Bratislava and Budapest

Before arriving in Italy i backpacked from Vienna to Bratislava and then Budapest. Both cities were sort of the ‘meh’ part of my trip, so I will tell the story in pictures:

I arrived in Bratislava mosquito bitten and hot, and walked to the couple i was staying withs apartment. After a nice homemeade meal we went for a walk into the center for a drink. Since is was a Sunday the place was dead!

I arrived in Bratislava mosquito bitten and hot, and walked to the couple i was staying withs apartment. After a nice homemeade meal we went for a walk into the center for a drink. Since is was a Sunday the place was dead!

 

The Blue Church. The weather stayed overcast the whole time i was there.

The Blue Church. The weather stayed overcast the whole time i was there.

 

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This is amazing smoked cheese which you peel off, puts 'cheese strings' to shame!

This is amazing smoked cheese which you peel off, puts ‘cheese strings’ to shame!

 

This massive tankard was 1.20euros, and apparently that was expensive! This beer is known as liquid bread since its so dense.

This massive tankard was 1.20euros, and apparently that was expensive! This beer is known as liquid bread since its so dense.

 

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Now onto Budapest!! I CS'd the first night and had a bad experience so i spent the rest of my time at the Wombat Hostel. Made some good friends there and the rest is history.

Now onto Budapest!! I CS’d the first night and had a bad experience so i spent the rest of my time at the Wombat Hostel. Made some good friends there and the rest is history.

 

Looking over Pest

Looking over Pest

 

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Catherdral

Catherdral

 

More cheap beer! This trip really got me into wiessbeer.

More cheap beer! This trip really got me into wiessbeer.

 

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Paprika chicken, ultimate comfort food.

Paprika chicken, ultimate comfort food.

 

I had to check out the thermal spas!

I had to check out the thermal spas!

 

Verdict: Success.

Verdict: Success.

 

Sachertort by the park. This was a fraction of the cost of the one in Vienna and tasted as good.

Sachertort by the park. This was a fraction of the cost of the one in Vienna and tasted as good.

 

Starters for dinner with a Russian friend i made called Marina.

Starters for dinner with a Russian friend i made called Marina. She was super nice and i wish i’d gotten her FB details.

 

Duck

Duck

 

We were on the mezzanine of this restaurant. Pretty nice place!

We were on the mezzanine of this restaurant. Pretty nice place!

 

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The river (still the Danube, i followed it from Prague through Vienna and now here) recently flooded so maybe that is why it was so dirty.

The river (still the Danube, i followed it from Prague through Vienna and now here) recently flooded so maybe that is why it was so dirty.

 

Cutie market.

Cutie market.

 

I will end the post with this, which was in market. It sums up Hungary's bizarreness pretty well.

I will end the post with this, which was in market. It sums up Hungary’s bizarreness pretty well. All in all i prefer Vienna or any other city in CZ over these places.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

 

Verona and Venice

The Nanny Gang with the Bard

The Nanny Gang with the Bard

Getting Gelato in Venice - Nia, Audrey and I

Getting Gelato in Venice – Nia, Audrey and I

Again, so sorry about keeping this updated. Here is what i had typed out in July a month after arrivng at my au pair job in Venice:

The last month has gone by so fast and due to difficulty accessing internet and quite frankly being too busy enjoying myself I have been extremely lax in updating ye olde blog, so please accept my apologies for this. Since recalling recent travels is quite a task I am going to take baby steps and tell you about the weekend I have just had while I gaze over the canal and sip extremely strong German beer.

On Friday the children I am looking after (3.5y/o twins, Marco and Anna) were well behaved and we had a day at the Quattro Fontane beach on Lido, which is two streets away from the apartment where the children and their mother, Silvia, live. I have a bedroom there as well which has two twin kiddy beds and two windows which usually have the Venetian (!) blinds kept down since it is so hot. At 6pm, I was free for the weekend! The weather in Venice in July is typically hot and sunny, with temperatures averaging 30 degrees during the day, and not much cooler at night. After attempting to straighten my hair I met up with Audrey, Leticia and Nia to go to one of the best pizzerias on the island. Audrey is a cute French girl who I met at the park on my first day au pairing who speaks good English and I feel that I am closest to since we spend a lot of time together. Nia is Welsh and lives in Venice and looks after an Irish family, and Leticia is Spanish and has only just arrived on Lido. Nia, Audrey and I formed the original “Nanny Gang”, which has now grown to 6 or 7 au pairs dotted over northern Italy. The pizza was incredible (mine was margarita with grilled vegetables), and at 8 euros is pretty reasonable. Unfortunately when you eat out you are often charged about 1euro for “cutlery”, and even water is 3.50euros so it soon adds up to UK prices. Alcohol in bars and restaurants is insanely priced – even the cheapest pint of Italian beer is 6euros…. I miss the 1.20euro steins of beer in Bratislava!

Of course after pizza you HAVE to have gelato, and I went for my favourite flavour pistachio as well as a scoop of chocolate (when in Rome…) and it was superb. We heard about a party on Alberoni beach and the four of us went on a mission to find it… which resulted in a 20 min bus journey and wandering around Mallamocco at 11pm at night where there wasn’t a soul around. We could *hear* the music but just not find it! After much hilarity and silly conversation we called it a night at 12:30 as we had an early start the following day to get to Verona.

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On Saturday morning I woke up feeling hot, but ready for the day ahead. Audrey and I met at the vapparetto station, and got a water boat to Piazza San Roma at 9am, which unfortunately was on line 1 which stops at every single stop on Venice. Early morning in Venice is beautiful, the sun is high and perfect for photographs and there are very little crowds. The city absolutely reeked, and the reason became clear when we alighted at the stop for the train station – the canal was full of dead fish floating on the water in the canal K I have no idea why! Audrey and I met up with Nia and Joanne – a girl from Manchester who is au pairing in Trieste for a wealthy family spending the summer on their private beach in a 6 bedroom beach house – and since we missed the 10am train we got the 11am train to Verona. There was time to get some nutella donut things and a cappuccino at one of our favourite places to get gelato on Venice, and we boarded the train to Verona and found four free seats on an air conditioned carriage, and spent the next 1.5hours comparing families and discussing life back home and admiring the beautiful scenery of farm land and long thin conifers passing us. We arrived in Verona and met up with two more au pairs, a Polish girl called Angelika and an American called Amy, and the six of us traipsed around in the 33 degree heat looking for the famous balcony from Romeo and Juliet. Verona seems really big, with a lot of shops and people but it is absolutely stunning. It reminded me of Prague with its large river running through it, and often yellow coloured buildings. When I thought of the balcony I expected a large square with maybe a handful of tourists. In reality it’s a teeny, tiny square that you can only access through an alley that had its walls covered in scribbles and love hearts. Underneath the balcony there is a padlock of love thing which was jam packed with red and pink padlocks, and on the wall there was a mass of chewing gum which had peoples names scrawled on it. Oh, and about 100 people squeezed in to have a look! After photos, we walked up to the river and had a general walk around. Since it was so hot I got some delicious passion fruit gelato in a cone, which was the most refreshing thing I have had to date. Since Audrey and I had to be back in Lido by 7pm to babysit we rushed back to the train station and had a memorable journey back to Venice. After an “adventure” trying to get back to Lido on the water bus I arrived back to the apartment to look after the kids while Silvia went to the festival in Venice, which meant an eight thirty bedtime for me L

I was glad for the early night because on Sunday the whole family (Silvia, the grandparents and the children) and I got an early boat over to Lido to Jesolo, to spend the day in their “country house”. I didn’t know what to expect but after a 30 min boat ride we got to the island and collected the grandparents Mercedes and drove about 20km to the house, which is situated in a quiet road that has a lot of farmland. The house itself is nestled in a large garden bearing fruit trees and gorgeous flowers and is a large two story building with a lot of recreation space. Apparently the family spends two weeks at Christmas there, when it is cold and they have a beautiful fireplace in the kitchen which I can just imagine blazing away happily when its -5c outside.  Silvia took me on a drive to give me a tour of the area, which reminds me of the south coast of South Africa – lots of campsites and supermarkets and you can tell that this is firstly a holiday island, apparently hugely popular with Germans and Dutch people. So much so that a lot of the signage was in German. We stopped at a supermarket to buy lunch and I was startled to see horse meat for sale in the deli – we are going to get some soon apparently! The house is close to a protected area that was for conservation bird life, and had a Culbin Sands vibe to it. I had planned to cycle over after lunch to take photos, but after a delicious meal of pasta, chicken and a tomato salad from the garden I slept for 2 hours and didn’t feel like a cycle when I woke up. Instead, we went next door and collected an absolute boat load of peppers, tomatoes and aubergines from the neighbour who always shares his crop with Silvia since she does free law work for him. The vegetables here are so deformed and fragrant and tasty, they taste REAL! Unlike the plastic GM veggies you get in the supermarket in the UK. Afterwards we got the boat back to Lido, in time for dinner which was speck ham, salad, tomatoes and ricotta – so so good! Since arriving I have put on a few pounds (can you blame me?!) so I went for a cycle down to Mallamocco on the beach path, and happened to cycle past Audrey and Leticia who were about to go to gelato. I resisted and continued my cycle whilst reflecting on an incredible, fun and relaxing weekend.

Verona

Verona

The famous balcony

The famous balcony

With Juliet

With Juliet

Venice!

Venice!

Prague, Brno and Vienna

Vienna

Vienna

Firstly, sorry due to a combination of no internet, laziness and the weather being too good i dropped the ball on keeping the blog going. However i can assure you that I have had the best summer yet which was full of ups and downs, and luckily i have kept a record of it, so here goes!

After amazing wedding times in Canada with the family i flew back to Inverness for a couple of days with Ross and one last DJ gig before heading off to Europe. The first night of my travels was an upsetting one. Messed up flights and £210 wasted later I arrived at Prague airport which seemed like a ghost town.  Suddenly I realised how alone I was, this was a stark contrast to the wonderful family holiday id had last week. I somehow got the wrong bus (I should have realised when the only people traveling on it looked like airport workers) but thankfully there was a nice lady who explained that the bus I got is just going to take a little longer but I will eventually end up right outside the metro station. My bags were heavy and the hostel took a bit longer to find and I arrived at the Mosaic House Hostel feeling like a (sweaty and hot) lost lamb. My mood improved though when I saw the “dorm” I was staying in- it was more like a posh hotel. 3 bunk beds (with only 2 occupied) and an en suite that looked brand new, and most importantly there was AC! That night I wandered up to Charles Bridge and to the Old Town which hasn’t changed much since my last visit in 2010. When I got back to the hostel there was a friendly Brazilian girl there who I chatted to for a few hours before going to bed. In bed, I lay awake fretting and panicking about this big decision I have made to spend the next 4 months traveling. I felt incredibly homesick and very far away from the people I loved and considered just buying a ticket back the following day.

Thankfully I awoke the next day feeling slightly better, and hung around in the air conditioning until my bus to Brno to stay with Sue, a couchsurfer who is Czech and studying law at uni. As soon as I met Sue (and Gabriel, her friend from Bolivia) I was glad I made the decision to soldier on and enjoy my trip as much as possible. We got on like a house on fire, chatting about life and boys and everything in between. That night, we went to a local bar called Savoy where they had a swing dancing night. It was so different and fun to watch, and drinks there are so cheap! (About £1 for a beer). Sue introduced me to drinking Tonic Water on its own who turns out to be refreshing and hydrating. Since it was 36 degrees, it was a warm night in Sue’s flat, but her friendly cat kept me company until I fell asleep. The following morning we woke up early to explore the city centre, and catch a 45 minute train journey out to “The Caves.” Public transport is very cheap in CZ, and there is little hassle with ticket inspectors harassing you to see your ticket. While waiting for the bus to get to the caves I had an ice cream that was essentially strawberry puree that had been frozen and covered in thick dark chocolate, delicious!

We had an action packed day at the caves, and even though it was so hot we had a fun time. That evening, Gabriel came over and Sue made us potato rosti pancake type things which were very good, and I luckily the recipe is easy enough to remember so I will definitely be trying to recreate it. We went back to Savoy this time to watch salsa dancing, and also visited a tea house (Chai-Ovna) to sample some cold black rooibos and an apricot shisha and get to know each other even more. Sue and i got on so well, i couldnt believe we had only met a few days prior. She had an exciting summer ahead of her too, firstly spending three weeks in France and then volunteering at a flower farm in Ireland!

The following morning it was a scorcher again, so we decided to go to the public pool for a swim. It was only about £2 entrance, which was hours of fun in the twelve meter deep pool which was sparkling clean and very well run. Since it was still crazy hot we went back to the apartment for lunch and Czech this out, over there a typical breakfast would be a cheese and ham toastie, and lunch would be scrambled eggs! By this time I had gotten a pretty good feel for Brno, and I can only describe it as a smaller, tourist free version of Prague – you still have all the bars, restaurants, sights and attractions, its simply crowd free and cheaper. Winner!

After an emotioanl goodbye to probably the best host i will ever have I got the 2.5hour bus across the border to Vienna, and apart from a stop to get our passports checked it was a pleasant, luxurious and cheap journey.

Vienna was suffering the same heat wave as CZ, and I arrived to Martin’s flat in the east end of the city close to the Danube absolutely dripping in sweat. Martin is the brother of Robert, who stayed with me in Inverness in March with his friend and hails from Berlin. He is a typical German who loves beer and David Hasselhoff, and is an interesting and funny character. When I mentioned to him that I would be passing through Vienna he told me of his brother who lived there, and how miracle of miracles he was actually going to be there at the same time as me! Martin has a couple of flatmates, Seb, Dom and Jelli, and after I had literally walked through the door I was whisked away by them by bike along the river Danube for a BBQ. Despite the mosquitos it was tonnes of fun, and a good way to get to know the people I’d be staying with for the next four nights. Over the weekend there was a festival held on the island of the river Danube which had such acts like Amy MacDonald, Chase and Status and… Maximo Park! (My favourite).

On the Friday morning I woke up early after a pleasant sleep on the couch, and Martin, Robert and I hit the Historic Centre of Vienna to explore. Martin took us to a gelataria where the queues were out of the door for, so I knew it would be good. I settled for cranberry (it was really hot I wanted something refreshing) and GOATS CHEESE!!! It was really, really good! Very creamy and tasted like GC but it was sweet, an interesting concept. After a very hot stroll around the historic centre and seeing the university (Harry Potterville) I left Martin and Robert to do a sewers tour (apparently it was featured in The Running Man) and went off exploring on my own to find the Vienna Botanic Gardens. At this point of the trip I was feeling pretty reflective and ended up finding a spot in the shade to call home and also get in touch with Keldon and Cara in Perth, Australia. After a good catch up I found “De Spar” to get Martin and his friends a housewarming present. Now usually with couchsurfing it is polite to arrive with a gift, and since I was in such a flap to get from Brno to Vienna and then find the subway in Vienna I was too rushed to get anything and my shoulders ached so much (pro tip: PACK LIGHT PEOPLE!!!) and I felt really bad about arriving with no gift and I think they assumed I’d at least bring my own alcohol which I hadn’t had a chance to get either. So to make it up I got a bottle of Glenfiddich single malt, since it holds a special place in my heart due to Ross and my trip to the distillery in May. When I arrived back at the flat in time for dinner it seemed to go down well, although Seb suggested drinking it with coke… shudder. Martin and his girlfriend had cooked a huge bowl of spaghetti carbonara and the six of us had a nice summer dinner in the lounge, before heading out to the park (beers in hand of course) to play some table tennis and basketball. Parks in Austria seem to be seriously jacked up with table tennis tables, basketball courts, football nets… the works! Plus since drinking in public isn’t illegal there’s a great family friendly atmosphere, and of course it wouldn’t be complete without a cloud of mosquitos hanging around. Poor Jelli broke her finger while playing b-ball, but for me it was great to play a sport that I was actually good at since I bombed at table tennis. After quick showers we headed out to the festival, which involved a riotous journey on the tram to get there with much singing and “ach JA’s!” The festival itself felt like a small scale Rockness, lots of food stalls and people teeming everywhere with big happy smiles on their faces and music coming from all areas. The first band we saw were called the Pharsyde or something, some big rap group from the 90’s who knew how to keep the crowd going. Then, after a beer stop, we went to the headline stage to see this German band (kind of like a Coldplay/Snow Patrol feel) which everyone went nuts for. It was a lot of fun and totally unexpected.

The next morning Robert and I headed out to the palace, which was like a huge scale version of Dunrobin Castle. The weather was still boiling hot but it was muggy and overcast, and a storm was definitely on its way. The storm arrived when Robert and I were in the Sacher Café sampling some sachertort. I have to say that considering you pay 5euros for a slice it is a total con. For that price I’d expect a chocolaty party in my mouth, and what I got was just dry, bland disappointment. Since everyone I’ve spoken to who’s been to Vienna told me to try it im glad I went but I would never do it again. That evening, I wanted to get a crate of beers for the guys but by 6:30pm literally EVERY shop was closed!! It was horrific! And they stay closed until Monday morning. So we had to make do with 1.30euro cans of beer from a street vendor, which apparently is a rip off (little did I know that beers in Venice are 6euros and I’d be crying for these kinds of prices again) and before heading out to the festival again we had some Glenfiddich and played ring of fire until the beers were gone, and then I got to see one of my fav bands of all time Maximo Park! They were great, and even though the guys weren’t familiar with them they seemed to enjoy it. After we went to a few bars and late night sausage vendors and walked home at about 4 or 5am.

The next day was definitely laid back, everyone slept in until about 12. At the park there is a church called the Mexican church and there was some huge what seemed like Latin American event going on which was a huge racket, and after packing my bags and saying bye to everyone I headed to the bus station to get the bus to Bratislava. I was sad to go, I could have happily stayed for another few days but I didn’t want to let my couchsurfing hosts down. In hindsight, I have learnt that if you are enjoying a place, stay! Because you never know what’s around the corner…

With Sue my kickass host in Brno

With the gorgeous Sue my kickass host in Brno

Mmnnn Siskava(sp?)

Mmnnn Siskava(sp?)

I sent a postcard to my grandparents with this exact image

I sent a postcard to my grandparents with this exact image

BBQ time in Vienna

BBQ time in Vienna

Party time in Vienna

Party time in Vienna

Toronto and Ottawa

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Saturday 1 June was filled with a day of driving and not much else. Calum, mom, Dan and I left our hotel in Quebec city at half 10am, and had a slow 3 hour drive to Montreal to drop mom and Dan off at a hotel downtown, and Calum and I continued south east to Toronto, eventually arriving at 11pm that night, since we had a couple of stop offs along the way. It was a scorching 32 degrees and sunny, and it was heart breaking driving past houses which looked like they had BBQs going on in the garden. On Saturday night we stayed at a Quality Inn hotel near Toronto airport, I had arranged to stay with a couch surfer but after I realised how late we’d get in I cancelled as I thought it wouldn’t be fair to arrive, go to bed, then leave in the morning. Calum and I have gotten into watching the series “Archer”, and it was good to just veg out with a couple of episodes of that on the laptop. On Sunday morning we raced to the airport to collect Dad and Cecily, and it was so exciting seeing them again since it had been 6 months since we last met. Cecily had found us a cracking apartment (or condo as they say here) to stay in through AirB&B, which was in the Old Town area of Toronto. The streets in the area were a mix of old Victorian style factory buildings and modern skyscrapers, which felt like hipster central. The flat itself was a gorgeous two bedroom modern condo that was kitted out head to toe in Ikea furniture and had an incredible view of the skyline from the balcony.

Dad enjoying the view from our balcony

Dad enjoying the view from our balcony

Just along from the accommodation was a placed called George Street Diner, which was run by mainly Irish staff and had a very cool, homely vibe to it. We had brunch there, and I enjoyed a ‘Canadian Breakfast’ with fresh orange juice. It was great to catch up with Dad and Cecily again, family is so important to me. Recently I have been trying to cram as much family time into my life as possible, since I will be alone for 3+ months soon and will need happily memories to fall back on.

After a couple of hours of strolling around Downtown to get a feel for Toronto we headed back to the apartment for a scotch and scrabble match. Dad beat me by 7 points only, which isn’t bad since he is known as the scrabble wizard.

On Monday we woke up early to hit the road to spend the day at Niagara Falls. After introducing dad and Cecily to the Tim Horton’s experience (lattes and a box of tim bit donuts this time), we drove 2.5 hours to Niagara and suddenly were faced with the sight of the falls. Niagara has to be seen to be believed, on the Canadian side you are literally RIGHT next to Horseshoe Falls, with an incredible view of the whole area. At Niagara we met up with Beth, Cecily’s friend from uni who she hadn’t seen in 30 years, so it was great to see them reconnecting and reminiscing throughout the day. If you get tired of the breathtaking view you can walk up Clifton Hill, which is a street which can only be described as a 90s Disneyland in one place. There were attractions such as Ripley’s believe it or not, haunted houses, Guinness world records and a Coca Cola shop. It was truly bizarre walking through it; it seemed very weird to have all these flashy, slightly dilapidated attractions next to such a natural beauty such as the falls. After a rather bemusing walk through Clifton Hill we all had lunch at The Keg, which is known for its steaks. On Kristen’s advice I tried a ‘baseball’ cut of sirloin steak, which is so big and round it can only be cooked medium rare.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls

After lunch and some interesting conversation we spent a few more hours in Niagara, having a famous Beaver Tail pastry, and some Hershey’s milkshakes in the process. Good thing we walked 14km according to the pedometer, since I have consumed so much sugar and fat on this holiday. I dread to think how I am going to handle living in Italy where I’ll face the temptation of pizza and pasta daily.

That evening was spent relaxing after a long day out, and everyone had an early night.

In the morning we left Toronto early, as we had a 5 hour drive to Ottawa. It’s crazy, when you look at a map you’d think it would be a short drive, but this country is so vast. There was some difficulty extending the hire car for another week and we wasted an hour and a half of a beautiful warm sunny afternoon in the Hertz offices in Ottawa before we could drive to the B&B, and we only arrived at about 6pm. This place was chosen and booked by my father, and as soon as we neared the corner of the street and noticed the long unkempt grass outside I knew something was up. The place makes fawlty tours look like the Ritz, my god I didn’t even take any photos it was so bad. The owner was always hovering and I took exception to being told as soon as I arrived to remove my shoes, since the floors were bare and filthy (and felt like they would cave in any way!). To make matters worse after asking us to remove our shoes he pointed to an old bucket full of dirty looking slippers and told us we were welcome to wear any of those. Shudder. The stairs were so narrow my fat ass nearly didn’t squeeze through at the landing, and the shared miniscule bathroom looked like it hadn’t been updated since the 1960’s. The ridiculous thing was that it cost more for one night than the fabulous modern condo we had left in Toronto for two nights. We left our bags upstairs in a hurry and went out to explore Ottawa whilst having a good chuckle about what dad had picked. “I wouldn’t even let a homeless person sleep in it”, Calum commented.

Hersheys Milkshakes

Hersheys Milkshakes

After a wander along the canal in the warm early evening sunshine we walked up to Main Street where we stumbled upon a hippyish book store. Inside it, I fell in love with a sock puppet turtle. So much so, that Cecily bought it for me to use as a tool to read to the kids when I am au pairing. He is so cute! A perfect companion for Kermit, I still need to name him though.

After days of rich, fatty foods everyone was craving a healthy option, and the answer to that was The Green Door vegetarian and vegan restaurant. It had a real Findhorn Foundation feel to it, with a self serve area where you could pile veggie lasagne, curries, daal, salads, vegetables and many other options onto your plate and you pay by weight. I had a fantastic meal with some organic red wine, followed by some yummy clean desserts such as chocolate cake made with spelt flour and sweetened with maple syrup, it was SUCH a relief to be eating normal, healthy food again! As we walked back we caught the sun setting on the canal, which cast an ochre glow across the whole city it was a real treat to walk home chatting with dad and Cecily and admiring the gorgeous houses along the way. After a hairy night in the B&B from hell we had a surprisingly good berry salad, yoghurt and fresh homemade scones for breakfast made by the owner’s wife. Too bad the owner was hovering and hinting that we had to leave ASAP since some workmen were coming into finish the garage. It has been a while since I’ve taken such an instant dislike to someone, and out of curiosity I found the place on Tripadvisor and the reviews are NOT good haha.

The next stage of the journey is the sole reason why I am in Canada, Kyle and Kristen’s wedding! There will be a few days of preparation where I will try to muck in as much as possible, and I am already doing a few bits for the desserts and wedding cakes. The weather seems to have dialled right down and we are back to averages of 16 degrees, which is too bad as now would be the perfect time to enjoy hot summery weather since I can bum around in farm clothes and really enjoy the heat. Until next time!

Ottawa Sunset

Ottawa Sunset

Bonjour du Québec

The view from my couchsurfing hosts house

The view from my couchsurfing hosts house

Hello! I am in beautiful, summery Canada and it is FABULOUS! Calum and i had a fairly arduous journey over driving from Inverness to Aberdeen, then getting an Air France flight to Montreal via Paris CGD. This was my first time flying Air France and i’d be hard pressed finding another airline that serves better food than it. We even got a mini wedge of brie with dinner, how cute! We spent the first two nights in Saint-Anne-Des-Lacs with a couchsurfer named Jonathan, who lived on a beautiful house on a lake with his parents. Over the next three days we had a BBQ, visited a wildlife park called Park Omega which was home to black bears, moose, elks, beavers and other Canadian critters, went to a fromagerie, saw a log Chateau that was built in the 1930s, jumped in the ice cold lake after a soak in the hot tub, cooked lobster and visited Montreal. It was an excellent first few days and Jonathan gave us the perfect welcome into Canada. Apart from one day so far the weather has been HOT, so i have been religiously  applying sunblock to avoid getting burnt. I dont want to be the grooms creepy red sister at Kyle and Kristen’s wedding next week!

Feeding elk

Feeding elk

Wolves

Wolves

On the third day of the trip we met up with my mum and stepdad Dan who arrived in Montreal from Toronto, and after a nice rooftop meal at a steakhouse on the outskirts of Montreal with Jonathan we drove west to Quebec city, which ended up taking about 3 hours since we had to stop for Tim Hortons coffee along the way. Timmys is a chain of coffee shops all across Canada and is like a tastier, better, cheaper version of Starbucks. I have never had such succulent donuts and pastries in my life before, i shudder to think what they put in it to make it taste so good but i have already put on heaps of weight 😦

Eating lunch in Montreal

Eating lunch in Montreal

Quebec City reminds me of Fort George and Edinburgh rolled into one. It is super european looking and very french. Since i am trying to learn italian it has taken a few days to adjust to French, luckily people here can pick up from your stuttering bonjours and mercis that you arent local and they switch to speaking english pretty fast. We spent the day walking along the promenade and through the old town, the weather was a scorching, humid 32 degrees so everyone got a tan. After such a hot muggy day the clouds rolled in and i got to experience one of the longest, most intense thunderstorms i have ever witnessed – even after living in Durban!

I have been trying to read The Alchemist and so far i am about a quarter of a way in, as far as holiday reads go its pretty philosophical but i will keep at it. I like to think that i have learnt a thing or two about packing, and so far the most valuable things that i have packed on the trip are my camping water bottle – its freeing never having to buy plastic bottles of water and its a good way to stay hydrated during the day; my dylon travel wash which was only £1 and since ive brought such little clothes its great being able to do a load of washing in the sink at night; and my straw hat. I dont care about looking like a dork, as long as it keeps my precious skin out of the sun i am happy.

Quebec

Quebec

The next leg of the trip involves driving from Quebec City to Toronto where Calum and i will drop off Mom and Dan in Montreal along the way, and meet up with Dad and Cecily at Toronto Airport who are flying in from Durban. We are 4 days into the trip already, i cannot believe how fast time is flying! Until next time, au revoir!

Montreal Cathedral, where Celine Dion got married apparently.

Montreal Cathedral, where Celine Dion got married apparently.

Gooooood angus burger

Gooooood angus burger

Tulips in Quebec

Tulips in Quebec

Calum and Jonathan

Calum and Jonathan

A Quick Weekend Tour of Scotland Before Leaving

Roadtrippin'

Roadtrippin’

Since coming back from Australia and Dubai the last three months have flown past in a blur of work, baking, djing and partying. My career break officially started on 10 May, which has left me two weeks to organise for the next leg of the trip: Canada and Europe.

Before leaving Scotland i wanted to have one last trip to take some memories away with me, so over the May bank holiday weekend (and my birthday weekend…) Ross and i planned a cross country road trip which consisted of Glasgow, Aberfeldy, Glenshee, Dufftown and Nairn over three days. In Glasgow we stayed in a hotel on Great Western Road which was in the heart of the West End right next to the Botanic Gardens and Byres Road. It had been over a year since I last visited Glasgow, and i was eager to get back. It seems to be a city that draws you back, since the atmosphere and lifestyle is so buzzing.

Botanic Gardens

Botanic Gardens

After a 3 hour drive down snacking on birthday goodies and listening to Frank Ocean and JT’s new albums (both mediocre save for a few songs) we arrived in a balmy Glasgow and went for a walk to the Botanic Gardens, where the rhododendrons and orchids were in full bloom. That night we enjoyed wine and tapas at Cafe Andaluz, a well known Spanish restaurant which is renowned for its baked goats cheese and marmalade dish. The most outstanding dish i had that night though was honey glazed battered chicken, it was so succulent and sweet and went perfectly with the choritzo, aubergine and patatas bravas sides. Afterwards, we had a bit of an epic pub crawl and ended up in Oran Mor for Rekorderligs until late in the night.

The best eggs benedict. Chilli in the sauce, with the best tasting bacon underneath!

The best eggs benedict. Chilli in the sauce, with the best tasting bacon underneath!

On the Sunday we woke up to a humid, overcast day and strolled down to Stravaigin for brunch. I just love the architecture in Glasgow, rows of tenement flats with manicured front gardens and high bay windows. After a morning of reading the paper, lattes and eggs benedict we walked through Kelvingrove Park admiring the daffodils and cherry blossoms (and skateboarders!) and spent the afternoon at the museum.

Cutie flats

Cutie flats

After more meandering through Ashton Lane and Byres Road, we crossed the river Clyde to Springfield Quay so that Ross could experience his first Nandos and at about 5pm we went back on the road back up the A9 to Aberfeldy. By this time it was pouring with rain, and i was driving and after a near miss in a 4 car pile up we got pretty lost, but it was fine because the scenery was so lush and green it was a pleasure to see more of that type of countryside. Eventually we arrived at Lurgan Farm B&B, and Jane welcomed us in to her home and showed us our room and private lounge downstairs. We spent the evening curled up on the sofa playing cards by the fire, it was perfect.

The view from our bedroom window at the b&b

The view from our bedroom window at the b&b

Glenfiddich

Glenfiddich

The following morning we had breakfast by the window looking out over rolling fields which were teaming with bird life, and shortly after that we set off again on the back roads to Dufftown, via Tomintoul (which by the way according to the news is currently snowed in.. in May!!!). The drive is incredible; you pass through green fields with sheep, forests, bare scrubland which looks as if its never been touched by humans, mountains… it has it all! After a creepy stop at the Spittal of Glenshee we grabbed coffee in this inn which wouldnt look out of place in Twin Peaks, and by the time we got to Dufftown in the afternoon it was a scorching 17 degrees. The 5 star Visit Scotland rated Glenfiddich Distillery sits proudly to the north of the town, and was crawling with tourists when we arrived. A distillery tour is free, and at the end you get to sample 3 of their most well known drams: the 12 year, 15 year and 18 year single malts. All were delicious, but the 18 year was really special – a nice after dinner dram. After a walk along the grounds we hit the road again and carried on the back road to Forres, and then through to Nairn. After stopping off at a family friends house to say hello i showed Ross the Geddes Trout Fishery, where my dad and i had fished in January. There were 7 fisherman(and ladies!) trying their luck in the early evening light, and after watching them for a while we decided to head back to Inverness since time was getting on and we both had that “Sunday Night School Tomorrow” feeling.

a cairn

a cairn

After getting fish and chips we watched Into the Wild, since we had both recently read the book. It was a nice end to the weekend, and since i only had 4 more days of work until i was finished i was in good spirits. I will leave you with a quote from the film: “Happiness isn’t real unless its shared.”

photo-4

Hello Dubai Pt. 2

sunet

The following day Ricky and Myla got up to go to work and I spent the day pottering around, going for walks and exploring more of Karama in the blistering sun. Walking around I was the only white girl in sight, and I got a lot of friendly, curious stares from passers by. A taxi driver even crossed a busy four lane street and followed me down a hill to offer a cab. When he saw how freaked out I was he backed away while trying to shake my hand and apologise – it must have been a funny sight! For lunch I had a beautiful chicken and spinach kaati roll, which is kind of like a filled chapati that is then grilled, with a fresh peach milkshake. Again, the flavours were out of this world, and I ate it while lamenting the fact that Inverness doesn’t offer such varied, delicious food. I’d arranged to meet with two UK friends that evening at the Marina Yacht Club on the other side of Dubai, an area which is known to house most of the expats. After struggling with picking through my clothes to find something modest to wear (settled on a knee length dress, vest to hide my chest and a long shawl) I got the metro at twilight, which was surprisingly busy with workers and shoppers. After half an hour of getting lost (I came out of the wrong exit and totally lost my perception, I thought I was facing the sea meanwhile I was facing the dessert, a thoroughly confusing ordeal), I met up with Vicki and Paula at the club who had wine waiting. The bar was on a terrace overlooking the Marina, and it was absolutely beautiful seeing all the boats lights twinkling, and the reflections of the surrounding skyscrapers on the still water. It was an absolutely stunning backdrop to while away the evening with drinks and dinner. Interestingly, the most substandard meal of my trip was also the most expensive – three times more than the prices in Karama. I had fried squid and dim sum, both were *ok* but so bland compared to the culinary delights I’d previously experienced. After a long watch up and gossip about men, work and holidays I left Paula and Vicki and got the metro back to Karama feeling happy and sunkissed from the day out in the sun. 

Unfortunately my camera is shocking and doesnt capture the awe of this scene

The Marina – unfortunately my camera is shocking and doesnt capture the awe of this scene

With my friend from the UK, Vicki

With my friend from the UK, Vicki

On my final day in Dubai I wanted to spend it relaxing, after all it was the last day of my holiday. After waking up fairly early I walked to the closest mall in the refreshingly cool morning air and had an extended breakfast at Paul, France’s most famous Boulangerie which now has chains dotted around Dubai. Since it was sadly way too early to indulge with a tart au citron I settled for an iced latte, toast and a pain au chocolat. The iced latte was out of this world, so incredibly refreshing and chilled, and the breakfast filling which spanned over two hours since I had dedicated that morning to updating Mr Journal. After breakfast I strolled around the mall and visited the local supermarket, Spinneys. Considering that Dubai has a high concentration of American, British, Australian and South African expats among others, you can imagine what a melting pot of variety is on offer in the supermakets. They stock the best items from every country: Tim Tams from Australia, Black Cat Peanut Butter from South Africa, Lucky Charms from the USA and a raft of M&S and Waitrose products from the UK. I was particularly impressed with the South African Selection – there was rooibos tea, Milo, chocolate logs, OMO washing powder and Ceres fruit juices amongst others, and the best surprise was how reasonable the prices were. The fruit and vegetable selection was mind boggling as well with all its exotic hard to pronounce produce. After buying some loose leaf rooibos I headed to a Korean restaurant under Ricky’s advice and had some fried chicken, with a fruit falooda from the Indian juice bar next door. I reckon you could eat out for every lunch and dinner for a week in Dubai and not even touch the sides of what variety of food there is to offer, it’s so exciting. The rest of the afternoon was spent packing up and chilling with Dobby, and when Ricky came home from work at 6 we took him on a walk through Karama and I actually had to take a shawl with me since it was windy and dare I say it a little chilly (I later found out it was 19 degrees, talk about acclimatising fast)

Breakfast at Paul, most delicious iced latte

Breakfast at Paul, most delicious iced latte

Chicken and spinach kaati roll with peach milkshake, that green dip it came with was sublime

Chicken and spinach kaati roll with peach milkshake, that green dip it came with was sublime

When Myla came home from work that evening the three of us headed out to a Lebanese restaurant around the corner from the flat for my final meal in Dubai. These occasions are always tinged with sadness, and I felt slightly glum waiting for the hummus and flatbread to arrive knowing that in two days’ time I would be back at work in Inverness and back to reality. The only solace I gained from this was knowing that I would be back to work for 2 months only, before setting off across the Atlantic to Canada. Nevertheless, we had a fantastic meal of hummus, grilled chicken, olives and of course, baba ganoush and it was wonderful to see Ricky communicating to easily with the waiter with smatterings of Arabic.

More yummy Lebanese food

More yummy Lebanese food

After the meal, we strolled along to the Korean place I visited earlier that day to have some “bubble tea”, which is more a juice or milkshake with… balls of a different flavoured juice or milkshake at the bottom. The closest thing I can describe the balls is that it reminded me of those Persil Liquitabs you get for washing clothes – god knows what the skin around the balls is made of but it was a pleasant experience sipping the juice through a straw and getting the occasional pop of a new flavour. The guy who worked at the juice bar was a character who, when asked to take our photo, took great delight in snapping away from various angles and encouraging us to pose.  Since I was so full from dinner I didn’t want a dessert, however in hindsight I wish I had visited the bakery nearby to get some cake, although at this point I was literally bursting out of my trousers and the guilt was setting in.  

Bubble tea

Bubble tea

Eventually, it was time for me to flag a taxi to the Etihad offices in Dubai to check in, and I bid goodbye to Myla and Ricky (and Dobby) while leaving them with a bottle of Bundaberg rum I’d brought from Australia. The flight to Manchester was sombre and uneventful, apart from having a total weirdo elderly man sitting next to me who advised me as we were about to eat that he hopes he doesn’t black out while eating like he had done on the flight over 😐 Once in Manchester there was a delay for me crossing security to get into the domestic terminal because I didn’t have a print out of my boarding pass, which quite frankly was the last thing anyone wants at 6am after a long flight but I made friends with a border agent who was telling me all of his aspirations for the future. He hoped to get a transfer to work in airport security in a more exotic airport, such as Abu Dhabi (which is definitely more glamorous than Manchester!) but he had the usual fears and ‘what ifs’ that people hold that prevent them from taking the leap of faith to exit their comfort zone. I tried my best to encourage him and left him my business card, before finally getting clearance to go through and get my flight to Inverness.

 

My trip to dubai was a whirlwind stopover, which I was glad to have done since it eased the jetlag from Australia considerably. Thanks to staying with friends I feel I got to see a part of the city that normal tourists don’t see, and I am incredibly grateful for that. If you are visiting Dubai, I would heartily recommend visiting the Karama district for amazingly cheap and tasty eats, and friendly faces everywhere.

Korean style chicken with a fruit falood -basically a lot of fruit spaghetti things with what tastes like semolina with chuncks of dried fruit and nuts, cream and turkish delight - a meal in itself

Korean style chicken with a fruit falood -basically a lot of fruit spaghetti things with what tastes like semolina with chuncks of dried fruit and nuts, cream and turkish delight – a meal in itself

The friendly server at the bubble tea shop, what a character.

The friendly server at the bubble tea shop, what a character.

Boat cat

Boat cat