Monday, April 26, 2010

Canadian wildlife so far...

Haha, okay, so no bears yet but I have only so far been to Montreal and Ottawa!  (Ottawa by the way is really a very pretty city which I'll ramble on about in a bit...).  Moose in Montreal, evidence of beaver activity in Iles des Soeurs (geez, check out what they can do!) and a gopher around Parliament Hill in Ottawa.  I have also seen lots of squirrels (including black ones in Ottawa) and a deer off the highway!!! 

I am now off into town to try out a beaver tail in Byward Market...

Lovely Montrealers

Eating and drinking with Jo, Alex and friends as well as making home made pizza and pics of the home brewery!

Butterflies go free

Have sadly always managed to miss the butterflies in London's Natural History Museum so just lovely to be able to see them here...  Montreal has some great museums including the biodome and insectarium which I had hoped to check out but the staff were on strike!  Oh well, next time...

ooh, I did get to wander around the Musee des Beaux Arts though and that's an beautiful gallery - I went to see the Tiffany exhibition which was fabulous too.  I couldn't take photos but here's some already taken... ;o)

Iles des soeuers

Beautiful calm on Jo and Alex's island

Inside the Basilique Notre Dame

Not so good at going inside buildings to check them out but heard about how the decorated ceilings inside here made you think you were under a midnight starry sky so thought it was worth a go... and it was!  Really very beautiful.

Montreal views from above

Views from the look outs on Mont Royal and up the tower of the Olympic Stadium

Montreal views from the street

Wanderings around Vieux-Montreal, the Plateau, Montreal staircases (lots of houses built them outside to make space indoors...lovely to look at but perhaps a little treacherous in the winter!), downtown and Hochelega Maisonneuve

Bienvenue au Canada!

Leaving NYC was hard, I really fell in love with it.  So thanks heavens for Canadians as I've had the warmest of welcomes ;o)   Even the immigration/border police people on the train were really nice and laid back.  As well as being able to see all those places in between, another great thing about slow travel between countries is crossing borders... it's so much more interesting and (has generally been) easygoing and enjoyable for me.  The train took me through the airondacks which is very beautiful and the ride itself really quite comfortable. You tall types would have loved the leg room!

Borrowing friends and making new friends
In my 8 days in Montreal I sayed on the plateau (which is a very cool and buzzing area to be around) with Mariam and Alex who very kindly let me stay at short notice!  And then further east around Hochelega Maisonneuve with Sylvie, my first couch host... and again in the same area with second set of couch hosts - Alexie, Jade and Cynthia.

Montreal is a very cool city.  Wandering around the streets, it's full of colour and people who are passionate about being there.  I took it in slowly and soaked up the atmosphere.  There's a lot going on and even though it's not the biggest of cities, it certainly has all those big city aspects like diversity, a buzz and lots of different perspectives.  It's been really interesting seeing the french and english dynamic and I really do wish I'd been a lot less rubbish at learning french!  At times it felt like being in two different places but then - that's what cities do best!  Montreal, however, has been all the more wonderful because of all the lovely people I've met and let me hang out with them ;o)

Mariam, Alex and Jane took me out to Casa del Popolo for my first Canadian beer (Jamie, your money has been spent well on a couple of Cream Ales) and learnt about where to get some of the tastiest food around the Plateau including quite possibly the best croissants I've ever had from their local bakery (almond AND really can't beat it!).   I also got to hang out and make more borrowed friends mine going for drinks and food around St Laurent and then taking a tour of Iles des Soeurs with Jo and another Alex (popular name!) where they live.  I have also been absolutely LOVING couch surfing.  It's enabled me to see a Montreal that I wouldn't have got otherwise as well of course as reaffirming how fabulous people are.  Strangers have welcomed me to their homes, really making me feel at home, feeding me, showing me around and letting me be part of their worlds.  It gave me the chance to feel like I live there doing things like going to the local grocery store, being recognised at the local cafe (love Atomic Cafe on rue Ontario) as well as going to the local pool (which is free at certain times - yay!). With my couch surfing hosts, I've been out to a family dinner where we ended up watching Sarah Brightman sing La Luna, seen the views from Mont Royal, learnt all about local wrestling and the local community spirit as well as make home made pizza and watch the hockey drinking home made coffee stout ;o) 

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cape Cod

Wonderfully serene!


Loving the Bostonian accent.  Go Bruins!

Washington DC highlights

Actually getting out of the Apple…and back again

In three days and journeying for about 19 hours on various buses, I got out of the Apple. I went to Washington for the day, said hello to an imaginary Obama in the windows of the White House, dipped my feet in the fountain at the WWII Memorial, was too late for the majority of the cherry blossoms, reflected by the reflecting pool and highlight was sitting on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial listening to Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech which one of the park rangers plays twice a day out of a ghetto blaster. Awesome.

Also spent a day in the quiet and absolutely away from any city in a town called Provincetown in Cape Cod. Hired a bike and cycled along the trails admiring the views and sat on deserted beaches looking at the sea. It was lovely.

On the third day, went to Boston amidst lots of rain which doesn’t help endear a place to anyone but did meet another couch surfer, Pete, who is also from London and has spent the last year living in Montreal and Halifax and LOVES it. So much so, the reason he was in Boston was to wait for his visa to be renewed. Anyway, because I’d been struggling so much with the thought of leaving New York, it was great to hang out with someone who only had brilliant things to say about Canada…particularly the East. So now I’m even more without a clue as to what my plans are when I get there! Also do now have a couple of people (proper Quebecers) who are letting me stay on their couches whilst I’m in Montreal. Brilliant. Didn’t quite get to do all I planned in Boston but we wandered around downtown (the sun was shining, yay!) and chatted to a few hockey fans and Pete’s suggested I become a fan and pick a team (reckons picking a colour and animal I like could do it!). Might just do that…

Back in the Apple for my last day, I spent it getting my hair chopped – something like 15 inches in total! I guess if it wasn’t for the fact I was donating my hair to Locks of Love, I’d have just had a trim or something really not worth mentioning. Still, how could I not knowing it’s for such a great cause ;o) I’m still trying to get used to it…not sure yet what to do with it and so far preferring it up (with the tiniest pony tail I’ve ever had but it will be great for me saving money on shampoo and conditioner!).

After the chop, I wandered around the East Village again sitting in community gardens and then walked along the Manhattan bridge to Brooklyn. On the bridge, spotted a lovely park on the river in between Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. So headed over, sat on the rocks, listened to the waves and watched the sunset with what I think might just be the best view in NYC.

Meeting couch surfers and making friends

So, since I signed up to the couch surfing thing, thought I’d give it a go for Boston…tho’ failed miserably. Still, managed to meet up with a fellow couch surfer, Leila (from Bristol) and her temporary flatmate Camilla who’s from Columbia and in NY working as a Psychologist for a year. We went for drinks at Brooklyn Bowl which was cool and then had food and more beer in the Surf Bar whose floor is like a sandy beach and has surf boards hanging up on the walls. They also had lots of fairy lights in the garden which I loved. Leila gave me the greatest tip and have spent a couple of days meandering around the many community gardens in Alphabet City in the East Village. They’re like oasis’ right where you wouldn’t expect them. Really very beautiful, peaceful and even more charming because they’re completely run and worked on by locals. Also met up with another couple of couch surfers – Tara and Chris who are from London but working in NY for a year (so jealous!). We all went to Moby’s book launch in DUMBO for the free booze (off the back of a tip from and then for the skinniest fries in the World at Superfine. 

It's great only having you to think about so doing whatever it is you want but it is really the loveliest thing to meet fab people and hanging out with them ;o)

Check out:

Community Gardens in Alphabet City

See here:

Coney Island

Gotta love that they have a 'shoot the freak' game... tho' perhaps it's no longer in use!  Gutted to miss out on the sideshows by the seashore and still too nippy for me to join the polar bear club which are Coney Islanders who swim in the sea throughout the year!

Around Brooklyn

The High Line

Okay, so only a photo of Gil Scott-Heron but quite a few of Simone Felice...and sadly none of Kath Bloom.  A couple of photos of a woman singing in the subway station tho'!  There were some great kids drumming on plastic tubs in another subway station too...

On the Empire State Building

NYC botanical garden and their orchid flower show

On the ferry and Liberty herself

Anthony Gormley around Madison Square Park

You might have to look quite carefully!

In Manhattan

Brooklyn Bridge and views from it

More NYC...

Suki came down for 5 days too hurrah! As it was her first time in the Big Apple, we did all the sights and lots more hanging out, eating some really quite tasty food in funky industrial type buildings and drinking more cocktails. Off the back of recommendations from various friends, loved: Egg for brunch, Bozu for cocktails and sushi, Venezualan place??, We went to a stand up comedy night all on one liners (they weren’t so great at one liners but ah well, still a laugh!). Also fit in Avenue Q which was surprisingly sweet as well as funny. And for gig number 2, went to Gowanus in Brooklyn for something being held as part of the National Black Writers conference and got to see Gil Scott-Heron, Talib Kweli and Gary Bartz. Sooo bloody cool! Gil Scott-Heron was fantastic and really very funny…funnier than the comics at the comedy night even! Another fan there also funnier than the comics was this American guy whose classic lines included: when GSH came out, ‘that dude’s drunk as a mother f**cker’ and by the end of it (again referring to GSH) ‘that dude’s the coolest mother f**cker ever!’. Naturally, we also stood in line to see the skyline from the Empire State building which were awesome (and sung Alicia Keys in my head the whole time).

All in all, I’ve managed to fall hard for Brooklyn and have been trying to get to parts of the city that I haven’t been to before…

Harlem - for a $2 swim (bargainous!!) in West Harlem at Riverside State Park which overlooks the Hudson river as well as George Washington Bridge to New Jersey.  See

The Bronx - for the botanical garden to check out their orchid show which was marvellous and set to a backdrop of Cuban music. I decided to take the bus from West Harlem and figured that would be cool as can see Upper Manhattan and bits of the Bronx on the way and it doesn’t look that far on the map… let’s just say I’m still underestimating how far distances are! It was a good ride tho’ and just fell asleep for a bit too (it was over 2 hours long!)

Coney Island - as the sun was still shining I thought I'd go chill out on the boardwalk on Coney Island...but the closer we got it seemed to be under thick fog which was a shame but did also check out Bay Ridge to admire the fog around the Verazanno-Narrows bridge Staten Island to Brooklyn. Did manage to make it back to Coney Island and it was sunny! Yay! Tho’ had hoped to see the sideshows by the seashore but they weren’t on as it was a weekday (oh well, will just have to come back some day!)

Staten Island – very briefly for a hot choc as it was cold and me and Suki thought we may as well! Would like to go back there tho’ to try some of the food being served in Little Sri Lanka.

After a couple of days with what seemed like non-stop rain, the sun came back again, hurrah! A new friend (Jennie who is a New Yorker) took me to see the High Line which is a really cool park - on top and around some old railroad tracks that are above ground so some great views of the City. It reminds me of the Paris Plage ;o) Jennie also took me to the famous Mangnolia Bakery for a cupcake - tho' it was more like icing with a cup cake attached! And introduced me to frozen yoghurt (or fro yo!) which was tasty and refreshing in the sunshine. We also had Sunday brunch at a place called The Farm in Kensington (still Brooklyn) which does the best French Toast…mmm, just remembering it now ;o)

Also went to Gramercy Park for the first time which is super posh! Went to the National Arts Club (which is old school super grand) for a drop-in life drawing class which was fun. Got to talk to a few of the regulars and eat delicious home made cookies. The class was another bargain at $10.  See

Eating and drinking in NYC

hmmm...not so many photos around this - too busy eating and drinking! But have had some great food or cocktails in the following places: - great for brunch - great for late night sushi and yummy cocktails - great pasta (was already a bit breaded out but guess they'd have good bread too...) - whiled away time on my laptop in here and loved their almond croissants and home made cookies - had a bargain lunch deal! - for awesome pizza - really tasty venezualan - amazing french toast! - another fab late night eating place and well...makes you feel like you're on the beach ;o) - fab lunch spot - erm...for bagels! - for lots of icing!

Central Park

Bike polo in China Town

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

NYC…arrival and the first few days

The apartment I'm staying in is great. It's in a really good neighbourhood and it feels pretty buzzy as well as being safe. The place is alive with shops, restaurants, bars and New Yorkers going about their day (all this reaffirms my belief that I am a City girl through and through!).

The flight was good - but felt long! US immigration found it difficult to understand why I was heading to Canada without a job or even an idea of what I wanted to do in mind. Still, they let me in ;o) Although, they did at first ask me if I was on the school trip as a few of the people in front were!!! haha. However, I did love landing to hear that it was sunny and 21 degrees (and then immediately thought that I might not have packed quite as appropriately as I should have!).

Like proper New Yorkers, we've been heading out for food and either coffee or cocktails. Over a bagel and veggie cream cheese, we talk quantum physics psychics and ghosts (no, seriously, we do! We mix it up tho' with a bit of showbiz gossip and how much of a shame it was for Sandra Bullock that her husband was such an idiot!). We also check out the neighbourhood flea market which has some good finds.. I show lots of restraint!

After a spot of shopping in the Village and all that talk, we decide to go for it and see a psychic. I opted for a palm reading (it was the cheapest option) tho' Julia probably came out with the most from it (must be because she opted for the 2 palm and face reading!). Anyway, she told me how in previous lives, I'd been a film director, photographer and, hey! Tho' she did also say that I'd be a really good business manager in this life...sounds a bit dullsville to me and wondered how she didn't see being a waitress, cowgirl, ice road trucker or mounty as great career choices. Best of all tho' she said I really didn't need to be working right now, hurrah!!! Haste to say, I didn't really take that all in as being genuine...ooh, she did also say I'd have two kids - a boy and a girl!!! Crikey!

We stayed in Manhatten for a cheese board and drinks - this time I try Smutty Old Brown Dog's not bad! We learn all about Bike Polo after meeting up with Bex's friend who's over from St Louis with her boyfriend (who rocked the Bike Polo pitch) and her mate along with other folk seeing the spectacle including guys selling song birds and others just enjoying watching people fall off their bikes! So, what have I learned about Bike Polo, when you fall off your bike, you have to do a loop around the pitch before coming into play again, you're not allowed to put your feet down, you make your own polo stick and although you're not allowed to push other can cuddle them (which is sort of pushing a player out the way but no hands or elbows. It's actually pretty fun to watch! Don't think I'll be playing it tho'!

We didn't stay for the whole tournament and check out the Whitney Biennial instead which was alright...a few really impressive pieces and others not so much! Mostly, I liked the photography pieces including pieces by Babette Mangolte and Curtis Mann. After the exhibition, we sit in Central Park eating ice cream and take in the views - mostly of New Yorkers enjoying the spring sunshine and of course, hip hop dancers with their boom box. Later on, we decided to check out the scene in Williamsburg which is by the waterfront in Brooklyn so great views of Manhatten. Lots of regeneration still happening there so I'm sure it'll look completely different in a few years time. All in all, it's a pretty cool and hip scene - we had really tasty pizza at a place called Fornina and got a good tip for cocktails down the road at Manhatten Inn. This turns out to be a beautiful place with a man on a piano and some seriously strong cocktails. Rebecca's friends from St Louis, Christine and Emily, join us later on and the strength of the cocktails give us some enthusiasm for... karaoke! We drank beer, sake and sang to Nancy Sinatra, Johnny Cash, Britney, Dolly, Wheatus (Teenage Dirtbag rocks!) and Salt n' Pepa's Push It amongst many others. The guys at Sing Sing Karaoke Bar had to kick us out... and we were just getting in to it and about to go crazy over St Louis' fave - Nelly and 'It's hot in here'! Disappointed not to be able to continue, we head over to a 24 hour diner to chill and have a chocolate pancake.

It's no wonder Monday was a rather more chilled affair with some shopping and no cocktails. Bex and Julia catch their flights back home and I do a bit of food shopping (not sure it's a good idea to go all out New Yorker and never eat in, it'll cost me a fortune!).

With just me for company, I kept it super chilled but did go and see Kath Bloom at a gig in Williamsburg in the eve eve - she's a little bit bluesy and country. Never heard of her before but read about it and she sounded good so thought, why not!

I am also starting to think more about being away for a long while... I still slightly feel like I'm here just for a short holiday! I managed to work out how to use the telly and watched Obama make Health Reform was cool, I actually cried and was amused about the number of pens he used to sign his name. The commentators said how he might want to use his middle name too as he was using 20 pens and there were only 11 letters in Barack Obama ;o)