72 Hours in: Washington

Almost three years to the day we first met, Steve and I went back to Washington for a long weekend in April. This time, I didn’t make him carry (most of) my boxes and drive my ass around (how kind of me). It was rather surreal to retrace our steps and reflect on how we randomly crossed paths – for once, my lack of preparedness really paid off quite nicely. While we were saddened to see that the piano bar where we’d first chatted had unfortunately moved, the rest of the weekend was pretty swell. Here are six things I’d recommend checking out if you have some time to putter about in this gem of a city/if you’re mulling over the possibility of striking up a conversation with the attractive individual standing across from you at a work event and want stuff to do after.

Nationals Stadium and the Bullpen
Live music, cheap(ish) beers, food trucks and a great atmosphere – the Bullpen was a grand spot to pre-game before the Nationals clobbered the Phillies. While the beer and food wasn’t as great as Safeco Field, it was still a fun stadium and our cheap seats turned out to have pretty good views of not only the game, but also DC. Look at me reviewing baseball stadiums, who’d have thunk it.

Founding Farmers
This turned out to be a nice surprise – a restaurant dedicated to local, healthy and simple ingredients. Steve had what may have been the most Steve-est of menu items – grilled cheese and tomato soup – with a side of fries. I devoured cauliflower steak risotto. There were no leftovers. We also enjoyed a delicious bottle of Oregon pinot noir which we were delighted to be able to take home and enjoy when we were less exhausted. All in all, great service and delicious food, and nicely located near the White House should you feel inclined to check that out.

Cherry Blossoms
FINALLY (also hello, 32-for-32 item). I’ve missed these every time I’ve visited, so it was nice to catch the last blast before they got scorched in the April heatwave. Head’s up – every visitor to DC wants to look at these suckers. Allow for extra time, pack a lunch (or at least a snack) and practice your best friendly smile as you will accidentally photobomb a lot of people.

Eastern Market
After a sombre visit to the Holocaust Museum, I needed a bit of a pick-me-up and wandered over to the Eastern Market. It’s the city’s oldest continually operated fresh food market, and also has a flea market which was full of doilies. Seriously. Doilie-to-antique ratio was off the charts. If doilies are your thing, beeline here. If tacos are your jam (coughs), you will also find delicious ones just around the corner. Following a wander of the market where I smelled fresh flowers and sampled cheese, I strolled around the Capitol Hill neighbourhood and popped into the quaint shops. There’s some great graffiti to be spotted if you hunt out The Fridge DC, a neat little gallery (wander the alleys near Matchbox Pizza and you’ll find it). When you’re full of graffiti and ready for a snack, be sure to pick up some delicious cupcakes at the Sweet Lobby. Unfortunately, said cupcakes don’t travel well if you’re planning to be all fancy and surprise your manfriend with a sweet treat after a long workday. Instead, you’ll give him a delicious cupcake with a glob of half-melted icing slowly sliding off the side. Ta da…

Duke’s Grocery
Full English breakfasts, simple foods and bottomless mimosas with footie on the TV. A small neighbourhood joint near Dupont Circle, this was an absolute gem with an East London vibe, and a lovely spot to kick off our last day in DC. While the patio gets jammed early, the inside is bright and airy if you don’t mind sliding up to the bar. The coffee was also A+.

Hirshhorn Museum
I thought I’d be museum and gallery’d-out, but the Hirshhorn proved me wrong. Initially I was drawn to it because of the quirky nature of the building itself – it looks a bit like a spaceship plunked down in the middle of the National Mall. Admittedly I didn’t spend a lot of time inside (tacos were calling my name, and I was getting a bit hangry), but I was very impressed with the sculpture garden surrounding the museum (hello Rodin!). Next time I’m in DC I’ll ensure I make a stop here to fully appreciate it.

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Do you have a favourite DC recommendation? Leave a comment below!

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48 Hours in: Jasper

I celebrated my recent birthday with a quick jaunt to Jasper, Alberta. Thinking about going to the laid-back town? Read on for some tips on spending a long weekend, including some hikes, good food and an efficient big-horned car wash.

The Drive

Mountains near jasperYou’ve likely heard that the Icefields Parkway is one of the most scenic in the world. Admittedly, I was a bit skeptical; yes there’d be mountains but it would probably just be like the drive from Calgary to Lake Louise, no? No. It was stunning, a put-down-the-chips-because-your-mouth-won’t-stay-closed kind of stunning. By the end of the drive I had a crick in my neck from swivelling back and forth, and a delirious grin plastered across my face. We lucked out that it was an unseasonably warm weekend and the roads were relatively ice-free; if you’re thinking about doing the drive in winter, check conditions before you depart. If you’re going in summer – head out early to beat the traffic.

Stretching Your Legs
Do you enjoy spending all waking hours on the move? Good news! Jasper is for you. Perhaps you’d rather stretch your legs while doing some low-impact sitting on a bench with a mug of coffee – good news! Jasper is also for you. There are a number of great trails and activities for all seasons. Due to the unseasonably warm winter conditions we had to pass on our plans for snowshoeing (for there was more grass than snow in many spots) but we found more than enough in the way of hiking trails and stunning views to satisfy our outdoor itch.

Our first stop was Maligne Lake, frequently identified as one of the most picturesque spots in the Canadian Rockies. There are a number of trails that start at or near the lake, so we started down the winding road. As we rounded a corner, we slowed to a stop as a friendly female bighorn sheep trotted towards us and was drawn to the side of the car like a magnet. “This is amazing!” I thought, until we noticed two more of these sneaky buggers had appeared out of nowhere and were now methodically licking the side of the door. Okay. Not a huge problem. Just a couple of small lady sheep getting their salt fix.

A car pulled up behind us and we turned to wave at them when suddenly a GIANT SET OF HORNS appeared in the back window. It was Jurassic Park, sheep-style. We froze and wondered what to do. We couldn’t move without fear of bumping the sheep off the side of the road. So we did what anyone would do when surrounded by wild animals – we got out of the car and took pictures.

Sheep surrounding car

Sheep licking car

Eventually we became concerned about the imminent salt dehydration they’d experience, so we gingerly pulled away and watched as tongues were slowly dragged along the side like an iceberg. They did an impressive job cleaning parts of the car.

Marks on car from sheep

We opted just to do a hike around the perimeter of the frozen lake as it was such a crisp, clear day. I am so happy I brought my camera for a variety of reasons this day (big-horned car wash included) because people don’t lie. This place is BEAUTIFUL. Our plans to explore Maligne Canyon were shelved because it was exceptionally icy, and had become a slip n’ slide of epic proportions. Steve didn’t feel like re-injuring his knee which was a wise call.

Refuelling Your Tank
While food is more expensive than, say, Calgary, there are delicious options available. We grabbed breakfast at the Bear’s Paw Bakery and Coco’s Cafe, and enjoyed my birthday dinner at Olive Bistro. Rest assured, for anyone who knows Steve – we also ate sushi.

Resting Your Head

We stayed at the Pyramid Lake Resort which had stunning views. Apart from the lack of in-room wifi and our tendency to leave the fireplace on just a tad too long, it was comfortable. There was a hot tub, but we never had a chance to check it out. In the winter there are horse-drawn sleigh rides around the lake. I opted just to make friends with the horses instead. One of them was a bit of a jerk.

Good to Know

  • Gas – There is a gas station in Saskatchewan River Crossing but it’s only open in the summer months between June and September. While the drive from Lake Louise to Jasper is only about 230 km, it’s definitely not the time to test out the gas mileage of your car.
  • Seasonal Operations – speaking of only open in the summer months, some of the bigger attractions in Jasper aren’t open in winter. If you’d like to check out the Columbia Icefield or Jasper Gondola, winter is not the time to go. However, if you’d like a hiking trail pretty much to yourself, layer up and head out.
  •  Price – it’s a hard-to-access town, so things are going to be priced accordingly (except gas, still far cheaper than Ontario – whomp whomp).

Have you been to Jasper? What was your favourite highlight? Leave a comment below!

32-for-32

After much deliberation, I decided to keep the goal-setting party going and set some lofty aspirations for 32! I changed up some of the categories for this year and a few stragglers from 31-for-31 made a return. I think it has the potential to be a pretty stellar year. Here we go…

Adventuring

1. Go to Peru
2. Go camping (have to keep my s’more skills on point)
3. Explore somewhere new in Toronto once a month
4. British passport (update: applying!)
5. Photograph cherry blossoms (nature’s candy floss)
6. Visit a vineyard
7. Go to Raptors game
8. Go to a driving range (this will be an adventure for Steve moreso than me)
9. Go to a First Friday at the ROM or First Thursday at AGO

Arts and Crafts

10. Take an art class
11. Learn all the lyrics to “I Wish I Was a Little Bit Taller”
12. Do something crafty once a month
13. Bake a lemon meringue pie from scratch
14. Go to a concert with my dad (Robert Plant! So aaaaamazing)
15. Watch 10 films from AFI’s 100 Greatest American Films

Health

16. Hold a plank for 3 minutes
17. Run a 10K in 1 hour
18. See a physiotherapist and work on hip and knees
19. Take a dance class
20. Hold crow pose for 10 counts (this will involve core strength developing from #18 and the ability to stop falling on my face)

Sam Time

21. Read four books I should have by now (Lolita…was a difficult read)
22. Commit to getting published
23. Complete a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle(this…was an experience)
24. Write and send letters
25. Make an epic fort in my living room

Personal and Professional Growth

26. Volunteer
27. Dig out my French notes and get back to basics
28. Take a course in InDesign and PhotoShop
29. Master lipstick
30. Learn how to give my bike a tune up
31. Redesign my blog

32. Most importantly, on February 26, 2016, look back on 32 and realize it was an awesome year. And continuing with tradition – resist the urge to end up face-down in a cake.

Let’s go.

(updated February 28)

31-for-31 – A Recap

A year ago, I decided to start challenging myself with a list of goals – some lofty, some fun, some just random – in honour of my age. Now on the eve of my birthday again, it’s time to check in and see the final tally.

How’d I do?

Ooot and Aboot

1.  Travel to a new country (as in new-to-me, not a newly FORMED country) – Nope
2. Check out an awesome music festivalI saw Tom Petty, and Dylan in November. I think I’ll give myself a pass due to those two.
3. Apply for a British passport – Maybe next year? Still mulling this one
4. Hike in the Rockies – Done! – Consolation Lake hike
5. Reach Air Canada Altitude status – I won’t even come close. And short of taking super-pricey weekend trips to Paris, not sure I’ll ever be able to see this happen. 
6. Investigate garden allotmentsI’m on the waiting list!
7. Explore my own city
8. Go to the middle of nowhere and watch a meteor shower Thank you, camping

Total: 5/8

Health

9. Go to yoga weekly Two to three times a week. Showing my hips a little love. 
10. Run a 10K race in under 1:05Done! Sporting Life 10K at 1:02:13, such an awesome race
11. Get at least seven hours of sleep a night…consistentlyFor the most part, yes. This is an ongoing life goal.
12. Take Meatless Mondays a step further and make mine vegan or gluten-free – Kind of a brutal challenge. I love you, cheese and carbs.  
13. Conquer my fear of heights and go rock climbingI decided to modify this, because I am insanely afraid of rock climbing and falling to my death/being publicly humiliated/both, so instead challenged myself to try different fitness classes. I nearly knocked myself out by throwing and not successfully catching a ViPR, and honestly nearly died from exhaustion from a TRX class. Still can’t move my arms. 
14. Hold a plank for two minutesDone June 18th! Now working on my forearm plank time as a new goal.

Total: 6/6 woo!

Arts and Crafts

15. Watch Good Will HuntingDone! Thanks Target for having cheap, cheap movies. Now I understand the popularity of “How do you like them apples?” and also, it’s a great movie.
16. Get a membership for the Bloor Cinema and check out some docsDone! I’ve now seen three. Loving this addition to my life. 
17. Learn all the lyrics to “I Wish I Was a Little Bit Taller” – This song is surprisingly difficult. I’ll keep trying!
18. Do something crafty once a monthI’ve sewn bunting, made Steve’s birthday present, made a guestbook tree for my parents’ anniversary, drawn, made birthday cards and will be making centerpieces for this weekend’s Thanksgiving dinner as well as some crafty goodness for Victoria’s wedding. I think this is one of my favourite tasks. 
19. Listen to the entire Rolling Stones catalogue in chronological order in one weekendDone! This was a beast of a weekend. I felt like my life oscillated between feeling as though I was in a Wes Anderson film…to a Scorsese one. Also man there were some dud albums.
20. Take a photography classDone! May 1st. Intro to DSLR at Henry’s Camera, now to put my lesson into practice more often.

Total: 5/6. Damn you, Skee-Lo.

Money, Money, Money

21. Meet with a financial planner and determine an investment strategy – Done, somewhat. This will likely return in some way for 32-for-32.
22. Set up a weekly and monthly budget. And use it.Ditto for above.

Total: 2/2. Alright alright alright

Personal and Professional Growth

23. Get my French to a basic conversational level (I’m very good at ordering wine…) – Nope.
24. Volunteer
25. Learn Photoshop
26. Overcome my fear of needles and donate blood – Done! It was terrifying. But rewarding. 

Total: 3/4. C’est dommage.

Sam Time

27. Have a digital detox weekend and disconnect from social media and the internetDone, July 25-28th. It coincided with a trip to BC which helped tremendously, but once the anxiety over not knowing what was happening faded it was very refreshing to just enjoy where I was, read more and not worry about what was going on elsewhere. I think I’ll do this regularly as a reset of sorts. 
28. Make time to write at least once a weekA lot of scribbles, not a lot of progress. This will return.
29. Get published – Nope!
30. Read five books that I really should have read by now but haven’t Yes! The Picture of Dorian Grey, Breakfast of Champions, The English Patient, The Old Man and the Sea, and The Rosie Project. My criteria for books I should read varies.  

Total: 3/5

31. Most importantly, on February 26, 2015, look back on 31 and realize it was an awesome year, and resist the urge to end up face-down in a cake. – Done.

GRAND TOTAL: 25/31. Okay, but not great. I’ll do better, next time.

It’s been a slice, 31. I’ll be spending my 32nd birthday driving the Icefields Parkway to Jasper with Steve for an unplugged weekend. Not a terrible way to spend a day, and start a year I’m pretty pumped about.

Taking suggestions for my 32-for-32 list! Any ideas?

Fourth Blogiversary!

Four years ago (+2 days), I started this blog as a means to chronicle my backpacking adventures and let people know that I was in fact alive. When I returned, I kept it going because I have tendencies to talk…and talk…and talk about travel and I like writing so it made sense.

I had forgotten about the anniversary until tonight. Not one for checking stats (hello, SEO) I decided to look back at the four most popular posts I’ve written to date.

Drumroll…

4. That Time I Roomed With a 75-Year-Old For a Month
In retrospect it would have made for a great reality show. At the time, I nearly lost my marbles.
Read More

3. That Time I Made Up the History of New Zealand
I still think it’s a totally reasonable way to start a country.
Read More

2. That Time I Decided to See How Much Coffee I Could Consume 
Also known as channeling my inner Lisa Simpson at Duff Gardens
Read More

1. That Time Kevin and I Nearly Died Trying to Find a Plane Crash
Or, why you should always ask for a second set of directions to compare.
Read More

Thanks for still reading this fun side project. While my adventures may not always be solo these days, they’re certainly still involving the same level of clumsiness so at least some things never change.

Learning to Treat Yo Self

Parks and Recreation Meme

I am not so great at taking care of myself.

Not in the general day-to-day sense – I’m able to put pants on the right way (usually, depending on how bleary eyed I am), get myself to where I need to go, eat food when needed. I mean more in the “treat yo self” kind of mentality. In that I generally don’t. And when I do, I slather on a guilt trip so thick it’s overpowering.

I know I’m not the only one like this – in fact, I’d wager most women and quite a few men would enthusiastically nod if asked if they’re kind of crappy towards themselves. We try to do everything for everyone and agree to things we can’t possibly accomplish, and then throw ourselves over multiple hurdles to get it all done. All of the little things that spark our interest or would refuel our tanks get pushed aside, squashed down, re-filed to a “someday, that would be nice” drawer. And then for good measure, we chastise ourselves for even thinking about doing item X when there are so many other things that need to get done.

I’ve alluded before to my penchant for list-making. I organize my time to the hour some days (*coughs* most days) which is fine when I’m working and want to be all “super productive do all the things!” woman but on a Sunday morning I should be able to binge-watch Netflix in my p-jams without sassing myself off the couch. The same extends to when I travel, except this time I think I got the upper hand.

I’ve been in Venice, California for a week (yes, I’ve been here before…and before) and FORBID myself from making a list. My brain tried real hard. While waiting for my flight I caught myself casually jotting down goals in my phone (which is really a list’s subtle cousin). I promptly deleted them. I arrived and went straight to the beach with a book (Amy Poehler’s delightful Yes Please) and managed to sit for 10 minutes before thinking I should do homework or maybe groceries or perhaps check work email?

And then I silenced my brain. And thought about what would make me truly happy at that moment. And did that.

Getting my sassy brain to zip it has been an epic struggle this week. I allowed myself to plan a day of activities I really enjoy – hiking, record shopping, crafty things and stuffing tacos into my face. It felt nice to do things that I wanted to do for myself without simultaneously worrying about not crossing things off a to-do list. Being productive and accomplishing tasks is important and fulfilling, but so is treating yourself to a little personal time now and then.

So when people ask why I visit LA so much, part of it is because I have a very expensive reset button on my brain apparently, and tacos and ocean seem to be the only way to satisfy it.

Find your tacos, people. Tap into what you enjoy and tell your brain to shove it. That’s my hope for 2015.

Christmas in NYC

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Many of my favourite holiday movies have taken place in NYC (Home Alone 2, Elf, Scrooged) so a late-December trip to the Big Apple was high on my list. Snowy walks through Central Park! Warming up with apple cider! Admiring the lights of the Rockefeller Center tree on a cold winter’s night! Steve and I decided on a quick trip just prior to Christmas to soak up some festive spirit; we arrived to above-freezing temperatures, faint drizzle and lots of green foliage. Hat tip to global warming for deciding that no one needed a white Christmas this year, apparently.

Lack of snow aside, we had a marvelous blow-through-the-city. New York City is a magical place, a feeling only enhanced at this time of year. And despite tensions that have been prevalent on the news, we found the atmosphere of New Yorkers to be the same as always – resilient, positive and welcoming.

We had an action-packed itinerary (because one of us is a bit of a planner, *coughs*), with lots of favourites:

  • Chelsea Market. Part flea market, part food market, part artisan crafty goodness. How have I never been to this market?! We stumbled across it quite by accident after wandering the High Line and popped in to warm up for a few moments. Definitely worth a stop.
  • Union Square Christmas Market. Sensing a theme? I love markets! This one was bonkers, packed with artisan vendors, delicious food and the cutest little farmers’ market. I stopped to gaze at some beautiful bouquets of flowers and picked up the best apples I’ve ever eaten.
  • Eataly. We couldn’t figure out how one would ever get a table, so opted for sandwiches to go which was probably one of the better decisions I made this year. Heirloom tomatoes, basil-infused olive oil, freshly made mozzarella and arugula on a fresh-baked baguette. See you in my dreams, sandwich. XO.
  •  Fishs Eddy. Do you like quirky things? Is your home missing a serving tray featuring Barack Obama’s long-form birth certificate? If you answered yes to either of these questions (and I hope you did), check out this fun little spot for all the serving items you didn’t know you needed.
  • Cabaret. It’s a testament to how stellar this musical is that I would see it twice in the span of two months, and fork over the amount we did for tickets (twice). I was a much, much bigger fan of Emma Stone in the iconic role of Sally Bowles; Michelle Williams played it a tad…manic for my taste, and her singing and dancing was a titch awkward. Stone was much more comfortable and entertaining to watch. Both times I scored seats in the balcony (aka the “hi poor people” section) which still offered great sight lines. Slightly cramped in terms of leg room – if  you’re taller than 6 ft, you may find it uncomfortable. Otherwise, great value.
  • Bushwick Collective. Wander several streets around Troutman Street and St. Nicholas Avenue in Brooklyn and you’ll spot colourful street art murals and drawings helping to transform a neighbourhood. Curated by Joe Ficalora and featuring artists from around the world, it’s a beautiful opportunity to see the power of art. Take the L to Jefferson Street and wander.
  • “Somebody Come and Play”. If you watched Sesame Street as a kid, or have small people now, this free exhibit at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts is a must-visit. Did you know they did a Black Swan spoof?? Because when I think of child-appropriate movies, that’s the first title that comes to mind. At any rate, seeing Snuffy in a tutu and learning about the logistics of hoisting him into the air to twirl was pretty cool. On until January 31st.
  • Breakfast at Deletica. I have to give a shout-out to this lovely spot which was just around the corner from our hotel. Fresh ingredients, delicious coffee and a cozy vibe.

If I had told myself last December 31st that I’d visit this city three times this year, I would have laughed. But 2014 has been full of changes and opportunities I would never have envisioned 365 days ago. I look forward to the adventures in store for all of us in 2015. Best wishes to you.