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Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Irish Visit & Twin Birthday Bonanza

Once again, I question the sensibility of starting this blog. It was fine when I was between routines and had plenty of time to keep it updated but the last thing that I want to happen is for it to fall by the wayside (how tragic). This one will be a quick and quirky update and I hope to return to proper form after Christmas! A lot of what's been going on lately has been me settling into work and my new apartment but here's some of the other exciting things that happened when Tracy and Mike arrived in Toronto;

  • Trip to the chalet. When Gillian pointed out that we were nearly there, I asked why we hadn't seen the lake yet. 'No, no, Helena. That's the cottage at Lake Muskoka. We're going to the chalet at Collingwood.' Thanks for clearing that up Gill!! Either way, the house was fabulous and the only worry was how many people we would fit in the hot tub and how to make sure that the good scotch was kept hidden. We managed to celebrate the Plummer twins birthday in style even without the good Scotch!!
  • Party Play-Off. The game of the weekend. Basically, the aim of the game is to argue 2 topics against each other and hope that the topic you picked wins in the end. You start out with 32 topics and whittle it down until there is a winner declared. For example; one of the debates was whether it would be more surprising to find a wonderbra or a kitchen sink on Mars. You can see where hilarity would ensure with topics such as this. 
  • Blue Mountain. I had heard a lot about this place. Not being a fan of skiing or snow in general, I was delighted to see that there was not a scrap of the white stuff anywhere to be seen! We had a stroll around, I got a delicious savoury beavertail and a pint in Windy O Neills. Yes, Canada is another country where you cannot spit without it landing within 20 feet of an Irish bar. 
  • Footloose rave. This was a very random party that occurred out on the decking once I figured out the hot tub is not a good place for super super drunk people. I brought my teeny tiny MP3 player out and played Footloose at full blast (which wasn't very loud AT ALL). I'm still surprised that no one fell off the side of the decking in their crazy dancing.
  • The Burl. I did figure that any place someone as cool as Claire Petch was from was bound to be pretty special. I was wrong. It's very ordinary although we did have a lovely breakfast at Cora's Restaurant which was absolutely delicious. It was my first skillet in nearly 3 years. Happy out.

  • Niagara Falls. Obviously, the Falls is a must see for anyone heading to this part of the world. I get that. At first, I was a bit underwhelmed but after a while, it becomes quite mesmerising. I was disappointed that the Maid of the Mist wasn't running though. We did the 'Journey Behind the Falls' instead which is quite the waste of money - remember that if you ever find yourself there. We did go to visit Niagara on the Lake, which is the most quaint little place I have ever seen! Looking forward to heading back there in the summer. 
  • Steam Whistle Brewery. Yes, I went again. And it was SOOOOOO much better than the first time! We had the most amazing guide called Francis who was too much fun. There was only 6 of us on the tour and Francis was obviously trying to get us shit-faced. Which we didn't have a problem with at all. 
  • The Keg. What better way to celebrate an evening spent at a brewery than going to an almost swanky restaurant (it's in the very well to do financial district, there were tablecloths and everything!). I enjoyed a beautiful sirloin, medium rare with scallops. shrimp and a bearnaise sauce. It might well be the happiest I've been in Canada so far. 
Then it was time to say goodbye to my friends again and get myself ready to move into a new apartment and start my new job. They are whole blog posts of their own, believe me!

Moral of the Story - It's great having friends who will travel so far to see you. I can't wait for more people to come so that I can show them around my new home!!

Friday, 9 December 2011

A Great Canadian Weekend

It was time for me to attend my first SWAP Social. Having gate crashed many of the reciprocal Work In Ireland Socials back in Ireland (the infamous trip to Galway where I managed to turn it into a fake hen party for myself was particularly enjoyable), I had an idea of what to expect. Lots of foreigners getting together, partaking in local activities and usually a few civilised fizzy drinks. Before any of this happened, I was used for slave labour in the Plummer household to assist them in readying their garden for the winter and their Christmas decorations. I say slave labour, I actually quite enjoyed it. Not sure I would like to have to do it every winter but it was interesting enough. Really helped me to work up an appetite for the game and the few pints too!

We started off with a traditional Canadian past-time of a hockey game; Toronto Marlies vs Rochester Americans at Ricoh Coliseum. As the Marlies are in the AHL and not the NHL like the Maple Leafs, the tickets are much cheaper and they don't fight as often as the professional teams but you could still get the idea. It was pretty exciting, kind of like hurling but played on ice. Very fast paced; considering I can rarely walk without tripping, adding ice to the equation is a scary concept for me. There was such a varied crowd. sitting right behind us was a group of young boys who were a little too vocal throughout the game. It would have been annoying if they weren't so damn cute. There was a stag party with one of the members in a blue Morph suit. Why do these Morph suits appear so often when I'm around?? As with any sporting event, drink was too expensive to enjoy properly and for once, the long and frequent gaps during the game did not make me as angry as usual as we had plenty of time for bathroom breaks and to queue at the bar. Will definitely be attending more games while I'm here! We then did the usual and went for a few drinks, to an Irish bar obviously. The Brazen Head is a nice enough bar and they had good deals on the pitchers but it lacked a certain 'je ne sais quoi'. Got to meet some nice people though, always good to build up your contacts network in a new place!

That Sunday saw me stalking Santa Claus at the annual Santa Claus Parade. I did take issue with the fact that the parade was being held on the 20th of November, they Christmas hype just starts earlier and earlier every year. While the parade took a long time to get going and I did feel somewhat out of place without a child with me to justify me standing there, I managed to enjoy it. There was something quite magical when Santa was going by and the kids all around were so excited. Oh to be young and innocent again! I decided to head for a pint afterwards and hit McVeighs Pub, which was where Gillian had advised me would be the closest thing that I would find to Fitzgeralds at home. I had already given up on finding a replacement but a close imitation would do me! It wasn't bad and I reckon when the homesickness really hits, it will be a good place to visit!

Moral of the Story - take advantage of local Canadian activities. It may surprise you how much fun they can be!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Job Hunting in Canada

A lot of people say that it's easier to get a job when you have job. Therefore, having upped sticks and travelled halfway across the world with just a visa and a smile, technically I was probably at a slight disadvantage. At the same time, I had heard that the job market was relatively healthy in Canada. In all fairness, I had been advising people of that very same thing for 3 years while working at USIT so I hoped that what I had been telling people was as true as I proclaimed it to be!

Preliminary searches before I left Ireland indicated that there was plenty of jobs over there. I sent off a couple of applications (including my updated 'resume' that had been Canadianised) for various positions mainly along the line of the marketing/office style work I had been doing up to that point. Just before leaving, I decided that I would most likely end up working in a pub or restaurant and decided to complete the Smart Serve course so that I would be able to serve alcohol responsibly (I am a complete retard at 'knowing the one that's one too many'; as if I'd be able to make a decent decision regarding other people drinking responsibly). After 2 days, I realised that everyone I know here works office hours. Do I really want to work the complete opposite shifts to them?

I decided to put my focus back into the office side of things. I set up some meetings with recruitment agents and sent off roughly 30 resumes a day for various positions, including the following;
  • Communications/Social Media Coordinator for a charity
  • Production Team Member at Tim Hortons
  • Office Administrator in a lawyers office
  • Special Events Organiser at a college
  • Administrator for an Immigration firm that specialises in advising internationals who want to move to Canada and Canadians who wish to move abroad
  • Executive Director (aim high right?) for the Irish Canadian Immigration Centre. 
Anyone who knows what I've been doing for the last few years will immediately see that the last 2 jobs should have been mine in all fairness. How could they not want me? Waited for them to call, still sending off other applications but knowing that there could be no other positions as perfect for me as these two. Then the phone rang.....oh joy! It was.....Tim Hortons. Was I free for a quick chat about the position available? Fair enough, I'll play along for now. The usual questions follow; what's my availability, why did I come to Canada, why do I want to work for Tim Hortons, would I mind a bit of baking. I answered in my best possible phone voice and she invited me to come in the next day to meet the manager of the store. I turned up all suited and booted, ready to convince them that I 'really wanted to be part of the Tim Hortons team' (this was a phrase I did actually utter and immediately afterward wanted to punch myself in the face). The manager, God bless her, was 45 minutes late for my interview. I am not a particularly impatient woman but I must say, after 30 minutes and 3 free coffees, I did consider whether I was actually bothered to work there. 

I stuck it out obviously (desperation was taking hold at this stage that I would be unemployed forever) and the interview went quite well I thought. She asked me what my availability was, why did I come to Canada, why did I want to work for Tims, she didn't ask me about the baking though. I hadn't left the place an hour when she rang me and asked me to come back the next day to meet the owner. Good sign. The owner was not late, thankfully. First thing he says is 'I haven't read your resume. I want you to tell me about yourself.' Being the shy wallflower that I am, this was quite hard for me.....but I managed. Then he asked me my availability, why I had come to Canada and why I wanted to work for Tims (this was the point where I talked about the Tim Hortons team and how much I wanted to be a part of it. Loser) and said that he would let me know early the next week. I still haven't heard anything and that was 17 days ago. Deduce from that what you will. 

Then of course, dear Gillian, my shining light and saviour, came out to me last week and said that the hostel down the block was looking for front desk staff. I'd work in the hostel, meet new people, live the backpacker lifestyle. This could work! I emailed the name Gillian had given me and tried not to make my cover letter sound too desperate (this is very hard to do). I heard back within an hour to arrange an interview for a few days later. Not one to count my chickens, I made sure to keep applying for other jobs in the meantime. I was very nervous before the interview but the manager, Sally, seemed really nice, very friendly and was also from Cornwall so I knew she couldn't be a bad egg! I thought the interview went well but I was really weary to get my hopes up as I knew how much I wanted this job.

Obviously, I'm on my way to a job interview 2 days later when she emails me to offer me the position. I actually did a little jump in the middle of the street and laughed out loud with complete and utter delight. It was arranged that I wouldn't be starting until the following week, meaning that I would be free for the weekend while I had friends visiting from the homeland, it all seemed to be working out fairly well! Over the next few days, as I mentioned at the start of my little piece how much easier it was to get a job when you already have a job, I was contacted by 7 other employers that I had sent applications to in the 3 weeks since I'd arrived, all offering me interviews and seeing if I was still available to work. I did begin to wonder if maybe I should see what else was out there. I could tell somewhere in my gut though that this would be perfect for me.

Moral of the Story - while you should not always take the first thing that is offered to you, it usually pays off to follow your gut instincts. We'll see how it pays off in the long run though.....

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

September 2008 (reworking of W.B. Yeats September 1913)

Obviously, I am not going to attempt to take credit for this - I found this in the MetroHerald newspaper letters section on the 14th of November, penned by a kid who calls himself W.B. Mates. If you don't know the original composition, please see here but this re-working of the classic rings close to home. Very clever though!

When will this country ever come to sense,
As bankers still fumble in a greasy till
As Ireland's debt adds the half-billion to the billion
And more tax to less spending,
Until they have dried the marrow from the bone;
For it's only the banks back we save;
The Celtic Tiger is dead and gone,
It's with Anglo in the grave.

They were of the same kind,
The names that sicken the country to the core,
They have gone hiding about the world like cowards,
And what little price they now have to pay
But left it to the people of Ireland and their young,
And now, God help us, what can we save?
The Celtic Tiger is dead and gone,
It's with Anglo in the grave.

Is it for this our emigrants' wings spread
As the dole queues grow every time?
For this that the poorest now suffer?
Because of bankers' lies,
Along with Fianna Fáil and their golden circle of friends,
All that delirium of the greedy!
The Celtic Tiger is dead and gone,
It's with Anglo in the grave.

If only we could turn the years again,
And get Ireland back as it were
In all its ghost-estate-free land,
Before all that easy credit
Had maddened everyone.
Back when banks considered what loans they gave.
But let it be, it's dead and gone,
It's with Anglo in the grave.

Moral of the Story - I think it speaks for itself really.

Monday, 14 November 2011

My Birthday in Toronto

I wake up, yawn and stretch and realise 3 things in quick succession.
  1. It's my birthday! I'm 26 now, better get my shit together and become a responsible adult.
  2. My arm is asleep. I reach up to scratch my face and poke myself in the eye. Not nice.
  3. Where the f#@k am I?
I was confused for about 12 solid minutes. I looked around and I spotted my suitcase on the floor and pictures of Gillian's twin on the walls. Oh right, I'm in Toronto in the Plummer family home with my one year working holiday visa to live and work in Canada for the year. But all of that serious stuff later. Let's get on with the birthday first! I had one card already from dear Helena and Brian (the new Mr & Mrs Byrne!) who had given me a card when I met them in New York. How sweet; on their honeymoon, they remembered to get ME a frickin birthday card. Super special people (in a good way, obviously).

I made my way to downtown Toronto to meet Gillian from her office before we headed off to St. Lawrence Market for lunch. There is so much there, my head was practically spinning. Gillian kept asking me what I wanted; I'm terribly indecisive when it comes to food choices, especially when there were so many delicious things to choose from! I ended up getting a veal sandwich (I think, I just ordered the same thing as Gillian). Looking forward to going back again and spending some time there and maybe actually buying some stuff for home cooking next time!

After that, we took a stroll through Union Station and over to the Steam Whistle Brewery to take a tour. Can you think of many things that I would enjoy more than going to a brewery for my birthday? The tour was great, short enough so you don't get bored and the story of how the brewery started is really interesting. The brewery was started by 3 guys who were fired from their jobs working at another microbrewery in Ontario. They were initially going to call the company '3 Fired Guys' but later decided that this was not an ideal marketing tool. They went with the name 'Steam Whistle' as an homage to the 1950's when the blowing of a steamwhistle at 5pm signalled the end of the work day and meant that it was time for a nice cold beer. They still have the logo '3FG' on all of their bottles though! I could go on and on about the virtues of this amazing beer and the company's innovative green initiatives but you should check out the website for yourselves. Or better yet, just fly on over here and visit - I'd have no problem going again!
Because it was my birthday, they gave me a free bottle of delicious Steam Whistle beer (not that I needed it with the copious amounts of free samples that we were getting!) Invited the nice Scottish guy that we met and his Brazilian girlfriend along for dinner. He was all for it, she didn't seem so eager though. He argued with her about the fact that she wanted to go home and get changed first and said that they would meet us later. They seemed like good fun - unfortunately, the Brazilian chick must have won the argument as they never made an appearance :(
We went for dinner in Earls Restaurant with Gillian's twin Kate and a friend of theirs Amy (another Irish girl, surprise surprise). There was obviously only one thing that I was going to order - fillet steak with pepper sauce. Mmmmm. Cooked to perfection, served with crispy shoestring fries. I was happy. Henry was particularly happy when the sticky toffee pudding came out and Kate let him have some of it!

Moral of the Story - birthdays are fun in an international setting, especially when they're not fake birthdays (only had one or two of them in my life). Also, Steam Whistle beer = delicious!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Canada, eh?

My time in New York was at an end, which meant that it was time to embark on my new life in Canada. Getting up to go to the airport was tough enough. Having slightly over-indulged the night before, I was very bleary eyed when trying to ensure that I packed my last bits and pieces before I left the hostel. As of right now, I haven't discovered that I am missing anything important but time will tell! I made my way to Port Authority Bus Terminal at 7am, hoping that the new backpack I'd bought held enough to ensure that my suitcase wasn't overweight again. Arrived at the airport way too early but hadn't been able to predict how long it would take but I'd rather be early than late! Suitcase wasn't overweight, thank feck and I had no issues getting through security.

When I was eventually permitted to board the plane, I found it was one of those smaller aircraft. Only 12 rows, 4 seats deep. For someone who is not generally that comfortable with flying, it was not the nicest sight for me to behold. Once we got in the air however, I was enthralled by the view out the window of New York and New Jersey. The pilot did claim at one stage that we were flying over Niagara Falls. I couldn't see anything but I might have been looking out the wrong side....

And so we touched down in Toronto. My eyes were nearly falling out of my head I was so tired. But I knew I still had to get through Immigration so I was hoping I didn't look as out of it as I felt. If Tracy hadn't been lying about putting notes about me being a terrorist on my booking then I knew I would need all my wits about me. Obviously, if I had been thinking clearly, I would have realised that any indications that I was a terrorist would have been picked up by the US Border Patrol people. I got through the first the customs section easy enough. I even managed to elicit a bit of a giggle from the officer, I had an email that Gillian had sent me with her address on it in case they asked me where I was going to be staying in Canada. Gillian had written it all out and then added at the end 'Make sure to give them the full address. you can't just say Gillian's house. There are a lot more people in Canada than in Ireland'. Then it was on to the Immigration Officer to be issued with my work permit, which went off without a hitch. The lovely man even left out all restrictions on my permit so I could study full time if I want to, work in the medical industry, work with children or the elderly. Endless possibilities!!

I got my suitcase and headed through to the arrivals lounge. I was very disappointed that Gillian was not waiting with balloons and a sign with my name on it. However, Delta Airlines had managed to get me to Toronto 45 minutes earlier than planned so I had about 20 minutes of awkward standing around, trying to bring my bags out for a cigarette. When I spotted Gillian, it was like long lost relatives being reunited. You'd never know that it had only been 6 months since we'd seen each other, and we had probably been speaking every day since she had left Ireland. It was so nice to catch up face to face though! Her mother, dear Rosalind Plummer, was arriving in from Vancouver also so we waited for her. I was a little nervous; I'd never met her before and was going to be staying in her house while I got myself sorted out. I needn't have been, obviously. She's as sweet and welcoming as Gillian is.

They brought me back to the family home (which is LOVELY), where I got to meet her dog, Mac. Most of you know how I feel about animals but this one has a bit of a special place in my heart. He looks just like Shadow from Homeward Bound and isn't an overeager puppy that slobbers on you or humps your leg. I was showed to my room and around a beautiful house that has what looks like a library in almost every room. What's the first book I go for to read? 'Rachel's Holiday' by Marian Keyes......still fantastic so don't feel guilty. Her father, David, then arrived home from work with her twin sister Kate and all of a sudden, I am swept up as part of this family, having dinner and a few glasses of wine. I barely had time to realise that I wasn't in Ireland or even New York anymore.

Moral of the Story - if you're coming to Canada, make sure to stay with Gillian and her family. You won't regret it, I'm probably never going to leave.......

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Things I Noticed & Things I Learned This Time Around

3rd time in New York, some things still stand out to me.....

  • The gaps between the bathroom doors. Usually less than a centimetre wide but still rather unnerving, you can see people washing their hands and hope to God that you don't catch someone's eye.
  • The traffic light system. There's no such thing as a 'filter light' for drivers to turn and even when the pedestrian light says 'walk', it is still perfectly legal for cars to turn in your path. They're not trying to kill you as such but it kinda feels like they are.
  • In a city of over 8 million people, it still amazes me how easy it is to bump into other Irish people and establish random connections.
  • Despite people thinking that New Yorkers are rude, I still find them to be among the most delightful people that I have ever met. Brash and I love it.
  • As per my last blog entry. I still haven't been to a single museum or gallery. You could spend 4 months straight only doing tourist activities and still not see everything that there is to see. Always an excuse to go back though!!

I also learned some really interesting things this time around;

  • In Central Park, the reason why all the pathways (and the 4 roads that pass through) are so convoluted is because the architect and designers wanted to give people something different to the block-like grids on the rest of the island of Manhattan.
  • There are more sweet potatoes grown on one farm in North Carolina than in the entire country of Australia (this was courtesy of one of the girls in my dorm room who had spent 3 weeks leading some sweet potato farmers around to different farms in America).
  • You will not fall asleep on the trains after a few drinks if you stand up instead of sitting down. You can also get security to let you out for a cigarette when you've realised that the train isn't for another half an hour or so by claiming you're trying to put a phone call through to Ireland.
  • American Football is officially the worst game in the world. I might even hate it more than cricket. Those of you that know me, will know the emphasis of this statement. I hate cricket more than I hate Linda Martin. 
Moral of the Story - I think it's fairly self explanatory from the above don't you? I love New York. I love New Jersey , well, Hoboken.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

New York, New York!

This time around, I had planned to really get my act together and do some proper tourist stuff in New York. I nearly managed it too, got that Central Park tour done and had a big Downtown Tour planned for the Saturday morning and afternoon. Of course, then my life got in the way. I headed out to Hoboken on the Friday night to see some of my old friends from my Summer J1, ended up getting pretty inebriated. Fell asleep on the train on the way home (just like the old days!) so didn't get back to my hostel until after 6am. Obviously managed to sleep in and miss the tour. Didn't seem like the worst idea once I woke up and saw the snow 3 inches thick outside the window.

Later that night, I headed out to Woodlawn in the Bronx to meet up with a friend of mine. Unfortunately, they were going to a Halloween Party and him and all of his friends had these amazing costumes on. I was in jeans. We went out to this bar called the Heritage, where I managed to speak to one American person the entire night. Everyone was Irish, it was like being in Dublin almost. Ended up in a nightclub that was like Coppers on a slightly smaller scale. You could even smoke in the bar; I got so excited that I chain-smoked 18 cigarettes in about half an hour. Woodlawn is a world of it's own, great place to visit but not sure my liver would survive living there! I did pass Yankee Stadium on my way back into the city although I was too hungover to take a picture.

On the Monday, I went on a free walking tour in Brooklyn. We had the cutest old guide named Ed. First tour guide I've met who announced that he rarely said 'Follow me everyone', it was more likely to be 'Hey guys, wait up!' So old and sweet. He took us on the Subway out to Brooklyn where we walked a little bit around the Brooklyn Heights area then down to the Promenade where there were some breathtaking views of Lower Manhattan, including the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the Brooklyn Bridge. I probably took around 10 million pictures of the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges.

That night, I met up with the new Mr and Mrs Byrne fresh from their relaxing week in Cancun, Mexico. We went for dinner in the lovely Tír na nÓg restaurant by Penn Station before heading up to Times Square, an area I hadn't actually set foot within 10 blocks of this time around being there. I knew I needed a picture of Henry the Dinosaur there too! Found an Irish bar (like there is an opportunity to drink in a bar that's not Irish around Times Square) and had a few drinks. Nice way to end my trip.

Moral of the Story - no matter how many times you visit NYC, it is still possible not to visit a single museum. Make sure to get out and see something other than the traditional sights. Also make sure to visit the boroughs. You meet some special people out there. You know who you are.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Eh...where am I now?

As the plane taxied down the runway, all I could see was grey drizzle and mist out the window. New York in the rain isn't the worst thing in the world but it did make me doubt that I had actually even left Ireland. Once the bus from the airport emerged from the tunnel, I couldn't keep the smile off my face as we passed through the familiar streets of downtown New York. Almost felt like coming home. But I digress....

Saying goodbye to my mother was a bit tough, I did well up a bit while waiting to check in for my flight. Then all my upset was blitzed by rage. My stupid suitcase was overweight so I had to pay €75 to get it checked in. Should have just gone with getting a second bag instead. Live and learn I suppose! Flight was fairly uneventful; I watched 3 supremely shit movies and didn't enjoy the food (surprise surprise).

I found the hostel easily enough and got myself checked in and settled. And decided to head straight to Hoboken. Again, the familiarity when I was coming out of the PATH station was crazy. I strolled on up to the Dubliner but found that I didn't recognise any of the staff. The food menu hadn't changed and the Quesadillas were as delicious as they always were! Headed to the Shannon then to see Cathy and Cormac, nothing changed there thankfully. Then it was off to Whiskey Bar to see the wonderful 7Mornings perform (pictured below, fantastic gig!). It felt like I'd never even left the place!

I was sensible enough to leave at a reasonable hour and head back to my hostel and was able to get up on Friday morning for a tour of Central Park. Who knew that there was so much to see in one park? I learned loads. It is completely man made, there is nothing there that was not designed and constructed. There is a conservancy now of private individuals who provide 85% of the funding in order to maintain the park's pathways and bodies of water. Good job they've done too. This is probably my favourite photo, I didn't even know this statue was in the park!

I also got to visit the Plaza hotel - the scene of some of my favourite movies! That was pretty exciting. Also went into FAO Schwartz; not really my thing although I did get kind of excited when I saw the Harry Potter section. And I managed to get this wonderful picture with a lovely toy soldier. I kind of want one to take home with me....

Since I've arrived, it has been raining, snowing, sunny; it's been just like home to be honest. 4 seasons in a few days!! To see the rest of my photos see here....First 24 hours in NYC

Moral of the Story - while it can be sad to leave the place you call home, it doesn't mean that you will never find a home somewhere else!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Leaving on a Jet Plane

All my bags are packed, I'm ready to go....if you don't know the rest of the words, just check it out here -
John Denver's infamous song.......

So, the big day is finally here. Time for me to spread my wings, broaden my horizons, expand my mind, etc. etc. blah blah blah. I'm sure all of those things apply to me also but the real reason I'm going? Boredom. Everything was at a bit of a standstill. My friends are getting engaged/married/having babies/buying houses/heading off on their own travels. I was just working away Monday to Friday, spending too much money in Fitzgeralds (not that I didn't enjoy it!) and just generally stuck in a Groundhog Day style situation. Only problem was, I wasn't sure what I was supposed to be doing differently in order to make things 'right'.

I had always loosely planned to take a major trip around the world. As per the aforementioned overspending in my favourite bar, I did not quite get the money together for that kind of trip. Instead, I decided that I should get a work visa and head somewhere that I knew a little bit about, had some friends over there already, spoke the same language as me.....where better than the very same country that I had been working for 2 and a half years sending people to?? Plus, I figured somewhere like Toronto would offer a good springboard to visit other places in the US as well, which also really appealed to me. Unlike most of my peers, the Australia thing doesn't grab me the same way, although the recent promotions we ran in work made me think that I'd made a massive mistake in terms of choosing my destination. Plenty of time in the future for that though!!

First, I head to New York for 5 days. Hopefully I will actually get to do some of the tourist activities that I missed out on the last time, the hostel I'm staying at seems to organise some great tours. Plus I'll get to visit my friends in New Jersey which will be amazing. AND Helena & Brian will be arriving in from the Mexican honeymoon for one night that I will be there so that will be great craic. Then it's off to Toronto. I've been taking little bets with myself as to when I'll remember that I'm not on a holiday. I know that Gillian will help to get me settled as soon as possible, as well as being her Tourist Nazi self and making sure I see everything amazing (as well some boring nerdy stuff) that there is to see in her hometown, which I'm very grateful for ;)

I am sad to be leaving my family and friends, as well as a little bit terrified, but I'm looking forward to it at the same time. Besides, I won't be gone for too long. Back in July for another wedding and then we'll see how I'm fixed for staying a second year...or heading to Oz or NZ or having enough money to extend my travels a little further afield.

Moral of the Story - For this one, I'll leave you with some words of wisdom from one of the wisest men I've ever met and advice which I intend to adhere to while travelling. 'Be good, be kind, be truthful, be free....and don't forget to bring your own toilet paper on the plane.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

My Leaving Party/The End of an Era

So, the time had come for me to officially start saying my goodbyes. Decided to kill as many birds with one stone as possible by having one party and inviting everyone I know. Thankfully, everyone I know didn't turn up. Fitzgeralds is not really big enough for that. Sounds egotistical but for some reason, I know an awful lot of people, most of whom love a good excuse for a party. Many of whom do not even need an excuse.....

But I digress. I spent most of the last day in the office swanning around, saying good bye to everyone and generally getting quite emotional. The most emotional moment was possibly when dear Terri, Michelle and Claire presented me with their own little goodbye present - a hipflask for me and a new bow for Henry.

My manager Sheelagh presented me with a very snazzy hat (although Sketchy Petchy informed me they are called 'touques' in the Great White North) and mittens in order to keep me warm during the inevitably cold winter that I was condemning myself to.

Recording my out of office was very strange. I don't like to think of someone else having my 1666 extension number. I did the Devil proud with that one.

Everyone popped up for the traditional cake and goodbyes but all most of them were waiting for was to get to the pub and have a few civilised drinks in order to give me a proper send off. And a proper send off it was.  A pure whirlwind of trying to make time to have a few words with everyone in between posing for photographs and serving behind the bar. Not to mention getting up to sing a few songs with the band. Now that wasn't really in my plan, although the last few leaving parties we've had have all resulted in the person who is leaving singing 'Don't Stop Believing' with the wonderfully talented Totally Wired. The last time I tried to sing with them was at my birthday last year. I had consumed copious amounts of whiskey and was unable to remember the words, even with the lyrics written in front of me. Not a complete success. This time, I chose my own opening number 'I Will Survive', followed by 'Don't Stop Believing', 'Spancil Hill' and, of course, a wonderful duet of 'Horse Outside' with dear Emmet. There were some other tunes also but, to be honest, it all kind of blurs a bit as the night wore on.

Plenty of laughs, dancing, a few tears also, particularly when I was presented with my leaving present from the Fitzgeralds staff. You know you've spent too much time in a bar when they give you a Newbridge Silver charm necklace when you're leaving the country. The charms were lovely, a good luck charm and a cocktail glass. Deduce what you will from that symbolism......

Moral of the Story - do make the effort to get to know your local bar staff; when you're having a leaving party, invite everyone you know. A handful may only turn up but they'll be the ones that you know you'll keep in touch with forever. Whether they want you to or not.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

When Henry Met Helena

Me and Henry on one of our many nights out together.....

As Henry will be coming with me on my travels and most likely featuring quite heavily in my blog, I thought I should introduce him properly to those of you who may not have met him yet and will be wondering 'what in God's name is she doing with a toy dinosaur?'

Back in February, myself and some dear friends were taking a trip to London for a weekend to get us out of a particular funk we'd all been in at work. It was crazy busy and we were all feeling the pressure so a nice break was called for. Leaving the office that Friday evening, we were possibly the giddiest people in the city. Picture a group of 6 year olds leaving a birthday party after ingesting at least 2kgs of sugar each and you'll come close to what we were like that evening. 

After a rather hilarious journey to the airport (where I'm sure everyone else on the Aircoach was just itching to ask us to shut the hell up), we topped up our excitement with some delicious free drinks in the Business Lounge - passes to which are still a perk to enjoy while working in the travel industry! One short plane journey later and we had arrived in Heathrow airport. While waiting for our bags, we noticed a lonely toy dinosaur waiting by the luggage carousel. After a few furtive glances around, we determined that there was no one around who seemed to be missing a dinosaur and in the playful mood we were in, nothing seemed more natural than to take him with us. 

We did spend a few minutes trying to figure out what to name him; George and Henry were the 2 names that we eventually had to choose between and Henry won out. When you see him in person, he looks like a Henry  really. We played an excellent game on the Tube on the way to our apartment 'who can stand up the longest between stops and not fall over without holding on to anything'. Henry won obviously but only because his centre of gravity is so much closer to the floor.

He came everywhere with us that weekend, the London Bridge Experience, out clubbing. When we took him to lunch, I put him in the middle of the table. The waitress came to take our order and I introduced her to Henry. Obviously trying to play along, she asked if Henry would like anything to drink. I, being the lovely person I am, turned around and said 'of course not, he's a dinosaur'. Poor woman.

Since then, he's sort of become the office mascot. He's been to every office party we've had since then. He's been bowling in Bray. He celebrated Canada Day. He's even rubbed shoulders with the stars of Radio Nova (that's a whole other story!). A lot more lies in store for him, I'm sure.

Moral of the Story - when you find a random child's toy, don't just discard it. It could become a good friend.....or even just a conversation starter at parties!

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Buenos Aires Grill review

With my departure date from Ireland creeping up faster than I would probably like, I am trying to squeeze in time with as many of my friends as possible just in case I do decide to stay away longer than intended. One such arrangement I had made was to purchase a fantastic Menupages Deal for the Buenos Aires Grill in order to treat my dear friend Michael for his birthday and give us a chance to spend some quality time together before I leave. The restaurant was fairly quiet which sometimes doesn't bode well but for the price we were getting our 3 course meal, I was happy enough either way!

Before I get the full review underway, I suppose I should mention a few minor 'faux pas' that occured, these are reasons why I shouldn't be let out in public too often. Especially not to nice places......
  1. Choosing a table by the window. Floor to ceiling windows that gave everyone walking by the opportunity to gawk in at us. Luckily, the restaurant is on a street slightly out of the way and it was a relatively quiet Thursday night. I am not a fan of people watching me eat. At least we weren't on the raised platform......
  2. Ordering a bottle of wine each. Now, in all fairness, a bottle of the house wine was only €3 more than the half bottle. In these recessionary times, we're all looking for more 'bang for our buck'. It was a good thing I wasn't in work the next day.
  3. Lighting the candle on our table. While it seemed like a good idea at the time, creating some atmosphere and what not, when I called the waiter over to check what wasn't included in our meal deal with the voucher we had, I managed to set the voucher on fire. I was still able to use it which is the main thing ;)
  4. As a result of Michael's hiccups and my wicked heartburn (after downing an entire bottle of red wine to myself), I demanded that the waiter bring us some bread soda and a glass of water. An old trick that my mother taught me to get rid of almost anything that is wrong with your digestive system. However, it must have looked a little strange when the waiter arrived back with a small ramekin full of white powder and placed it in the centre of the table.....
Despite all these hiccups (ah hiccups, literally! Just spotted this when reading back over, I love when I do things like that unintentionally), we managed to actually have a lovely meal. I had the scallops to start (a little surprised that they were included in the deal, surprised and delighted), he had the fish cakes. It almost fell into the trap of having too much rocket on the starter plates when it really doesn't need it. The scallops were cooked very well (always a fear of mine) and the buerre blanc sauce with them was a perfect accompaniment.  I did taste the fish cakes also and they were full of flavour with a couple of different fish tastes coming through. Onto the main event, which was obviously the steak. I went for the 8oz fillet, he went for the 12oz striploin. We both ordered our steak medium - unfortunately, my fillet was rather thick and slightly over-cooked for my liking around the outside but the flavour was fantastic and it was a really delicious cut of meat. His striploin was cooked absolutely perfectly. The chips were proper thick chinks of potato, although the side salad was a bit of a disappointment. I tried the Argentinean Chimichurri sauce which was a little oily for me but had good flavour. 

By the time we were ordering dessert, I don't think either of us were quite sure we really wanted it. But it was included and you never waste anything!! I chose the chocolate lava, he was boring and went for the ice cream. To be honest, we were both fairly well oiled at that stage, it wouldn't have mattered what we were served. I would have preferred the lava cake to be a little softer on the outside and should have ordered it with ice cream instead of cream. I don't even like cream!

Overall, the service was great, the food was delicious, the wine was flowing, the conversation was....well a little slurred by the end of it. We did manage to come up with a wonderful idea for what could become the best hostel in Dublin - Hostelle Mickelena. That is a subject for a post all of it's own....

Moral of the Story - don't order a whole bottle of wine with dinner. Either way, good company can make any mouthful of food taste better. Thanks Michael!! Check out the restaurant's website here also

Saturday, 8 October 2011

What's wrong with jumping on the bandwagon?

In the joyous rapture that followed the Dubs nail-biting win over Kerry in the all Ireland, I was quite annoyed to see a group on Facebook entitled 'jumping on the Dublin team bandwagon even though I've never watched a GAA game before'. I would never make a conscious effort to buy tickets to any of the matches as I would not consider myself a staunch GAA supporter and would not wish to deprive any die hard fans of the chance to experience the Croke Park atmosphere. However, just because I do not go to every match and hang flags outside my house does not mean that I am not allowed to bask in the glory of my fellow countymen when we win a competition that means so much. I watch the matches at home or in the pub when I get a chance, I may not be able to name every single player but I understand the rules and should be allowed to enjoy a game, such as that All Ireland Final without being made to feel guilty by anyone else!!

Similarly, I was given a bit of grief because I went to the Aviva stadium to see a friendly between Ireland and England. Not going to lie, I did get somewhat distracted by the very desirable figure of Tommy Bowe standing less than 20 feet away from me. Just because I enjoy watching the men in shorts and still have no idea why scrums are awarded or how they are won doesn't mean that I deserved to be there any less than anyone else.

There are those who look down on 'newbie' rugby fans who only began following the rugby team when they started doing well and have now become fanatical in anticipation of how far we can go in this World Cup. As far as I'm concerned, whether it's soccer, rugby, golf, tennis, whatever. Anything that can create a bit of unity and/or happiness in these turbulent times, is just fine with me and should be with everyone else.

What I do NOT hold much sway with is any fan who turns their back on their team just because they didn't win. Following today's match against Wales, there are bound to be some of those who take the view 'ah, they threw it away, they couldn't handle the pressure, they built themselves up too much, etc, etc, etc.' Cue exact same conversation should the soccer team not qualify for the European Championships after their less than totally convincing win last night. While it scares the bejesus out of me sometimes, you have to admire some of the English Premier League soccer fans faith. Win, lose, draw, they would die for their teams. Not saying we need to go that far obviously......

Moral of the Story - local and national victories should be shared by everyone, as should the losses. So today, instead of lamenting our exit from the world cup, we should celebrate how well the lads did and remember that for some of them (BOD, ROG, POC to name a few), this was likely their last chance to win a World Cup. Now that's gotta hurt.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

If your friends jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?

Once again, Joe Duffy and Liveline 'break' another controversial story Seriously? Students have been doing ridiculous things like this for years. I was tempted to partake in similar competitions myself at college but when I saw that one of the items on the list that I would have to eat included that condiment I loathe above all others (ketchup), I decided to take a step back. While there may not have been live goldfish on the menu, there were some pretty vile combinations and I made a conscious decision not to put myself forward. It is highly unlikely that the son of the woman who rang to 'Talk to Joe' was forced into participating in one of these competitions. He made the choice to enter and while it is unfortunate that he became ill afterwards, he should have had some indication of his own digestive limitations and known when to call it quits. If a plate of raw chicken were to be placed in front of me, in a competitive situation or not, I'm pretty sure I would have the sense to say 'actually, I'm kinda full. I think I'll stop now'.

In a similar, and equally ridiculous, story, it has emerged that people were encouraged to submit photographs of themselves with serious sunburn in order to earn money towards a holiday. Obviously serious health risks are involved here also but again, while there may have been an incentive to take part, no one was strapped to a sun lounger and left out on a beach on the one sunny day of the year we've had so far.

**Addition to this blog on the 6th October. There is ANOTHER article today about 2 people being hospitalised for eating a killer curry in Edinburgh, Scotland. Fair play to the restaurant, their disclaimer is fairly explicit.... 'Kismot Restaurant will take no responsibilities for the bodily functions after you eat the curry.....If you die whilst eating or as a direct result of eating the curry, members of the table will share the cost of your Kismot Killer. If you become ill due to the Kismot Killer or if you find that you are experiencing any problems  with your lover(s) then under no circumstances are you entitled to blame Kismot Restaurant or any members of its staff'. Enough said really.....

Moral of the story - people are imbeciles. Do not be a sheep and do something of personal risk to yourself to make yourself look cooler. Joe Duffy will get you.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Driving in Ireland - barrel of laughs I tells ya!

Some people say that you can't teach old dogs new tricks. I disagree although I do think it becomes harder the older you get. Something like driving for example. A lot of people get that urge to learn to drive as soon as they are of legal age. I had no such urge. I was born and lived in the suburbs of Dublin, always had decent access to public transport, particularly once the LUAS opened. I never needed to drive. It was actually a completely unnecessary expense to my life. However, at the ripe old age of 24 and 10 months, I decided that it was time and that even if I wasn't going to own my own car, it would do me no harm to at least get my licence. I also had vague notions about going away to work for a year somewhere and knew that a driving licence would be a handy asset while travelling. I could go into my experience of learning to drive but we'll save that for another time me thinks. Suffice to say I passed my test first time......boom.

So, as a newly qualified driver (as in, had literally only been granted my licence 3 weeks) I decided to get on my high horse and declare that 'Yes, of course I am ready to take the company car on the road around the country for 4 days. Just under 700km all over the country, roads I've never driven before, not a problem.' The company (more fool them) said that so long as I was comfortable with it, then it shouldn't be a problem. And it wasn't. To start off with anyway.

So, loaded up the car from my office with all the marketing materials I needed for the events, checked that I had my memory stick with my all important presentation on it, etc, etc. I was ready. Started the engine, checked my mirrors, signalled to move out and away I went. No problems. Got on the motorway, through the tolls, made it into Cork City - even with the one way streets and mad traffic, I was still doing quite well. Drove into the car park behind our Cork Office to pick some materials from them. First time in a windy car park, still doing well. See a spot, pull in. Realise I've misjudged the angle to go to reverse the car to straighten up. Reach my hand out for the gear stick, shift into what I think is reverse.....nothing happens. I try again, and again, and again. Now, in my mother's car that I had done most of my practice in, you just move the damn thing. In my instructors car, there was a button you pushed and then moved it. I could not make head nor tail of how to work this one. Started to panic a little bit. I was in a massive estate style car and half of it was sticking out of the parking space. The one saving grace was that there was enough space for other cars to get around me!

I stuck the hazard lights on, got out of the car and lit up a cigarette to calm my nerves (ignoring the multitude of 'No Smoking' signs all around me). Then, being the sexist I am, I watched the cars go around me.....woman driver.....woman driver.....woman driver.....two young-ish lads 'Oh, excuse me? Do you know anything about cars? I can't seem to put mine in reverse?' Cue guffaws of laughter from both males in the car. I laughed along and explained how it was my first time in the company car and I hadn't thought to check if there were any little differences that might affect my ability to drive like a normal person. One of them very kindly sat into my car (and it did take him a couple of seconds to figure it out) pulled up this random ring around the base of the gear stick, put it in reverse and then parked my car for me. I stumbled into the office to tell the girls and we had a good laugh about it.

Managed to reverse out of the spot OK when I was done, minor victory for me. The next 5 hours passed without incident. Gave a presentation to around 280 people, answered questions for about an hour. Very pleased and tired but ready to wind down with a few pints. Was driving back to my hotel to drop the car and get changed. Of course, I was staying in the most awkward part of the city with a super steep hill, Managed to parallel park on the hill with little difficulty but decided that I could be closer to the curb. As I was manouvering, the handbrake jammed. By this time, I was thinking 'Screw it, it will still be stuck int he morning, I'll deal with it then'. Stomped into the hotel, spruced myself up and headed back out to meet my friend for a few well deserved pints. In the lift on the way out, a random guy started talking to me. Before I knew it, I was blurting out a question that I had already had to utter that day.....'Actually, do you know anything about cars?' 'I suppose so, yeah. Why?' 'Well, my handbrake is after jamming and I'm not sure if there's something wrong or if I've done something wrong..... I'm supposed to drive to Limerick tomorrow.' 'Are you parked near the hotel?' (Frantic nod from me) 'Sure, come on, I'll take a look at it for you'. Knight in Shining armour or what! All it needed was brute strength. He released the handbrake on his first go, and then waited with me while I tried it a few times myself to make sure that I could do it before heading off, chuckling to himself.

I'm a woman who believes that one good turn deserves another. After my couple of pints (where my dear friend Tommy nearly wet himself when I filled him in on the various incidents of the day), I headed back to my hotel where I spotted my Knight in the bar with some of his mates. I saw he was drinking Heineken so I bought a pint at the bar and dropped it over to him to say thanks which he was delighted with. I would like to think that it was because of that good deed that I had no problems for the rest of the week on the road.

Moral of the story - if someone does you a favour, show your appreciation. Karma will revisit you, honestly.