I had the most amazing, relaxing weekend. It all started when I decided to make homemade gluten-free bread in the new breadmaker my dad bought for me. Gluten-free bread is so expensive, and usually not that great-tasting. I’ve gotten used to the dense, weird taste of gluten-free bread, but I obviously still long for “normal” bread. It was a scavenger hunt of sorts to get all the proper ingredients for the bread recipe…tapioca flour, xanthan gum, potato starch, etc. After hunting them all down, we set to work making the bread. It was surprisingly easy to make, and after three hours, the most delicious, soft, spongy, perfectly tasting bread was made! Ever since going gluten-free last April, I had really missed that taste. Needless to say, my weekend was filled with strawberry jam toasts and ham sandwiches. Yum. On Saturday we went strawberry picking at a local “pick-your-own” farm. For only $10, we filled up two big containers of the freshest, sweetest strawberries! It seemed like we piled them on nearly everything we ate this weekend (and they were perfectly appropriate for Wimbledon watching!). My little nephew, Maxx, even loved them. He stayed with us this weekend, and we had the best time with him. I love being an Auntie. We saw baby racoons in a tree, went to a few different playgrounds, took long walks, played with neighbourhood doggies, and laid in the grass til the mosquitoes came out. The rest of the weekend was spent on long bike rides, antique shopping, and going to the ice cream parlor. What did you do this weekend?
Friday, June 17, 2011
Thanks everyone for your sweet comments on my last post. I know it was long over-due! What are you doing this weekend? I’ll be attending a birthday party, going for a long lakefront bike-ride with my dad, and baking the most delicious blueberry dessert. Have a great weekend!
Monday, June 13, 2011
This is a story that has never really been told here on my blog, and for some reason (perhaps that I’m entering a new chapter of my life, or maybe I’m just feeling nostalgic), I’d like to tell it. For those of you who don’t know, I lived in the Netherlands from May 2008 to August 2009. Just over a year. Gabriel had work over there, and since I had just graduated from university in Canada, and had planned to take a year off, it was serendipitous timing. A few weeks after finishing up my last exam, I packed up two suitcases and flew across the Atlantic. Initially we stayed in Hilversum, a smaller city south of Amsterdam, in the guest-house of the business he was working at. We commuted back and forth to Canada during that time, due to visa regulations. One month in Europe, one month in Canada. Just as I’d get used to the time-change and living situation in the Netherlands, we’d have to fly back. Then it became permanent, and we could stay in the Netherlands full-time. It was bliss. We rented a house right in Amsterdam, and Gabriel even bought a cute little Volkswagen Golf. We put down roots, purchased big things, and created a circle of friends there. We created a life there. During that time, we thought we would stay in the Netherlands forever. It’s the type of place we could envision living in. We loved the people, the culture, the lifestyle, the landscape. Of course we lived there long enough to recognize some of the downfalls as well, and it wasn’t always easy. There was culture-shock (for me), and brutal traffic (for him). There was the language barrier, and not knowing many people at first. But to us, the positives outweighed the negatives. I think we recognized how once-in-a-lifetime the opportunity was, and how fortunate we were to have it, so we really tried to embrace the culture and emphasize the good things.
During my time abroad, I had a Working Holiday Visa. It’s a program through the Canadian and Dutch governments that let me stay there, for a year, and work. I went through hoop-after-hoop to obtain it, and to keep a permit to live there. It was a logistical labyrinth, and Gabriel’s situation (as an employee of a Dutch company) was tedious to sort out as well. The Dutch love their rules, and bureaucracy was thick there.
Midway through my time there, I began thinking about my “next steps.” I wanted to go back to school, and I wanted to get into business. I began researching Dutch universities, and was accepted at the Nyenrode Business Universiteit and the Rotterdam School of Management. I met with alumni from both schools, visited the campuses, went to open-houses and welcome-days, and finally made my decision. I accepted an offer of admission at the Rotterdam School of Management in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. I was going to do my Masters of Science in Management there, and was scheduled to start in September of 2009. During that time, I wrote a fair bit on my blog about my excitement, and the upcoming studies overseas that I would be taking. I was excited, but nervous as well. The commute to Rotterdam from our home in Amsterdam would take over an hour by tram/train/bus each day. Part of me thought I was crazy for wanting to do that each way, but the other side of me could not wait for the chance to stay in the Netherlands for another two years. Well, a few months later, I unexpectedly left to come back to Canada. Not many of my blogging friends knew why, and my close expat friends in the blogging community were shocked by the news. What happened involved difficulty with getting the necessary visas, along with some other logistical issues. In a span of two weeks, I had to apply to schools in Canada, or risk spending another year without employment or education. My Working Holiday Visa had run its course, so my only option was to move back to Canada (or enroll somewhere else in the Netherlands…but it was too late for that). It all happened so fast, and I was shell-shocked. Those of you who read this blog, know how much I loved living abroad. To leave so quickly, and to leave Gabriel there, was very difficult for me. One of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I remember sitting in Reykjavik, Iceland, alone, on a lay-over during my flight home. I was so unsure of what I was doing, and if I’d ever even see Gabriel or the Netherlands again. Half of my things were still there…my house was the way I’d left it. Gabriel would be living there, and the plan was for me to go back 8 months later, in the summer after my first year in Canada.
When I arrived home, too-tanned from a surprise trip to Spain, and too heartbroken to digest what was happening, I had to dive right into school. Leave it to me to fly home mere days before I was slated to start school, hoping to soak up whatever time I had left with Gabriel in Amsterdam. But then, I started school. I got busy. I wrote exams. I met new friends. Amsterdam slipped away. Bit by bit. It became a memory, a story. Nightly though, I would see Gabriel and our apartment via Skype. Part of me had one foot still on the winding staircase leading up to our apartment on Daniel Stalpertstraat. Months later, Gabriel and I met up in NYC and then South America. And then, miracle of miracles, he moved back to Toronto. And life became “normal” again, and our time abroad was just a chapter of our lives (an amazing, life-changing one at that).
Perhaps this blog, in some way, has allowed me to keep one foot in Amsterdam even after two years have passed. It has kept me connected to the part of me that was so incredibly happy, so incredibly content, and so incredibly satisfied. I knew that where I was was exactly where I was supposed to be. In retrospect, I see how things worked out. If I had gone to school in Rotterdam, Gabriel would’ve still had to leave the country due to visas, and I would be left there, alone, commuting 2 hours a day and somehow finding a way to live there. It worked out. I wish I would’ve known that then, but I guess that takes all the fun out of it, right? Not knowing what the next step is, is what makes life worth living. As soon as things become too bland and predictable, you have to shake it up. Or else, where’s the fun? Where’s the mystery, the surprise, the anticipation? I don’t know how the rest of this summer will turn out, or what’s in store for me next year. It’s scary, and after two years of relative predictability, it has shaken me a bit. But thinking back upon my 22-year-old self, flying home solo from Amsterdam in August of 2009, filled with sadness and fear, I realize now that everything will sort itself out. It always does.
So this weekend I officially received my MBA (Masters of Business Administration) degree! I can’t believe that those two years flew by so quickly. It seems like mere months ago when I sent in my applications from my little house in Amsterdam. It was so great to see everyone again, and since our graduating class was very small (unlike my undergrad class), I loved seeing everyone get “hooded” by the bedels at the ceremony.
Now onto the next chapter of my life: law school! I will be relishing my freedom this summer, before the big 3-year push begins. Even though lots of changes have been going on in my life right now, I’m so thankful to have next year to look forward to, and the support of all my amazing friends. xo
Hope you all had a great weekend too!
Friday, June 10, 2011
I’m not sure what I love more about these photos: the differences amongst the riding styles of each of the cyclists, or the unique styles (look at the shoes!) in each picture.
Which one is your favourite? I like the Mom with her baby, casually talking on her cell phone, with her milk crate strapped to the front of her bike.
Hope you all have a wonderful weekend. Tomorrow I’ll be crossing the stage, getting my MBA! Woohoo! At first I didn’t care much about it, but as the day gets closer, I’m getting quite excited. I’ll be back next week with photos!
Thursday, June 9, 2011
…makes knowing where you’re going a whole lot easier.
Like most Canadians, my family are immigrants. Dutch on my Dad’s side, Polish/British on my Mom’s. For whatever reason, I’ve always identified more with my Dutch side, likely because I knew more about them, and had heard numerous stories from my Oma and Opa over the years. If you read my blog during the time I lived in the Netherlands (a purely coincidental happening, which had nothing to do with my family or heritage), you’ll know what a period of self-discovery and growth it was for me. My experience there was not your typical “live abroad in Europe for a year.” It was an opportunity to, in solitude, discover my family’s history. Of course Gabriel was there with me, but he worked full-time, and during the days I would trek across the country, re-tracing the steps of my ancestors. Sometimes I marvel at my 21-year-old self’s bravery. I like to think I’d still be the same way, but taking off on a train to a new city, in a country where I don’t speak the language (although most Dutch people speak impeccable English), without a cell phone, was quite remarkable if I do say so myself hah! Simple things, like walking through the streets I knew my grandmother had walked through during her twenties, or shopping at the same stores, connected with something deep in the pit of my stomach. I would talk to Gabriel about my day, when we both returned home in the evenings, and of course he was interested. But I always wondered if he ever really understood what I was experiencing. The kind of discovery, transformation, and unraveling of my ancestry…I don’t think he really did, and I don’t expect him to. It was my journey, and I am infinitely grateful to him for allowing me the means and opportunity to live abroad with him during his international job experience.
The pinnacle of my time abroad, and one which has stayed with me far longer than the rest of my experiences, was my trip to Terschelling. Terschelling is a small island in the North Sea, belonging to the Netherlands. I went there in May of 2009 with my parents, when they came for two weeks to visit me. We took the ferry across from Harlingen, and spent the next few days exploring the very place where my paternal ancestors all originated. It was remarkable. Life-changing. I had grown up knowing my Opa and Oma’s families hailed from Terschelling. But to me, it was a little speck on a big map. It was a place from a fairy-tale, a family saga, a thousand stories. I didn’t know what to expect when we stepped off the ferry, other than that it would be windy and likely very beautiful (it is now a popular vacation destination for Dutch families).
It was more than just the surface-things. Sure, the people looked similar to me, more-so than anyone I’d ever seen walking around Canada. Of course we saw the signs for the towns from my family’s stories. But what really stood out to me, was the feeling I got cycling through Terschelling. Feeling so connected to one’s heritage, after it being nothing more than a mere tale for twenty-odd years, is a rather unique experience. It was the root of half of my DNA, and lineages that spanned centuries (we have the detailed family trees that explain it all). Seeing the cemetery in Midsland, behind the small church, with our surnames plastered on nearly every headstone, was unreal. These were my family members. This was where I was from. Meeting family members I had heard about in stories, and seeing, by chance, a framed photograph of an ancestor, identical to one in our home in Canada, gave me chills. Learning that distant cousins, my age, were still attending nautical school to enter into our family career as ship captains, showed me how deep a history our family still has.
It seems that now, as I finish my MBA and move on to law school, the reality that two years has passed since I left the Netherlands hits hard. I don’t want the lessons I learned there, the feelings I got, and the knowledge and wisdom I found to ever leave me. Knowing where you’re from is a feeling like no other, and I am determined to one day experience my maternal sides’ ancestry as well. For me, as I’m sure it would be for most people, experiencing my family’s ancestral roots, and having it affect me in a way I never realized it would, has stuck with me. It has made me have a sense of self, and knowing my foundation has allowed me to build upon it, and figure out where I want to go in my life. And for that experience, I will be forever grateful.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
To this day, no place I’ve ever visited has surprised me as much as Malta did. Before going there, all I had heard about the tiny island nation was that it was, essentially, a rock. Ok, but that didn’t really tell me much about the country itself. What was the culture like? What language was spoken? What types of food were eaten? I was so curious, and the five hour flight from Amsterdam seemed like an eternity. For the few days that we were there, staying in the guest house of one of Gabriel’s former colleagues, I was enthralled with this beautiful country. From the old British telephone booths and colonial heritage, to the Arabic street names and architecture, Malta was an infusion of different cultures and nations, blended together in amidst golden rock and bright blue sea. I fell in love with Malta, the friendly people, the charming expats, and the long history.
Saturday, June 4, 2011
Commonly a stop on most people’s trips to Canada, Toronto is a vibrant, multi-cultural city with lots to offer. I have nowhere near scratched the surface of all the amazing restaurants, shops, and markets within the city, but am nonetheless excited to share with you what I have found to be the best of Toronto. If you have anything to add, please feel free to leave them in the comments section, I would love to hear your recommendations too! I’ve compiled a 3-day guide, and this handy map below helps to organize all the points of interest:
View Life Abroad's Toronto Map in a larger map
Where to Stay:
I recommend Hotel Le Germain, a beautiful boutique hotel on Mercer Street. Right across from the Toronto International Film Festival Tiff Bell Lightbox, the red-brick hotel is a hotspot for visiting celebs and non-celebs alike! Of course there are tons of hotels in the downtown core, and searching sites like Travelzoo, and Priceline are super-helpful in finding great deals. Last year I stayed at the Yorkville Intercontinental hotel on Bloor Street for my university-reunion, and through a Priceline deal, scored it for only $90/night!
Brunch Al Fresco: The Oliver & Bonacini Café Grill serves up some of the best cuisine in the city. From its Belgian Waffles to its Broccoli, Leek, and Goat Cheese Quiche, there is something for everyone on this menu. In warmer weather, the patio is relaxed and cool, with chic outdoor sofas and a lounge-y vibe. Close to Union Station (Toronto’s main train terminal), the Yonge & Front location of the grill makes it perfect for a first-stop in Toronto.
Browse the Market: A long-time favourite place of mine is the St. Lawrence Market. Set in an area of the city which boasts picturesque brick buildings, including the famous Flatiron building, the St. Lawrence Market is a thriving indoor space with cuisine from around the globe. Head downstairs to the basement level for some of the best. cabbage roles. of. your. life. The samples of cheeses, crackers, meats, and breads on the main-floor of the market alone are reason enough to visit! On Saturday mornings, across the street from the main market pavilion, is a smaller structure housing organic, independent farmers. It’s a great place to pick up some gluten-free baked goods or home-grown produce. On Sundays, across the street is transformed into an antiques market, both indoor and outdoor. From vintage clothing and jewelry to retro furniture, the Sunday antiques market is a shopper’s haven.
Pound the Bricks: After spending the morning at the market, head on over to Toronto’s famous Distillery District, a national Historic Site. On the east-end of the city, travelers to the Distillery District are recommended to take a quick 5 minute cab ride to get there. Walking is doable, but it leads through some of the sketchier areas of town, with not much to see between St. Lawrence Market and the Distillery District. Once you arrive, you will be greeted with beautifully rustic brick buildings, brick streets, and modern art galleries. Home to some of the best lofts in the city, the Distillery District was once a whiskey-brewing area of town, with many of the buildings dating back to the mid-1800s. This gorgeous area of town has been restored to its true beauty, and many boutiques, restaurants, galleries, and cafes can now be found here. If you’re lucky, one of the many festivals hosted here will be going on during your visit! Grab some lunch at a restaurant as you make your way around this famous historic area.
Go Thai: After a day spent browsing the market and the Distillery District, an affordable and delicious Thai meal is sure to satisfy your appetite. Thai Princess is a hole-in-the-wall restaurant we noticed immediately after moving to Toronto. Why? Because in the summer its patio is always packed with people; everyone from the Financial District suits to the bohemian artists of the city love this place. We were immediately curious and had to give it a try. Since then, we’ve been back at least fifty times, and always enjoy impeccable service and hot, tasty food. My favourites are their pad thai and coconut rice, but everything on the menu is delicious. With a nice dining room and great prices, Thai Princess is my go-to place for a late-night dinner.
Catch a Film: Last summer, the Tiff Bell Lightbox opened its doors as the new home of the Toronto International Film Festival. This multi-million dollar behemoth is set in the heart of the Entertainment District, and when the festival isn’t on, plays host to daily viewings of movies from around the world and exhibitions. It’s also home to two Oliver & Bonacini restaurants: O&B Canteen and Luma. After your satisfying meal at Thai Princess, cross the street to Tiff to enjoy a foreign film or movie exhibition, like Midnight Madness or Hollywood Classics. It’s a great way to spend an evening, and a nightcap at any one of the multitude of bars in the surrounding area is the perfect way to finish off the night.
Break Bread: Cora’s is a Canadian landmark restaurant, with locations all across the country. If you’ve ever been, you’ll know about the amazing menu selection, the fresh fruit sculptures, and Cora’s signature dishes. You’ll also know about the lines of hungry early-risers who undoubtedly come with almost all of Cora’s locations. All I can say is, it’s worth the wait. I recommend the Wellington Street/Blue Jay’s Way location. You will leave with full tummies, ready to tackle a new day of sight-seeing, shopping, and exploring!
Be a Tourist: Any first-time visitor to Toronto must see the CN Tower and the Rogers Centre (formerly known as the Sky Dome). Take the elevator 112 stories high to the Glass floor, where you can look down upon the city. Known as one of the Modern Wonders of the World, the CN Tower looms above the Toronto skyline and is the city’s iconic structure. If you visit in season, taking in a Blue Jay’s Game at the Rogers Centre is a nice way to spend an afternoon, and is very affordable! If you’re brave enough, enjoying some “street meat” from a hot dog vendor is also an iconic Toronto treat.
Cool Off: Just steps away from the CN Tower and Rogers Centre is the Toronto Harbourfront Centre. Here you’ll find a sprawling boardwalk, summer festivals, outside patios, and a man-made beach in HTO park. A quick stroll around this area showcases the city’s nautical side, and is especially buzzing on warm days.
Get Fresh: Satisfy your hunger with lunch at Freshii on Spadina Avenue. This vegetarian restaurant is anything but boring, and all the ingredients are, well, fresh! It also has tons of gluten-free options. You’ll leave feeling energized and ready to enjoy the rest of the afternoon in Toronto’s Fashion District.
Shop Around: The King West corridor is quickly becoming the best place for shopping in Toronto. It’s also packed with amazing bars, modern restaurants, and quaint cafes. Stores like Design Within Reach have found a home here, which makes for some great shopping. Just a few blocks north, Queen West has long-since been known as one of Toronto’s best shopping areas.
Treat Yourself: Right in the heart of Toronto’s shopping scene, on Queen West and Peter Street, Little Nicky’s is one of the city’s best-kept-secrets. An independently-owned coffee shop, Little Nicky’s boasts eclectic décor, a relaxed vibe, and freshly-made-on-the-spot mini doughnuts sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar ($2.75 for 6, $4.00 for a dozen). You will fall for the vintage doughnut maker which spurts these pint-sized delights out immediately upon order.
Never Grow Up: After trips to the Eaton Centre, bustling Yonge Street, and the Times Square wannabe “Young & Dundas Square”, dinner at one of Queen Street West’s many restaurants is your best bet for something authentic and non-franchisey. While the Queen Mother Café is excellent, as is the Black Bull for patio season, I have fallen hard for Peter Pan, on the corner of Queen and Peter. It is, without a doubt, my favourite restaurant in the city. With a constantly-evolving menu involving in-season ingredients, Peter Pan has never disappointed. Whether it’s a casually elegant meal paired with local wines, or a fresh lunch, you just can’t beat the value you receive at Peter Pan. Very affordable, very fresh, and very delicious. Plus its steeped in history, with its 1930/1940s charming wood booths, floors, and tin ceilings. You will love it. Guaranteed.
Party with a Rock Star: Another Toronto landmark? The HorseShoe Tavern. This rough tavern, located on Queen West near Spadina Avenue, once played host to such bands as The Rolling Stones, The Blues Brothers, and Blue Rodeo. Since 1947, it has been the place to discover new bands, or see some old favourites. Catch a show after dinner and feel the gritty rock history of Toronto’s past.
Laugh and Unwind: After hearing some bands play at the Horseshoe Tavern, I recommend stopping in at Second City, the comedy club which made acts like Mike Meyers famous. They have improv nights, and hilarious comedy shows. For a late-night scene, head along King Street West, where all the city’s best bars are located. I like Bier Markt. With its wood-paneled walls, hundreds of beers, and live music, it’s a relaxed place that feels quintessentially European (and has excellent food too!). I recommend the cheese fondue to share over beers.
Sip and Read: Start the day with some Italian-style coffee at the Dark Horse Espresso Bar on Spadina Avenue. Sprawl out on a large wooden communal table as you browse through the Toronto papers, munch on some freshly baked organic pastries, and sip your caffeine. The Dark Horse stays true to its motto: “Improving Toronto’s Coffee Scene: One Latte at a Time.” The people-watching and loft-like décor of the Dark Horse makes it a fun alternative to a packed breakfast house. In the surrounding area of ChinaTown, there are plenty of curbside food stands and shops to see.
Go Boho: Kensington Market is a famously vibrant area of Toronto. Not your typical “market” per se, its moniker comes from the multitude of stores, fruit stalls, ethnic eateries, and boutiques jam-packed into a few city blocks. With an inherently bohemian vibe, Kensington Market makes for the perfect way to get lost in an afternoon. Besides its vintage clothing and furniture stores, Kensington Market is also a vegetarian/vegan/gluten-free dream! If you simply like to people-watch and feel the history of a city, this is the place to go. Grab lunch at one of the many independently-owned restaurants in the area, like The Grilled Cheese, before heading up-town.
Learn a Little: The Royal Ontario Museum (aka The ROM), recently got a major face-lift from some clever architects. Last summer we saw the Warrior Emperor’s Terracotta Army, and I was immediately smitten with this Toronto institution. It has changing exhibits, alongside its more permanent displays. There is something for everyone, and is very child-friendly as well (especially super-cool attractions like The Bat Cave).
Get Swanky: Spend the evening strolling the streets of Yorkville, Toronto’s premier neighbourhood and celebrity haven. It has lots of high-end designer boutiques, as well as more mainstream shops like Anthropologie. In the summer months, Yorkville has gorgeous hanging baskets flanking its cobblestoned sidewalks, and has no shortage of chic cafes. For dinner, you can choose from a variety of seen-and-be-seen places, or opt for something a bit more casual, like Café Nervosa, which serves up some of the best Italian pizza in the city. Finish off the night on the casual patio at Hemingway’s, drinking with the Yorkville set.
Pictures in this post from 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
Thursday, June 2, 2011
A few years ago, we took a quick flight from the Netherlands to Milan, Italy. Once there, we hurried onto a train which would take us to Pisa. We stopped for a quick view of the leaning tower and drank some cappuccinos, before heading off to Cinque Terre, Italy via train. We stayed in a tiny little apartment built into a cliff, and the owner brought us fresh lemons and herbs from his garden. We spent the next few days exploring the five towns which make up Cinque Terre, strolling the Via Dell’Amore (Lovers Walk), and enjoying the wonderful cuisine of the region. I recently found these photos on an old hard-drive of pictures, and could not stop looking at the colours, textures, and depth of the beauty that surrounded us. Do you ever have it when, after a vacation, you actually appreciate the place more than when you were there? I think sometimes that has to do with jet-lag or travel fatigue, or just generally being overwhelmed in the moment. Once back on familiar soil, you can really think back upon a place and marvel that you were actually there!
If you’d like to see more pictures of our time in Cinque Terre, or my life in the Netherlands, you can find them here.