Tuesday, October 25, 2011

See the World Hanging Upside Down

Working working, always working.  I miss traveling and school, but the world is not a place where such things are free.  

While I can't travel too far off the beaten path, for Thanksgiving, Peter and I escaped to Belvedere -- the proverbial Eden of my childhood.  

Located close to Ellicottville, NY, Belvedere is a quiet patch of land owned by my grandparents.  For as long as I can remember, Belvedere has been at the forefront of my list of favourite places in the world. 
Belvedere's beautiful pond

Going up the ski hill!

The breath-taking view

We found awesome hats!

As for schooling, while my formal education is taking a hiatus, I am not missing out on my favourite type of education; books that change your life.  My top three picks of the books I read this past month are as follows:
3. Girl With Curious Hair (David Foster Wallace)

On the stripped bed- neatly littered with papers and cards, my notecards, a decade of stenography to Lyndon- lay my lover, curled stiff on his side, a frozen skeleton X ray, impossibly thin, fuzzily bearded, his hand outstretched with dulled nails to cover, partly, the white face attached to the long form below the tight clean sheets, motionless, the bed flanked by two Servicemen who slumped, tired, red, green.

2. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami) 
 Is it possible, in the final analysis, for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another? We can invest enormous time and energy in serious efforts to know another person, but in the end, how close can we come to that person's essence? We convince ourselves that we know the other person well, but do we really know anything important about anyone?
1.  The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera)
  The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man's body.The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Winding Down the Seasons

Dwarf-Winged Burning Bush in autumn.
Autumn is my favourite season.  I love the collective slowing down of the world.  I love the scent of the leaves as they go dormant.  I can't get enough of the hues of the season; the crisp apple reds, the spicy pumpkin oranges, the deep mahogany browns... breathtaking.  The cooler winds and the early evenings, the quiet of the dark, early morning mist and the softness of the longer nights; I adore this season!


Spirea Goldflame, common but lovely
For the first time in 21 years, Autumn is not, for me, associated with returning to studies.  I am still working at Connon's, and still enjoying the change of pace.  It's fascinating to watch various types of plants enter their stage of dormancy.  Euonymous Alatus begin to 'burn', Spirea Goldflames begin to pass the Goldmounds in beauty, and the Caryopteris Jasons finally wow me with their blossoms.

Sunshine Blue, worth the wait!

Part of me misses the lifestyle of a student.  All of me misses the adventure of traveling.  But luckily, I am able to see the adventure inherent to these changes in my life.  I have entered a third phase of the self, one which feels to be the most in-touch with who I truly am, and discovering the self this year is going to be an unprecedented journey in my Year of Discovery.

This fall, besides spending time with my fantastic boyfriend, my incredible friends and my crazy family, I am also enjoying (a) reading through Chapters' List of Books that Will Change Your Life (titles such as Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being, and Heller's Catch-22 have already been transforming my everyday thoughts), (b) wearing a lot of plaid at work and feeling particularly Canadian, and (c) the return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte from Starbucks. 

Cheers to Autumn!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

We Frolicked About in our Summer Skin

This seems to happen every summer; getting all caught up in the adventures of this wonderful season, I forget to update my blog.

Brief life updates include an upcoming promotion at work, a new man, a great new-found group of friends at work, and a trip through northern Ontario and Quebec.

Northern Ontario is something to behold.  Canada is already, in my mind, a raw and untouched land.  We Canadians have a connection to the earth unlike most other citizens of the world.  The most beautiful things I have seen in my 21 years are scattered throughout the world, are both tangible and theoretical, are confusing and intriguing, and are melancholic and delightful... one of these things is the northern township of Temagami.  Below are some quick shots of this beautiful place.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Living Off the Alcohol

My life seems to consist solely of vices lately.

Wake up before the sun has risen, chase with coffee.
Have a few cigarettes on the drive to work.
After picking up the work van, have a few smokes and another coffee with the yard boys.
Drive to Mac farm and work ten hours.
Cigarette and coffee, cigarette and lunch, cigarette and coca-cola.
Drive to the yard, drop off the van, chase with a Red Bull.
Have a few smokes on the drive home.
Beers and cigarettes until the night has become the morning.
Sleep an hour or two, get up, repeat.

Luckily, I am not alone in this cycle.  Thanks to Bestfriend for living off our vices with me.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011


I believe we were created.  The more I see on this planet, the more I see evidence of an intelligent design.  Working with plants, I am constantly and consistently amazed by the diversity, the grace, and the beauty of the natural world.

I believe we were created to live on this Earth.  I can't stand the mindset of 'we are on earth for a time; our citizenship is truly in heaven' for one more second.  We were created to live.  I love living.  The act of living, and truly being engaged in life is the most fantastic feeling.  Life is beautiful; Carpe Diem.

I believe that love trumps everything.  There is nothing else in life that we should seek before it.  Love is fascinating, terrifying, weakening, strengthening, beautiful and terrible all at the same time.  We were made to love, in any and every form imaginable.

I believe in the simple act of believing.  I think that no human can live out a satisfying existence without discerning that in which they place their faith.  It may be a simple belief that man is inherently good, or a more complicated manifesto of political and religious beliefs.  Be that as it may, man needs to believe.

I believe that death is what gives value to life.  If life were unthreatenable and never-ending, we would have no reason to seize it and live in it actively.
Finally, I believe in God.  But not in the God that you are thinking.  I believe that there exists Something or Someone out there who has created us.  But I can certainly no longer call myself a Christian, and I am certainly not going to attend any more hypocritical, corrupt, money-grabbing churches or schools.  I am not going to let some governing 'authority' tell me what is wrong and right, when they have historically condoned slavery and condemned women.  And I am no longer going to attempt to fit in to a community of lies and hatred.
 I understand all of this is quite blunt and potentially shocking, but I felt the need to get it out there.  I don't want a to maintain the facade I had been maintaining before.  I live unapologetically, and I want you to all know at least the gist of who I am and what I believe.  I don't want to start internet wars here, so I may not approve many comments on this post,  If you simply need to engage me in a debate, email me.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Just Wanted to Know If I Could Go Home

Sorry for my ultimate failure to update lately!

My life has been insane as of late.  Here are some brief updates.

I went to England for my last weekend of backpacking, to meet up with the boys from Vienna.  I can summarize the trip in one photo:

Camdentown, hookah, 4 miserable Jews and myself.
And one video:

After that, I was back in Paris for a few hours; enough to empty my studio entirely, and spend a night in debauchery and tears of goodbye with the beautiful people I met there
Table one

Table two
 Saying goodbye is hard.  It's especially hard if you are uncertain whether you'll ever see some of these people again.

But goodbyes are beautiful, too.  Because in the same way that death is what gives value to life, goodbyes are what give value to hellos. 

With any luck, I'll be backpacking again Easter of 2012.  That is, assuming the world hasn't ended.
Definitely going to miss this crowd

 Meanwhile, I've been lucky enough to meet the best people I could have ever imagined possible to meet.  And I get to share so much joy and enlightenment with my friends back home for a little while.
The future doctors <3
Massive shoutouts to the people who made this trip a wonderful experience.  Above all: Lynette Van de Hoef, Rachel Stevenson, April Larochelle, Martha Maris, Maria Noorloos, Jemima Dickinson, Larissa Gare, Gemma King, Christina Ammon, Nicolas Sanchez, Bram Van Beek, Paula Molz, James Lloyd, Hayden Lawn, Remi Piriou, Kara Abernethy, Liz Rosenberg, Darren Helstowski, Aidan Kenny and Liam Kerry.  I've never been happier than in the company of any of those people.

Shoutouts also to the best of friends ever, and especially those who kept in touch with me from back home: Amber Lepine, Adrian Vander Vaart, Jill Van Ryn, Amber Burns, Jess Crandall, Elle Rombough, Amanda Fraleigh, Rich Oosterloo, Natalie Campbell, Chad Haverkamp, Dan Kikkert and Austin Miedema.

Some congrats are also due!  Upon my return, I was in a wedding for one of my dearest friends.  Congrats to Elle and Lael and many, many blessings.  Nathan and Janelle, some of my favourite people ever, also tied the knot this May, the day after James and Katie, some of my oldest friends.  Congrats to all three beautiful couples!
James and Katie

Nate and Janelle

Elle and Lael

Those are essentially all of my life updates for now.  I've moved into my fantastic new apartment in Hamilton, am working off the debts that I acquired this year, and am planning to take a year off to work (and travel, of course) before returning to Europe to complete the PhD.

Stay tuned!

Friday, May 20, 2011

So Irritating

In the past two days I have watched two crimes happen to my friends, one was only attempted and the other was sadly successful.  Even though I've posted general tips for travelers, I thought perhaps I should post ways to avoid specific crimes. 

Crime Number One:  Ring Trickers
This is more common and successful than you think.  Generally, a Romani woman (for simplicity's sake I'm going to use the term 'gypsy' henceforth) stands in a tourist place waiting for ladies to pass by.  When they do, she drops a ring and then "finds it" for you.  After that, several things can happen.  Often, she will simply rob you while you look at.  Other times, she will offer it to you as a gift and then try to charge you for it. 
Best avoidance technique: This one's hard, because you'll be caught off-guard.  I have a very nice diamond ring, and the first time I saw this I asked myself "was I wearing that ring today?".  Ignoring simply won't happen; it's too unnatural.  Most likely she will be quick enough to at least show you the ring.  My best avoidance maneuver has been to knock the ring out of her hands and run

Crime Number Two: Petition Wavers
This one gets really annoying.  In the span of five minutes I've been approached three or more times on several occasions.  Essentially, younger gypsy girls approach you with a petition to sign.  You can tell them apart because rather than ask for a moment of your time, they simply stick the clipboard under your face and wave the pen close to your eyes.  Two known consequences of this crime are either (a) they manage to pickpocket you while you're trying to see what you're signing, and (b) you unknowingly sign it and it turns out to be a contract stating you'll pay them $___.
Best avoidance technique:  It's been fairly easy to simply run away from these girls, but on a few occasions they've followed me and gotten forceful.  In that case, my best technique has been grabbing the pen out of her hand and throwing it behind me (the most successful escape was when I did that while simultaneously knocking her clipboard to the ground). 

Crime Number Three: Cash-Machine Creepers
Yesterday's failed crime was at an ATM.  My friend and I were headed to a cafe to study for exams, and she needed to take out some money before going.  I saw two suspicious-looking gypsy kids approaching from behind, and even though we were bigger than them, aware of what they were doing, and in the midst of cancelling the transaction for protection, they still attempted this.  Essentially, these kids wait until you've punched in your pin, and then use all force possible to take your money as it comes out.  Yesterday they tried hitting my friend in the face with a newspaper, and we were fortunate that was all the force they tried.  I've heard horror stories of much, much worse.
Best avoidance technique: Even though we would have won a fist-fight, I can honestly say that even I couldn't simply hit a child.  That's why most of these kids succeed.  Try your best just to avoid the situation all together: don't take out cash alone, be attentive to them if they look like they're going to approach, and hit cancel immediately if they do come up to you.  If the worst happens, your best measure here is to yell for help and hang on to your cash for dear life.  We yelled for help yesterday and a lovely older gentleman pushed the kids off of us.

Crime Number Four: Bracelet Makers
Another surprisingly successful scam.  I've found that these men are often not Romanis, but of French-African descent.  They usually work in groups and are centered around areas from where tourists take pictures.  They find any sort of way to reach your hand (asking you to point to something, asking you to see your hand, simply grabbing it... if you're caught off-guard nearly anything will work) and in less than a few seconds, they've made a string bracelet around your wrist.  Then they tell you that you've purchased it and owe them $___.
Best avoidance technique:  Saying no doesn't work.  Walking away doesn't work.  These men are persistent and often violent.  If you see men holding string coming towards you, run away.  If, however, he manages to catch you in his trap, get angry and scream at him.  Rip off the bracelet, cause a scene; show him that you, too, are violent, and that you have the law (and all surrounding citizens) on your side.  It seems like it will just escalate the situation, but these guys get enough people out of fear and persistence that they're not going to deal with a crazy person.  It worked for me in Paris.

Crime Number Five: Map Questers
Having spent a lot of my life being a tourist, this crime enrages me.  I have legitimately been lost and needed help before, and so I always help people when they ask for it.  In this trick, someone approaches you and asks for directions.  Sometimes, it's not a trick.  Sometimes, they steal from you and run while you're left standing and pointing out the corner they need to turn at.
Best avoidance technique: Seriously, as a plea on behalf of people like me who tour a lot and are bad with maps, answer people on the street who need help.  That being said, never ever ever help someone without first taking a strong hold of your bag.  It takes a bit of training, but this should become your second-nature.

Crime Number Six: Table Approaches
Today's successful crime really blew me away.  I was eating lunch with a group of five other girls, all of whom you would call world travelers and big-city girls (Melbourne, Cologne, San Fransisco, New York, Toronto and Ottawa).  And yet, even though we knew what was happening, our reaction time was too slow and one of my friends lost her iPhone to two gypsy girls.  I still cannot believe it.  These people come up to you while you're eating and distract you in some way.  They work in teams and use a paper or something to block your view of whatever they're taking.  Today, we launched towards the purses and kept them safe, without realizing the iPhone was on the table under their blank blue pages.
Best avoidance technique: Besides being generally aware of where your stuff is, the best maneuver here is to rip the papers out of their hands and yell.  The owner of the restaurant will come and will probably help you if they managed to get anything, and by grabbing the papers you'll throw them off-guard as well.

Crime Number Seven: Item Borrowers?
Do you have a cigarette?  Lighter?  Tissue?  Euro?  I've heard them all. 
Best avoidance technique: Say no.  Don't be polite, don't be kind and don't ever open your bag.  Hold tight to your position and get loud if you need to.

I know some of these seem mean or over-dramatic, but it's often what it takes.  You'd be surprised how persistent and even violent some of these criminals can be.  It's hard, but don't forget that they are committing a crime.  Not to mention that -- assuming you're in my financial position of school debts -- they likely have more money than you do!  Don't let pity get in the way of keeping yourself safe.  Life can be tough for these kids, but life's not easy for anyone and it's not impolite to keep your own stuff safe from crime.

Monday, May 16, 2011

You Start Missing Everybody

I am too honest on here sometimes.  Today I'm allowed to be a little cryptic.

 MGMT -- Fated to pretend

I'm feeling rough, I'm feeling raw
I'm in the prime of my life.
Let's make some music make some money
find some models for wives.
I'll move to Paris, shoot some heroin
and fuck with the stars.
You man the island and the cocaine
and the elegant cars.

This is our decision to live fast and die young.
We've got the vision, now let's have some fun.

 Yeah it's overwhelming, but what else can we do?
Get jobs in offices and wake up
for the morning commute?

Forget about our mothers and our friends.
We're fated to pretend.
To pretend
We're fated to pretend.
To pretend

I'll miss the playgrounds and the animals
and digging up worms.
I'll miss the comfort of my mother
and the weight of the world.

I'll miss my sister, miss my father,
miss my dog and my home.
Yeah I'll miss the boredom and the freedom
and the time spent alone.

But there is really nothing, nothing we can do.
Love must be forgotten.
Life can always start up anew.

The models will have children, we'll get a divorce,
we'll find some more models,
Everything must run its course.

We'll choke on our vomit
and that will be the end.
We were fated to pretend.
To pretend
We're fated to pretend
To pretend
I said Yeah yeah yeah
Yeah yeah yeah
Yeah yeah yeah

"Don't ever tell anybody anything.  If you do you start missing everybody."
JD Salinger (Catcher in the Rye)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Is the Hole You Dig Deep Enough at All?

I like people who smoke, drink and curse.  I like coffee addicts and pill-takers.  I like those who can't fit in and gave up trying.  These people wear their vices on their sleeves; what you see is truly what you get.  There is never any disillusionment when you encounter the "real them".  I like the rejects of society; the strange groups of people who roll their own cigarettes, brew their own drinks, write their own songs and learn from their own mistakes.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

It Sounds Like Someplace I'd Like to Go

Before I began my female solo backpacking travels, I tried to look up some tips on what to expect.  (It's a scary world for a young lady traveling alone in a strange place!). I wanted to find some previous female travelers who had traveled alone and who had some good advice.  My search was widely unsuccessful.  Perhaps females are less likely to travel alone, but I hope to see more embracing this in the future -- it really helps you grow and it's just an awesome experience.  Of the 14 (soon to be 15) countries I visited this trip, only two of them were with other people.  And I managed to stay safe the entire time besides a near-robbery in Amsterdam.  So I would like to offer the tips I've collected these past 8 months. 

1.  Stay in mixed dorms.
Say what?  Yes, I really do mean this one.  Why?  I have several reasons!  Firstly, girls tend to travel in groups, whereas boys tend to travel alone.  If you stay in a mixed dorm, you'll have a higher chance of making a single-serving friend who will accompany you for a while.  And to be wholly honest, nothing bad happens between fellow travelers.  It's some sort of mutual dependence and acknowledgment of loneliness and fear, and it's a beautiful relationship, I assure you.

2.  Don't sleep on trains.
This also seems like an odd tip, as it is quite efficient to travel and sleep at the same time; it leaves you more time in a city to "see the sights".  But this really can be dangerous!  You can sleep through your stop.  Or you could awaken to find your bag stolen.  Least likely, but most frighteningly, you could be harmed in any number of ways.  Just don't risk it.  Besides, hostels are fantastic.

3.  Be careful with alcohol.
This seems like a simple rule, but I also really want to encourage you to enjoy the nightlife of a city (cities are so different between the day and the night -- you really need to experience both!).  So simply seek a balance.  If you find yourself entirely alone, limit your alcohol intake to one or two.  If you are with a single-serving friend, however, you can let loose a little bit.  Understand that this takes a bit of mutual trust and it can be scary to put your faith in others, but I enjoyed Berlin and Bratislava so much simply because I was able to let loose and dance with some amazing guys I had met in each city.  I trusted them 100%, and in both cases everything was perfectly fine.  That all being said, I caution you to nonetheless know your limits and stick to them.  Mutual trust and understanding or not, no traveler wants to drag you back to your hostel if you're getting sick or you're unconscious.  It ruins the night for everyone.

4.  Don't put all your money in your wallet.
Some people feel it's a good idea to carry only one wallet to which you will cling with your dear life.  I, however, feel the opposite.  I carry a small burlap sac and in there I place the majority of my cash.  It sits in the bottom of my big backpack.  In my handbag I only carry a wallet with a few bills (usually what I have planned to spend that day).  Why?  If someone took either bag, I would be upset.  However, this way, I have enough in case of either bag being stolen. 

5. Look tough.
I know this can be difficult if you don't look tough naturally.  I am lucky to be relatively tall (except in the Netherlands!) and relatively... stocky...  I manage to look relatively threatening if need be.  If you are short, thin and blonde, this may be difficult.   But try your best, especially if you feel threatened.  Put on your "walking face", set a quick and assured pace and make everyone believe you have been traveling solo since birth. 

6.  Learn English.
Admittedly, since I am writing in English, I can assume this one is already mastered.  But I really do believe that mastering English is more important than learning pieces of the language in each country through which you might pass.  It's really tough to learn 15 (or more) languages, and you likely won't succeed.  So instead, learn what you can for some countries, (I've found French, German and Spanish to be the three most helpful) and then embrace the use of English in the rest.  It really is the traveler's language right now.  If you happen to have the gift for learning languages, try to pick up 'please', 'thanks', and 'hello' in every place you visit; you'll make the world a little brighter. 

7.  Write it down.
7(a): get a journal and use it daily.  Contrary to popular belief, you actually will forget a lot of this experience.
7(b): write down your addresses, train station names, hostel names... anything to which you may need directions should be written down.  This way, you can show it to people instead of trying to pronounce it with an assuredly horrific accent.

8. Don't take cabs.
I adored Central-Eastern Europe.  But my greeting to Budapest was terrible: a 48 cab ride that lasted less than 5 minutes.  (This was exceptional.  After wandering for a few hours I realized I wasn't going to find my hostel.  I tried to question the man's abuse, but he refused to cede, and I walked away knowing full-well this would cost me a meal or two down the road).  Financially they are a poor choice, and sometimes they give you a terrible prejudice of the city.  Just don't take a cab. 

9.  Embrace the corners.
Need to snap a picture?  Step into a corner.  Need to look at the map?  Back into a corner.  Need to tie your shoe?  Lean into the corner.  Waiting for someone?  Worried about theft?  Feeling tired?  It's impolite to take up the whole sidewalk, and it's safer to have your back against a wall than out in the open, especially if your attention is focused elsewhere. 

10.  Be able to run.
Here we arrive at the worst-case scenarios.  In Amsterdam, I had to chase a thief through the whole of Centraal Station to rescue my wallet, computer power cord and camera.  I am not a big runner, but having frequented the Parc Monceau just prior to that trip, my fitness level was able to hold out just longer than his.  Chasing thieves, running away from creepy people, or even trying to get a train before it pulls away... you will be glad for even the slightest hint of training beforehand.

Happy adventuring, ladies!  I hope to see more of you out and about on the road when I head up to the United Kingdom!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Change For You

I'm going to attempt to do the impossible here.  I'm going to try and sum up my most recent backpacking adventure; Easter in Eastern-Central Europe.

The outskirts of Dresden, Germany.
My adventure began in Germany.  I have been through Germany several times now, and I can honestly say it is my favourite country that I've visited. The highlights of my passage through Germany include my single-serving friends Paula and John and hitch-hiking along the gorge from Dresden to Deciv (Czech Republic).

Hiking along in Deciv
A rarely seen view of Prague
After my epic adventure, I eventually arrived in Prague.  I adored this city because of its incredible views and sights.  I felt very welcomed by the Czech people, even though I can't say a bloody thing in their language, and I received smiles everywhere I went.  The currency currently used in the Czech Republic, the Czech Crown, is 1/26th of a Euro, and I didn't make a single purchase that was more than 100 Kc.  Not to mention that some really excellent beers have come out of this country, and that they are sold in a grocery store for 15-20 Kc per bottle (which is a half-litre).  Absolutely fantastic!
I next headed to Slovakia.  When I told people I was going there, most of them just asked "why??", and I started to regret the idea of going there.  But Bratislava was awesome! 

Bratislava -- the view from the top
I met some of the coolest people there, enjoyed the small-town feel (imagine finding that in a capital city!), and found myself partying with locals instead of with other tourists.
The city and the Danube
Rémi and I atop the mountain in Budapest
After Slovakia, I took a train into Hungary's nearby capital, Budapest, on the advice of a classmate, Christina.  Besides being constantly confused by the exchange rate, I loved Budapest through and through.  I met up with Rémi (a travel buddy from Bratislava) again, and we took it slowly in this city.  We enjoyed long breakfasts, taking our time in cafés, reading Baudelaire in the parks and seeing the many lovely buildings on both sides of this geographically-divided city.   On my last night in the city, we met up with an American girl, Kara, who was on vacation from her studies in Spain.  Together we went out on the town, stumbled across a karaoke bar, and spent the evening singing every ridiculous song we could in both English and Hungarian.

The famous Chain Bridge sparkling at night

Aidan, Liam and I in Vienna
My last stop this time around was Austria.  I was pretty worn out and not looking forward to the awkward process of making friends again, but I really lucked out in Vienna.  I met some of the most interesting and unique people possible, two of whom are officially my favourite single-serving friends to date.  If you ever have the chance to travel with these boys do it.  Together we took on the city of Vienna, seeing the "sights", frightening tourists, officiating a marriage ceremony and generally causing a ruckus.
One of Vienna's many "sights"

After an uneventful train ride back to Paris, I've fallen back into my normal routine of coffee-thesis-coffee-thesis.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Seminary Soul

True Confession #5: I think Jean-Jacques Rousseau was uninformed, sexist and stupid.  I think his writings were useless and I hate when he is idealized as some sort of "politician" or "philosopher" or "curriculum developer".

It feels good to have that out there.  I really really dislike him.

In recent news:  I am almost at the end of my backpacking adventure.  I don't think there is enough money left to leave Paris again, and since I return to Canada in just over a month, I may just stay in France.  We'll see.  Reflections on this ridiculously awesome trip and travel tips coming soon.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Beer for Breakfast

I am, in fact, Canadian, and therefore have a love affair with beer. Last summer there was little that I enjoyed more than sitting on Adrian's porch late into the summer evening, fighting off the mosquitoes and polishing off the last of a two-four. Or celebrating with Amber after a long week of pruning and weed-whacking. Or bringing case after case out of the cars upon our arrival for camping.

In Canada, it is not hard for me to list my favourite beer; it has been the same one since high school and likely won't change.

Mill Street Organic. Locally brewed, in Toronto, and the smoothest, most refreshing summer taste known to man. And, in the words of best-friend-Jess: “You would drink an organic beer”.

However, my time in Europe has convinced me that there are even more awesome beers out there. And whether you're a close friend of mine awaiting our trip down to Chester's to find these beers, or a stranger heading out on a trip around Europe, these are the beers you should check out, the ten best of my Euro-trip:
  1. Kronenberg – France. I will truly miss this beer when I return. It's very similar to Mill Street Organic in taste, and smooth enough that my friends who don't like beer also enjoyed it! Santé!
  2. Grolsch – Netherlands. You will note that Heineken didn't make the list. I don't like Heineken. I did, however, really enjoy Grolsch. It has a fresher taste than Heineken, and I saw more Dutch people drinking it and less tourists. Best kept secret perhaps? Gezondheid!
  3. Beck's – Germany. I enjoyed this beer so much that I raced to write it down. It was introduced to me by the two Australian boys I met in Berlin, who had purchased a case the night before. It's a crisp-tasting and mellow pilsner, and would be best consumed in the middle of the summer. Prost!
  4. Struis – Netherlands. The darkest beer to appear on my list, this is a 9% brew that I tried in Amsterdam. Although I usually prefer lighter beers, I would drink this one over and over again. As hearty as a dish of stamppot, and as dark as I take my coffee.  And it's not pronounced the way you're thinking, I assure you, so good luck ordering it! Proost!
  5. Krušovice – Czech Republic. There's no surprise that a Czech beer made my list, since they are the biggest beer consumers in the world. Most tourists head to Prague and seek out a Pilsner Urquell, but I really recommend this one instead. It's a 5% beer with a pretty dry taste and only feels mildly carbonated. Na zdraví!
  6. Krombacher – Germany. I don't think I'm alone in proclaiming the greatness of this beer. I had it on my hitch-hiking adventure from Dresden to Dečiv (Czech), offered to me by a fellow traveler out of his backpack. For me, this beer will always taste like mountains, rivers, adventures and fun, but if you want something more specific, I would say it's quite bitter and spicy with a very dry taste and an aftertaste that lasts forever. Prost!
  7. Grottenbier – Belgium. I tried this beer on second time passing through Brussels. It tastes like Springtime. At 7%, it's lighter-tasting than you would expect. The taste is hard to describe, besides employing the word 'unique'. I'll try: the taste is fairly dry, but there are unexpected flavours of dark fruits and herbs and the aftertaste is very sweet. Op uw gezondheid!
  8. Mahou – Spain. Purchased for me at a nightclub, I tasted this little guy and immediately called it an atrocidad. But then I went to a tiny Casa de Tapas and tried it there, and I want to formally defend the reputation of this poor beer. It's light, it's soft, it's sweet and it has no aftertaste. Sounds horrible? Try it with food instead of at a nightclub. The best complimenting beer I've ever tasted! Salud!
  9. Zlatý Bažant – Slovakia. My number one tip here is to not try to keep up with the Slovaks, who drink like they don't want to live. But if you have the chance to go to Bratislava, go out on a Friday and drink as many pints of this beer as you can handle. I was told by one Slovak that the beer was 5%, and by another that it was 12%. Judging by the taste, I'd guess 5%, but judging by our Friday night in Bratislava, I'd guess 12%. It has a pretty full taste, no bitterness to mention (but no fruitiness either) and no real aftertaste. Na zdravie!
  10. Brauhaus Nussdorf – Austria. A local brew, and I'm told it's found only at certain bars. My advice is to seek it out! It's quite pure tasting, and had very little aftertaste. It wasn't bitter, but it wasn't sweet either. It was a crsip, clean “beer” taste all the way through. Zum Wohl!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

It’s Times Like These You Learn to Live Again

Writing is liberating.  Writing is informative.  Writing is creative.  Writing is beautiful.

I love to write.  Not just on my blog; I promise you I have deeper thoughts than the value of celery.  I love to write poems, awful though they may be.  I love to write in my journal, not simply by recounting the events of the day, but also by wrestling through my deepest thoughts and worries. 

"Writing is a form of personal freedom.  It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us."
-Don Delillo

Without my journal, I would never remember the discoveries I have made this year.  Without my journal, I would probably never be able to keep calm on the outside when I'm really terrified, nervous, anxious or upset.  My journal allows me to set goals and track their progress, to confess my errors and to confront my darkness.  I call it my "confession to no one", and write it in all of my languages to ensure that it remains forever my own. 

There is no gift I've enjoyed receiving more than my various journals.  I think there is something so poignant about the gift of a set of thick papers, bound with a carefully planned design to set apart this journal from any other.  The pages are blank and are begging to be filled.

Travling Bratislava, I met a young man named Rémi.  We talked about the beauty of a journal.  He recalled the very first journal he ever received, and says that to this day he can picture it where it was sitting, waiting to be opened. 

Why is it so powerful of a gift?  To me, the blank pages waiting to be filled are a metaphor for life.  Each one is waiting to be filled and only you can do so.  And later, when you look back on those pages, only you will remember the feelings, just like reminiscing about your history. 

True Confession #4:  I honestly just think Cézanne sucked at painting, not that he was a creative pioneer.

PS:  This is my 100th blog post!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Please leave a light on for me.

True confession #3:  I have Siderodromophobia...

Ok, not so much the cartoon ones.

...but I'm working on it!
On the way to the Czech Republic.

Friday, April 8, 2011

La Vie Boheme

True Confession #2:  I actually really like seagulls and pigeons.