Archive | Travel RSS feed for this section

Not lazy, just injured.

26 Oct

It’s been a long time since I posted a before/after photo. It’s not because I’ve gained 20lbs or grown warts all over my face though. No, it’s because I have been taking mini-vacations in countries famous for food (France and Italy) and then hurt myself. Was this during a weight lifting class? No.

It was Zumba.

It was a class that I’ve been taking 2-3 per week for the past 12 weeks. It was just a little twinge, what I thought was a pinched nerve. I fought my way through 20 more minutes of the class and had to give up and retreat half-way through. The pain was so awful that Grant had to undo my shoes, coat, etc. He very nearly almost had to feed me because I couldn’t lift either of my arms more than a few centimetres.

The next day, the pin-point pain had turned into a searing streak across my upper-back. I went to work and cried out in pain while reaching for the phone. I couldn’t get a physio appointment until a day later. I had 40 minutes of excruciating deep-tissue massage and was told that I had ruptured a muscle in my back.

Rest.

How long?

At least three weeks.

TWIST. blurgh.

And now, I’m trying not to beat myself up. The Amanda of 2009 would have been overjoyed at having such a great excuse to avoid the gym. Amanda in 2010 feels extremely guilty and anxious about it.

So, unfortunately, a three week vacation in Canada (where I actually did work out 5 times), followed by a mini-vacations in France and Italy was followed by an injury.

There hasn’t been much ‘after’ difference since my last update to post. Instead, I’ll be posting more about my Halloween costume (involving lots of plastic baby parts), and my first foray into baking for money.

Stay tuned.

Three Weeks of Gluttony in Toronto and New York

22 Sep

I just came back from three weeks of eating and drinking whatever I wanted. And it was amazing. One of the things I miss the most about living in Toronto is the huge selection of amazing meals for cheap. Giant empanadas in Kensington Market for 5 bucks, an enormous bowl of salad with quality ingredients for 8 dollars, delicious breakfasts for the cost of a latte in Amsterdam.

A giant empanada from Toronto's Kensington Market

Ingredients for a Caeser - the quintessential Canadian cocktail.

And the grocery stores. Sure, they’re too big and mostly filled with junky processed crap, but it is a real luxury to find all the ingredients for a meal in one place. In Amsterdam, making something with more than five ingredients usually requires going to at least three different grocery stores.

When I’m visiting Canada, the majority of my time is spent with my aunt and uncle at their immaculate, yet uber-comfortable home in a quiet residential neighbourhood in Burlington, Ontario. They take great pride in their home, especially the yard. The grass is always lush and vibrant green. The area used to be an orchard, so they’ve got a big pear tree and a big apple tree in the yard.

I miss squirrels.

After a couple weeks of miserable August rain in Amsterdam, we were more than thrilled to enjoy the last month of practically perfect summer weather. People were surprised I came back with a tan.

Yes, it does get hot in Canada. Scorching hot.

So, I spent a lot of time relaxing in a reclining chair in my aunt and uncle’s backyard, cocktail in hand. They live the good life and I love that they are so generous with sharing their life with me when I’m there.  My uncle (who is the only father figure I have) turned 60 on August 29th, and they had the entire family over for a BBQ. Our family is a bunch of complete lunatics, and I love them for it.

The only non-lunatic amongst our crazy family. Pictured here with bday cupcakes courtesy of yours truly.

Oh, and did I mention my Gramma’s Coconut Cream Pie. I’m capitalising that for a reason, because it’s a pie that’s come down from heaven. I could eat a whole one if left to my own devices. It would be the last thing that my tongue tasted should I ever find myself on death row.

The world's best pie.

One of the most memorable meals we had was in NYC. It was a place I’d read about in New York magazine on the plane ride over. A new hipster place with a small menu featuring southern classics. It was called Commodore’s and if you’re ever anywhere near NYC, you should make a special trip to this place just for the fried chicken alone.

It. was. heaven.

Fried Chicken and Biscuits (made with bacon grease) - HOLY FUCK.

And this is just a small percentage of the many, many memorable meals we had over three weeks…but my wrists are getting soar, so I’ll leave it here for now.

What’s been your most memorable meal while on vacation?

Roadtrip to Eurockeennes music festival

7 Jul

Off we went in the Bumblebee, a 1985 brown and yellow VW van. Colin, the sole driver of our gang, with his chief navigator, Liz up front. Grant and I were the kids in the back. Our end destination was Eurockeennes, a music festival for ‘purists’ (so says a French fashion/gossip mag we were reading), located just outside of Belfort, France. The forecast for the weekend was hot, scorching, caliente temperatures (35+). We departed from Amsterdam at about 6:30pm on Wednesday night. The plan was to drive to the La Roche-en-Ardennes and camp overnight before finishing the trip on Thursday morning.

Amsterdam to La Roche-en-Ardennes, Belgium

We successfully got as far as Luxembourg (province) before stress, tiredness and doubt about the route kicked in. Uh oh, the gas gauge has dipped suddenly. Why aren’t the headlights that bright? Construction. Road diversions. Shit, shit, shit. After a stressful hour cranking that old van up hilly residential areas in god-knows-where looking for a gas station (Grant can’t remember what day it is, but he remembers what French he learned 10 years ago, weird), we finally made our way back to the highway at 10:30pm. Colin, what a machine, had been at the wheel after a stressful day of work for 6 hours before we finally got to our campground…which was gated and closed. Exhausted, we pulled out our tent and pitched it in the parking lot. I fell asleep with delirious exhausted thoughts of some bad 90s teen horror movie and wondered if some masked lumberjack would be plunging his axe through my skull at some point in the night.

halp!

We all woke up at the crack of dawn, our bladders all screaming for relief. The night before, I had tried out my SheWee and my stage-fright (the thought of peeing standing up was freaking me out) meant I just ended up squatting anyways.

penis envy in hot pink

I was determined to try again though, and I did at a cafe in the beautiful town of La Roche. Standing and peeing, imagine! I came back to the table with a huge grin on my face – achievement! We walked around La Roche for an hour in the scorching late morning sun, scoffed a pastry, admired some motorcycle tank relics in the window of the Ardennes War Museum and stood mouths-gaping at a Belgian bottle shop, stupefied over the incredibly low prices of champagne-sized bottles of Leffe.

a belgian nom nom nom

We stocked Bumblebee with beer, fruit, juice, sausages, and water and continued on to France with some much-needed enthusiasm.

Hey Liz, that's not our ride!

We arrived in Belfort easily enough by following signage once we got to Belfort. The camping area was a giant mowed-down hay field 3km away from the festival entrance. The area for camper vans was separated from the rest of the lowly tenters, so we had our pick of the land and settled on a corner of an intersection of caution tape. We had lots of space, were close to the portaloos/portapotties/shit shacks, but too far from the water, showers and food. We met up with Rhys, visiting from Australia, and Matt and Jenny, two intrepid friends of Liz & Colin’s that were cycling through Europe. Very cool. Once all settled with tents pitched, we fired up the BBQ and feasted on merquez sausages and salad. PARTY.

Colin cautiously chews cathartically.

Our posh corner lot

We are excited!

I ventured to the portaloo again, eager to master the art of peeing standing up using my new, hot pink SheWee. Standing in front of the least offensive ‘toilet’ I could find, I carefully got out the SheWee and positioned it accordingly, and then got paranoid that I was peeing on myself, panicked, and fumble-flung the thing right into the abyss of Koolaid blue sanitizer mixed with feces, gut gunk and piss. Glorp, glorp, glorp. Down it went and that was the end of SheWee. I’d resigned myself to a weekend of squatting. Ehn.

It's getting hot in he-ah, so take off all your clothes.

Friday morning, all of us (Liz and Colin in the Bumblebee, Rhys in his 2-man fart-box tent, and Grant and I in our 6-man tent) busted out from our giant, nylon ovens at 8am, gasping for air and a cool breeze. Tent broiling supreme, it was HOT out there. We had some breakfast (muesli, berries and warm yoghurt and/or rice milk), some surprisingly tasty instant coffee, and managed to drag ourselves to the shower queue in 35 degree heat for a painful ice-cold shower. I don’t care how bloody hot it is, the idea of standing under ice-cold water on PURPOSE makes me cringe. We got through most of the day chasing the shade around the van, downing water.

The festival didn’t open until 3:30pm, but we figured we’d head over early to take a dip in the lake that surrounded the festival site. A treacherous 3km walk down railway tracks in sweltering heat ended in heart-breaking disappointment upon discovering burly security men stationed in front of every goddamned entrance to the lake. NO SWIMMING FOR US.

NO SWIM.

Defeated and wilting in the heat, we were faced with two not-so-appealing options: continue walking past the festival and see what we find, or turn around and walk back to the camping area. We reached a consensus on the latter option, but thankfully came across a road-side stall that a local resident set up with cold beer, sausage sandwiches and more importantly, a HOSE. Thank fuck. The police trucks rolling by seemed to approve of our impromptu lawn drench.

So, now the shit part. We got back to the camp site and chilled out for a couple more hours. As we were leaving, Jenny suggested that everyone brings their tickets even though we already had on our wrist bands (just in case). Grant can’t find his, and Liz had thrown her and Colin’s out (we had a wristband, why would we need the tickets?) and Rhys couldn’t be bothered. Surely, it would be fine. So, we headed 3km (on a shuttle bus this time) back to the festival entrance only to be denied entry.

TICKET FAIL.

WHAT.THE.EFFFFFFFFFFF. After 40 minutes of bouncing around from one dumbfounded staff member to another, a helpful gal was finally able to bring us to the right person to re-print our tickets. Future Eurockeennes goers take note: keep that paper ticket.

THEN WE WERE IN THE FESTIVAL–> PARTY!

Day 1 was fun, but exhausting. I caught the last song of Suicidal Tendencies, as well as sets by Foals, The Black Keys, The Dead Weather and Jay Z. The Dead Weather were awesome, Liz and I both developed a mad girl-crush/envy for singer Allison Mosshart (man, she made smoking look cool). The Black Keys were impressive as usual, and we loved their set even though we’d seen them 4 days earlier in Amsterdam. Grant pooped out for Jay Z and headed back to the tent, so it was just Liz, Colin and I bouncing around, throwing up our diamonds. Fucking grand set, with a killer live band. Liz is a mega-fan and belted out pretty much every single word to every single song. I only know a few tracks well, but loved it nonetheless. I bailed after Jay Z, my knees and feet buckling from the strain of 16+ hours of standing and walking in the heat. I missed Hot Chip and Missy Elliot (who went on at 2am and was apparently horrendous to watch/hear).

I want to BE you, Allison Mosshart.

Jigga what?

Day 2, still scorching but the very slight breeze proved to be our saving grace in getting through the day while the sun was at its highest point.

Grant felt like the denim hot pants was the best option.

Grant and Rhys and Matt and Jenny all jumped on bikes to cycle into town, so Liz, Colin and I layed about the campsite reading before heading to the festival to check out Broken Social Scene (Liz and I were bored, Colin loved it). After that, it was Airbourne, a very popular Aussie metal band whose stage was piled wide and high with 20 Marshall stack amps. It was like watching an AC/DC cover band, only not playing AC/DC tunes.

20 amps, MERCI BEAUCOUP!

Comedy gold. And some sexy festival-goer attire, too:

Business in front...

and…

...party in the back1

Matt was so into the rock that he stripped off his shirt and threw it on the ground…Jenny’s got that classic video on her camera. Then we saw the impressive The XX, had a bit of a dance session watching Memory Tapes on one of the small stages, and had to take cover  and then capped the night watching the highlight of the festival, Janelle Monae. Seriously epic stuff, this girl’s going to be huge. Hadn’t heard of her before, Liz recommended we check it out. She played at the beach stage along the lake (which we couldn’t swim in) with a looming thunderstorm kicking off behind us. Andre 3000, with a long glossy black mane, played guitar in her band (he’s unmistakable). Best show, and really, nothing we could see after that would top it, so we retreated back to the abode for chocolate chip cookies, crisps, and vodka.

Day 3, Sunday. We slept a bit better because it was an overcast morning, so we poached a little less than the previous days. It was so cool, that Liz and I opted to skip the ice shower and just sponge bath instead. Enh, it was the last day and we were all a bit gross anyways. I was pretty keen to have a low-key day, so we ditched Julian Casablancas at the big stage, and sat down in the shade to see post-punk French band, Rien…and they were pretty damn good. We caught the melancholic pop ballads of Australia’s The Middle East, and after that, we watched Gallows ignite a massive audience into the biggest circle pit I’d ever seen.

Watford Punk

‘Highlights’ included front-man Frank Carter heckle an audience member with an ‘I anal sexed yer mum’ joke and a mimed wank session that culminated in a loogie spat into the crowd. Proper punk shit, eh? It was a brilliant set though, and though I was grossed out by the spitting, I do love how Carter makes a point of thanking the crew and insisting on a safe and respectful circle pit. Sadly, the call for a human pyramid was lost in translation by the French crowd, and our sad 5 person pyramid at stage right went unnoticed. We tried. We continued the day with an epic dance party watching LCD Soundsystem. After filling our empty stomachs with tagine (and, by the way, the day before we had Ethiopian), we caught the ear-shattering Health. At that point, the leery drunks started appearing and I made my exit back to the tent, opting out on Massive Attack (who I’d seen twice already). I slept like a baby.

Got up bright and early at 7:30 the next morning to disassemble camp and pack the van up. We said our goodbyes to Matt and Jenny, who were continuing on to Switzerland on their European bike trip. We drove into Belfort to drop Rhys off at the station and got a bit lost coming out, but eventually made our way through a few beautiful French villages. And then we passed a lake. Liz, Grant and I had our eyes glued to the window, whimpering like excited puppies. Hoping, hoping, hoping. Then Colin, our ring leader, capitulated with a ‘oh, yeah, I guess we could stop for a quick swim’, to which we all belted YES!!!!

FIST PUMP!!!! SWIM!!!

we so happy!

Seriously giddy with excitement, we pulled up, got our swimmers on and plunged into the placid, warm lake. I think we all felt like we were 8-years-old again. We got back into the van 20 minutes later, feeling like a million bucks. We had 12 hours in the van ahead of us. We didn’t get lost once, didn’t run out of gas, didn’t get stressed at all. We stopped at a roadside pull-off to pee and stretch our legs. Colin came out of the bushes with a look of horror on his face. “I look down and saw all these condom wrappers and thought ‘hmmm’ and then looked at the ground near my feet and saw all these used condoms!’. Sure enough, we looked around and realized that all the cars parked ahead of us and behind us all had single male drivers. They went into the bushes, but they never came out. Pulling out of the stop and giving a honk-honk as we drove by startled the circle-jerk of 6 or so dudes with their pants around their ankles, and two guys behind them doing…well, I’ll let you have a guess. Belgium!

All went well for the rest of the ride until the temperature gauge lit up near Tilburg, about 80km away from Amsterdam. We were forced to pull off the road to let the Bumblebee catch its breath and rehydrate. Colin picked up a cum cup on the side of the road (it was actually an empty cup, but after the scene in Belgium, we were a bit delirious with pottie humour)…we had an hour to kill, so what were we to do? How about, watch True Blood on the laptop!?!!! So we did. Nothing like watching raunchy vampire sexy times to de-stress a roadside situation.

SOOKEH!

We arrived in Amsterdam at about midnight, absolutely shattered. I felt like shit, my back was in knots…I can’t even imagine what Colin felt like. We made it home on our bikes and I had a warm shower(!) before collapsing in bed.

Amazing trip…

YIPPEEE!!!! GOOD TIMES!

and bitter-sweet ’cause I love Liz & Colin and they’re moving back to Australia in August. Mega sadness.

BAD TIMES.

Johnny Depp is 47, Office Floods & More

9 Jun

Woah, dlisted just posted this great photo of Johnny Depp in honour of his birthday. As if Depp could get any hotter, here he is holding a really cute puppy!

What’s your favourite Johnny Depp flick? I think mine is Cry Baby, the early Depp years.

Grant and I were in the UK this weekend. We managed to get some tickets for the free Rage Against the Machine gig in Finsbury Park — a celebratory gig in honour of fans voting in Killing in the Name as the Christmas #1 this year. The sore ribs and bruises are a great souvenir of one of the most memorable gigs I’ve ever seen…me, and 40,000 other people.

Shitty that Transport for London didn’t provide any additional tubes or buses since the Tube closes earlier than usual on a Sunday night. Grant and I wandered around for 90 minutes looking for a taxi or a bus to take us back. The night was capped with Grant being pick-pocketed for his phone as he got into taxi. Classy.

For a change, we also had some time to spend in London on our own, so we went to the Natural History Museum. Man, kids sure do love that place and I can’t really blame them.

DINOSAURS. Huge reproductions, real fossils, and a hilarious mechanical, life-sized T-Rex. Plus, those silly mirrors, lots of fake stuffed animals and a life-sized giant blue whale. It was cool, but tiring dodging bugger-eaters and little shouting monsters, so we didn’t even check out the other half of the museum.

It’s still crap that I’ve not checked out any other museums or galleries in London, especially since most of them are free. We’re going to visit NYC for a few days at the end of the summer, and I’m definitely going to make it a priority to see at least ONE cultured thing.

In other news, there was a torrential rainfall today in Amsterdam, and part of the office flooded…unfortunately, it was the storage room. A whole bunch of us rallied together to clear the rooms as quickly as possible, the gush of rain coming in through the ceiling vents, of course, made things a bit tricky. Carrying out wet boxes full of reports in three inches of rain on a slippery floor = recipe for disaster. I made a right fool of myself by slipping and crashing into the water in front of twenty colleagues. Such an Amanda thing to do!

I vowed that I would never, ever, in a million years be wearing Harem pants, and yet, here I am, sitting barefoot at my desk in a pair of borrowed ones. My jeans are still soaked through, drying on the radiator.

Ash Cloud, Venice, Verona – Oh My! Italy pt. I.

1 Jun

First, we flew to London and took the train up to Norwich to attend a wedding. We had about 30 minutes in the hotel to get ready, and Grant decided to turn on the TV. Lo and behold, the major headline darting across the screen on CNN was ‘Volcanic Ash – Risks of UK Flight Cancellation Sunday through Tuesday.’ EFFFFFFFFFFFF.

We were due to fly from London to Ljubljana the next day to meet my sister and her boyfriend in Ljubljana. Just part of a 5-day trip I’d meticulously planned for months. We were torn…do we stay the night and go to the wedding reception as planned and hope it works out, or do we race back to London and hop on the only flight left to Italy that night? Neither of us wanted to make the call, but we decided not to take our chances and we booked ourselves on a last-minute flight to Florence.

We booked the flight on BA, but discovered upon arriving at Gatwick that it was actually Air Meridiana (anyone?) that would take us there. The flight left on time, the plane half-empty, and we were quite disheartened to discover that it was a SOBER flight…and we really needed a drink. We arrived at the tiny airport at 11:30 at night, and were a bit bummed to see that nothing was open (no tourism/hotel info) and we just had to hop in a taxi and get dropped off in centre to find a hotel.

After one false start lugging our suitcases up 5 flights of stairs to find an angry fat man grunt that he had no spare rooms, we gave up and coughed up EUR 150 (ironically, the equivalent of what we were paying for 5 days worth of accommodation on the rest of the trip) to stay at the Sofitel. Whatever. The room was huge, the bed comfortable, and the location central. We scarfed down some pasta at a very expensive restaurant (nothing else was opened at midnight on a Sunday night), the kind of place where designer-clad patrons excuse themselves between courses to rack lines in the toilet.

We woke up the next morning and tuned into CNN hoping that our forsaken flight to Ljubljana was indeed cancelled. It wasn’t, so we wouldn’t be getting a refund. Accepting our fate, we were determined to make the best of Florence in the short time we had there (about six hours). The weather was gorgeous, 25 degrees and sunny, with very few clouds in the sky. Without a map or a guidebook, we wandered around, admiring the calm and collected beauty of the city. We happened across a piazza, where Grant noticed a crowd of people gathered around a basilica (church). Our curiosity beckoned us closer and we found that it was not a queue to get in, but a film set. The scene was a little person dressed in a sleeping gown (think: Dickens’ Scrooge) and cap being chased by a gaggle of angry nuns. Classic!

Film set in Florence

We wandered around for another couple of hours before hunger got the best of us, and then we bickered for 30 minutes about where we should eat. Being the research fanatic that I am, and absolutely despising wasting a meal opportunity on something sub-par, we probably walked further and longer than we had to before settling on some okay-priced pizza and tourist-priced beer. Then we wandered into the Piazza della Signoria and its impressive collection of statues.

Piazza della Signoria, Florence

We grabbed a sandwich from a nearby alley hole-in-the-wall joint that had a queue of locals (must be good) and enjoyed a glass of wine before heading to the station to grab our (very expensive) train to Venice.

Venice
It was everything we imagined it to be. A spectacular city that is crumbling under the weight of tourism…the revenue from which it is kept afloat. The island has a population of about 50,000; only a very small fraction of those habitants are actually Venetian. We discovered, unfortunately, that the highly recommended (and cheap) hotel (Hotel Helvetia) I’d booked was actually on the island of Lido. Now, on a map, Lido looks quite close to the mainland, but because you can’t really walk it (especially with wheeled luggage) through the choking throng of tourists, you have to take a 40 minute ride *around* the entire island on a Vaporetto (water bus). This made Grant very, VERY, grumpy. I, too, was disappointed, but I had done all the research so I kept it to myself and made it quite clear I wasn’t going to tolerate his complaining. In addition to the TIME it took to get to Lido, THE COST, my god. EUR 6.50 for a one-way trip! We opted for the EUR 18 36-hour pass, but I wonder if you bought a one-way and didn’t validate it, if batting your eye-lashes at the inspector would suffice.

By the time we got to Hotel Helvetia, consulted my research compendium, and hopped back on the Vaporetto for another 40 minute trip, it was about 9:30pm when we got back to the mainland. We exited at the Rialto bridge and made our way into the San Polo area to wind our way through alleyways to find a local restaurant raved about on chowhound.com. Addresses won’t do you much good, but we knew the place we were after was in the ‘1911’ region…these four-digit numbers are (often) clearly marked on the corners of ‘streets’. We followed the numbers…where 1200 can turn to 2200 if you turn the wrong way, and ended up in an empty square. None of the corners branching off the square continued from 1900, s0 we retraced our steps and started again. We did that twice more, the same route, baffled at the disappearance of the 1900 numbers. Not even the iPhone could help. Finally, after nearly giving up, we realised that construction was hiding one of the alleys off the square…the 1900s! 1999, 1976, 1955, and down it went…Grant excitedly counting each number as we ambled closer to the destination – 1911. After a confusing series of sharp twists and turns down alleyways no wider than one of us at times, we found it. AND IT WAS CLOSED.

FAIL.

I guess the one thing I forgot to note down in my research was opening and closing times. Blurgh. But all was not lost, we went back to a promising looking pizza/pasta joint that we’d passed three or four times en route and after ordering our food, discovered it was actually in our guidebook as a recommended place anyways. nom nom nom.

Algae-tinted canals, Venice

The next morning, we went back to the main station in Venice to meet my sister and Jeremy, who had just come off the 5 hour bus ride from Ljubljana that Grant and I were also supposed to be on. After Vaporetto-ing our way back to the hotel, and back to the mainland, we meandered (got lost a zillion times) back to Rialto and went to Al Merca, which The Independent calls ‘an obligatory midday stop for any self-respecting Rialto regular.’ I had a Spritz, a local neon-orange aperitif (Aperol & soda) and we felt a wave of accomplishment for reaching one of the ‘local haunts’ I had written down & finding it was actually true to form and we didn’t feel like tourists. We spent the rest of the day perched in various piazzas (avoiding San Marco), soaking up the sun and taking hundreds of photos.

Verona
So, taking the train around Italy is surprisingly cheap if you take the regional trains…it was EUR 8 to get from Venice to Verona…about 90 minutes. We stayed at B&B Filmonica in the centre of Verona, only a few minutes walk from the Arena, the second oldest coliseum outside of Rome. After the chaos of Venice, Verona was a welcome respite. It was quite easy to get out of the crowds, which were diminutive in comparison. We wanted to scope out an osteria that I’d written down, so we mapped our route along the river that runs through the city…our destination, Osteria al Carro Armato, wasn’t open yet, so we grabbed a pizza at a nearby place and made plans to return later that night. We saw a man walking a giant dog that looked like a panda.

Then, we continued along the river and Grant peed alongside it. He can’t hold it you see, he’s only got one kidney. That sounded a bit Muffy Mouse.

Anyways, we avoided the Juliet stuff, because it’s fictional anyways and none of cared much to rub her golden breast. We decided to walk around some more, stopping for drinks along the way, of course. I vowed to avoid beer as much as possible on this trip, but let’s face it, a warm glass of red wine on a hot day just isn’t the same. Why, though, was German beer on tap everywhere? I don’t think we came across one place that had Italian beer on tap!

…more to come