West with their guitars without cases and play Let It Be, which is at first is a bit obnoxious and then charming and then obnoxious again. On the train, you can watch the sky become light and listen to 20-year-old boys compete with pot stories and be glad they’re both getting off in Sudbury.

The soothing sounds in economy class.

On the first day on the train, I thought maybe I’d become un-fun and too uptight to travel like this. But it turned out that it was because it was my first day and I hadn’t quite relaxed enough to truly appreciate how cool it is to sing along to stummy renditions of songs by The Arcade Fire at 6am.

Ontario’s trees and water are very pretty.

I shunned away negative thoughts and enjoyed speaking to the nurse from Kerala sitting across from me. I learned the word for tiger, but I’m not sure exactly in which language. Ontario is beautiful and huge. The Arrogant Worms were right when they said “There are rocks and trees and trees and rocks and rocks and trees and trees and rocks; there are rocks and trees and rocks and rocks and trees and trees and rocks and water.” But they’re really nice trees and rocks and water and the sky is an unbeatable blue.

Train (and hostel, it turns out) breakfast, lunch and dinner.

After days of Ontario, it seemed that we whipped through Manitoba and Saskatchewan. I slept through Saskatoon.  At 10:30 pm, the sun wasn’t quite set yet and there were hundreds of huge dragon flies outside the train window. I listened to farmers talk about crops and the politics of selling elevators.

The prairies.

When we pulled into Winnipeg before anything was open in the morning, I unsociably separated from the little train clique that had formed because I wanted to be alone and walk in silence for a while in the Forks and not go searching for bacon and guitar strings. I met a couple from Rimouski that had ridden their motorcycle all the way to Winnipeg and were getting ready to ride back through the US. They suggested I take the half-hour boat tour. And I did. And it was amazing to be outside with the fresh air and wind whipping through my hair after days on a train.

You cannot buy a cup of coffee in the Edmonton train station.

From Edmonton to Jasper, I sat upstairs in the bubble car, where you can get a higher-up, better view of everything (including bug carcasses splattered across the front windows).  Watching the Rocky Mountains appear behind the trees and through the clouds was amazing. The pictures of this moment are not amazing. But this is how excited and in awe we were:

Jacob, Olia and Matt as the Rockies appeared.

When we arrived in Jasper, I didn’t want to leave. I wanted to stay on the train. Looking out a window now, it’s slightly weird that the trees aren’t whizzing by. They’re just rooted there.

But then I walked around the town full of adventure equipment shops surrounded by mountains, had a sandwich on fresh bread, caught the shuttle to the hostel surrounded by forest and mountains, listened to ukulele tunes around a camp fire and slept in a real bed (top bunk, mind you).


And after spending a morning at Maligne Canyon checking out falls and rivers and tasting buffalo berries (bears eat 200,000 of these berries that taste like cranberries, soap, and cigarette ash with a lovely astringent aftertaste a day), having my breath taken by Maligne and Medicine Lakes, and, as the other people in the little tour took a cruise around to Spirit Island, my amazing guide Marie and I walked and saw flowers and lichen and when it started to pour, took refuge under trees with a deer.

Jasper National Park.

Now I don’t want to go back on the train tomorrow to continue the journey. That’s the trouble with travel: you’re constantly leaving. This can also be a good thing, depending on the context. My hope for this trip is that I’ll always and consistently be sad to be leaving places.

My home sweet home for the next little while.

Wait, what? How did this happen?  I’m leaving tomorrow and I have no idea how that happened.

Today was coffee dates with a couple of friends and a last family dinner to say goodbye to the cutest little nephews in the world (I actually got a real hug and requests for postcards featuring crocodiles and kangaroos). And I started packing. I have a 40L backpack, so I’m trying to keep things minimal. But that’s harder than I thought.

This is where I’ve gotten so far.

Jeans, lightweight/rollable pants, sun dress, skirt, shorts, leggings.

I know jeans are a no-no for backpackers, but I know myself and I know I’ll be happy to have jeans when wandering around the cities of the world. If they become annoying, I’ll leave them somewhere. My other pair of pants are light, dry relatively quickly and can be rolled into capris.

A summer dress and skirt will be handy for hot hot hot days and the beach.

My shorts were bought in 2003 and are still awesome.

Leggings will be useful if it gets cold, if I decide to do Pilates at some point, and as pyjamas.

Fleece, thin hoody, 5 t-shirts, 2 tank tops, bathing suit and bikini.

I know I’m only supposed to bring 2 t-shirts or something, but this all seems to fit in my bag. And these are mostly old things, so I don’t mind getting rid of a few along the way. A t-shirt can double as pyjamas too.

4 pairs of socks, 7 pairs of underwear, 3 bras.

Because I’ll be doing laundry, but not every day.

I am obsessed with things that go in pouches.

All pouched up! Rain jacket, backpack rain cover, travel towel, day pack.

A crapload of contact lenses, my glasses and new prescription sunglasses.

My plan: as I travel, I’ll use up my daily contacts and slowly free up room in my bag, room I can fill with things that are more fun than contacts. And no heavy solution to carry around.

Flip flops, sandals, running shoes.

Picking which footwear to bring has been stressing me out for at least 2 months. But I think this combo will be ok.

Netbook, camera, iPod, USB key, plug adaptor.

Other things not pictures:

  • itty bitty umbrella
  • UK mobile phone (can be used as alarm clock/watch), much smaller and lighter than my current phone
  • combination lock
  • notebook/pens/tape/scissors
  • passport and other important documents
  • foreign currency
  • travel clothesline
  • toiletries (toothbrush/toothpaste/floss, prescription medication, face-wash, shampoo/dry shampoo, razors, deodorant, Gravol, sunscreen, elastic bands/bobby pins, Body Glide, nail clippers, mascara, tiny tin of Vaseline, Tylenol, band-aids, eye drops…)
  • snacks for the 4-day train journey

After the bag is packed, I’ll need to leave my living space in a presentable manner, which is why it’s a good thing my train only leaves at 10pm tomorrow. Just got butterflies in my stomach as I typed that.

July is here again (already?) and that means one thing. Actually, a few things: Canada Day, real summer vacation-time, and festivals of all kinds including the Toronto Fringe Festival.

For those of you who may not know, Fringe festivals happen across the world and showcase a whole whack of unjuried theatre pieces by anyone whose name gets pulled out of the proverbial hat.

In Toronto, that means 10 days of hurried, sweaty chaos as you bolt around Bathurst street trying to see as many of the 155 plays as possible.

At least this year I don’t also have a show to promote and worry about (although the past two summers of presenting shows at the Fringe have been absolutely amazing and I’m not going to lie and tell you I don’t miss that stress just a little bit).

I’m not a critic or reviewer, but I did want to announce that I have not seen a single ‘bad’ play so far (granted, I’ve only seen 6). So if you’re in town, you might want to check out some of these diverse theatrical experiences (in order of me seeing them):


Jenna Turk and Celeste Percy-Beauregard in ENGLAND by Tim Crouch

I liked this one. A lot. It made me feel weepy in that “I’m so inspired and sad and happy” way that I haven’t experienced often. Was it just seeing my friend Jenna’s simple and stirring performance that made me teary? I don’t know. I don’t think so.  I think it was also walking around the beautiful bright 401 Richmond Gallery, the repetition of the word “look,” and the clever, economic, poetic (and yet very real) writing of Tim Crouch. As we were led around the gallery by the actors, they’d say stuff like: “I look at these things and I don’t really understand them. I like them, but my boyfriend would understand them. He says that good art is art that sells.” I hope they sell out the rest of their shows.


Clowns Morro and Jasp get the economic downturn to turn our frowns upside down. Photo by Alex Nirta.

A Fringe favourite, these clown sisters are back! It’s always exciting to see Amy Lee and Heather Marie Annis on stage (and off), and here they are adding their messy charm and pee-in-your-pants hilarity to the old classic I never read in high school (but let it be known that I read and loved The Pearl (my heart still hurts for you, Coyotito!)). Lots of fantastic moments (and also just the whole premise) keep me in constant awe of these theatre-makers.


Julia Lederer and Robin Archer play strangers on the subway

A sweet play that speaks directly to our time (Google-everything + nostalgia for cassette tapes) in Julia Lederer’s own quirky, imagistic voice. Fun and oh so true, even if set in a world where organs can be lent freely- but not without consequence- to a stranger.


Victoria Chiu and Roland Cox

An original mix of über-casual story-telling and precise, evocative dance, this Melbourne duo (trio?) kept me holding my breath. I can’t wait to get to Australia- maybe there’s more performance like this?


Shauna Wootton and Amy Cunningham as Princess and Witch

Funny, smart rhyming verse that spins fairy tale tropes into a web of fun and fancy. So much potential here, I can’t wait what this group writes next. Who knew there was still something original to do with fairy tales? Apparently there is.


Andrea Grant and Matthew Gin as Alice and Jimmy

I didn’t think I’d laugh so much during a ghost/abuse/drug/lighthouse story, but the two young characters are pitch-perfect, especially in the first couple of scenes. The atmosphere of a small town on the bay was palpable and inspired me to revise some of my short stories.

There are so many other plays I need/want to see, but with the departure date for my trip ‘around the world’ being only a week away, time is tight with finishing up my last week of work, preparing for my garage sale, meeting with friends for one last lunch together, and mentally preparing to leave (this includes watching Master Chef, I’ll admit).