When Mum came to visit…

Despite talking to my mum very regularly on the phone, it’s just not the same as having her with me. A couple of weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to have her come and visit me in Paris. Now I think when she arrived, she may have thought my apartment was small based on webcam shots, but didn’t REALLY know how small it was. I like to call it quaint. We only had a week together, and thankfully, having been to Paris before, my mumsy wasn’t too upset about not seeing all the touristy sites. I just wanted to spend time with her, and it didn’t really matter what we did.

On the first evening, we made a dinner of fresh cheeses, warm baguette and sat and talked. We had spent the afternoon walking down in the St Michel neighbourhood and the Marais, but alas with jet lag, and me having worked part of the day, we settled in to bed early. Now, if you know my mum and I, you know that it is difficult for us to sleep in the same room as one another as we giggle and chat too much into the wee hours of the morning. This is precisely what happened.

Let me share with you the topic of the evening. How the Chunnel built? Brought on, no doubt by the fact that we were set to go through it in a couple of days, to London. Popular questions included: Does it really go through the water? How did they get the tubes in the water? me – Can you see the fish as you go through? etc etc. This took a serious Wikipedia session to solve before we could rest in peace.

The following day, I had to go to work, so mum went on a bike tour of Paris, which I hadn’t heard of anyone doing until she told me about it. Mum’s internet travel research for the win! From the  sounds of it, you really get to see all the good parts of Paris, with little tidbits of the obvious tourist stuff.

That evening we had a lovely little dinner at a French bistro called Chez Janou, in the Bastille area. I love Bastille because it is so vibrant and fun and the food was delicious. We also had wine which felt very French… throw in the cigarette smoke and warm baguette from the tables next to us and it’s about as French as it gets! hon hi hon hi hon! (French laugh)

It was so nice to come home after work and have my dearest Mumsy waiting for me. We did quite a bit of walking around downtown but had to prepare for our trip to London for the weekend!

The following day, Mum came to visit the embassy to see where I work just before we were leaving for the Eurostar to London. I felt very important as I am currently using an enormous office of a lady who just recently retired. ( They are fixing up my actual office where I will share a space with another person) For now however, I am livin’ it large in an office 3-4 times bigger than my apartment.

We headed back to the apartment to gather out things to go to London. Now the last time I went to London I was mugged on my way home in the train so this time I was being super vigilante and to my surprise actually saw pickpockets lurking around the metro at the train station this time. It pays to be alert here, that’s all I can say. Anyways, I am happy to inform you all that neither Mum nor I got mugged or had a bad experience, unless you count the metro workers strike which caused a rather gross, hot and packed metro ride to the train station… but that’s just Paris.

The train was great as per usual and I think Mum finally got had a good nap,while I studied for my UK citizenship test. We whizzed through the Chunnel and all of our newfound knowledge of it disappeared as neither of us was paying attention while we went through. We emerged into London and hopped on the tube, shockingly, it was raining. We arrived at Paddington station and walked to our hotel. Our hotel looked like a row of houses on a quiet street and was quiet nice. The staff didn’t know what tissues were and brought us napkins, as well as when told that the room was extremely cold, put the heating on to 35 degrees, and provided beds that compete with rocks in a comfort competition, but we weren’t there for hotel, we were there for the city!  On our first day, I made mum have a real English breakfast because I like that sort of thing. We then made our way down to Oxford street so I could see a new clothing line that I had been dying to see.

We spent the day roaming around the shops and enjoying our little vacation. Thanks to mum’s savvy research we found a couple amazing restaurants where we sat, chatted and enjoyed some good English food. We also went to Portobello market, one of my most favourite places in London, saw my beloved bed-knobs and broomsticks characters, and I introduced Mum to whoopie pies, which I hear are catching on back home in Canada. Clearly I have contributed to this newfound discovery in some way!

 

On Sunday, we went to the Orangery, which is a tea house inside the Kensington Gardens and next to the Palace. It was so charming as they brought little tea sandwiches on white napkins and deliciously orange smelling tea. It was exactly how I would imagine an English tea house, that perhaps the Queen would have her tea in. Here is a photo of me by the strange silo shaped bushes.

 

This man was feeding the squirrels, and they would come right up to him, sit on his hand and eat the nuts they were given, it was really neat.

After our little tea break, we went to see this really fun exhibit at the Kensington Palace. They had turned the palace into a sort of fairy tale where each room represents a different fairy tale or story, and the princesses from each story are real princesses from the English monarchy. It was very regally decorated and the lights were low with all sorts of mysterious montages and exhibits. There was even a game that required us to find all the names of the princesses as we went through the exhibit.  I really loved the exhibit and thought the Kensington Palace was quite lovely. I was expecting it to be a lot less beautiful inside, and was pleasantly surprised.

The weekend was really fun and went by way too fast. I still am completely in love with London, and wish I could go every weekend. Because of tube work, a lot of lines on the tube were not running from many stations while we were there, so we took the regular double-decker city buses everywhere and it was nice to just put around the city and see it from above ground, it really gives you an idea of how the city is connected.

Sadly, on Sunday evening, we headed back through the Chunnel to Paris. We were greeted by the usual sketchy crowd at Gare du Nord, and hopped as fast as we could into a taxi home. Home sweet apartment!

On Monday, I had taken the day off and was determined to show mum a couple of places that I love in Paris. The first, was Sacre Coeur. I love the view and the amazing old architecture. It really is amazing to see. It also gives you a real feel for what Paris is like, and how old and beautiful it is.

We spent our last day together again walking the streets, we went back to the Marais, visited Le Bon Marche, saw the Moulin Rouge and then had a little farewell drink with my friend Thibaut at The Great Canadian Bar, which I will point out, had an Australian server.

I was so sad to see my dear mumsy go on Tuesday morning. The shuttle picked her up so early and I wanted her to stay forever! But alas, all good things must come to and end. Now we are back to our regular Skype chats where we discuss the inner working of train tunnels, whether Paul McCartney and Angela Lansbury are the same person or any other ridiculous random subject that may come up.

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An Adventure: Toronto

Hola!

So I am currently sitting in the not so interesting Halifax airport, and I can assure you that this is one place in Halifax that you don’t want to spend too much time at. There is nothing to do here. On top of everything, my fight has been delayed three hours, so I will be here for an eternity all by my lonesome. On the plus side they did provide me with a dinner voucher for my trouble, so I guess I won’t have to fork over my arm and leg for a snack. Here’s to looking on the bright side.

I am heading to Toronto for the weekend to visit family and friends. It has been a while since I have seen a lot of my best friends since most were away for Christmas, so this is very exciting.  In honour of this visit to my fair home-city I am going to do a little piece on places to and things to do in Toronto so that it is more than a boring tourist city. Here we go:

Forget the CN Tower, it is overpriced and quite frankly has a pretty obvious and predictable view of Toronto. All I remember seeing is a lot of big basement holes for condos, the outdoor driving range nets and rooftops of a million buildings. It is cool once, but is really not what Toronto is about. I think when you go to Toronto you need to use it as an opportunity to experience a little culture and difference that we don’t often see in places like the Maritimes.

One of the best places to go is The St Lawrence Market on Saturday morning. There are hundreds of vendors selling everything from homegrown veggies, fresh baked goods and Montreal bagels, to hand made items. You can spend the morning at the market and then spend the rest of the day walking downtown. If it is nice out I highly recommend spending the 3 or 4 bucks to take the ferry across to the Toronto Island. In the summer you can bike around the island, have delicious ice cream and swim. In the winter it is worth a trip just to see the amazing icicles that collect and buildup on the shoreline.

If you are more of a museum buff or the weather is just plane crap, as it can be sometimes, check out the obvious ones like the ROM, of the AGO as they always have very interesting exhibits. The new addition to the AGO is incredible and is absolutely stunning an beautiful to walk through or sit and think in. One place that often gets left out of a list like this is The Gardiner Museum, which specializes in ceramics and pottery. They even offer classes in ceramics with drop in studio hours, which I have participated in and really enjoyed.

Obviously, many people come to Toronto to shop, so if you are going to do this, avoid the malls. The Eaton Centre, downtown is a good place to start when you step out of the subway, but honestly there isn’t too much in the way of interesting or authentic fashion. Try to head towards Queen street West and walk all the way down, as far west as possible. As Queen West has always been an edgy spot for fashion, mostly the punk style, it is now becoming over run with big manufactured clothing stores, so the more west you walk the more interesting and old school the stores get.

Another amazing spot to check out is China Town, just off of Queen Street West and Spadina Ave. There you can have delicious dim sum, but cheap kitchen ware and trinkets and even shoes. It is very much a miniature China and offers some interesting cultural experiences.

On the fringe of China Town is Kensington Market, you will know you are there when you see the red globe decorated lamp post. There you will have your pic of great often vegetarian/vegan foods, handmade and revamped clothing and shoes and lots of second hand items. Little shops and markets line the busy streets and at night lights flicker from the people filled pubs and restaurant windows.

Also check out Honest Eds bargain store, and The Canadian Textiles museum as extra things to do.

There are a million places you could go in Toronto that very seldom get written up in tourist manuals, because these places don’t shell out the bucks to have their names line ad littered pages. They survive and rely on local business but always welcome newcomers. For restaurants, there a couple that must try:

Nazareth Bar – Bloor and Ossington – the best Ethiopian food I have ever tasted and the owner is so sweet

Rainbow Dim sum – Dundas and Spadina – The service is a little abusive but the food is good

Thobors Bakery – Davisville and Mount Pleasant red – The best French bread in Toronto (athough I am biast because I used to work there :))

Vietnamese Pho along Dundas at Spadina, any place will do.

There are also a lot of awesome sushi places so be sure to check out the cheap and usually pretty good sushi.

I could list many more places that I love but it would take an eternity so this is a limited list, but if you need more suggestions let me know!

It is also my birthday tomorrow so  I will no doubt be doing a write up of good party things to do in Toronto. So stay tuned as per usual!

Talk to you all soon!

Spec.