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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  • It's been an entire week since I landed in Toronto, and I haven't updated my little Instagram photo blog gallery. Lots of wedding preparation stuff have happened so far – my brother's, of course, not me, #SingleLady – but none of them relate to the photo I'm posting today.⁣
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I did an epic journey via Uber and train from Canary Wharf, London to Gatwick Airport with three massive luggages and one carry-on on my last morning in the UK. It took me three hours because I had to somehow get all three bags – two of them were overweight, one of which was 31kg – from the second floor of my apartment building to the @AirTransat airline counter. An airline counter that wasn't even in the same terminal as the train station I would be arriving in.⁣
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So, from second floor flat, to a 30+ minute Uber to Blackfriars, to the second floor of the Blackfriars train station (by lugging two bags 20 metres, then the other two 40 metres, repeat), to the Gatwick Airport train station, to getting an airport employee to find a trolley for me (by asking him nicely as I stood there waiting by my four bags because lol I'm not going to drag four bags across a busy airport terminal), to somehow pushing my trolley cart onto the inter-terminal train, to finally, reaching the airline counter of #AirTransat.⁣
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For three hours, from 6:30 AM, to when I finally had all my bags checked in at 9:15 AM, I was running on pure adrenaline. I don't even know how I was able to do it. I was like a bull on a mission, to get from point A to point B to point C etc. But what I also remember, was my body basically crashing into a damn near anxiety attack while at the counter. I was gulping for air, taking deep breaths, and trying to calm myself down. When I finally walked away from the airline counter, I nearly forgot my carry-on on the trolley, and when I finally had the chance to sit down, my hands were actually shaking. For all the times I've solo travelled around the world in the past year and a half, this has never happened to me before. That morning, I finally understood why airports need therapy dogs.⁣
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(Continued below...)
  • Not the most aesthetic of Instagram photos, but tonight will be my last (out-of-home) dinner in London, so I thought I would make it a very British one: Fish and chips, and a pint of cider on tap. 🍟

Photo taken while at a Reddit meet-up for the season premier of "Game of Thrones"! (The UK plays a rerun of it the night after.)
  • Two of four and four of four. Burmese food and Spanish food.

Loved the bants about Asian toilets this evening. 😂 Who knew toilets in Asia were so disgusting! Sometimes the only thing they have for you to keep clean is a hose, and apparently it's so dirty, you don't even want to touch it. Then there'sthe used sanitary napkins just lying around the squat holes... 🚽 Never did I imagine that conversation during one of my last meals in the UK would be about dirty toilets. 😂

I will miss my multinational Asian friends: Malaysia, Australia, and the UK. 🗺️
  • The little prince of Gellert Hill Cave looking over Liberty Bridge in Budapest, Hungary. 🇭🇺 Beautiful view, beautiful day. 🌤️
  • Three of three goodbye dinners. Mushroom risotto, a glass of house white wine, and some good company. See you in August!
  • Well, since I've been sick all week, might as well put my cabin fever to good use and spend the time to edit and share some of the photos I took on my travels.

First up, a photo of the Kálvin Tér metro station in #Budapest, Hungary. Love the architecture at this station for some reason! So modern. More interesting than majority of the #TTC subway stations back home. Did you know that Budapest has the oldest underground train system on the European continent? 🚇