Tag Archives: Traveling

Toronto – The Place My Inner Fangirl Nearly Fainted

21 Mar

It’s thursday again which is good because it means the week is coming to an end. This week’s post will take you to Toronto, the largest city in Canada. In a way, this was like stepping into a different world coming from sweet and small Ottawa to the big city. Our hotel was close to Yonge Street where most of the action lies. Also our room was conveniently located so that I could see the CN Tower from bed. Completely awesome!

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We got to Toronto in the evening but were restless from sitting on a train for hours and also desperate to see the city so we went out to do some exploration which ended up with us on top of the CN Tower at night. I can only recommend this, because the city looked beautiful at night and I believe that it’s far more interesting to see it in the dark than during the day. It also meant we didn’t have to stand in line or wait for anything as not a lot of people were there.

Isn't it magnificent??

Isn’t it magnificent??

The next day we just walked around and explored the city some more. There is just so much to see and it’s lovely. I will definitely go back to Toronto one day.

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Now, as a regular reader of my blog, you may know how much I adore Tina Fey. She started her career with The Second City in Chicago so when I came out of the shower one evening and A told me the friend of her’s we were going to meet in Toronto (they met during our study abroad in Sweden only N was there the term after me so we never met) proposed to go see a show at The Second City, Toronto I nearly fainted. MAJOR FANGIRL MODE!!! Thank god the other two agreed that this was a neat idea so we went to see “We’ve Totally (probably) Got This!” and I laughed so hard it was amazing!! This is my highlight for Toronto! Take all the cool things this city has to offer, combine them and I’m happy with TSC.

I was a good girl and too startsruck to at least take a picture of the stage before the show started but here's proof that I actually was in my personal fangirl heaven.

I was a good girl and too starstruck to at least take a picture of the stage before the show started but here’s proof that I actually was in my personal fangirl heaven.

While we were in Toronto the tiff (Toronto International Film Festival) was also happening there at the time and as we left TSC we ran into lots of people standing in front of theatres because celebrities were arriving there. We stood with them for a while, trying to make out who was there but the truth is, we couldn’t see anyone. It was still great though because a lot of famous people were in town at the same time as we were.

We were there, it counts, right?!

We were there, it counts, right?!

Another day we walked around China Town but that was too much for this small-town girl. Too many bright signs and shops and people and it smelled different…let’s just say I was glad to get out of there. Also, again, we did this walking part when it was warmest and there was basically no wind so yeah, not a great combination.

Don't get me wrong, it's pretty cool but so different.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty cool but so different.

We stopped by another university where B stepped on a stranger’s foot and the stranger apologised. I love you Canadians!! From the bottom of my heart, you are awesome!

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I know I shouldn’t find this as funny as I do but I can’t help myself. Also, it doesn’t get more canadian than this, does it?

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Next stop, Niagara Falls. So. Much Water!

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Ottawa – Where I became a Supreme Court Justice

14 Mar

Welcome to another instalment of Travelling Thursday on this little blog. Today I take you with me to Ottawa, Canada’s capital.

I was kind of glad to leave Québec City behind me, mostly for language reasons because being in Ottawa meant being in another province – Ontario – where most people speak English. Ottawa was specially picked to be the capitol because it’s right on the border of Québec, only separated through a river and thus as close to the French part of the country as possible while also being away from the US border. Canada has two official languages, English and French so everything in Ottawa is bilingual, kind of like Montréal only here, the english description is on top followed by a smaller french version. Leaving the province of Québec also meant leaving a cheap and tourist friendly public transport system behind. Ontario is not as gracious and a bit more expensive so we tried using the bus as seldom as possible whereas we used the hell out of our prepaid cards in QC.

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Ottawa is not big and full of government buildings and offices. Also museums. Only, we were slobs and didn’t manage to visit one single museum *facepalm* We did visit the Parliament and Supreme Court though. We got to Ottawa right before Labour Day and stayed until after Labour Day. I mention this because it changes a lot of things, like where to register for a tour of the Parliament or the fact that you actually have to register for a tour of the Supreme Court as Labour Day marks the end of tourist season or something like that.

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The tour of the Parliament was fantastic, free and we didn’t have to register for anything. We just showed up and waited a couple of minutes for the next tour. Our guide was probably a law student and she did her thing very well.

Rule Britannia!

Rule Britannia!

For the tour of the Supreme Court we had to register in advance which we didn’t actually do (see above) and it was also free. However we wrote the visitor’s centre an e-mail the day before we wanted to go there because after Labour Day, there are no scheduled regular tours. It was not a problem even though we didn’t end up being on a list, they still let us in. There wasn’t as much to see as in the Parliament but there was a nice photo-op where we were allowed to dress in judges robes and sit in their seats. Actually, this was my highlight for Ottawa.

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We also managed to see the last instalment of the Mosaika Sound and Light Show on Parliament Hill. So. Worth. Seeing! I only managed to take crappy pictures as I didn’t have a tripod and it was dark but the thing was amazing and I can only recommend seeing it, before Labour Day that is ;-)

Other than that, we spent one day by the outdoor pool of our hotel partly because the weather was nice, we were relaxing before getting to Toronto and we had to do laundry.

Yes, we were actually drying part of our clothes by the pool ad not everything is tumbler approved.

Yes, we were actually drying part of our clothes by the pool as not everything is tumbler approved.

There is also a fantastic and huge bookshop I could have spent days inside only I didn’t have the time to do so. There is a lot to see in Ottawa if you like museums which I don’t mind but just picking one out of the many was a hard thing to do. Also, one day it was too hot to walk there the other day it rained like crazy and we needed another bus pass to go there as they were technically in Québec or exact change in coins. I don’t know. It was just a bit too much logistics involved. I actually don’t mind that we didn’t go to a single museum. Sure, it would have been nice but museums are also much alike, at least the standard Natural History and what-are-their-name ones. It was nice to have some downtime as it was after all a holiday and we knew we would have a lot to see in Toronto.

At least we saw some museums from afar ;-)

At least we saw some museums from afar ;-)

The World’s a Goldfish Bowl

7 Mar

Happy Thursday everyone! Here we go again, another Travelling Thursday. I actually forgot to include this story in my last post because it happened in Québec City so it’ll get its own spotlight now before I move on to Ottawa.

The collective we I’ve used when talking about my Canada trip actually consisted of me (who would have guesses, I know!), A and B. A and me met while studying abroad in Sweden. She lived in the corridor under mine and was from Passau University. B is A’s best friend. I met B briefly while in Sweden because she visited A for a weekend. Why am I telling you this? Because this knowledge will come in handy once I get to telling you about Toronto and also because of what happens in this little story. Passau University does not only have Linneaus University as a partner but also the Université de Laval located in QC (and many more but that’s not important at the moment).

One day we find ourselves standing in front of the pretty (because old!) architecture building of Laval University, A is wondering about how many placements there are for an exchange from Passau to QC. I actually don’t remember the number and it doesn’t matter. A tells us that she had actually thought about going to Laval instead of Linneaus University in Sweden but then thought better of it because of reasons. After that we continued with exploring QC.

Later, as we are getting on the bus to go back to our hotel in Beauport the following happened. A group of 3 students ask us, or more precisely, ask A if she is from Passau. WHAT NOW?? This is when I think my mind registered an overflow error because how could they know as much? Easy, they were exchange students from Passau University studying at Laval and one of them was in a class with A back home or something like that.

How is this possible? I don’t have an exact probability for getting on the same bus as people you are familiar with on a whole different continent, out of the blue, but it’s probably pretty low. We flew over the freaking Atlantic, travelled thousands upon thousands of kilometres, got on ONE bus and met people that are not only german, or talk German but know one of us!! Consider. My mind. Blown!!

We chatted with them until they had to get off the bus. I mean, it wasn’t unusual for us to be addressed and asked if we were German only to be told of family stories, of ancestors from our country that immigrated to Canada for various reasons or of friends and vacations in Germany. After all, we did stick out of the crowd with us chatting in German amongst ourselves but this was a whole other deal.

The world is a freaking village, it’s tiny and my mind is still blown by this coincidence. Has something like this ever happened to you?

P.S. Sorry there aren’t any pretty pictures this time as it is really a story about riding the bus. Next time though. I promise.

Québec City – It’s like Europe, but with Maple Syrup.

28 Feb

After last week’s Travelling Thursday took us to Montréal, we now move on to Québec City. I’m going to refer to Québec City as QC for the rest of this post because I’m already sick of writing it out and don’t even get me started on the accents.

I’ve read some stuff about QC before I went there on holiday and people were so ecstatic about it, so naturally my expectations were high and got crushed a little bit. I blame being european for it. QC is a beautiful city, smaller than Montréal but so old, for North American cities that is. However, I was disappointed because I crossed the Atlantic to be transported into another freaking european city! It really looks like Europe, well, the parts that weren’t destroyed by WW2 that is.

Also, Montréal was cool, being bilingual and all but holy cow QC is a whole other kind of deal. The Tim Hortons right next to the tourist main street thing was barely able to handle breakfast orders in English and my French just sucks big time. I wasn’t even able to say ‘Merci’ because my French is buried under my Swedish so every time I tried to say ‘Merci’ a ‘Tack!’ escaped my mouth, followed by a whispered ‘Fuck’ because I was getting angry at myself over my inability to say ‘Merci’.

Moving on.

QC is a beautiful old town but the interesting part is actually not that big. There is a nice castle(?!)-thingy which me and my friends amiably titled Hogwarts because the top kind of looked like it. There is also a great Tourist Information right in the centre where we stopped to be educated on everything we could possibly to in QC and the area. For most of it we needed a car though, which we didn’t have. Still, we received great service there and I can only recommend going there.

Hogwarts!

Hogwarts!

Our hotel was way outside the city in Beauport but it at least had a nice indoor pool area that we immediately had to test after checking in. Again I have to mention the cheap public transport in the Québec province. We bought a pass for a couple of days and were able to ride the bus as much as we wanted in that time. Which. We. Did!

This mini-bus is awesome and drives up and down all around the old town. Perfect if you're tired of walking/the hills.

This mini-bus is awesome and drives up and down all around the old town. Perfect if you’re tired of walking/the hills.

After having walked around and sat on the small écobus taking us around the old town we felt like we had practically seen everything the city had to offer in just one day. We also ended up in a lot of asian home videos because of small streets and many, many Asians. So the next day we decided to take the bus in the other direction to visit the waterfalls of Montmorency which are 30 meters higher than Niagara Falls! We had a picnic in the park and made our tour. Which is totally possible because you can go down the stairs on one side and up the other side of the hill via cable car. Of course you can do it the other way around too but, come on, why would you?! So. Many. Steps. It was an extremely nice day and it felt good to be outside of the city for once, be surrounded by nature again. Yes, I’m a small-town girl, I like nature.

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Seriously, how can you willingly carry your bike up there? Which people actually did do! Not kidding!!

Seriously, how can you willingly carry your bike up there? Which people actually did do! Not kidding!!

Then we decided to rent a car for the next day and visit the Île d’Orléans which was the best thing we could have done! The car was cheaper than we originally thought and even though we asked for a small car, we got a Ford Focus. Which is absolutely not a small car no matter what the car rental lady says. I drive a Smart, that’s a very small car but a Ford Focus is just not one. But alas, everything is bigger in North America I guess.

There is only one real street on that island and it goes around it. First we took a tour around to see what we wanted to visit which ended up to be an old shipyard, a look-out, a sugar shack and a cute café we had a drink at. It was all but maple syrup season so we had trouble finding a sugar shack that was open but in the end we managed to. A sweet lady explained to us how the syrup is made and what you can possibly do with it and also, I hugged a maple tree because they are awesome and give syrup.

I regret nothing!

I regret nothing!

The Île d’Orléans provides a great view of QC for the St. Lawrence river and I’m so glad we went there. It’s small and has a lot of cute cottages and houses.

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Montréal – And I’m In Love

21 Feb

Happy Travelling Thursday everyone. Here you go, some Canada stories finally coming your way!

Even before I actually walked through the streets of Montréal I was in heaven. The airport bus had free WiFi, way to woo an internet addict geek like me. No, but seriously, Montréal was my first stop in Canada and everything that came afterwards had a difficult time to even come close to how much I love this city. It’s neither too big nor too small for me. Maybe reading all those Kathy Reichs novels situated out of Montréal made it feel like I already knew the city or not, but I was instantaneously in love with it. Also, everything is bilingual, so that was a huge plus for someone like me who forgot all the French I learnt in school.

Still on the airport bus en route downtown it was clear that people in the Québec providence really do have french ancestors because there was a big demonstration concerning student fees even though those in Québec are the lowest in all of Canada. It doesn’t get more french than people being on strike. #justsaying

Education is the heart of Montréal, it houses McGill University (which is like Canada’s Harvard or better even, Harvard is America’s McGill, or so my T-Shirt says at least), an english speaking University and its french speaking pendent, UQAM, the Université du Québec à Montréal. Naturally my friends and me had to take an extended stroll on the McGill campus and thanks to my home university’s insistence on only using the Eduroam WiFi network, I was able to sit in a student lounge with free internet access without any problems, making my Facebook friends jealous with all the pretty pictures I was uploading. #suckit
UQAM is not as glorious as McGill but while there was a subway accident one morning on our nearest subway line we made a detour through it to get to the next accessible line.

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And that’s just another point I love about Montréal, or really any city with good public infrastructure. It was easy to get around in Montréal and not that expensive when you’re just in town for a couple of days. The subways can take you everywhere you need to be and for the rest there are busses. Maybe this is just so exciting for me because my city is stupid and too hilly to even have subways or the fact that it takes longer to get to the nearest bus station that really gets me anywhere than for me to drive to uni in the mornings but I love subways. They are fast, they are easy, what more do I need?

It was so hot and the watery air just felt so good. Again, why we always ended up doing the most exhausting things during noon, I will never know.

It was so hot and the watery air just felt so good. Again, why we always ended up doing the most exhausting things during noon, I will never know.

Foolish as our little travel group was, we started walking around the city, as I said, most things are close especially if you have time and the weather is fantastic like it was when we were there in August. So at some point around noon we arrived at the stairs that led you up to Mont Royal and we though: “Hey cool, there will be a great view of the city from the top of the hill and it doesn’t look so bad to get up there, just a few stairs.” – Oh, brother were we wrong!! Never try to go up Mont Royal at noon on a sunny late summer day. It’s exhausting and the stairs go on and on for eternity or so it seems at least. The view however was really nice and well worth the troubles, but still, maybe another time of the day would have been better.

What di you think? Was the view worth the trouble?

What do you think? Was the view worth the trouble?

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On another day we went up Mont Royal from the opposite site. There is a chapel there with another nice view. Of course there are steps there as well but not as many and if you need your sins forgiven, you can go up on your knees.

Please, as if I had *any* sins to be forgiven ;-)

Please, as if I had *any* sins to be forgiven ;-)

What else is worth visiting, is the Olympic Stadium from the 1976 Summer Olympics. Again, the subways will take you there. We took a tour of the place and went up the tower which gave us, surprise, surprise, another great view of the city and more free WiFi. Also, the DDR, internationally better known as the German Democratic Republic is still alive on the grounds of the Stadium, much to our amusement. I honestly cannot even imagine raising the DDR flag in Germany, you just can’t do it, Canada doesn’t see a problem though. Point Canada!

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We also walked around old Montréal and it’s tiny streets and Vieux Port. There is one Notre Dame dome there (we came to pass a lot of Notre Dames on our holiday as every damn big churches name seemed to be Notre Dame) and it was our first so we were excited. I don’t appreciate paying for entering a church but was overruled and yes, it’s nice inside but just too much of everything for my taste.

On our last day we decided to take things slow and took the subway to Île-Sainte-Héléne, a small recreational island in the St. Lawrence river. The F1 race track Guilles-Vilneuve is attached to it and open for everyone except on race days (like once a year), so, yeah, I walked where F1 race cars usually drive, which is pretty awesome.

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All in all, Montréal is my kind of city, much like Stockholm. It hosts a lot of activities during the summer, there is great public infrastructure and the most important things to see are close to Downtown. Montréal is also the place I had my first maple syrup and Tim Hortons experience they have free WiFi and I died a little and I see myself visiting the city again.

One last thing, in the Old Town there is a shop called Maple Delights and it has everything maple, like maple ice-cream with crushed maple cookies and hot mini donuts with maple syrup on top. Sugar coma be damned, you just have to visit this place if you’re ever in the area. It was so good that we just had to go back there on our very last day in Canada to have another one of the mini donuts with ice cream and maple syrup. It’s just maple heaven! I kid you not!

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My Sanctuary Under The Open Sky

14 Feb

If you expected consistency from me, then I’m sorry to disappoint but things don’t work like that over here. Sure, I will eventually get around to telling you more about Canada but for today’s Travelling Thursday I take you with me to one of the most special places there is – at least for me.

For as long as I can remember, I spent one holiday every year at the North Sea on one of those islands and most times I ended up on Amrum. It’s one of the bigger North Frisian Islands and the happy place I go to in my mind when I need a distraction from reality. My family spent so many vacations there, I know the island very well. I’ve been there for Easter, New Year’s, fall but only once during summer because then it’s overrun by tourists which is just not a pretty sight. I don’t like sharing my little sanctuary with thousands of other people, I prefer the solitude of off seasons.

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I love the ocean or really any big space of open water – probably because I grew up around it, water and sand beneath my feet and the ever blowing wind in my hair. The play of high and low tide, water that is always in motion, waves crashing down on the beach. I’ve never felt closer to nature than on a beach with the crashing waves and wind singing their infinite duet. It doesn’t get much better than this because it’s raw and uncensored but still so beautiful.

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The number of books I read while being on the beach of that island I cannot even count but it’s what my dreams are made of. Those simpler times, when it was just Mom, me and a book of my choice, together on the beach, forgetting all the troubles around me, reading till my eyes hurt.

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I’ve built sandcastles when I was younger or dug holes. Collected sea shells. Had my bare legs assaulted by sand storms. Landed in shallow waters in attempts to jump over puddles and ended with my shoes drenched in salt water. Walked miles on that beach in either direction without a destination just walking for walking’s sake. Cut my feet on broken sea shells.

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The sunsets on Amrum are some of the happiest moments stored away in my memory. Usually there are not a lot of people around in the evenings and those that are, are scattered far enough to no bother me much. When it wasn’t cold, I liked to sit on one of the benches that were up a little higher in the dunes. When I closed my eyes, it was like I was the only person on earth. Nature drowning out all noises. Just me and the sea. Winds tugging at my long hair but it’s secured in a ponytail. And then watching the colour of the sky change, seeing its reflection in the wet sand. Breathing in the salty air and I’m never more at peace than in that exact moment.

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I long to go back but I’m also dreading it because it will never be the same, knowing that Mom is not waiting back in the hotel room for me. It’s too early to go back to the place that is so filled with memories.

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While nurturing my dreams of becoming a writer I thought that if I ever managed to become one, I’d had to rent a small house on Amrum to write. Whenever I got stuck in my story, I could go out, take a walk on the beach and let the winds blow my mind back into perspective. I know it’s not too late for it and somewhere in the back of my mind, I’m not letting this dream starve completely. It’s just not yet the right time for it but when it is, I’ll have to return to my sanctuary that is an island in the North Sea.

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All of the above pictures were taken by me.

Local Food – Travel Edition

7 Feb

So far, I haven’t written about my big vacation last year. Those of you following me for long enough to know about my trip to Canada may also know what happened after I got home which is partly why I haven’t felt like sharing but I’m trying to give this blog at least ONE scheduled post per week or maybe semi-regularly instead of posting just whenever the hell I want. I’ll see how it goes. Also, I have this tab on my blog devoted to Travel and it’s the category I least post in so I’m trying to right that wrong. Y’all may take a guess but let me tell you, this will be Travelling Thursdays from now on or something similar. It doesn’t need a name as I’m probably abandoning this idea way to soon anyways.

Moving on. (Sorry for the long prologue.)

This week’s episode of How I Met Your Mother *may* have left me craving for Tim Hortons and Canada in general. I know, it’s the dead of winter there right now but still. I like winter and I loved Canada. People saying sorry after YOU accidentally stepped on THEIR feet, what’s not to like?

When it comes to food, Canada is not that different from my home country but then again it’s also bordering the Unites States so you know what that means?! – Burgers everywhere! Yay! During my three weeks touring the east I mostly ate burgers, maple glazed donuts and blueberry muffins from Tim Hortons. God, how I wish Tim Hortons would open a franchise over here, I’d end up in a sugar coma but it would be so worth it.

Still on the topic of burgers, sorry, this was not supposed to be entirely devoted to them but you have no idea how nice it is to have all these places aside from McDonalds and Burger King to eat a good burger and order it according to your taste. So, I ate a lot of hamburgers and I’m not even sorry. We walked a LOT so all the calories where ok to eat. At least, that’s what I’ve been telling myself.

When you’re visiting Québec though, there is a special dish you just have to try and you either like it or not. I am on the verge of not liking it but then again, I’m a purist when it comes to fries. What I’m talking about is Poutine.

What is Poutine? It’s THE traditional dish as far as I understood it and it consists of french fries with a special gravy and squeaky cheese. See, I was fine with the gravy on my fries but the cheese was not my thing. However, it was the exact other way around for one of my travel companions so it’s highly subjective.

My very first Poutine and also my last for the foreseeable future.

My very first Poutine and also my last for the foreseeable future.

We were very Québecois and tried to have the truest Poutine experience possible, so we ordered it only after arriving in Québec City (Ugh, who would have thought I’d regret forgetting all the French I learnt in school? – Not me, duh!), the very heart of the Province Québec. And we went to Chez Ashton, it didn’t look like a lot of tourists frequented the place and frankly, if it wouldn’t have been for the Poutine, I don’t think I’d have entered it either. But I did and lived to tell the tale.

It was good but not something I need to eat regularly. However if you’re a tourist visiting Canada and especially somewhere in the Québec Providence, try finding a Chez Ashton or other place that sells it and eat a Poutine. It’s like the Ice Hockey of foods, so-ho-ho Canadian.

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