Returning to the December days

The past month has been really crazy.

But firstly, happy new year! I’ve committed myself to five new year’s resolutions so far, but I won’t be sharing them here just yet! There is too much to document from the month of December! And I think I’ve already started to forget some of the things that happened, so I am relying purely on my Foursquare calendar check-in history to make sure I’ve got all the important points documented.

My last post on this blog was about making travel plans to World Cup 2014 in Brazil. Not too long after that post, we ended up finishing up all our bookings for the trip! This meant: My plane tickets to and from Toronto/Recife/Rio have been booked; our plane tickets from Recife/Rio; our hostel in Rio; and our one confirmed game at World Cup so far – the Germany x United States group stage game. I am stoked. All this planning was done during my exam week, but because my friend knew what she was doing – she’s been all over the world, pretty much – it didn’t take too much time, and I ended up passing all my exams and getting beyond what I had expected!

The most memorable part of December 2013 to me would have to be my trip to Montreal! The last time I visited Montreal was back in grade eight, for our graduation trip, so I don’t remember much about it. A lot of my friends have visited Montreal in recent years, so I decided that it was time I went myself! It seems like the closest city you can visit as a Torontonian to get an “foreign country” feel without spending too much money. I took a load of photos, and would have taken more, but right before we went, the southern Ontario area was just hit by a massive ice storm, so I think the storm drifted over to the Montreal area because when we arrived, there was snow everywhere, sidewalks weren’t shovelled (but are they usually? I have been told that they don’t get shovelled as diligently as sidewalks in Toronto), and it was extremely cold all the time, which meant taking photos using a touchscreen smartphone camera without gloves on became a very cold and difficult task. (Check out that run-on sentence.)

Now that I have a functional smartphone, I ended up checking in everywhere we went, making sure I would have them on record as places I’ve been to. We ended up staying at a hotel near a major subway station and navigated through cold and snowy Montreal that way. It was almost always -15°C when we were there, and including wind chill, it meant we were often walking in -22°C weather. As a couple of Torontonians who had been experiencing -10°C weather, this was insane temperatures for us! There were several places that I really wanted to check out in Montreal, mostly because of reviews from my friends: Cacao 70, Boutique Point G, Old Port, and La Banquise.

  • I wish Cacao 70 had a shop here in Toronto! It’s definitely a go-to cafe for chocolate lovers. They had a wide variety of menu items purely based on chocolate, but because my friends and I were coming straight from a pasta dinner at Wienstein & Gavino’s, we were too full to try more than the fondue!
  • My friends weren’t wrong when they said Point G has some of the best macarons in the country! Macarons are expensive, but the ones by Point G are definitely worth the investment. They stand out because of their taste, texture, sweetness and the way their sugary tops crunch lightly when you first bite into one. Delicious!
  • Montreal’s Old Port was really pretty; in fact, their entire Old Montreal neighbourhood is really beautiful, but because it was so cold, we ended up cutting our walk by the waterfront short and heading to our dinner early. I think I would have liked to check out the waterfront during the day, and during summer!
  • Out of the four places I looked forward to, La Banquise was the most disappointing. I must have ordered a unpopular poutine dish because my poutine was dry and did not have enough gravy or cheese cubes. Perhaps I am too used to Smoke’s, where you get enough gravy to cover your entire plate. If I ever visit Montreal again, I’ll be sure to visit La Banquise again and order a different dish – perhaps a recommendation from their waiting staff.

The second most memorable part of December had to be reuniting with one of my high school friends to watch the musical production of Les Miserables at the Princess of Wales Theatre. It has been a very long time since I last saw her, possibly back in 2009 or 2010 when she announced that she got accepted to Ottawa for medical school. She’s one of the many friends I look up to because of how hard-working and open-minded she is as a person. She’s also a very well-travelled student, and I am supremely jealous of the many places she has been to in the past few years. I have been looking forward to watching Les Mis ever since its cast was announced back last spring, so when my friend said she would be available to watch the musical while she was on her winter break back here in Toronto, I was super excited! Ramin Karimloo impressed me so much when I watched the 02 celebration production after a friend’s recommendation. And then I found out that he graduated from a high school near by my house! Extra reason for me to admire him! Another reason why I anticipated this was that I’m a huge fan of Melissa O’Neil, who plays Eponine in Toronto’s stage production. I was a huge fan of hers back during her Canadian Idol days, and looped her first album for weeks on end.

Unfortunately, when my friend and I went to see Les Mis last month, Ramin Karimloo wasn’t performing and only Melissa O’Neil was. Nevertheless, the stage production was absolutely magnificent. I’ve only seen the London 02 25th Anniversary production online and the Hollywood film adaptation, but seeing it in person was a completely different experience. It felt so intimate to see the story unfold in front of you. Even though you already know what happens, you get involved with each of the characters regardless, and you feel even more heartbroken when things don’t go the way they should. After the musical, I found out that Ramin Karimloo will be heading to Broadway to portray Jean Valjean in New York’s production of Les Miserables. Toronto’s production goes straight until the beginning of February, so I don’t think I’ll have a chance to watch him on stage again, but seeing that such a talented Canadian from my hometown will be headlining a Broadway production, it definitely makes me want to go and check out the Broadway edition later this year!

But anyway, this has been an extremely long blog entry on the month of December. I’ve learned my lesson, that’s for sure. Blog more often, so I don’t feel pressured to summarize so much in one single blog post! Hah. I don’t think January will be as eventful since school will start soon, so that may help! I’ve seen and learned a lot in January, and I’ve felt happier than ever because of these experiences. I hope to carry this contentment through the beginning of 2014 at the very least, so I can finally graduate from university.

Hope everyone has a good start to their new year too!

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  • I am so terrible at sharing my travel photos on Instagram. 🙈 I'm trying to stagger them throughout the year because I know that it'll be difficult to go back to some of these places... So fyi, most of these photos will be throwbacks!

This was one of two K-Pop related things I did in Korea over the winter break. I'm not much of a K-Pop fan anymore – who has the energy to keep up with 17-year-old pop stars anymore?! – but I couldn't resist visiting this building since so much of my teenage years was spent obsessing over this company. (Damn you, @smtown, for wasting away @zhangliyin0228's youth.) It was also a good location to meet @_starwish for the first time. We first met over our appreciation of #ZhangLiyin!

Funny story about arriving at this building though... There was a huge line in front of the building before it opened. Me being me – someone now living in London, UK, and thus who Iikes a good line – I queued up, thinking that it was the line to enter the building... Nooope! It was a line to buy photo cards. 😂 When I reached the shop upstairs and realized that I had wasted like, 40 minutes in line to buy photo cards of artists that I no longer care about, I let out this really dry dark laugh that probably everyone in the shop heard... 😂 Can't help myself. My bitterness towards SM extends to their stupid photo card shop that doesn't even offer a single photo card for the #CSJH #CSJHTheGrace members. The staff member downstairs had said that /all/ artists were included. That was a total lie. 😑
  • Accidentally walked into the @bloomberg office building over the weekend. Managed to snap this photo of their main lobby before I found my way out. Stunning architectural design.
  • Streets of Madrid on a January afternoon. 🇪🇸 #Throwback
  • Two good-looking and well-dressed British dudes took this photo for me. I was in the middle of doing a jumping pose in front of the stadium, so that's why I'm in that awkward pose. 🤸🏻‍♀️😂 The jump pose photos ended up being super messy though because I couldn't keep my scarves down, so this photo will be the only photo I'll be sharing from this series. 😅

Also, first time seeing @realmadrid play in person!! What a dream. (More photos to come later!)
  • This looks like the most unappetizing dish of food ever, but it's got an amusing story behind it. (Well, I think it's amusing anyway.) So I'm a solo East Asian female traveller, right? Imagine me walking into a Spanish tapas pub of sorts by myself, not knowing a lick of Spanish and trying to understand how this pub works. (It was highly recommended on @foursquare.) ⁣
I stood at the bar for like, 10 minutes trying to get the attention of one of the bartenders, but he just continued to look over my head. It was packed in this pub – at least two groups of #RealMadrid fans hanging around, decked out in full gear! – so what with busy bartenders and waiters, no one gave a two-shits about this East Asian girl standing and looking helplessly at the bar. Fair enough.⁣
Finally though, I managed to get the bartender's attention and ordered a mojito. (Also recommended on @foursquare.) The bartender yells at his co-bartender buddy, and I apparently have to wait some more for this mojito to arrive. After a bit, I'm tired of standing around, and walks over to his buddy's side of the bar and looks at him expectantly.⁣
This guy is cuuute. The top half of his face reminds me of @oscar_emboaba – the eyebrows, the eyes, the hair. But he still takes ages to give me this damn mojito and the free plate of tapas that comes with it. The whole meal cost only €6, but I still want my food, thanks.⁣
Anyways, after what must've been 15 minutes since walking through the door of this tapas pub, I'm finally served my food and drink. The mojito turns out to be way bigger than the #Foursquare tips said; it's about maybe 3 to 5 times the size of a normal glass of mojito in London or Toronto. The free tapas were decent, but nothing to shout about.⁣
While I was eating and drinking though, I had to entertain myself with either my phone or the hustle bustle of the venue. That meant a lot of people watching. A lot of people watching that included the groups of local Real Madrid fans – figured that  I should leave for the stadium relatively the same time as they do – and the cute bartender.⁣
(Continued below...)