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A few photos taken this past weekend during my overnight stay in Québec City:
- This trip has convinced me that I definitely need to spend more time in this beautiful city!
I’ve been on the road for the past two days, travelling from Toronto to New Brunswick. I was really looking forward to this road trip – I love driving on the open highway, singing to music blaring on the stereo, even though I usually make the long trip by myself. I especially love having my satellite radio for these road trips – I can listen to 80s music, all the time, if I so choose.
Except that this road trip coincided with one of the hottest summers on record for Ontario, and within minutes of hitting the road…I discovered that the air conditioning in my car wasn’t working properly. A few minutes of cool air would be followed with loooooong stretches of hot air blowing into the car (and onto me). Bloody h*ell! This meant driving almost 9 hours in the heat with the front windows wise open, which of course completely tangled my easily-tangled hair. First world pains, I know…but still pretty annoying.
I had the good sense to pre-book a hotel room in Québec City last night – I haven’t stayed there overnight in many years, so this was a great treat. I arrived just in time for dinner, so I walked around Old Québec until I found something interesting. (Read: I picked one of the few restaurants that didn’t have a long lineup.) A nice dinner followed by an even nicer gelato and long walk, and I was ready for bed!
This morning I had a leisurely double americano at the Brûlerie Saint-Roch – a great little coffee house with lots of character – before heading to the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec (Québec’s provincial art gallery). They have a fascinating exhibit on surrealist women artists in Mexico and the US, which included several paintings by Frida Khalo. I’m so glad I caught the exhibit before it ends in just a few weeks…
Then it was time to hit the road again for the last leg of the journey. Thankfully, it was cooler the further east I drove so the heat was much more bearable. Finally arrived at my parents’ home around dinner time, and I’ve been relaxing all evening. I think it’ll be another early night to bed.
I’m too tired to write any longer tonight (13.5 hours of driving in two days will do that to you), but I look forward to sharing some photos of Québec City in tomorrow’s post…
P.S. You may notice that I broke the 30-day challenge by not posting anything yesterday. True enough. But I did write a post yesterday using my smartphone’s WordPress app for the first time. Unfortunately I kept getting a network error every time I tried posting anything (including photos). Now that I have access to a computer, yesterday’s update doesn’t even appear in my drafts…grrr.
Every time I embark on a major trip, I create a handmade travel journal to take along with me. I am embarrassed to admit that the journal you’re about to see is the first I’ve actually finished!
I traveled to Greece in May 2009 to attend a friend’s wedding. It was an amazing experience shared with a few close friends – a trip full of so many memories that I really, really wanted to capture the sights, colours, sounds, stories, and emotions that I experienced while I was there.
This was my first time using an accordion binding for a travel journal, and I really loved it – I will definitely be using this format for future journals.
The covers measure 6.25″ X 9.75″ (16 cm X 25 cm); the chipboard covers are wrapped in real maps of Greece that I found in an old atlas. I made the book this size in order to be able to sew booklet-size envelopes in the page valleys. The inside pages are made of watercolour paper – I wanted something that would fold easily yet be sturdy enough to handle wet media. This paper was perfect for my purposes.
I glued two long strands of ribbon to the inside back cover so that I could tie the book shut.
On the pages I used a variety of media: acrylic paint, Caran d’ache Neocolor II watersoluble crayons, rubber stamps, watercolour paint, pen & ink, washi masking tape. Throughout my trip, I collected ephemera that I included in the journal: business cards, boarding passes, ticket stubs, brochures, maps, baggage tags, a label from bottled water, receipts. I also included the original wedding invitation, and of course, lots of photos. I sewed in large and small envelopes to insert any items that I didn’t want to damage or that were too heavy to glue or sew into the journal.
Even though I had the best of intentions, I didn’t actually record much in the journal during the actual trip (this always happens). I’ll diligently record everything that happens during the first day or two of the trip, and then I either get too busy or too tired to continue. Instead, I kept a list of highlights or memories of each day to spur my memory when I get home. It works – more than a year after the trip, I was able to recall what almost every item on the list referred to.
I also included several lists in the journal: Greek words and phrases, things I noticed about Greece, what I most loved…
I had a great time putting together this travel journal – what a great sense of accomplishment to finally finish it! Now I have to work on finishing my travel journals for the trips to Guatemala, Switzerland and the Northwest Territories taken several years go – whew!
I arrived home from my trip to Greece 10 days ago. I’ve had lots of time to blog about it since then, and really had no excuse for not posting anything. Except that I’ve been depressed and melancholy since coming home to Canada. I’ve been sulking around the apartment and at the office, wanting so desperately to go back. Today is the first day I’ve truly felt happy and productive since my return. Finally.
I spent the first two days of my trip on my own before meeting up with my friends. Since I was only going to be in Athens for a total of about 30 hours, I really needed a clear plan in order to maximize what little time I had there. The morning I arrived, I was already wiped with exhaustion (I suffer from severe motion sickness, which tends to drain me of all energy when I travel), but I made an effort to stay awake. After a quick shower, I set out to discover the Monastiraki, Syntagma and Plaka districts.
What a charming (if touristy) area! It was so much fun to walk along the narrow streets, peeking into shops that sold anything and everything: leather sandals, sea sponges, food, t-shirts, jewelery, pottery, kitschy souvenirs… If I happened to glance up down one of the side streets, I sometimes got a peek of the Acropolis, which sent shivers down my spine. To think that just ahead was THE ACROPOLIS. Incredible. I wanted to save my visit to the Acropolis for the following day, when I wasn’t so tired. Oh, the urge to go at that moment was so very strong, but I resisted.
I stopped at a small restaurant late in the afternoon and sat alone on the terrace. The waiter came and took my order, and soon thereafter an older man came to greet me. He may have been the owner of the restaurant, but he didn’t look Greek (he was much taller and thinner than the Greek men I’d seen, and his hair was completely white). This was the gist of our conversation:
Him (with thick accent): Where are you from, my dear?
Him: Canada? I LOVE CANADA! And you are here in Athens alone?
Him: Ah. Let me give you some advice: When it comes to Greek men, you have to be FIRM. You have to know in your head what you want, and you have to be FIRM. Otherwise, they will take advantage of you. Ok? BE FIRM.
Me (trying my best not to burst out laughing): Ok. Be firm.
And then he left. But then he came back.
Him: When is your birthday?
Me (confused): Pardon?
Him: What month were you born?
Me: Uh, January.
Him (almost violently): I KNEW IT! Me too – I am born in January! It is like WE ARE BROTHERS!
Indeed. Just like brothers.
After this most amusing dinner, I spent over an hour in Monastiraki Square, just people watching. It was fascinating to hear the numerous languages and accents all around me. When darkness fell, I walked back to my hotel room and went to bed early. I slept for 12 hours straight.
The next morning, I had a quick breakfast at the hotel, then headed out. My first stop: to buy leather sandals from this guy. Actually, his son sold me the sandals – regardless, the pair I bought is so incredibly comfortable, I’ve been wearing the sandals non-stop.
Next on the agenda – the Acropolis. Now, I’ll blame it on the jet lag, but for some reason it never occurred to me that the Acropolis was at the top of a hill (it looked really flat on the map!) and that I would have to actually climb the hill in order to reach it. Mentally, I was NOT prepared for the uphill hike in 30c+ weather. In fact, I thought I was going to die. But I made it – along with about 20,000 other people (or so it felt). If this is the off-peak season, I cannot even begin to imagine what the busy season looks like…
Walking through the gates of the Propylaea and arriving face-to-face with the Parthenon was one of the most awesome experiences of my life. I remember being frozen in awe and disbelief as the monumental building stood there before me. I can’t even put my feelings at that moment into words. I decided to sketch the Parthenon in my travel journal, to better to savour the moment and remember every detail. Of course, the drawing doesn’t do the original justice, but I’m glad I took the time to sketch it nonetheless – it’s now engrained in my mind. (More on my travel journal in another post).
After spending some time walking through the rest of the Acropolis and seeing the Erechtheion, the Theatre of Dionysus and the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, I headed back down the slope and stopped for lunch near Monastiraki Square. Since I only had a few hours left in Athens, I knew I couldn’t visit the numerous museums and archeological sites within the city. I therefore decided to focus on one more site: the Temple of Olympian Zeus. Walking through the narrow streets of Plake, I was once again rendered completely awestruck and speechless by the sheer magnitude of the ruins as I arrived at the site. There seemed something inherently wrong about cars being allowed to zoom by just a few feet from the temple – it was a strange mix of modern and ancient civilizations. Walking back to the hotel, I was amazed (and amused) to come across the ruins of a Roman bathhouse, smack dab in the middle of one of the busiest streets in Athens! Incredible!
I soon thereafter took a bus to the airport, and that evening flew to Rhodes Island (Rodos), where I remained for the rest of the trip. More on that soon…
This conversation really happened at Newark International Airport (New Jersey), when I stopped at a shop to buy a bottle of water -
Cashier: What’s them strange coins you got in your hands – what country are they from?
Me: Uh, Canada. That’s our one-dollar coin.
Cashier: Right – them’s strange coins. And they have a strange name, too, like “duck” or something.
Me (trying really hard not to laugh): Uh, actually they’re called loonies.
Cashier: Right, right. And you have something like a double-loonie too.
Me: Uh, yeah – they’re called toonies.
Cashier: Right, right. Man, them’s strange coins you have.
And thus the adventure began…
It’s finally starting to dawn on me that in 9 dodos (French for “sleeps”), I’ll be on a big plane heading to Greece. Until now it seemed like an abstract notion, something casually mentioned during conversations, but not quite real. Today I spent the whole day plotting my itinerary – since I’ll only be spending about 30 hours in Athens before heading to Rhodes Island, I want to make the most of my time there. I discovered that the hotel where I’d initially booked a room (several weeks ago) is in a not-so-great part of the city. I hadn’t much time to investigate and booked one of less expensive rooms I could find (now I know why it was so cheap!). I’ve managed to find a better hotel, closer to the Acropolis and the Athens market, two attractions I so desperately want to visit.
My question for anyone who knows Athens:
Can you recommend any good stationery / paper / art supply stores in Athens – ideally in the Plaka, Syntagma or Monastiraki quarters? Any must-see shops or restaurants I should visit while I’m there?
Although almost every minute of my time in Athens will be plotted out in advance, I’m mindful of keeping my days on Rhodes Island wide open. After all, my mission will be to spend several days relaxing and hanging out with dear friends and eating and drinking wine in the lovely village of Lindos. Here’s proof of its loveliness:
Yah, my life sucks. Cough.
I am sad to admit that my attempts to learn Greek have been quite disastrous,although many people have told me that I will likely pick it up in Greece, once I’m surrounded by it. At least I can read the alphabet and pronounce words correctly – but I still have no idea what they mean! It’ll be interesting to see how much I really am able to pick up once I’m in Greece…
I thought it was a brilliant idea. To visit my parents in New Brunswick for a few days. I hadn’t been home in almost 1 1/2 years, so it was a long overdue trip.
I checked the weather forecast. I checked the road conditions forecast. Some rain, but nothing I couldn’t handle.
So B and I packed out bags and headed out on our road trip, full of cheer and anticipation.
What was that, you ask?
Snow, snow, and more snow. A snow storm on the two-day trip there. Another neverending snow storm during our three days in NB. Shacked up in my parents’ house, unable to go anywhere. Not to the mall. Not to visit family. Not to visit long-lost friends.
As if things weren’t bad enough, B’s severe allergies to my parents’ cats took a turn for the worse. He suffered horribly and thought he would end up staying in a hotel. I thought he would end up staying in a hospital. Neither event happened, thankfully.
Here’s proof of the trip:
The few good things that happened during this trip:
- spending time with my parents
- eating lobster (yum!)
- a visit with my friends for two measly hours. Yup, a bummer, but at least I got to see them for a quick brunch.
Mercifully, the sun came out on the last day of our travel back to Toronto. Redemption, at last.
Until today. When we received yet more snow. Mixed in with rain. Argh.
I can hear the wind howling just outside the window – boy, am I ever glad I’m indoors… I’ve been constantly on the road for the past few weeks, planning and implementing events as part of my day job. Quite frankly, I’m exhausted, and it’s only going to get worse in the next few weeks, with eight (yes, 8!) more events before the end of February.
Last weekend was my birthday, and unfortunately I was too tired to truly enjoy it. I had travelled extensively during that week, and was still trying to recover from the jetlag of the European trip. I still enjoyed my birthday (B. and I spent the whole day wandering stores and shopping malls, something we hadn’t done since forever), although I didn’t have any energy to do much of anything.
So today, after driving B. to the airport early this morning (he’s on his way to Mexico, lucky man!), I spent the day indulging myself. After watching several of Suzi Blu’s videos for inspiration, I did some sketching, something I hadn’t done in ages. If you’re ever stuck in a rut, visit Suzi Blu – she’ll set you on the path to artistic nirvana.
After that, I worked on a handmade photo album I’m making as a thank-you gift. I hope it turns out all right; I have a clear vision in my head of what I want it to be…
A long nap, followed by a long, hot shower, helped restore my energy enough that I could start work on my latest obsession: Scherenschnitte. What is scherenschnitte, you ask?
Scherenschnitte is the Swiss/German art of papercutting. I discovered this beautiful artform during my trip to Switzerland in December. While I vaguely recalled having seen photos of these papercuttings in the past, I had never really paid them any attention, until I saw a few hanging in a cafe in Gstaad. The intricacy and delicacy of these pieces was absolutely stunning. This is what I’m talking about. A few days later, I bought these scherenschnitte cuttings at a tiny street market in Gstaad:
Of course, the photos don’t do the pieces justice (I really suck at taking photos). The pieces are quite small, approximately 3″X3″, because that’s all I could afford! Everything in Switzerland is expensive, and artwork is no exception…
Upon my return to Canada, I vowed to learn more about scherenschnitte, and researched it extensively on the Internet. It’s funny how when you open your eyes to something, kismet intervenes. As I explained earlier, I had never paid any attention to papercuttings until this recent trip. All of a sudden, I kept seeing papercuttings everywhere:
- Victoria Magazine has an article in their January/February 2008 edition on paper artistry
- While browsing the aisles of an Indigo bookstore last week, I came across this book and immediately bought it (although my book has a different cover)
A few days ago, I even attempted my first ever papercutting piece:
The pattern was taken from the book I recently bought, and I’m quite happy with the results… Feeling confident, today I chose another pattern from the same book, a much larger and more complex pattern this time. I spent a great amount of time copying the pattern on tracing paper. The only paper that I had on hand large enough for this particular pattern was a roll of kraft paper. Unfortunately I discovered that kraft paper doesn’t cut so easily and I was really struggling with the detail work. I soon gave up because I was tiring very quickly and was afraid I was either going to ruin the piece or hurt myself seriously with the craft knife… I may pick it up again when I’m not so tired and cranky…
I spent the rest of the day playing on my new laptop (which B. bought for me a few days ago!), watching t.v., eating pizza and taking a relaxing bubble bath. It was a day of complete, but necessary, indulgence…
The city of Bern is a huge contrast to the countryside village that is Gstaad, especially considering they’re only about an hour’s drive apart. Although Gstaad certainly has its merits, Bern is immediately charming with its cobblestone streets and old-world architecture. It’s not surprising that Switzerland’s capital was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
One can easily spend days slowly wandering the streets of the Old Town (most vehicles are kept out of the area), taking in the numerous shops, restaurants and cafés. Just a few houses from where B. and I stayed, one could find the Einstein Haus – the very “apartment and workplace of the famous scientist, who developed his Theory of Relativity in 1905 while working in the Bern Patent Office…” (source) Unfortunately due to bad timing (it being Christmas week and all), the apartment wasn’t open to the public for viewing…
Bern also has a number of ornate fountains throughout the city, including this one representing Justice:
At the centre of the Old Town is the Zytglogge, or the Clock Tower, a beautiful and massive structure. Below the main face of the tower is an “intricate astronomical and astrological device, which, in one small diameter, displays a 24-hour clock, the twelve hours of daylight, the position of the sun in the zodiac, the day of the week, the date and the month, the phases of the moon and the elevation of the sun above the horizon throughout the year, everything kept accurate by linkage to the main clock mechanism.” (source)
We were lucky enough to spend New Year’s Eve in Bern – just a few minutes before midnight, we rushed over to the Münsterplattform, a terrace adjacent to the Münster (a 15th-century gothic cathedral) and overlooking the River Aare. Many people had gathered there to launch homemade fireworks (I’m all for handcrafted items, but some of these were scary!) – with only the lights of the Münster to illuminate our surroundings, it was truly magical:
Happy New Year!
I was well-behaved on New Year’s Eve, as I had to get up early to take the train to Geneva in order to catch my flight back to Canada. Twenty-four hours and a major snowstorm later, I was finally home. I can’t believe I’ve been back for nearly a week already; I’m still fighting the jet lag (I’ve been waking up at 4:30 or 5 am every day since I got back, which is torture for a non-morning person such as myself).
All in all, however, I would say it was an immensely successful trip. I was thrilled to be able to speak in French everywhere, and no one seemed to have any problems understanding my accent (I’m not convinced this would be the case in France…). I was very inspired by the numerous languages I heard all around me; it seems that everyone speaks no less than two, but usually three or more, languages. I’ve therefore decided that this year I am finally going to get my butt into gear and learn a third language. My only problem is deciding which one: Spanish, Italian or German. Decisions, decisions…
Today is the first day since arriving back in Canada on January 2 that I’ve not felt overwhelmingly fatigued. Although I’m still tired, at least I finally have the energy to show and tell about this exciting trip.
After landing in Geneva on Christmas Day, I took the train straight to Gstaad, where B. awaited. After travelling approximately 24 hours, I was shaky from the lack of sleep and the nausea (did I ever mention I don’t travel well???), but happy to finally arrive at my destination. Gstaad is a beautiful village, where most of the buildings are chalet-style, and completely surrounded by mountains. It is also where the celebrities go on their ski holidays, which meant that there was a great amount of fur coats, bling bling and tiny dogs wandering about… (I didn’t see any celebrities I knew, but there were a few paparazzis hangoing out the whole time we were there – I saw them take photos, but I have no idea of who!)
B. and I stayed atop the Eggli mountain, where he was working on a project for Iglu-Dorf (which literally means “igloo village”). Iglu-Dorf builds huge igloos at various locations in Switzerland (and now Germany), and people pay big bucks to sleep inside them (sort of like the Ice Hotel concept in Finland and here in Quebec City). They have hired B. for a number of years now to carve the inside walls of the igloos – the fact that the igloos have been carved by a real-live Inuit is hugely appealing to the guests… At the Gstaad location, he carved two monumental sculptures:
I am happy to report that I did some snow carving too! On my second day in Gstaad, while I was watching B. work on the “ice bear” (as they call polar bears in Switzerland), I noticed a few uneven spots on the bear, so I thought I’d fix them…low and behold, I ended up spending three days carving beside B. It was fantastic! He was extremely supportive, and kept saying how amazed he was that I always seemed to know what needed to be done; he barely gave me any direction. Although I’m artistic to a certain extent, I’m certainly no carver, but my experience with finishing B.’s stone carvings has given me an “eye” for finishing his snow carvings as well. I’d had one other experience carving snow before, in Winnipeg about 2 years ago, but I hadn’t done much carving at that time due to nervousness and lack of experience. I was feeling much more confident this time around…
The Iglu-Dorf concept is pretty fantastic – there is a large, main igloo which serves as the bar area. Several smaller igloos connect to the main one – these igloos are used as bedrooms, bathrooms, and even a hot tub area! There are different grades of bedrooms – the most luxurious one, the Romantik-Iglu Suite, has its own bathroom (with working electrical outlets!) and a private whirlpool! It’ll cost you, though – just under $500 per person per night…
There is also an outdoor bar area, where you can sit amongst the mountains and enjoy the warm sunlight or a cosy bonfire in the evenings – here is a photo of the tunnel leading to the inside bar, and another of the outside bar area:
B. and I slept in a cabin at the top of the mountain, near the igloo site. This was the view from our bedroom window (the photo on the right is the same view, at dusk):
Tough on the eyes, I know…
It was surprisingly warm at the top of the mountain – about 4-6C most sunny days, whereas the village was much cooler. One thing that struck me was the night sky as seen from the top of the mountain. It was absolutely stunning – I had never before seen so many stars in the sky. They were clear and bright, and everywhere! It was like looking at a map from an astromony book, where each and every star is depicted. We could also see Mars very clearly. It was so moving, I could have stayed outside forever just looking at the sky…
Whenever we wanted to go to the village to do some shopping, we had to go down the mountain by gondola. However, the last gondola of the day went up the mountain at 4:30 pm, so we always had to rush back – otherwise we’d be stuck, homeless, in Gstaad village (in fact, this nearly happened to me upon my arrival in Gstaad – because of my plane being delayed in Geneva, I had to rush to take the first train available in order to make it to the mountain on time. Imagine almost having to sleep in a train station on Christmas night!). The village has one main street, reserved for pedestrians. There are many small shops, but because of the clientele, everything is exorbitantly expensive. If you’re not rich, there really isn’t much you can do in Gstaad! This is one of the reasons I chose to snow carve with B.; I didn’t have much cash to do anything else… Here are a few photos taken in the village:
As you can see, many of the buildings were exquisitely decorated. There was also on outdoor ice rink in the middle of town, as well as horse-drawn sleigh rides. Very romantic indeed.
After Gstaad, B. and I were scheduled to make our way to Zermatt, the final Iglu-Dorf location. However, there was a change in plans when B. injured himself on our last night in Gstaad… Nothing too serious, just a sprained ankle, but the doctor ordered him to stay off his foot, which meant he was unable to carve in Zermatt.
So instead we ended up in Bern (the capital of Swizterland) for the remainder of the trip, staying with B.’s friends and business partners who own an Inuit art gallery in Bern).
Stay tuned for part two of the Swiss trip…
Make travel journal for Switzerland trip. Check.
Finish Christmas shopping. Check.
Pack bags. Check.
I think I’m ready. At least, I hope so. The anal retentive part of me (which, by the way, is about 90% of me) keeps remembering things I need to do before my big trip. Getting up early tomorrow morning to drive to Buffalo, NY to catch my flight to Geneva. I’m very excited about this trip, and nervous too, although I don’t really know why…
I promise to provide a detailed report upon my return to Canada. I will definitely want to show off the super duper travel journal I made specifically for this trip.
Until then, dear friends, best wishes for the holiday season. Have a safe and happy Christmas!
See you all in 2008!
Looks like I’ll be spending part of the Christmas holidays somewhere very special this year: Switzerland!!!
B has been commissioned to work on a project there for five weeks, and I’ll be joining him in late December. When checking out his schedule, we discovered he would be working in Gstaad at that time. Here’s what I found out about Gstaad on a tourism website:
GSTAAD – twinned expertly with Cannes – is an odd place. You’d think, from the high profile of its name, that it would be some kind of glittering Geneva-in-the-Alps, a fantastically expensive mountain paradise. Yet although its instant name recognition may effortlessly attract Europe’s royal households, celebrities galore and countless lesser hangers-on, Gstaad is in fact just a one-street village, a rather charming, attractively located place full of restored weathered-wood chalets – even if there is an overabundance of jewellery shops and furriers. Nonetheless, its high-roller status makes it a village like no other. If you fancy being snubbed by the world’s richest people, come here for Christmas week, scene of a heady round of sparkling soirées and lavish banquet-style dinner parties all but barred to ordinary mortals.
Glossy magazines may advertise the town as some kind of winter wonderland, but St Moritz steals its luxury-class thunder on this score: Gstaad is really more of a place to spend the odd ten grand renting a hillside chalet and sipping champagne around town than it is somewhere you can get stuck into any serious skiing. Where Gstaad really enters into its own, prosaically enough, is as a centre from which to hike the little-known Saanenland during the summer months.
Not quite sure what to make of this, considering that I wasn’t planning on sipping all that much champagne around town…
More encouragingly, I’ll be heading over to Zermatt for a day or two. This travelogue has me very excited about the place – imagine seeing the famous Matterhorn! Woo hoo!