Sunday, March 28, 2010
One year ago, Gabriel and I were settling into life in our new rental apartment in Amsterdam. Situated in De Pijp neighbourhood, it was such a fun apartment to act as our home-base during our European adventure. It had everything we could have asked for, including a garage (virtually unheard of in Amsterdam!), high ceilings, big open windows, and a gorgeous bathroom. It was pretty small, but we made the space work, and after a few months we barely noticed how tiny it was!
The apartment hunting has started all over again. This time, it's proving to be more of a difficult task. We've been totally spoiled by Amsterdam, its charming homes, quirky neighbourhoods, and historic streets. Toronto, in all honesty, can't even be compared to Amsterdam. Still, it's hard not to. We want to find a cozy neighbourhood that is downtown, yet doesn't feel like its in a concrete jungle. Is this too much to ask?! The real estate market in Toronto is so hot right now that even when a beautiful condo pops up, it's sold within the day.
Our wish list? Quaint neighbourhood close to cafes and shops, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a spacious living area, no loft-feel, with a nice view.
Keep your fingers crossed as we search for this apartment!
Saturday, March 27, 2010
In January, during our South America trip, Gabriel and I took a cab to the Buenos Aires barrio (neighbourhood) of La Boca. La Boca is a working-class neighbourhood, known for colourful buildings and die-hard soccer fans. The brightly coloured corrugated zinc siding was originally salvaged from ships in the nearby harbor. Renovation work has restored many of these buildings back to their original colours.
We had been warned not to visit La Boca, due to the unsafe conditions there. However, visiting on a weekday afternoon proved to be most pleasant, and we never felt unsafe. La Boca is, undoubtedly, a tourist town. Parillas with free tango entertainment abound, and street markets peddling gorgeous artisan wares dot the area. We enjoyed walking a bit off the main street, Caminito, to the more residential parts of La Boca. The colours and characters of the neighbourhood made for some great exploring. We wouldn't recommend scouring the neighbourhood after dark, however, as it does have a reputation for petty crime.
Despite its touristy feel, La Boca was one of our favourite stops in Buenos Aires.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
It's funny how much a person can accumulate in such a short time. Like our over-priced serving platter that we bought in Delft on our first visit there, our Oliebollen plate, our weathered guidebooks from throughout Europe, soft cashmere scarves from the Kalverstraat, buttercream yellow cardigans from SissyBoy Homeland (weird name, great clothes), and my bargain Armani jacket from Maison de Bonneterie.
I constantly wear my Dutch clothes. They are so different than what any stores in Canada sell, and are tailored wonderfully to my 6 foot tall frame. When I'm running out the door, I'll throw on a few necklaces that I bought at the market, or my vintage bracelets I found when Yvonne and I scoured the Noordermarkt for second-hand jewelry. My sterling silver bird sits on my bedside, a reminder of the time Gabriel and I purchased it at an eccentric antique store near our home. Perhaps my most prized souvenir from Amsterdam is my little round antique table. I purchased it on Queen's Day last April, from a street-seller. Gabriel packed it in his suitcase and flew it home for me, despite its awkward shape.
My room is covered with artifacts from my year abroad. Constant reminders of my travels through the city I love so much.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Tomorrow night I'm attending a special appetizer party at a friend's house. We're indulging in Spanish-style tapas. Yesterday we were so bored in class that we scoured tapas recipe websites in search of what to bring! Looking at all of the Spanish recipes, I immediately was taken back to Alicante, Spain, where Gabriel took me on a surprise birthday celebration last August. I never posted much about our trip, because that was just before I moved back to Canada, so here is some inspiration from Spain. We loved indulging in sangria, spicy meatballs, provolone, paella, and seafood.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Wow, this feels like the first time I've been able to sit down and do something other than schoolwork for the past few weeks! Today I presented what was, by far, the most stressful, intimidating, presentation of my MBA career. Think Simon Cowell meets Donald Trump in the boardroom, with a little Dr. Evil thrown in. Yikes! Luckily my colleagues and I made it through unscathed, but it entailed weeks of preparation. Needless to say, I'm breathing a BIG sigh of relief!
A few weeks ago (when I actually had a life), Gabriel and I took a stroll through Niagara-on-the-Lake. Such a beautiful area, we often don't visit because it's so close to home, we take it for granted. The old buildings, quaint shops, and cozy restaurants make for a wonderful Sunday roaming along the main street.
I'm so happy to have my cafe-buddy back (Gabriel). When he was still in Amsterdam, I was going through serious cappuccino-date withdrawals. Now that he's back in Canada, we are trying to integrate our love for Dutch cafe culture into our Canadian lives. A cute little coffee shop opened up in my town, and we often find ourselves snuggled up by the fire, two cappuccinos and two novels from Chapters in hand.
Enjoy the first signs of spring everyone! Tomorrow they're calling for 17 C degree weather...keep your fingers crossed that winter has left for good!
Wednesday, March 3, 2010
We made it back from Las Vegas on Saturday night, after a whirlwind 4 day vacation. Booked on a whim, our trip to Las Vegas was exciting and rejuvenating. It was a nice break from the enormous blizzard that delayed my train to Toronto by 5 hours, and many of our flights through the eastern US. Nonetheless, we made it to Vegas unscathed and ready to see the sights.
The first thing we noticed when we got off the plane were the slot machines inside the Las Vegas airport. The glitz, over-the-top theme restaurants, and sounds of chiming slot machines bombarded us. We took a 5 minute cab to our hotel, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. Like any Hard Rock experience, blaring rock music played throughout the entire hotel, and props from various musical acts adorned the walls. Our room was nice, modern, and clean. We had no complaints about the Hard Rock the entire time, except that it was off the strip (only a 10-15 minute walk to the strip). If we were to visit Vegas again (which won’t be anytime soon), we would definitely book a hotel on Las Vegas Blvd.
We spent the next three days exploring the various hotels and casinos along the strip. Gabriel and I are not big gamblers, but we did enjoy playing slot machines, and having our $5.00 last for over 3 hours of excitement. Gabriel won big on the slots ($30.00) while I continued to lose over and over again.
During our time in Vegas, we really enjoyed all of the beautiful restaurants in the casinos. Our favourite was Serendipity 3 at Caesar’s Palace, a franchise of the original Serendipity in New York City. We dined on ABC Burgers (Avocado, Brie, Caramelized Onion) and sweet potato fries, and finished off our meal with Serendipity’s famous Frrrozen Hot Chocolate. Delish!
Other foodie highlights were our peanut butter and banana crepes from the Paris hotel, and our Asian feast inside the Bellagio’s Noodles restaurant.
Vegas far exceeded my expectations. I had originally thought that it would be akin to Clifton Hill in Niagara Falls… full of cheap souvenir stores, crummy restaurants, and annoying tourists. I suppose that this is the off-season for visiting Vegas, so it wasn’t that busy. It was comfortable to stroll around in the 65 degree weather, which for us Canadians is quite warm! The streets were pristine, no street performers or sales people bothered us, and it was much more luxurious than I had excepted. I’m sure that there are seedier areas of Vegas, but sticking to the strip, we didn’t feel that way at all.
Since we saw 99% of all the hotels, inside and out, here are my opinions on them, in case anyone is interested for future reference:
* Mandalay Bay – By far our favourite hotel of all. Located at one end of the strip, Mandalay Bay is new, modern, and has a laid-back island feel. Plus a really amazing shark reef!
* The Venetian – I really enjoyed the Venetian, which is where we watched The Blue Man Group perform. My review on the Blue Men? Well…the show itself was good, but the audience was atrocious. The man beside me couldn’t control himself, and kept making bird noises THE ENTIRE TIME. The woman behind us was definitely channelling Xena Warrior Princess with her consistent “ay-yayayayayayay!” calls. The Venetian itself was opulent and clean, with tasteful decor and cute gondolas paddling about.
* Caesar’s Palace – One of the oldest hotels on the strip, it seems that Caesar’s has really kept up to date with its renovations. The overall atmosphere was festive and fun, but very elaborate and dripping in diamonds.
* Bellagio – The Bellagio was quite nice, and definitely had a beautiful free fountain show every night (every 40 minutes, choreographed to music). With its reputation, however, I had expected more from it, and found that it was so busy that it was almost looking a tad run-down.
* Mirage, MGM, Luxor, Treasure Island – Mediocre, at best. These hotels were dark, run-down, and kind of grimy feeling. I wasn’t impressed with any of them. I’m sure they were beautiful back in the day, but they just can’t compare to some of the newer hotels.
* New York, New York – Kitschy and cute, New York New York would have been a fun place to stay.
* Paris – More catered towards elderly people, Paris was beautiful inside (slightly tacky…nothing like the real Paris), but nonetheless kind of fun to walk around. I found it to be one of the most popular hotels, and it did have a bit of a cheap feel to it. From the outside, it is gorgeous though!
* Excalibur – In a word, tacky. It was NASCAR weekend in Vegas when we went, and I think the entire fan base was staying here.
My final thoughts on Vegas: a great place to getaway if you get a good deal, and are looking for a few days (max 3) of relaxation and fun. Would be especially fun for a girl’s weekend or a bachelor party extravaganza. Will I go back? Probably not. Only if given a free trip or if the blackjack tables begin to call my name. Otherwise, I prefer areas with more culture and substance. It was a fun city though, and I can definitely see the allure of it. Vegas is a place that I was always curious about, so I’m definitely glad we had the chance to go. It exceeded my expectations, and was a fun getaway for Gabriel and I.