Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Vancouver and Whistler....

.......only three or four months late!

We travelled, during the wild (or not so wild) winter of 2011-12 to Vancouver, a city I have long been hearing wondrous things about from both my partner and a whole variety of friends and acquaintances. 

I had been told time and again I would love this city - for its relaxed vibe and famed bohemian atmosphere and for its stunning backdrop of sea and mountains. And it did not disappoint. Even if we did have a highly unusual bout of snow for a couple of days, we still spent a great few days wandering around countless neighbourhoods, parks and museums.

But, I have to say that, for me, the highlight of the trip was very much the time we spent in Whistler - snow-shoeing, hiking through vistas which looked like they had been dusted with huge spoonfuls of icing sugar. We even had the chance to zip track across huge ravines and through enormous, evergreen trees. 

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Algonquin Park

Recently, Nick and I went and had a couple of days hiking in the wilds of the beautiful Algonquin Park in Ontario, one of the biggest, woodiest, awesomest outdoor places I have been in a long time.

I'm kind of feeling like words can't do some natural beauty justice, so this will be a post, mostly, of pictures. Please enjoy it!!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Toronto the marvelous.

Seriously, I have had my heart a little bit stolen by Toronto.
Which does not, by the way, actually look anything like that.
But Toronto, to me, is like a multitude of different places, experiences and enclaves all rolled into one fragmented but somehow knitted together whole. In summary, I like it a lot.  

It feels like the kind of place I could live or stay for a long time and still be surprised by, the kind of place where you can do anything, see anything, take up any random new hobby, try any kind of cuisine. It is somewhere I've felt very at home and somewhere where I am constantly happy to walk around another corner and find myself in a different type of place entirely. I also love
the green that runs through parts of the city like rivers - last weekend I just had the best time cycling through all these wee parks and trails which all link up to one another.  

It probably helps that I have had an epically awesome tour guide in my gentleman but I also hope that I've shown him some parts of Toronto through the different eyes and filters of someone who didn't grow up here.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Sooooo much water

So I am finally getting around to ACTUALLY writing about some of my travels in Canada itself.

I have passed an amazing five plus months here and find myself, especially as my visit draws to a close, thinking more and more about all the travels I have undertaken here and already getting excited about being able to tell everyone at home all about them.

So we have done a lot visits, both on an off the beaten track since we have been here but probably our most touristy destination was....Niagara Falls. My other half really resisted taking me there for a while, mainly due to its over-obviousness as a day trip location. But I was pretty determined to actually see this natural spectacle and I wasn't disappointed.

I actually kind of found the fall themselves difficult to take in because they are just one of those places that you have seen so many countless time in photographs all over the place. But it was a very cool site and we were lucky enough to be there also on a sunny day with some awesome rainbows floating around the place, made from all the droplets of water in the air. Very pretty indeed.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Canadian Capital

My impressions of Ottawa, when we went to stay there for five or so days back in February, were universally FANTASTIC!!

I loved this place as a city of -
museums: we visited at least three - war, civilisation and the Dieffenbunker cold war museum/fallout shelter.
government: we had a tour around the Houses of Parliament and got to go into both the Commons and the Senate, saw an important vote in the Commons itself and strolled past countless admin and departmental government offices as well as foreign embassies in our few days.
history: toooo many pretty looking building and sites to even list, especially around the parliament. That whole area just resonates with a sense of political history, somehow.
winter fun: even though Ottawa didn't have much of a "real" freezing winter either, we enjoyed a romantic walk along the frozen canal, some pretty funky ice sculptures and gorgeous, snowy views .
awesome people: I felt so lucky to know the people we do when we travelled to Ottawa. We met my wonderful Canadian cousin for the first time ever (and discovered a few interests in common!), stayed with a lovely friend of my boyfriend's and had time to hang out with him and his family, met another of my boyfriend's long-time buds from university days AND had an afternoon with some of Nick's mom's people, who I had been wanting to meet for a super long time and who are utterly fabby. Yes, Ottawa is a city of friends!!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

What I miss: the U.K.

Since I seem to perpetually be floating (very enjoyably!!) between one "home" place and another, I do genuinely find myself getting homesick even for places I don't come from. I experience this a lot with both areas of Japan I have lived in. I frequently miss the labyrinthine nature of Tokyo and the seamless way you slip between different facets of the same city just walking down the streets there and I certainly still feel frequently nostalgic for the everyday aspects my life up north in Hokkaido, particularly at those strange times of year when the seasons are slowly crossing over.

Cue Japan-o photo:

I'm sure that, when I head home for a couple of months over this summer, I will miss not only the friends and family I have connected with here, but this whole area which I have called my home for more than four months already - its cityscapes and way of life, its trees and awesome, surprising birds, and the way that I have been made to feel so very welcome here.

Cue Canada photos of awesome.....

But, a bit like the "Japan" version of this list, I wanted to compile a mundane, honest post of the small, strange things that we miss when we are away from places we have belonged. I'm sure that my "most missed U.K." list is probably both unique and tellingly bizarre but here goes!!

I miss BBC Radio Four. Despite the fact that I can now (wonderfully!) listen to it online, on request, at any time I see fit, it is different to the casual ease of turning on a 
real radio any time and anywhere.

I miss very silly things like Primark, Aladdin's cave-esque charity shops being everywhere, Cadbury chocolate (which tastes completely different in the U.K. to anywhere else in the world) and being able to buy free-range eggs without it being an unusual request, and a strangely big deal.

I also miss very nostalgic or memory-triggering sounds and smells which signify, more than anything else to me that I am "home" or at least in the "home" place where I grew up. Among these are the smell of rain in England, the sound of church bells change-ringing, the sound of people sitting outside a pub on a summer's evening, the colours of spring that I saw, each year, all the way through my childhood.

More than anything, of course, I miss friends and family who are not wherever I am. I am so glad that, as a traveller-type-person, I live in the era of wireless, skype and even facebook. I remember hearing and reading stories about young people travelling all around the world in the (recent) past and having such a tough time trying to even stay in loose touch with the mother ship.
As for me, I call my family every weekend, I email both them and my friends in the U.K., Japan and beyond very frequently and I don't even (THANK GODNESS!!) have a cell/mobile phone these days. The joys of the interweb. 

Also, you know what else I miss?


The U.K. pics:

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

A list for readers (2)

A little while ago I wrote a post about some of my favourite books of all time, books which I would recommend to the nth degree. I have a lot more to add to that, but since I don't always believe in giving everything (or much!!) away, I thought I would make a wee little list for readers that just recommended some thing I've really enjoyed. If you're a big reader, I'm ALWAYS looking for new books to try out, so please, please feel free to respond in kind in the comments and add stuff you like, too for me to try reading. That would make me sooooo happy!

My own, personal faves:

A girl could stand up - Leslie Marshall
State of Wonder - Anne Patchett 
The God of Small Things - Arundhati Roy
Vibrator - Akasaka Mari
Moon Tiger - Penelope Lively
Bleak House - Charles Dickens
A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
Paradise - Toni Morrison
Tigana - Guy Gavriel Kay
If nobody speaks of remarkable things - Jon McGregor
Mrs Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
It - Stephen King
The Color Purple - Alice Walker
Jazz - Toni Morrison
The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
The Hours - Michael Cunningham
The Time Traveller's wife - Audrey Niffenegger
His Dark Materials Series - Phillip Pullman
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Oranges are not the only fruit - Jeanette Winterson

Educating Rita - Willy Russell
Henry V- Shakespeare
Measure for measure - Shakespeare
Much ado about nothing - Shakespeare
A Doll's House - Ibsen

Carol Ann Duffy
Emily Dickenson

Walt Whitman

Short stories
To kill the pink - Ben Greenman
Cogwheels - Akutagawa Ryunosuke
An unwritten novel - Virginia Woolf
Fountains in the rain - Mishima Yukio
The Mark on the wall - Virginia Woolf

Graphic Novels
V for Vendetta - Alan Moore

The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon

In other news, since my last reading-related post, I have read 4 of the book that were on my "to read" list and, ALSO, mainly due to being a bohemian professional traveller/freelancer this year with more time than usual, I am currently reading my 43rd book of the year....OH. YEH. 

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

A visit to NYC

I haven't been quite so awesome at keeping up to date with my posts about recent travels, which have been enjoyably extensive. I find myself keen to write about various trips now, in retrospect, as and when I'm thinking of them.
Before I went to New York City in March, my visits to the States had been limited to the very other end of the country - Florida and Arizona and I was keen (despite the 45 minutes it took us, because of my British passport) to cross the border by car, to see "this end" of America and to visit a city I've been wanting to see for as long as I can remember.

As usual, I pulled a classic "Heather" - wanting to see, do, eat and experience everything and wanting to walk everywhere. As usual, I was keen to see many sides of the same city: I wanted to have my moments with all of those iconic names and places, but I also wanted to head off the beaten track - to see some of the older, less well-known but amazingly attractive residential neighbourhoods of this city, to visit unusual parks and islands, and to feel like I'd had a real chance to scratch the surface of this ever-changing metropolis.

We certainly did have a chance to enjoy some of the more touristy sites, a couple of the most memorable being Times Square (SO much more insane than I had ever imagined!!) and the awe-inspiring skyline of downtown Manhattan but we also had some wonderful walking, which certainly made up my favourite element of the trip.

We were lucky to have the time (and the weather!) to be outside, exploring a mind-boggling variety of neighbourhoods, each with its own unique character as well as a large chunk of Central Park, the most expansive green space I've ever seen in such a city. We elected to walk all the way to Harlem one day and Brooklyn and back (enjoying the iconic Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges and getting 
battered by the wind as we did so!!) another.

And, not only were we in New York but also, thanks to a couple of awesome friends of Nick's, we had a list of food recommendations as long as both our arms. And what an amazing place to eat it is!! Aside from the things that must be tried in NYC - pizza, ice cream, bagels, deliciousness from the world's biggest China Town, pastrami on rye - we found a whole host of other fattening treats and returned to Canada (after a 2 minute conversation at the border on this side!!) probably plumper but very happy. 
I call this last photo shoot here the "food porn" section:

Pumpernickel and raisin bagel (for less than a dollar!!)

Chocolate pizza, with banana (actually the best thing I ate in NYC - it was amazing!!)

At a restaurant in Chinatown where all the walls were decorated with $1 bills which people had signed and written on, and what we ate there:

Chinatown Ice Cream Factory - deliciousness in a tub (pistachio and almond cookie flavors....the second best thing I ate all week!!)

Too many cheesecakes....I chose this baby one (raspberry.)

Pizzas (there were three of us, hence the two giant ones!!) at America's oldest pizzeria.

Post-pizza cake (this was the day of, really, too much food.)

Apple pancake (with strawberry butter) for breakfast.

And last but not least, this jem of a picture.
He said it was the best chocolate chip cookie of his life. This is no small deal coming from my boyfriend, the cookie monster. I didn't get one (OH, THE REGRET!!!) but if you feel the need to check out the bakery - I know Nick does when we go back to NYC next time - have a look here: