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Monday, 25 November 2013

Missing Hostel Life?...

I've been home for nearly 3 weeks after living in a hostel for...well, I don't feel like I should admit how long, but it was a lot longer than I would advise anyone else to do it for! There have been a few changes that I have had to adjust to, most of them extremely pleasant I must admit.

Wait, that whole bed - just for little old me? And I get wardrobes? Well, that is luxury. But how many people am I sharing with? None...that doesn't make any sense. So I can come home drunk and eat a sandwich in bed and watch Sons of Anarchy/The Office/Game of Thrones on my laptop without my earphones in and I won't bother anyone? And I cannot begin to tell you how wonderful it is not stumbling around in the dark either trying to get dressed or trying to get your clothes together to get dressed in the bathroom (whichever causes the least disturbance). This I can get used to!

Being able to leave my toiletries in the bathroom and the only thing I really have to worry about is my sister using my shampoo/shower gel. Which, let's face it, is a general fact of life anyway with siblings. Not having to wear flip flops while taking a shower is an freedom everyone should be allowed. Except prison folk...they probably deserve to be punished in this way. I also had my first bath in a year and a half, lovely stuff.

I open the fridge, see something I like and I can take it. Without having to search under a pile of unidentifiable crap for the bag with my name on it, open it and realise that someone stole my eggs (this happened TWICE). The first couple of days, I kept asking the family if it was OK for me to take things and why wasn't anything labelled with their names, room numbers and departure dates. Then I remembered that that's all irrelevant here!

The kitchen is occupied by a maximum of 3 other people at any one time. And only one, if any of those people will be cooking. We have 8 working hobs, 2 ovens, a grill, a microwave, a dishwasher. I have 5 different sized pie dishes to choose from and knives sharp enough to actually chop things with. I have not had noodles since I've been home, I don't even think there are any in the press!

Not going to lie though, I do sort of miss the constant stream of strangers coming through. It made every journey from your room an adventure - who would you see on the way back from the bathroom in just a towel? Which kitchen hogger would be using 9 pots and pans while you're trying to boil an egg? Who is talking really loudly on their mobile on the patio/in the common area? Which crazy/creeper is going to be freaking people out in the bar? And that brings me to the main thing I miss. The good old Departure Lounge, where everybody knows my name. And 2 of the most attentive bartenders I've ever had. No one makes a Gin Caesar like Buckethead and I doubt I will ever find a better karaoke partner than Staples O'Neill. Miss you boys!

Moral of the Story - next time you go travelling, make sure to stay in a hostel. All of the above points will make you glad to get home but you will never be able to replace the memories that will be made.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Things I will not miss about Canada...

Lived in Canada for 2 years and as much as I did enjoy it, there are several things I will not miss at all! Some of these I know I have bitched about before, so please bear with me. I have been getting weepy and nostalgic and needed something to take my mind off it...

Milk in bags - I stopped being so pissed about the percentages once I figured out which one I liked (2% for anyone that cares) but I still find it completely bizarre to have milk in bags. I've wiped up too much spilt milk to believe it's in any way practical, it's not even easier to transport. It is cheaper though (not when you take into account the spillage) and it does seem to be the choice for many Canadians. No idea why, suggestions welcome on a postcard.

Drivers/stupid road rules - for what are rumoured to be a very friendly and laid back people, Canadians are certifiably mental once they get in a car. In terms of the actual rules of the road, the most dangerous one that I've had experience of is being allowed to turn right on a red light - in Ireland. we have what we call a filter light for these situations. Pedestrians are still taken care of. Here, I have actually hit a couple of cars that veered around corners and got a little too close to me. Scary stuff.

L.C.B.O. - Complained before about the lack of regular off-licences in Canada. Having travelled in the province of Quebec also, I now know that this is just Ontario as I found several stores that sold convenience store stuff, beer, wine and cigarettes. Fun Fact - I also recently found out that Quebec had the shortest prohibition time in Canada also. They may be French but at least they've got their priorities right! I also take issue with the 2am closing time which is standard across the province. Only place to get a late drink is at illegal after hours bars. Very expensive and dodgy as all hell; I only went once...

Poutine - I've got to admit, as often as I've eaten it, I'm really not a fan. It's far from cheese curds I was reared, I tell ya. There are certain places that I will eat it from - I enjoy the chicken curry poutine at the Firkin, pulled pork poutine from Smokes but in most other places I pick the curds out or, if Useless Ben is going for me, he will ask for chips and gravy (and get some weird looks in the meantime). Proper bastardisation of a Canadian dish and I'm sorry. Looking forward to a proper plate of curry chips!

Shovelling Snow - I will also include the general cold as f#*k winters here. And I was only in Toronto, not real Canada where it gets proper cold. Working in the city centre, we had a responsibility to clear and salt the sidewalk and knock out any icicles that were hanging off the side of the building. I will not miss that. Starting a shift at 7am, especially if hungover, popping out to shovel snow, drop some salt and half an hour later you'd have to do it again. Maybe I wasn't very good at it. Standing in the street, halting pedestrians while someone hung out a window knocking icicles from the drain pipes with some sort of shovel or brush. OK, I'll almost miss that one.

Tim Hortons Coffee - I don't care if it's cheap, it is actually pretty horrible. Those jalapeno bagels were my favourite though, and apart from the odd dodgy speciality flavour (those pumpkin ones were dire) a box of Timbits were always guaranteed to elicit a smile.

Smoking Laws - whatever about a smoking ban, which I can obviously deal with, but the weird stuff like having to smoke 9 metres away from an entrance always felt strange. Certain places would not allow you to smoke on their patio if they had an awning that belonged to another part of the building. Some bars had patios that you could only smoke on if you were sitting down, etc. Give me the glass box in Fitzgeralds anyday.

Moral of the Story - sometimes it can be easy when you leave a place or situation to look back and see it all through rose-tinted glasses, if you will. The annoying things will stick out for a bit but the good memories will last a hell of a lot longer.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Big East Tour - Day 3

Guess now is about time that I should talk about the people that were on the tour with me - the great thing about Moose Travel Tours is the smaller groups that they take. We had 12 on ours and while there usually seemed to be a variety of nationalities on the tours, ours was 5 Irish, 5 Australians and 2 Kiwis. Even 2 days in, you could see the differences emerging - half the tour group seemed more interested in drinking each city than seeing the actual sights. Luckily, I managed to fit into both groups relatively well! The bus wasn't the most luxurious mode of transport but it suited our purpose perfectly. They have also designed most of the routes so that you're never in the van for more than 3 hours at a time generally.

Hence why we stopped at Montmorency Falls just outside of Quebec City on our way from Montreal. I'm a huge fan of water and water features (I am crazy about fountains that you get in parks and stuff. I got a lot of great fountain pics from this tour!) so even though it's just a load of water, I was happy to wander off and my own and just watch. It is actually higher than Niagara Falls (barely a fraction as wide obviously) and as you cross the bridge over it, you can see the City of Quebec in the distance. We did manage to see a rainbow in the churning water at the bottom - seemed to be a bit of a theme on the trip, reckon I saw 6 or 7 rainbows over the course of the week.

Once we got into Quebec City, I had an eerily familiar feeling. The old style cobbled streets, little traffic, flags and bunting everywhere - felt just like an European city. One particular street actually looked just like Kilkenny city for some reason... We went for a little bit of a walk around, to get our bearings and stopped for some ice cream at a spot our guide recommended. Being the morbid lot we are, we got our ice cream and went to sit in a graveyard to eat it. I love graveyards as much as I love water features strangely enough. We passed by the amazing Chateau Frontenac, built in the late 19th century as a stop over for Canadian Pacific Railway travellers. It has hosted many famous people and was the headquarters for the Quebec Conferences towards the end of World War 2 in 1944.

A couple of us decided to do a ghost tour that evening. Our guide recommended a company, Les Visites Phantomes du Quebec that she had used before (although she hadn't been a huge fan of the guide that they had). Our guide, Emile, was great; he knew a lot about the city in general, historically and architecturally and shared a lot of that as well as his spooky tales from years and years ago. It was all sort of creepy coincidence stories until we got to St Andrews Church. 10 of us walked in, led by me holding a candle (the only light in the church apart from the dim lights from the street) and Emil proceeded to tell us, probably not even the scariest stories of the night but things seem a lot creepier in a dead quiet church with nothing but the sound of your own breathing and flickering shadows on the wall from the only candle there... I saw at least 3 ghosts that night. Well worth it though. Popped out for a couple of drinks to steady the nerves after and stumbled upon an improv night in one bar. Totally in French obviously. I pretended to laugh along with the rest despite having next to no idea what was going on.

Moral of the Story - Don't go on a ghost tour in a strange city and then head back to a creepy hostel that looks like it might have been an old hospital back in the day...did not sleep overly well that night I'll tell you!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Big East Tour - Day 2

Waking up with a hangover in a brand new city is not fun. I think everyone will agree with me on that. Still, I managed to power through (although it did take me nearly 3 hours to actually get myself ready to leave the hostel). We decided to head for the old town, which would bring us on a walk through most of the downtown anyway. Vieux Montreal is a very beautiful spot; with it's old cobbled streets and European style architecture, it felt so familiar. I did get quite narcissistic and take one of my favourite photos with the Rue St Helene sign (not quite my name but close enough!).

I really wanted to get a smoked meat sandwich (as per everyone's instructions) but I went for a full smoked meat poutine to soak up the previous night's alcohol. For anyone who doesn't know, poutine is basically chips, cheese and gravy. Originally from the province of Quebec, they call it French fries, gravy-like sauce and cheese curds (the squeakier the better). I got a Bloody Caesar to complement it - again, quick explanation of this Canadian delicacy; essentially a Bloody Mary but they use Clamato juice instead of tomato juice. Yes, this is clam and tomato juice. Yes, it sounds disgusting and it did take me a long time to get a taste for it. The trick is to get it extra spicy with gin instead of vodka. Best hangover cure ever. The picture does not do it justice at all, I'm well aware.

Took a stroll through the mains square with a huge statue dedicated to the alleged founder of Montreal, Paul de Chomeday de Maisonneuve, who came along in 1642 to settle the island of Montreal for the French. The square is beautiful and dominated by the Notre Dame Basilica, which was actually designed in large part by an Irish Protestant architect called James O'Donnell. There is a $5 charge to get into the church during the day, $10 to get in for the impressive light and sound show that animates the history of the basilica itself as well as Ville-Marie de Montreal.

From there I headed down to the Places Jacques Cartier and the old port, then headed up to the Parliament Buildings, through Chinatown and right up through McGill University, hitting at least 5 other beautiful churches on the way. I was making my way to Mont Royal, the hill that overlooks the city. One of the major attractions here is Mount Royal park, which was originally planned by the same guy who did Central Park. There is a cross that looks down over the city, symbolic of the wooden cross set up there by good old Maisonneuve as a thank you to God for not drowning the entire city during some major flooding in 1643. I didn't quite make it up that high but I did get as far as the Kondiaronk Belvedere and managed to take this beautiful shot.

At that point, I was completely exhausted. I went to meet up with a friend of mine in a Shisha bar to the east of the city and by the time I got back to the hostel, all I was able for was my not super comfortable hostel bed. Almost a lame way to end my time in Montreal but I feel that I saw everything I wanted to see. Apart from Eggs and Legs, the almost unbelievable strip club that serves an all day breakfast buffet while lap dances are happening. Eggs and legs baby.

Moral of the Story: Travelling hungover is not the way forward but sometimes it forces you to make more of an effort. Like sweating the shit out of your hangover by walking up a mountain (or a hill, whatever, it was tough).

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Big East Tour - Day 1

So, I finally got to get out of Toronto on a Moose Tour for 7 days that is taking me to Montreal, Quebec, Mont Treblant and Ottawa!! Very exciting, so I figured I could use this to re-start my failing blogging career...

An early morning departure from a rainy Toronto led to a very quiet opening leg of the journey. A few tentative introductions to the people sitting closest to you and that was it...sleepy time. I chose to ride shotgun, primarily to keep our driver company, mainly for the extra leg room ;)

Our first real stop was The Big Apple where some much needed sustenance was procured in what was essentially a pie factory. The fresh apple turnover was divine but I can imagine the surroundings being much more appealing when it's not raining; there was a train track and some ping pong tables that looked fun! Instead, I made do with kissing a scarecrow.

Next stop was the Thousand Islands cruise - another activity that would have been nicer on a sunny day, or even later in winter when the St. Lawrence River freezes over completely. Although we wouldn't have been able to take the cruise then... did get to see the smallest international bridge in the world though, bridged between 2 islands, one of which is in Canadian waters, the other is in American waters. We learned a lot about George Boldt, lovely fella that built a castle on Heart Island for his wife, who died before it was finished. Poor George never set foot on Heart Island again. Cheapest real estate on the Thousand Islands runs at $250,000. Bargain.

Coming into Montreal didn't feel that different from Toronto apart from the extra church and cathedral steeples and a distinct lack of a space penis. Going into the hostel felt a little strange; I have not stayed at another hostel since I started working in one. It does give me a certain extra level of respect but it also makes me criticise more... The rooms were clean; we had a bathroom inside which was a bonus. The common area in the basement was pretty decent with a bar and pool table and a really nice kitchen. I literally just threw my things down and headed off to see my friend Rob for the last time before I go home. Cue the tears. As he's lived here for a while, I asked him to recommend a bar/street to find one so we headed up to Crescent Street where I pick... Hurleys Irish Bar. Yeah, yeah, I know. I made the mistake of finding out that they charge $4.50 for a Jameson, although that did lead me to one of the best free shot getting lines I've ever used.

Me: So, I've heard 2 rumours today and I REALLY hope that they're both true.
Andrew (bartender): Oh yeah? And what might they be?
Me: Well, the first one is that you're going to give me and my 2 friends here shots. The second one is about your penis (followed by a sleazy wink)
He laughs and walks away, I laugh and go to walk away. Next of all, he comes back with 3 shots of Jameson and plonks them on the bar. He winks at me and says 'I guess both rumours are true', smiles and walks away.

Moral of the Story - don't take shots from a cute barman, who is flirting back with you, and then get too drunk to do anything about it.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Decisions, Decisions...

I'm just about to round off 20 months here in Canada. Sweet mother of the devine, it has flown by. With so little time left, I've been thinking hard about what to do next and have had many suggestions thrown at me. My options include:

  1. Looking into visa options to stay here longer. It is possible, and I know it would keep the Plummers happy but I get a feeling I might be done with Canada (possibly just Toronto). It is too cold in winter, too warm in summer, milk comes in bags, sugar comes in cartons, motorists can turn right on a red light, you can only buy alcohol in government run shops, too many hipsters, too expensive. Not to say I have not enjoyed my time here, that would be crazy as I have loved just about every second of it but I think it's time to move on.
  2. Australia/New Zealand. Definitely on the list but I'm putting myself under enough pressure as it is to get the money to travel more in Canada before I leave, if I want to save money to start myself a new life down under, I would need to work every hour of the day right up until the day I leave. Oz and Nz aren't going anywhere.
  3. Going home... Well, the decision has pretty much already been made. Despite my best intentions and best laid plans, I was not able to save enough money to do what I want. Still, the more I think about it, the more I think I'm ready to go home. Being here in Toronto has been an emotional rollercoaster in itself, although sometimes I feel like it was all caused by weather related mood swings. I've been home twice since coming away and had no idea I would miss it as much as I have.
The long and short of it is, I'm going home. Gonna work my ass off for the next few months and enjoy the rest of my time here, travel out west and fly back from Vancouver in December. Anybody going to be travelling between Toronto and Vancouver in November, let me know. Those of you still in Ireland, see you all for Christmas - it's gonna be a good one!

Moral of the Story - in the immortal words of my good friend Dorothy 'There's no place like home'. I don't have red shoes to click though. Can't afford proper shoes in Toronto ;)

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

New Year, New Me?

If by 'New Me', you mean someone who actually updates their blog with any sort of regularity....then, yes. Hopefully this does indeed signal a new me. 

Urban Dictionary defines a new year's resolution as 'the things you promise yourself you will do over the year but quit after the first 2 weeks. I couldn't agree more. I am not exactly the type of person who makes New Year's resolutions and here are my other reasons why:

  1. January is one of the most depressing months on the calendar. Christmas is over, you've spent too much money, you've become sick of the family and friends that you struggled to spend time with over the holiday season because you're just too busy the rest of the year. Why compound all that misery with resolutions that involve you giving up something you enjoy or limiting the free time you already have?
  2. People generally make unrealistic resolutions that are not unattainable exactly but are usually somewhat out of reach. 'I'm never drinking/smoking/eating rubbish/stealing traffic cones/molesting sheep again'. Or something to that effect. It should be 'I'll only have 3 drinks a day instead of 7', 'I'll only steal 4 traffic cones a month' or 'I'll only molest the sheep with really good personalities'. High expectations breed failure so aim low. 
  3. If you're not trying to give something up, you're trying to learn something new or do something better than you did before. Again, the 1st of January seems like a good time to start but making resolutions like being more charitable/helping the homeless/learn Italian pick up some new hottie at work/become a pole dancing instructor - these should be things that you do all year round. 
If I were to make resolutions, I wouldn't call them 'resolutions'; I'd call them my new year intentions. Not to be monitored but just attempted, with no shame if I fail.
  • Try to be a bit nicer to people. I stress the word 'bit'. Every job I've had over the last few years has led me to have a certain level of disdain for the general public that I will try to curb where possible. I need to realise that most of our customers do not wake up in the morning with the sole intention of ruining my day. Sometimes it creeps into my private life too, although I seem to get away with it with people who know me but I'm bound to offend one of them someday. Not while Andy Shaw's around obviously....
  • Travel more. Not giving myself a number of kilometres or countries to visit, just simply to travel more. This would even include getting a TTC day pass and taking all the streetcar lines from one end right to the other. This might even include trying out some other bars that aren't the Departure Lounge but let's not get too carried away here. 
  • Read more. I've become more addicted to watching TV shows that I've already seen while curled up on my bed in the hostel but think it would be a good idea to expand my (admittedly, already impressive) language skills and not just improving my watercooler conversation topics. Except Game of Thrones. I am eagerly awaiting series 3, just like everyone else and will repeat the first 2 series again and again. Oh, I could read those books actually, couldn't I? 2 birds with 1 stone, I like that. 
Still, all of these may go the way of most new year's resolutions, or they can remain intentions. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Let's hope it's a fun road to travel on!

Moral of the Story - I quite like the old me, thanks very much. A few minor adjustments wouldn't go astray perhaps but nobody's perfect!