Trip to Warm Mother Country

Boxing day 2014 we decided to fly south for the cold month of February, skip some of Toronto‘s harshest temperatures and visit our home there. So far I have spent 7 months in Australia and it was surprising how quickly certain things feel familiar. Although there are so many more things to experience, I cherish it as a new home. With family there, parents waiting with home made bread, an amazing niece and nephew and family to spoil us, how can it not feel like a home.

Parents and twins were notified, joy was felt all across and threats of taking Husband down on PlayStation were made. We left on a Saturday and before our trip we stopped to visit the local pair of twins we have here and take them on their first slay ride during a lovely snowy day. One of the most amusing outfits a one-year-old, in our case, two one-year-olds can be seen in, other than lady bug costumes for Halloween, it is n-layers for winter weather. You can almost bounce them in the snow that is how padded they are. They almost liked the snow and they almost didn’t scream all the time we were outside so an overall success. It is such a surreal experience to leave Toronto on a full snow day and wake up in Brisbane during perfect summer.

Updates from home
Our twins here are 5 years old. Last time we spent time with them they were around 3 but thanks to technology we keep in touch and we speak often. Our conversations are a continuous show and tell of toys on their end and random things from our apartment on ours. Their lives are entering very busy stages with sports, fun activities and pre-school. I do find it wonderful how sharp they are and how quickly they come up with their own plans and adventures. They also can get cranky and tired so I guess some things are similar to their younger selves. It was and it is very hard to leave them to come back and we miss them dearly. There is a beautiful balance of emotion and pragmatism that characterizes their communication with us. Sometimes Gus will be so logical and his realism is incredible. He reasons our departures and explains to Aggie that we had to go back to our world to make money so we can come back to visit them. Meanwhile beautiful Aggie told me we can still go bounce on the trampoline the day before we left, since it is not yet tomorrow when we were to leave. Her ability to just focus on the present moment so we can make the most of it, sent me to the bathroom in tears. And as the good-byes are so tough and emotional, the only coping mechanism I can come up with is to remind myself to make the most of it while there and deal with the melancholy when back in Toronto and then start planning a new trip.

Our parents there, Husband’s parents spoiled us as they always do, and from daily fresh bread to freshly squeezed juices, fresh seafood they were all provided along side some classic movie watching and laughs over the weather reports from Canada. Construction and new waves of townhouses built all around the place changed the scenery a bit and the cutting down of trees pushed more birds around Chris’ mum and dad’s place. So our Kookaburras were around, King Fishers, some Cockatoos and plenty of Rainbow Lorekeets.

Trip to Australia.

Day trip to Sydney
International traditions are very important and comforting to remind you how close we really are to each other. Husband’s friend, Mr. I Surf in Sydney and his girlfriend hosted us in yet another session of walking around their new lovely home, real estate horror stories, butter chicken dinner at the same restaurant as two years ago and watching Taken 3 to follow from 2 years ago when we watched Taken 1 and 2. Yes Liam Neeson brings us together every few years. There better be a Taken 4 or this reunion will not happen.

We also took a few hours to spend at the Sydney Art Gallery and see beautiful aboriginal art work and various pieces of history.

Trip to Leura
The little Leura heaven Chris’ aunt and uncle have is always an oasis to look forward to. We get spoiled with beautiful food, drives through beautiful Blue Mountains sceneries, conversations with Chris’ uncle that make me feel I need to read more and soon. Also I am very excited to see how the mosaic of a lemon tree branch is coming along as it is being in the studio worked on as we speak.

Trip to Australia.

Trip to Caloundra
We went to Caloundra for a weekend to enjoy some sun and ocean waves. The first day was shared with Gus and Aggie in a mini trip which proved to them that Uncle Chris is definitely the swimmer of the family. A day of beach and splashes ended with a failed attempt on our part to put them to bed. Aggie went to sleep with her dad, and Gusie sneaked into bed with Chris and I. While we were in and out dosing away, he was going at 100 miles per hour with no signs of sleeping in sight. He finally took pity on us and turned to me to tell me he needs to be kissed on the forehead to fall asleep. As soon as I did that he closed his eyes and slept through the night. It was one of the sweetest moments we shared and realized how among all the shenanigans they do, there is a need for comfort they have that reminds me of their innocence. During our stay we took some lovely walks along the shore and photographed parrots and other lovely birds.

Trip to Australia.

Airport experiences
I am not sure I can finish this post without mentioning how the flights both ways were excellent but the airport experiences could make up a sitcom episode.

Departure Toronto:

  • Bought ice wine sets from Peller Estates as we thought it best to share some Canadian goodies with our family and friends.
  • 6 bottles were individually wrapped for a secure transport through the LA stop over airport.
  • Flight delayed for an hour while the plane had to go through cleaning services because of the large amount on snow on it. If we wouldn’t have had 20 hours of flight ahead of us I would have thought it cute.
  • LA Airport: Slightly on the uncomfortable side time-wise after the snow delay we realize we have to exit and go through security again. All while frantically trying to sort out where to go in a very poorly organized airport.
  • Security clearing unsuccessful as the bottles did not clear the explosive detector for any potential bomb threats. And just as quickly as you can say ice wine, each individual security-friendly wine bag was open and declared inappropriate for travel with more and more security officers around us explaining to me that security is more important than the expense of the bottles. I am being patted down again, carry-ons open and checked again and I am getting aggravated while Husband Chris is trying to calm me down not so say anything silly.
  • In my loss of calm I ask for printed proof that the bottles do not clear security to pick a later fight. They look at me as if I asked for snitzel in a French restaurant and between disagreements they allow me to take a photo of the machine with its sad verdict against our wine.

Departure Brisbane:

  • I should preface this by saying we were also a bit cheeky here. We had to take back about 12 plates, various little bowls and cups all we had left at Mum and Dad’s place before moving to Canada. We managed to push our carry on to a silly weight of 15 kg.
  • We escaped the check in without anyone poking at out carry on and a lovely lady joked with us and wished us a good flight back.
  • Towards the security clearance a guard with a scale randomly selected us among other suspicious heavy lifters to weigh in their carry-on.
  • Our puffed up carry on managed to catch his eagle eye and what followed was a horrible dance between him and our initial lovely lady, who wrote us a free pass as I am getting teared up explaining some of the stuff we are carrying are wedding presents. Her pass did not impress our guard and we had to downsize to 10 kg.
  • We ended up carrying everything in shoulder bags and drag and empty carry on, the silly thing is almost 7 kg by itself. Painful.
  • Arrival in LA: The departure of the Air Canada flight back home caused so much disorganization and commotion that people were facebooking photos of the chaos.
  • Arrival in Toronto: Wait for approximately 2 hours for our bags.
  • It all ends with me losing Husband’s identity card.

Memory Hunting
We were a bit tame here, since we had to carry back wedding presents from years ago but still managed to stop at Nook, a lovely shop where I bought a top from Miranda Murphy and got a lovely blue suit for Chris to attend a friend’s wedding. Later on in the year we were explained by Mr. Zoolander, a friend of Chris visiting us in Toronto that suits are not made the way they used to and they are glued. Husband is no longer as much in love with the suit as he used to be.

The arrival back was soothed only by the thoughts that we will go back soon, but made absolutely painful by a week of serious jetlag.

Trip to Australia.

Trip to Australia.

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Detroit – Colour me ignorant

Remember when we used to go to Paris for the weekend from Manchester? Well now we go to Detroit. This joke got some chuckles before our weekend trip to Detroit and ironically enough I look back and consider my little gem ignorant and snobbish. This was a lovely learning experience and a reminder how silly it is to create opinions out of thin air. We have to thank our partners in crime, Mr. Ball-Time and Mrs. Love-Gilmore-Girls for suggesting it and making it happen.

The Guardian Building
We are at times food snobs, so we avoided the hotel breakfast and chose The Rowland Café in the Guardian Building. This was the first stop during the weekend and as we walked around downtown on Saturday morning, it is the opposite of downtown Toronto with people rushing from one place to another. There is a feeling of an empty movie set, something similar to what we experienced in Christchurch. And then you get caught off guard when a street cleaner says ‘Good morning’, not the expected behavior in the famed scary Detroit, not even regular downtown behavior. Maybe they knew we were tourists and they were putting on a show. I am sure that is it.

While snooping around a Made in Detroit shop those sneaky Detroitians offered free tours of the building. A gentleman came in and talked to us for a bit more than an hour about the history of downtown and the buildings around. A quick summary: the Guardian was architected by Wirt Rowland, and it has works by Corrado Parducci, muralist Ezra Winter with an inside covered in Pewabic Tiles, locally sourced. The guide also recounted that at the time of construction the artistic direction was moving from European influences to native art motifs as well as inspirations from all the Egyptian archaeological discoveries taking place at the time. Classed as an Art Deco building the attention to detail is impressive, even the furniture pieces were designed to fit the overall feel of the building, creating the financial cathedral it was meant to be.

The Guardian Building.

The Heidelberg Project
The drive towards the Heidelberg Project snaps you out of the protected shelter of Pewabic tiles and shows you harsher realities: deserted houses, some burned down houses and even sadder, houses which you think are deserted but are not.

The site of the Heidelberg Project is incredible, unlike anything I have ever seen. Started in 1986 by Tyree Guyton it opened the doors of creativity, started healing through art and it grew over the years to span over multiple houses. Each one is a little universe of its own with different themes. Unfortunately some of them have been burnt down within the last months. Initially we thought that is how it was set up; even though burnt, they still provoked emotions. I could spend hours walking around and finding metaphors in all the installations, if not that, then just admiring what miracles you can do with day-to-day objects. From Duchamp’s toilet to bring us all the comfort of art expression, this is an extraordinary extension of that seed. Now, hundreds of photos later I am itching to create some prints from my little Etsy shop. Before that will need to contact the project and get permission so will keep you posted how that advances.

The Heidelberg Project.

The Heidelberg Project.

The Heidelberg Project.

The Heidelberg Project.

The Heidelberg Project.

The Heidelberg Project.

Eastern Market
The day could have ended there and I would have been happy, but it continued with an afternoon around the Eastern Market through antique sales and even a bit at the market itself. And you know those dangerous Detroitians, well … during the morning tour our friends met a gentleman very keen to share information about the best spots an he recommended visiting the market. Here he was again ready to take us to a marvelous print shop. We were in Detroit less than 24 hours and we already bumped into friendly acquaintances. Another attraction in the area is the multitude of street art around.

Eastern Market.

Eastern Market.

The Fox Theatre
There were no tours of the theatre available during the weekend we were there, so we bought tickets to see a show as an excuse to go inside. I will not name the entertainer and I am usually very forgiving with live performances but the whole show would have been well suited in a 5-minute YouTube video. It brought me great excitement to wait outside in line with everyone else, looking up at the letters of the FOX Theatre coming on and off. The inside is majestic with colorful Burmese, Chinese, Indian and Persian influences.

Fox Theatre.

Fox Theatre.

Detroit Institute of Arts
While collecting guides before the trip I read that there was a thought to sell their art pieces to help the city come out of bankruptcy. I didn’t really grasp how much difference that would make until we entered the Detroit Institute of Arts. There is no lack of free-guided tours and if there is anything I love more than buying uncomfortable things to carry back home, that is a guided tour. An Impressionist explosion in Detroit, a Diego Rivera court and many more pieces we didn’t have time to see. Also a local photography exhibition to remind you that while we come, visit, take photos, use terms like urban decay and analyse capitalism, at the end of all this rhetoric people are holding on and working hard to improve their lives, looking for ways to brighten the future of their kids and to foster a feeling of community. In one of the photo captions we read about a school where the curriculum includes topics specifically related to Detroit, aiming to nurture a wish for the kids to stay in the city, further their education and build a future there. A lot more to see and I am more than happy to go back soon, hopefully for the Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit exhibition.

The Central Station
I was very keen to break the Private Property chains to go in. A lot of the other places we were around had more of a resilient feel to them. This one, unfortunately didn’t and it was a sad note to end our visit on.

Memories Hunting
The Made in Detroit souvenir shop in the Guardian Building is good, you can also find Pewabic Tiles here. We bought a print from a lovely shop in Easter Market at Signal-Return.

This trip was one of the most surprising I can remember in a while, going in with so much preconception of how dangerous or bleak it is and to find that sure, sometimes it is but this is not a museum we go to and poke around, this is very much a city in the process of rediscovering itself and find a better future. What we can do to support it is take less photos of the urban decay and more of hard work people put in to revive it, support them before anything else.

Around Detroit.

Around Detroit.

Around Detroit.

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Thank you 2014

Dear 2014,

You were a odd one. Here are some of your:

Travel highlights:

  • Attended three weddings. Family wedding Florida, adopted-cousins wedding in Sardinia and friend’s wedding in Toronto. All spectacular.
  • Secluded beaches in Sardinia.
  • Family time and delicious seafood in Norfolk, UK.
  • Flooded Piazza San Marco in Venice with funky Manchester crew.
  • Mountain Hike for Canada Day at Mont – Tremblant.
  • Ice Climbing at Beaver Creek near Haliburton.
  • Skying lessons at Blue Mountain.
  • Detroit Institute of Art and Weekend in Detroit.
  • Niagara on the Lake Lunches and Wine Tasting.

Personal highlights:

  • Keeping up the plan to be best Aunt to 2 pair of twins. I think by the end of the year I had 4 kiddies who can pick me in a crowd. Tremendous success.
  • Our Etsy shop has increased sales by 100% that is two sales have made me really giddy, super giddy. They were sales from our neighbour down south and I can attest I do not know these lovely people and I did not guilt trip them into buying them. Also very proud that both prints were Romanian-based.
  • Upgraded my Camera.
  • Read 24 books and 8 children books.
  • Found a Yoga place I/we like.
  • My software development work has extended to include both medical assessment as well as clinical. It is something I wanted for a few years now.
  • Walks in parks even on my own, without Husband pushing me out of the house.
  • Decided on the type of place we want to live in.
  • Had my 15 seconds of fame by ending up on stage in a Romanian play.
  • Stuart, our Norfolk Pine Tree is growing beautifully.

Toronto highlights:

  • Long walks through parks. Worth mentioning again because they are some of the most peaceful moments we have.
  • Friend’s visits from overseas helped us walk around downtown more than usual.
  • A visit to the Royal Ontario Museum.
  • Theatre plays: Some at Passe Murraille Theatre, Book of Mormon, a trip to Stratford and one to Shaw Festival, some Romanian theatre and Australian Opus.
  • Good food: Rose and Sons, Smoked and Cracked, Café Belong brunch, hot chocolate at Soma and NADÈGE and some other regulars.

I call you odd 2014 because it is hard to classify you. You were a year of searches, patience, lots of work, and learning. It is easier to channel your peaceful self when all is fun and games, travel and good times. It is equally important to find the same balance when work takes precedence and things do not move at the speed you want them to. I am lucky to enjoy both my work and my hobbies so balancing it all and myself is achievable with some good nights of sleep. The key to all, as simple as it may sound, is to take it one day at a time. So 2014 you really pushed me to take it one day at a time.

Before we let 2015 take center stage here are a few highlight photos of the year, all based in our lovely Canada. Wishing everyone a peaceful 2015.

Around Toronto.

Around Toronto.

Around Toronto.

Around Toronto.

Around Toronto.

Around Toronto.

Around Toronto.

Around Toronto.

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Venice – Water, Colour and Tourism

The last leg of our trip was setup for a reunion with Mr. E and Miss Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Now these two have been a part of our lives since our first weeks in Manchester and by now we have bonded across life events and countries. The four of us used to spend a lot of time together even after Husband and I changed the dynamic by starting a romantic relationship. Fast forward five years later, this group of four is richer with added partners to make a six people link. This was our first trip together and how better to test our chemistry than through the busy, colourful streets of Venice. All this happened before the Amalooney wedding. We missed that invitation but George, Amal we could have been your best Canadian Cousins. Remember that for the next family reunion. If you are not sure what I mean make sure you read the previous post. Georgey, Amal don’t pretend you are too busy. We all are.

San Giorgio Maggiore
Gorgeous wood carvings in the monastery and incredible view from the tower. Unfortunately I don’t know much about the history/art history of the place so I can’t whip out any impressive statements here.

Venice.

Venice.

La Fenice
Built and rebuilt multiple times it lives up to it’s name (the Phoenix). A staple example of opulent architecture and interior decorations reserved only for the privileged of the era. I find these places intriguing, stirring a wide range of emotions, one being appreciation of the amazing craftsmanship. All this luxury came at a high cost for the working class and most people who originally worked to create such beauty could never enjoy it for it’s purpose. So how lucky we are now to walk around and appreciate all this beautiful work and who knows even attend an event one day.

Venice.

Venice.

Piazza San Marco and Basilica Cattedrale Patriarcale di San Marco
Flooded by both tourists and water it is a hub for everything you can imagine. It is impressive to see the piazza flooded and yet there was no intention of stopping any activities from carrying on as if it was a normal day. Everyone in water boots, or bare feet, gave an extra kick to the whole experience. A bit of an empty canvas situation here with regards to the past of the place and the artists at work. It truly makes a world a difference when I have some historical link to build on. But nonetheless I enjoyed the beauty of it and the Basilica brought me straight to Hagia Sofia. The gold mosaics definitely helped make that connection. Even here, at the exit there was water coming in and they were all equipped with a temporary pass-way to keep the tourist flow active.

Venice.

Venice.

Food Cravings
Hard to follow up from the wedding debauchery but Mr. E found a memorable place to indulge in delicious gelato at Grom. And yes, we walked away from it just to return in 10 minutes and have a second serving.

Memento Hunting
Oh for the love of Murano glass. It was to be expected that you would find anything from cheesy souvenirs to high class expensive glass. So what do you think, as avid readers of our wanders did we buy or didn’t we buy glass? Comments anyone?

I will say we found some postcard gems in Libreria Acqua Alta where literary chaos exploded, with book stacks everywhere, cats, and smoke. Oddly enough as a non smoker, quit a few years ago, there are times, very specific scenarios when I enjoy the smell of it. This was one of those times. Another good find was the sweetest things for my beautiful nieces, little lace parasols and some lovely monogrammed handkerchiefs.

Venice.

I was sad to leave but at least we did it in style: walk, bus boat, airport boat, airport bus, a security line at the airport that ran outside, OUTSIDE the airport, a slightly delayed flight. As for our friendship circle, so far we have yet to achieve a year without seeing each other since 2008. Stay tuned since upcoming celebrations may bring us together again in 2015.

Venice.

Venice.

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Canadian Cousins visit Sardinia

One has to be careful with inviting us to events, we may end up saying yes and book a trip to come to your wedding, even if it is in Sardinia. Not only that but we will end up pretending we are your cousins and take family portrait photos. If they want to make a sequel to Wedding Crashers we are available to be cast in the cousin roles.

The trip to Sardinia started with a classic sequence of dragging suitcases through London public transport, a low cost RyanAir flight, a check-in where I had to shift a kilogram from one bag to another to avoid extra pay, a fire alarm to push us out of the bar where we were spending the 3 hour flight delay, a panic session when Husband Chris realized that he did not get his international driving permit, and an attempt to contact the car rental company to check if they are still open when we arrive after 10 pm. There was no applause when the flight landed, but all was streamlined and within an hour we were at our farmhouse dragging suitcases again but this time to our room.

Alghero
We chose a farmhouse, Agriturismo Berlinga to stay for the first three days of the trip. It was near Alghero and by the time we arrived on the first night we were asking for anything to eat, a sandwich or something and  in turn they fed us a three course meal. It was a very decent location, well priced for the home cooked meal you get, the type of farm where they have their own lambs and they use their own produce. It wasn’t as romantic as the Masseria Serragambetta in Puglia but still we enjoyed our stay. Our room was in front of this lovely hill and as we were dragging our bags to the room on the first night, Husband appreciated the personal touch, a 4x ashtray in front of our room. Australian traditions travel far don’t they.

We made a visit to the Grotte di Nettuno and yes we took the stairs, although on the verge of dehydration, we enjoyed it all from the spectacular forms to the mesmerizing colour of the sea around. After the hot climb up the stairs, we went for a dip and later on spent the afternoon in town. It seems to be a great location for tourists with lots of places to enjoy a meal by the sea and plenty of street life. Around the city center I managed to take stock of probably a million red coral pieces of jewelry. Unfortunately the multitude had a negative effect and couldn’t appreciate any of it after a while.

Sardinia - Algero.

Bosa
Poor Husband Chris got sick as soon as we landed but sniffles and all he was amazing and drove us on the first day through a spectacular coastal trip from Alghero to Bosa. Gorgeous, breathtaking and any other travel brochure compliments you can think of can apply to this scenery. Environmentalists say that the Mediterranean has some of its cleanest patches of water here. On the way there are spots where you can stop and off the side of the road you will find little secluded beaches and even the bigger beach at Bosa Marina is well worth a dip. We were here a bit off season when the water was a bit chilly and Italians from all over the country can get some peace of mind while they enjoy their porcetto without the pesky tourists with their nosy cameras, yes, Husband Chris I am talking about you.

The town has lovely coloured houses and and a castle towering over, making sure everyone is well protected and don’t be shy to try the figs from the trees around, they are delicious.

Sardinia - Coastal Road.

Sardinia - Coastal Road.

Sardinia - Coastal Road.

Sardinia - Bosa.

Sorso
This is a very cute little town and it is here at the Pallazzo Baronale were our dear friends joined forces to become a super couple of awesomeness. The celebration was sweet with lots of love cheering them on, followed by a choir and a crowd awaiting them outside wearing masks of the happy couple. We were whisked away in a mini bus for a 20 min drive of excitement and horn blowing to let the world know we are celebrating. The wedding reception and party was idyllic to say the least, at Kent’Annos a restaurant and winery in a gorgeous scenery, where we could snap photos of the couple as silhouettes against the sunset over the vineyard. Please make sure you read these lines with violins in the background and if you have some delicious food dripping over the keyboard, then you may be recreating some of the atmosphere of the event. We wore our cousin roles impeccably and we almost convinced the groom’s family to invite us over for family Christmas lunch. A perfect wedding ending with Husband Chris in tears of laughter before we made a run to the bus and even on the last steps before departing, we did a group dance on Jump, Jump with our dear aunt while waving good bye to the happy couple. Let these memories keep us warm over the winter, during our hibernation months.

Castelsardo
Some lovely views walking around the top of this town. We also had a mini tour of a chapel where you can find beautiful works of Maestro di Castelsardo, whose identity is still unclear. From the end 15th century to the beginning of 16th, the pieces are typical Renaissance all with influences of linear perspective. I can whip terms like that in a sentence after months of listening to our great teachers at Art History from Khan Academy.

Stintino
La Pelosa beach had the most outstanding water I have ever seen. Of course this statement caused Husband Chris to puff his feathers as a proud Australian. To lil ol’ Romanian girl, although exposed to the beauty of the Black Sea, this still was the most clear water I have ever bathed in.

Sardinia - La Pelosa.

Sardinia - La Pelosa.

Sassari
We did not have a chance to spend a lot of time here except a walk around the centre, which of course had some fun pieces of architecture to enjoy.

Sardinia - Sassari.

Food Craving
The highlight is without a doubt the amazing wedding menu at at Kent’Annos in Sennori. The porcetto arrosto was probably the best I have ever had.

Sardinia - Wedding.

A second celebration with the lovely couple was at L’Agnata di De Andrè. After spending most of our time near the coast, this was a beautiful in-land drive, between mountains to the once summer home of the Italian singer Fabrizio De André. A beautiful meal in a truly amazing setting. I have never heard of the singer before but after listening a bit and reading about him, he was a legend with a very rich life.

Memories Hunting
I was ready to spend money on lots of handmade carpets and rugs and handicrafts. As it turns out that was not as easy as one thinks. We tried to find ISOLA locations, the organisation that protects artisans and their work but the ones we found in our little guide were not really there. So instead we found a lovely carpet in Bosa. In Castelsardo we entered the house of little old lady who was selling straw plates she made and we snatched one while she was establishing our income based on our professions.

I shall end this post thanking the lovely couple for giving us the opportunity to discover little parts of Sardinia, to experience a beautiful celebration of love and help define our role in the family. Congratulations!!

Sardinia - Wedding.

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Norfolk Mistery

Oh vacation plans. It seems like a fun easy enough thing to do but having now to consider vacation days as a finite entity is motivating to make the most of it. Our original plan for this year was to head back to our Australian home for the holidays and see family, especially since our twins there are growing up so fast that I am afraid they will forget my name. Partly due to our extended home search we put that plan on pause for now. Instead, we seem to have a wedding attending kind of year. For the first time in my life we are able to say yes to a few of them. We had a lovely Polish wedding in Toronto, we were invited to an Italian/English wedding in Sardinia and an upcoming family wedding in Florida. We already missed two beautiful events, one in Kenya and one in Australia, so when we received the invitation of our Mancunian friends for their Italian nuptials we put our planning hats on. We managed to set up a trip to see family, friends and reserve a bit of time for ourselves.

First part of the trip was to our adoptive country, England.

A lot of thought was put into if we are ready to go back to Manchester, and although every other day I have The Smiths in my ear, I thought it was too soon; which is a bit disappointing since we could not see some very dear friends of ours this time. The scenario that describes the best how I feel about it is a break up while you still have feelings for each other. It is better not to see each other for a while until we are ready to move on to the next phase of our relationship. I know Manchester will be part of our lives in one way or another but for now we needed the distance; there is still chemistry there.

We landed in the morning and enjoyed a very odd day London. We had such a full on week preceding the trip and with no sleep from the flight I felt a bit like a zombie. We spent the day visiting work friends and being escorted around by Mr. E, a regular wander companion, one of our favourite partners in travel adventures. My first blog post with travels had a feature of him. We also had a bit of a half a day to spend on our way from Italy and it was worth mentioning that Mr. E took us to see Warhorse an impressive play with some amazing puppetry. I also have to brag a bit about Mr. E, as he is not just a loud laughing/sneezing pretty face. Oh no, no he is also a smart one and he works with, be ready for it, Hydrogen Fuel Cells. Yes people, he is on the cusp of very interesting research work which of course, makes me look very good. I can work it in conversations and spin it, maybe even bring up Mr. H and G biking around the world and dinner conversations will be impressed everywhere. Here is a video to see what he does.

London.

We may have not made it to Australia, but we are lucky enough to have family a bit closer, so most of our time in UK was spent with my sister-in-law and her husband (S & P), on a trip in Norfolk, to remind us why we love UK. It was a lovely three days spent in green wonderland, with exquisite food, some nice walks and some happy family time. It is an easy yes to any suggestion coming from S & P, we blindly trust their choice of places to see and food to eat.

Our homebase in Norfolk was Cley next the Sea.
We stayed in a cute, welcoming cottage Sky Blue Cottage, where a Victoria Sponge Cake awaited us. Enough said. Within walking distance was the beach, with a classic windmill, the Cley Towermill to be admired on the way. One of my birthday gifts included a book called ‘The Norfolk Mystery’ by Ian Sansom, a cute little murder mystery to accompany me, and make me chuckle everytime I recognize the name of a place.

Norfolk.
Norfolk.

Blickling Hall
The Blickling Hall, a gorgeous location, at some point owned by the Boleyn family. What spectacular grounds, and garden. We were lying on the grass embracing the beauty of it all and imagining how much work and how many gardeners are needed to maintain it.

Norfolk.

Sheringham Park
I can imagine this place being an absolutely breathtaking to walk through during blooming spring season. A bit late in the game, our walk was lovely nonetheless with a bit of rain and lots of cute dogs along the way.

Norfolk.

Wells-next-the-Sea
We visited the seaside here and it was one of those unique times when the tide was all way out and we were walking on the long, looong beach. A bit of an odd experience to see it like this and think you are walking on land rightfully belonging to the sea.

Norfolk.

Food Cravings
There is never shortage of good places to eat in London. We tried to make it to the good ol’ Koya but we found it closed, so instead we ended up at Princi. It is a challenge to find something you don’t like there, even if you just look at the colors of their food and you are happy. We started there and on our departure day we had a lovely breakfast at Caravan.

The highlight was the delicious sea food we had in Norfolk. A home dinner with seafood from Cookie’s Crab shop, a third generation owned place in Salthouse. A second delicious seafood lunch from Wiveton Hall Café with a beautiful crab salad and for dessert scone with an amazing raspberry jam. Cley had some lovely locally sourced shops with both Picnic Fayre and Cley Smokehouse.

Norfolk.

Memories Hunting
Of course I bought something to bring home. Although the temptation was high with a great ceramic store in Cley, I only bought books on this trip. The Bickling Estate has a lovely bookshop, selling old books to help support the estate, here I bought ‘Diary of a Nobody’ by George and Weedon Grossmith from the Folio Society. Meanwhile in Cley there is another lovely shop Crabpot Books, where I purchased a fun pair of books by Milan Kundera and Oscar Wilde. From previous posts you may have noticed our obsession with buying unreasonably difficult items to transport such as bowls or plates. I paced myself this time and started the trip with books, heavy at least they are not breakables.

We ended our trip with dreams of future plans for family travels and until next time we are back in our adoptive country we shall buy overpriced Jaffa Cakes from the British Goods store in Toronto.

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Mont-Tremblant, where the cool kids hike

We are off to explore this big country of ours, even if it is for a few days to celebrate Canada Day. I booked us for a mini trip only 580 kms away from Toronto near Mont-Tremblant, Quebec in a little village called Brebéuf. A mini 5-day vacation spent sleeping, hiking and fighting mosquitoes.

The first hike was 6.5 kms that made me doubt my fitness levels, if any. The weeks before the trip I walked from work home on 7-8 km-tracks twice a week. That did not help at all on our mountain hike. There are multiple options from the ski resort to reach the Mont-Tremblant summit and from the looks of it I did not think it was such a challenge considering the elevation of 875 meters, nothing for such professionals like us. The hikes we did in 2012 still count as recent experience, don’t they? Who cares that we started the climb at 2 PM, that we only had one bottle of water, or that there was a big blown up poster of a mosquito with a warning to use a protective spray. Those types of warnings are for novices. The track we chose, Le Grand Brulé was a strenuous hike up and within an hour and a half I was already tired and convinced we did more than half of it. Man oh man, the moment we reached the map to tell us we only did a third of it, I was both scared and embarrassed. We powered through although at times I was sure we were lost, Chris gave up drinking any of the little water we had left and his legs were prime target for the bugs around. As we approached the top we decided the easiest thing to do, considering the late time of the day was to take the zipline down. When we finally reached the summit and no one was there, I really wondered how we could be so irresponsible.

We took a step back and thought of Mr. H & G, who are two adventurer friends mentioned in other blog posts here. By the way please go and follow their blog as they document a trip they are doing by bike from London to China. Their general approach is very inspiring and we channelled them as we tried to be very relaxed and go with the flow when we rolled at the top of the mountain with no water, no zipline, no people, and a man closing down the telegondola for the day. It was almost 7 pm and as the sun was getting ready to set a knight in shining armour rode up in his truck and was generous enough to accept to take us down. I was sitting there, grateful for not having to panic in the dark over the hike down, realizing I do not understand anything and I should get back to learning French.

Mont-Tremblant

The second day we drove into the Mont-Tremblant National Park, the impressive home of 6 rivers and 400 lakes. We only did a small walk around the Lac des Femmes, a beautiful forest and lake site, a few banks of butterflies on the way, a pheasant too fast to photograph and a scared duck. All in all a lovely walk, a bit rushed again due to some flies/mosquitoes. We also saw a beautiful deer munching away as well as some woodpeckers working their way through some bark.

Mont-Tremblant.

Mont-Tremblant.

This was just a little trip, and we should return during the fall time to properly dedicate some more time to enjoy the sights. Maybe I can be in better shape by next time.

Food Cravings
We enjoyed a lovely stop over meal in Ottawa at The Whalesbone.
While in Brebéuf we bought groceries for most meals and enjoyed some of the local produce and also a rewarding pasta dinner at Mille Pâtes.

Ottawa stop.

Farmer's Breakfast in Quebec.

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I see grass again, Toronto

We did it! We committed to embrace Toronto with the same curiosity as we did Manchester and after a few months here I feel we are on our way. When we were bathing in the sun, in Brisbane we were discussing how to properly enjoy winter and how we would need suitable clothes. So we made an investment, and now we use words like base layers, medium layers, ski pants, wool socks and I visit websites like Icebreaker and MEC. Actually with Icebreaker we have a slight affinity as it kept us warm after we bought a pair of leggings in New Zealand.

This post is a good fit in the Wanders section due to a couple of winter trips. One for me to learn how to ski and the second we had a go at ice climbing. Both experiences had varying levels of success.

Winter.

Winter.

For skiing we went to Blue Mountain, a couple of hours away from Toronto, a bit of a similar look and feel to the peaks of British Columbia. I should not be a smart mouth considering there were slopes in the resort I didn’t not even touch. Although plagued a by a two day headache, I managed to go from the kiddies slope to the graduate level, still within the learning slopes. I enjoyed the thrill of it and the combination of excitement and fear. I had a slight fall at the end to baptize the experience and my left knee still reminds me once in a while that I began the year with a skiing adventure.

A few weeks after, we joined our friends at their cottage in Halliburton, same place where we met the hungriest chipmunk as portrayed in a previous post. The house is by the lake, appropriately named Maple Lake and Saturday we enjoyed it frozen, covered with more than a meter of snow, of course taking lots of photos and even disturbing the peace of some local ice fishers. I do not remember ever seeing so much snow.

On the second day, we had a very modest go at ice climbing with a guide, of course. The sentence: ‘I tried ice climbing while I had a slight knee injury from skiing’ is something I didn’t think I would say or write anytime soon.  While skiing was excitement + fear, this was hard work + adrenalin. For training we had a small climb where I was the last one to go and I can’t say it was a good appetizer. For the second climb, a more serious setup, I did a lot better. I guess the adrenalin kicked in and by the end I felt grateful that Husband Chris is pushing me to do weights once in a while at the gym and also very  happy that I did not need to go to the bathroom after spending 6 hours in the cold. The day itself was absolutely splendid, sunny and no wind.

Winter.

Winter.

One other thing we have done to embrace this winter, was to walk in our park both during snow and ice storms. One evening while still dark Husband Chris made his first snow angel, a worthy event in the life of an Australian. Oddly enough during summer time I never had the courage to walk through the park in the dark, winter time the reflection from the snow lit it up, creating a beautiful setup for either a romantic movie or a thriller, depending on your imagination.

Winter.

Winter activities and hibernation aside, some recent highlights include an excellent exhibition at the AGO, The Great Upheaval with works from 1910 – 1918 brought in from Guggenheim, a play in support of local writers at Passe Muraille Theatre, booked a few more Romanian plays coming up in spring and managed to see one movie since the beginning of the year.

Food Cravings
We have revisited Yakitori Bar and still love their Ramen and we have replaced our local Japanese restaurant with a new one, Kiyomizu, near Yonge and Sheppard, with a promising first experience.

Memento Hunting
Local shopping has been quiet, except the stuff I bought from One of a Kind Show, which was indeed sufficient. A worthy mention is Eliot’s Bookshop and a great record shop Around Again, on the same street as the Yakitori Bar, how convenient :).

And to wrap this post: ‘I see grass again Toronto!’. I am ready for spring.

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Thank you 2013

I had a similar post at the beginning of the previous year and it felt like a good idea to recap some of the highlight moments of 2013. We started the year in one part of the world and ended it in another. In between these, here are some of the moments.

Travel highlights:

  • Rainbow Lorekeets coming everyday to collect the nectar from a tree in Husband Chris’ mom and dad’s garden.
  • Lady Elliot Island. I have added to my happy place, the moment when I kept cleaning the back of the green turtle and as she would see me drift away with the current, she would let herseft drift too.
  • Louvre and British Museum, following the stories of Art History from Khan Academy, we went in search of some of the pieces described there.
  • Napoli. Loved every part of this trip and it made my introduction to Italy memorable.
  • Easter in Galipoli and Conversano at a Masseria in Southern Italy.
  • Picking wild garlic in the woods in Romania and walking around Bucharest in spring.
  • Witnessing the passion of the people working at Noma, Copenhagen.
  • First mini trips around North America with Husband Chris, family and friends: Montreal, New Jersey and Brooklyn.

Personal highlights:

  • Started the year with one pair of twins, ended it with a second one. Both my brother and Husband Chris’ brother have a pair of boy and girl twins. All four are spectacular and we are very lucky to have them in our lives.
  • Spent time with all parents during the year. In our case, with them over three continents, it is a highlight.
  • Had our first guests in Toronto, both family and friends.
  • Started my Etsy shop with prints dear to me.
  • Bought an old piece of furniture and restored it into a beautiful record cabinet, more about that in its own post later on.
  • Read 30 books.
  • Sorted through a lot of our packed boxes.

On a personal level, it has been the year when all the big changes we were going through, have started wrapping up. The move to Toronto, Canada finally completed in May. It has been exciting, fun, surprising, scary, hard at times and probably many other things. It is not my first move, not even my second. It gets easier with each one, as I learned to embrace the change in a proactive and curious manner, creating a great adventure out of it. With that being said, we have moments when we miss people, things and places. I think it is important to acknowledge the richness of those emotions as well. They only show we have felt love where we went and it is normal to cherish it even if it is far.

And now onto our new home with some Toronto highlights:

  • We have discovered some nice walking paths and parks around our place.
  • Kayaking on the Humber River. It was a great surprise to see such beauty right here within our reach.
  • Discovering the fun parts of Toronto: CN Tower visit, a couple of theatre plays,  some great food. The impressive multiculturalism of the city translates very well to a multitude of food choices, both for buying and dining. I have documented some on this Pinterest board.
  • We have welcomed Stuart in our lives, a Norfolk Pine tree who I hope will accompany us for many years to come.
  • We enjoyed three seasons here and they were all intense and beautiful. The summer hot and humid at times, a beautifully coloured fall in Toronto and briefly in Montreal and proper winter. We witnessed an ice storm. More importantly, we saw frozen trees for the first times in our lives.
  • A trip to the cottage where we saw a snapping turtle, loons and bears, and the most adorable chipmuk.
  • Husband Chris added a few more, of his specifically: the embracing of local sports and a job search which ended close to Christmas on a high note and embarked him on a new adventure.

Before we let 2014 take center stage here is a video and a few photos to salute the year passed.

Canada.

Canada.

Canada.

Canada.

Canada.

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Copenhagen, Red Lady Swinging

This is again a feature by Husband Chris. Here it goes.

I’m not sure if we would’ve made it to Copenhagen this time around if it wasn’t for the idea of going to experience the much coveted, once rated world’s best restaurant, Noma. But as it turned out, we decided that we had to go. Wife A. managed to book for a Thursday lunch, it was agreed that our additional guests would take time off work to make it. Then, we managed to book for the Saturday lunch for 6 people that included my Mum and Dad. What a goldmine.

So we arrived, after a fair bit of delay getting train tickets at the most confusing train station I’ve ever experienced, and made it to where we were staying. Self-contained apartments near The Little Mermaid statue. It was awesome to see my parents again after a few months of traveling around Europe and a stay in Romania. We spent the first night just relaxing, the months and months of traveling had been absolutely tremendous but also very tiring. Carrying our luggage to various airports, train stations and cars had taken its toll slightly.

The next day we awoke at a reasonable time and spent the day walking around exploring Copenhagen. It was really beautiful and the weather was gorgeous, very sunny and more fresh than cold. We had breakfast at a café with really good sandwiches and coffee. So nice to have a strong café-made espresso after a good night’s sleep. We then walked around the Rosenberg Palace Garden, where everyone seemed to be enjoying the beautiful weather lying on the grass. I honestly felt as though I could’ve laid down for a few hours myself. We continued on exploring the many interesting yet expensive shops around the city. Dad wanting to buy stuff with Mum attempting to discourage him as much as possible. We stopped at a few furniture shops, I could’ve have easily bought a whole living room, so original. That night my sister and her husband arrived to complete the gang.

Copenhagen.

Copenhagen.

The day of the booking we left, walking 2 hours before lunch was to start. I knew that Dad, and Wife A., would want to take photos along the way. We arrived just in time for our booking. We were greeted by about 20 of the waiting staff as we walked into the door all saying hello at the same time. The menu was set for that particular time of the year. I can barely remember all the dishes we had, but since then I have been given the new Noma book so that has refreshed my memory quite well. The restaurant is astonishing to say the least. The food is original and intriguing. The wine again, original and delicious. The juice menu is arguably better than the wine menu. I did have a wine that tasted very much like the one Wife A’s aunt makes from scratch back in Romania. I was also interested to see that they served wild garlic in a number of their dishes, something we had foraged for back in Romania a couple of weeks earlier. All in all the experience is hard to describe in just one blog post, but I must admit I did feel a little overwhelmed with the number of dishes and the need to try absolutely everything and as many new things as possible. I had been reading about their coffee service for weeks before we went to the restaurant but I found it hard to appreciate after so many dishes. I guess we will just have to go back. We went for a tour of the kitchen after the meal, a real, real treat. It looks like a really great place to work and I actually got to have a quick chat with the head chef Rene while he was rushing to attend to something. A down to earth and nice guy.

Copenhagen.

Copenhagen.

The rest of our time in Copenhagen seems like a dream now. Spending time with my wife, parents, sister and her husband, really something special and to cherish. We paid a visit to the design museum, which was very cool. Some really funky patterns and a good collection of both past and recent art/design work from that part of the world. A really unique place and somewhere I would very much like us to revisit at least once more.

Memories Hunting
The stores were pricey but we managed to find a print that had to come home with us. With found it in a shop called Cinnober a lovely print by Rasmus Bregnhøi. We saw it, left it there since we thought we should resist, next day we ended up buying it. When it still speaks to you after you left the shop maybe the duck experience, the topic of the print, needs to come back with you.

So with a red woman swinging and a duck experience we can wrap up the European Travels and get ready for some North American adventures.

Copenhagen.

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