Archives for category: Europe

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

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 am on a train. In Canada. On my way back to Toronto. This is full-circle. I left Union Station westward-bound July 19th 2012. In a few hours, I will be arriving back there from the east.

A trip around the world. Well, to certain places in the world.

I was warned about reverse culture-shock. The shock of coming home after travelling for an extended period of time.

But I haven’t felt it yet. It only feels like summer holidays, like the ones I’d have in undergrad.

I’ve spent my first two weeks back in Canada in Montreal. There, I have done nothing but let myself be spoiled by my mother, meet friends for coffee, poutine, and croissants, watch two full seasons of The West Wing on DVD (I’ll be the cop that doesn’t go to the meeting), and have a reunion with old friend in l’Ile d’Orléans to celebrate the wedding of one of the most beautiful couples there can be.

All this makes it easy to come home.

It also must have helped that I went through London on my way back to Canada.

London feels like home too, with a familiar public transport system, my favourite theatres, and, most importantly, close friends always ready to offer their spare room, go to gigs in sweaty caves, take the day off work to make ourselves sick with fancy cakes in pubs, and go halfway across the city to buy a mug I saw that one time.

It helps that my quick visit to London included breakfast in Southwark, a picnic in the park, magic tricks over cider, a Josh Ritter show, a Doc Brown DVD-taping, and two Irish plays by favourite playwrights (Martin McDonaugh, Conor McPherson) starring favourite actors (Ciarán Hinds).

It helps that it was sunny every day and that the tube lines I needed were open.

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A picnic in Soho Square behind this guy. Before a matinee of The Cripple of Inishmann, starring Harry Potter himself.

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Sweating to the sweet tunes of Josh Ritter in a hot venue in a hip part of town.

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Destroying cakes at The Bridge, London.

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And then home for a wedding and dancing all night (or until 1:30 because we are old now.)

Who knows what being home will mean, but I hope to keep my eyes, heart, and options open. You know, keep that “travelling” vibe.

The last couple of weeks of my 374-day trip have sped by. The play-it-by-ear motto of my travels so far has gone out the window. For my final stint in Europe, every train was booked, dinner dates set up, and hours of arrival confirmed with friends weeks in advance.

My trip is no longer about sightseeing. It has morphed into a slow transition period of a sort of normalcy where my tan fades, I meet up with friends I already know and evade the touristy.

I didn’t see anything in The Hague except for the tower of treats for high tea. Rotterdam, for me, is a train station and an Indonesian restaurant. Days were spent cycling on pristine bike paths.

I didn’t even take a photo of the windmills we passed.

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Picnic along the bike path with Yvonne (first met in New Zealand, then Bali, and now at her place in The Netherlands). This was before I ran my bike into a pole and fell over with a big clang.

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The king and queen, Rotterdam.

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Doing nothing after a day at the beach in The Netherlands.

Yvonne drove me to the Amsterdam airport on the Thursday night, and my old friend Gerry was waiting for me with pizza and ice cream in Edinburgh.

Bad timing, being a theatre-person, what with the Festival (with a capital F) starting next week. But I was relieved- it can be an overwhelming place to be, Edinburgh in August. So I was glad to meet Gerry’s family and play with train sets, watch TV, walk in the forest, and go to the pub. And not worry about the obligations I’d have to see show after show (if you are in Edinburgh for the festival, please go see Die Roten Punkte and Oh My Irma)

We went strawberry-picking (which also involves go-carts and trampolines!). It was sunny and 27 degrees. In Scotland.  Every single day I was there.

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Scottish strawberries may be huge, but they’re sweet and delicious.

My weekend in Edinburgh went by in a flash and by Sunday night I was already in Sheffield to see Elena, a friend from elementary school.

Sheffield feels like England with its quick-changing weather, brick houses, and lovely gardens. Sheffield has nice pubs and cafes and parks. It also has a paternoster (the largest in the world). Riding a paternoster around wasn’t quite the thrill of the swing in New Zealand, but it came close.

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Flower in a park, Sheffield.

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The paternoster.

Huge thanks to Yvonne, Gerry and Emma, and Elena and Matt for your generous hospitality and for distracting me from the fact that the travels are ending (for now) very very soon.

Germans travel. That means that throughout my own travels, I met a lot of really lovely German travellers. So it was a natural decision to go visit everyone once I got to Europe.

Unfortunately, with time ticking too quickly and train fares being a lot less affordable than I remembered, I only made it to a few cities to see a few people.

I took the train from Copenhagen to Hamburg. This is noteworthy because the train went on a ferry. The whole train! On a boat!

Also worth mentioning: German trains and railway services are not actually as efficient as the rest of the world assumes. For instance, when a train from Berlin to Kassel gets cancelled, any sign of it vanishes (they don’t include it on those departure screens- you have to figure it out). Luckily, when your replacement train is late and you think you’ll miss your connection (because now you have to connect in Hannover, seeing as your original train was cancelled), your connecting train is also late, so you end up having time for a pastry at the station before heading off again.

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Student demonstrations in Hamburg include old folk singers and sofas.

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Berlin is artsy. But the galleries are closed on the day you want to visit (in this case, Tuesdays).

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Germany is all about breakfasts. Bread and breakfasts. And Nutella, juice, coffee, deli meats, cheeses of all kinds, and fruit. Now that I look at this picture again, I realise that this is dinner, not breakfast. Dinners are good too.

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Cologne has a very famous cathedral, but they aren’t afraid to build big new buildings.

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When Michele told me about the bridge with all the padlocks on it, I was blasée and all like “yeah, I’ve seen that.” But this bridge had a LOT of padlocks. The tradition apparently started in Florence. When students would graduate, they’d put their locker locks on the bridge and throw the key into the river. Somehow this has morphed into lovers locking the padlock to the bridge to represent everlasting being locked together.

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There are many statues of many guys on many horses throughout Europe. This one is in Cologne (here with tram lines in the foreground).

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Wild flowers in Kassel. I don’t think there are many things I love more than wild flowers. In Croatia, there were a couple of small raggedy donkeys in a padlock full of poppies. I loved that the most. But these are pretty stunning.

Many thanks to Soren, Larissa, Eric, Shelley, Art, Patrick, Amy, Sabrina, Johanna, Leo, and Michele for making my German adventures so comfy and fun.

Munich and Heidelberg, I’ll visit next time, promise!

After two weeks at a writing residency on the outskirts of a small town in a sunny Danish building that I later (thankfully later) found out was once an asylum (and now haunted) with a high-security prison for dangerous murderers around the corner (which I passed every day on my forest-walk), I went to Copenhagen to meet up with my Canadian friend Amy who was on her way to swing dance camp in Sweden (I have friends who rock-step their way through the world).

We quickly realised that we could not afford this town, so we spent our days walking and window shopping and wisely spent our budget on coffee in the morning and baguette and strawberries for dinner.

Good thing Copenhagen is beautiful, cool, and very easy to navigate on foot (and by that I mean that it’s a walkable city, not that we didn’t get lost every time we tried to get somewhere specific). I fell in love with every café we passed and decorated my imaginary apartment several times over.

We went on a canal tour (our wonderful AirBnB host was a theatre director with a summer job as a tour guide so we got the must-do cruise for free!) and spent the rest of the time gawking at the beautiful people that exist in Copenhagen (shorthand required as follows). Copenhagen is notable for its high density of H.D.s (Hot Dane), H.D.s with B.s (Hot Dane with Baby), P.D.s on B. (Pregnant Dane on Bike), and C.D.s (Cute Dane (reserved for little kids)).

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There’s something about Danish design. Every café. Every one. Gorgeous.

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Selling peas in pods like fast food in the town square.

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Copenhagen’s weather was predictable only in that it was unpredictable.

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A little boat tour to see Copenhagen by sea.

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Lots of people go look at a little statue of a little mermaid.

It’s a city you immediately feel you could live in were it not for the cost of things and assuming you could cultivate the cool, simple, laid-back attitude, get knocked-up, and acquire a sturdy bicycle and MacBook Air.

Today, I learned from Google, is Antoni Gaudí’s 161st birthday.

Just last week, I was in the Barcelonan sun, discovering this amazing architect’s work in person. The Modernista darling designed some of the most interesting apartments, parks, houses, and Spain’s #1 tourist attraction (which has been under construction for more than 100 years), La Sagrada Família.

I was told they’d tried to develop a film about Gaudí, seeing as he’s such a hot name, but, unlike Dalí or Picasso, Gaudí’s life was not dramatic or romantic enough. That’s what you get for being totally and utterly devoted to your work. Although he did get hit by a tram on June 7th, 1926. Everyone thought he was a tramp, so didn’t bother bringing him to the hospital. People are awful. He died three days later.

Other than that, no romance or raucous adventures for Gaudí! Work and God, that was enough for him. But God, what beautiful work!

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The courtyard of La Pedrera (built 1905-1910)

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On the roof of La Pedrera.

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View of La Sagrada Família from the roof of La Pedrera.

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Imagine living in this apartment… Casa Batlló.

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Detail of La Sagrada Família being constructed.

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Waiting to get into La Sagrada Família. If you want a glimpse of the amazing interior, get there early. Very early. Or get your tickets online.

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The spellbinding ceiling of La Sagrada Família.

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Inspired by nature: trees as columns in La Sagrada Família.

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Stained glass and amazing light, La Sagrada Família.

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Walkway at Parc Güell.

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That famous bench, Parc Güell.

Wandering a city where the façade of a building can have you entranced for many minutes (I was going to say hours, but that’s ridiculous) made me wonder why we are so afraid to inject any kind of originality in our own everyday architecture. It is possible to be beautiful and functional at once.

And I’m sure each city has its own aspiring Gaudí, just waiting for a chance to carve something spectacular into a skyscraper. Obviously, the argument is money, right? No one has any money, so build fast and cheap.

But they charge hundreds of individuals €18 each to go into La Sagrada Família (more if you want to visit the towers, which I was too scared and cheap to do), €16.50 for La Pedrera, €18.15 for Casa Batlló… the park is free (until further notice). So someone is making their money back.

I demand more beauty (and not just the kind that you have to look for through the cracks in the concrete)!

Warning: this post may contain graphic imagery.

I’m in Denmark. I don’t know why, but I never thought I’d end up in Denmark, however much I adore their movies. But here I am, in an ideal situation: 2 weeks’ writing residency at a theatre school/creation space where I have a room of my own writing, writing (checking email), writing (checking Facebook), writing.

After 11 months of travel, I have time and space and silence to get some order in my ideas (except when the actors have their workshops downstairs… then it’s a lot of howling and running around and entertainment all ’round).

The residency is in a big yellow house with beautiful light and cute little lampshades. It’s about a 30-minute walk into town through the woods. When it stopped raining today, I figured it was my chance to go for a walk and go to the store to get some milk.

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A lovely walk. Until…

There I was, following the bicycle path that little red riding hood would take, the sun filtering through the leaves, watching my step to avoid the slugs and snails as best I could…

For all the amazing wildlife I’ve seen this year, the diversity in snails and slugs was quite fascinating.

A little portrait of Nykobing Sjelland fauna:
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First of all, if you’re a slug, maybe a bicycle path is not the best place to be. Squish!

Although that was gross, it wasn’t as spine-numbing as the horrifying discovery I made.

SLUGS ARE CANNIBALS!

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Are these guys gathering to pay their respects to their fallen brother? No. No! They’re eating his corpse! The horror! The horror!

Seriously, there were slugs eating slugs all over the place. All over the place.

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Quick! Look at this beautiful bouquet of 7 different types of wildflowers! Keep looking at it- it’ll help wash away the image of disgusting cannibalistic slugs.

I’ve been thinking about it, and I haven’t had much experience travelling with boys. I mean, just me and a guy, right?

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Me and my brother at Plitvice Lakes in Croatia. Before he went back to France, he gave me that sweater (because he is a gentleman and he was going to leave it behind anyway- it’s full of holes). That sweater saved me from hypothermia in Austria and the Czech Republic. Merci, David!

Since May, I’ve had the chance to travel Croatia-Bosnia-Serbia with my brother David and then meet up with my friend Jeremy for Slovenia-Austria-Czech Republic.

I’m not going to make a big deal about this, but there are a few things I noticed that were different from travelling with other girls.

Travelling with boys

1. First of all, you end up spending far more time in bars than in cafes. You realise you still don’t like beer, but you discover juice-beer in Croatia that makes it look like you’re drinking beer when you’re really just drinking juice. So you can look semi-cool (because beer is cool) until someone reads the label and sees you’re just drinking radler. And that you’re tipsy after 4 sips.

2. You get very jealous of the fact that boys can carry around all their possessions in their pockets. Camera, wallet, maps, passport, all stuffed in their cargo pants while you lug around a heavy handbag holding a camera, wallet, hoodie, water bottle, guidebook, journal, pens, wet wipes, and anything he can’t fit into his pockets.

3. You are far more likely to end up on an improvised pub-crawl with 10 British guys on a rainy night in Zagreb, chasing last calls around town. Maybe as a girl alone, I would have opted to stay at the hostel and stream the latest episode of Arrested Development (and kept my shoes dry). But then I would not have been re-exposed to the stellar dance moves of 25-year-old lads.

4. You may not have felt comfortable sharing a 4-bed dorm with a 6’2″ Tasmanian firefighter, a massive Croatian tattoo artist named Nico, and a Martiniquais guy with a penchant for rum, if one of those guys hadn’t been your friend already.

5. You do get asked all the time how you know each other. People were surprised my brother was my brother and people were surprised that Jeremy and I first met in India and then, weird, here we are meeting up in Slovenia. Check that out.

That’s about it. It’s actually not so different travelling with boys vs girls. Except maybe it’s an unexpected perk that a boy might carry you up a flight of stairs just because you had a blister on your toe. That’s different.

There’s so much to look at in Barcelona. Here are some pictures of some of the artsy doors I found and loved.
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