Saturday, March 30, 2013

Worth a thousand words....

London. One word. So many feelings. The history, the architecture, the smells, the people. Truly, it is a city that cannot be replicated. And why should it? Two weeks ago I did a little bit of wandering through New Westminster (read: Vancouver) history. Antique Alley in New Westminster is a place filled with old records (yes, we're talking LPs), rotary phones and cardboard cut-out stand-up posters of Wayne Gretzky. Compared to London's 300 year old buildings New Westminster doesn't have much in terms of longevity but sometimes it's fun to look back and realize just how much has changed in such a short period of time.

In 30 years we've gone from landlines to cordless to car phones to mobile phones to smart phones that we don't even use to talk on. Yes, I just dated myself. I've seen things that have changed. I've watched my grandparents' swinging furniture go from solid to outdated to hip and now retro. Ottomans and chesterfields once booked for pick-up by the Sally Ann is now being hocked for hundreds if not thousands of dollars. I'm certain some of your grandparents have a few bowling ball bags around and an ashtray that doubles as a lamp. Go forth and scavenge!

While trolling through and laughing a few times at the mounds of Playboy magazines stuffed in the corner shelves of shops with my mother I started to think of what and how these items can be valued. A stack of hockey cards collected by a young child separated into Top Deck vs McDonalds giveways is priced at $5. Remember when you found a baseball card from the 1970s? That would just elicit excitement from my siblings and I. Now I'm looking at these mass-produced cards and wondering if a young child would think the same thing of a trading card from the 1980s.

We didn't buy much that Saturday afternoon. I found a cheap framed picture for $4.99. If I actually get things sorted I may actually hang it one day.

The stores we went to were heaving with junk. And let's be honest, some of it really is junk.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Oh, and I can drive a forklift

It's on days like today that I miss London. Okay, there have been a lot of days in the last three months that I have missed London.
In a city so large expansive as London I often found that smiling at someone and saying thank you brought out the best of them. Don't get me wrong. I don't consider London to be the friendliest city I've ever visited. What with people just trying to get through the day with the Tube and buses and busy streets and of course the endless line-ups for ready-made food at M&S, Tesco and heaven forbid, Asda.

But yes, officially, I miss London. London has a lot to offer a single girl like me. It's got museums to wander, gorgeous cafes with delectable treats to indulge in and markets where shouts of "2 for a 5-er" are routine.

Back in Metro Vancouver now it's been challenging. The job search, the reconnecting with friends, the transport (can Vancouver public transport get beyond the idea that everyone is trying to commute to downtown Vancouver and build an intercommunity system yet?) The people that I met in London were absolutely superb. Trust me when I say that there were days where a good cry and a scream into a pillow and a cider at the end of the day were was got me through it. But I don't regret the challenge. I don't regret the leap of faith I took in myself.

I've decided that I need to take more on and keep my hands and mind busy. London will be there. But now it's on to the next adventure. That adventure hasn't shown itself yet and for now I'm biding my time. But world, bring it on. I'm ready, able and willing. Oh, and I can drive a forklift.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

When I was 4 years old I saw a hero, 23 years later I got to meet him

The month marks the 25 year anniversary of Rick Hansen Man in Motion Tour reaching Thermal Drive in Coquitlam, BC. I was just under 5 years when he pushed himself, in a wheelchair, up the 17% grade hill. Second only to the Great Wall of China, this was his toughest hill on the tour.
I remember being woken up by my mother than morning and walking the 2 blocks to Thermal Drive. We parked ourselves on the sidewalk and watched as used every ounce of strength, courage and energy to make to the top. He raised funds for people in wheelchairs just like him.

In 2010 I had the pleasure of meeting Rick Hansen in person. He was the Mayor of the Vancouver Athletes Village for the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics. It was one of the few times I've ever been star-struck and nervous to speak to someone. This was a man that pushed himself around the world in a wheelchair.

I was lucky to have the opportunity to meet a number of paralympians two years ago that were the most incredible athletes I had ever met. Performing on the world's stage they were the most down-to-earth, real people. They didn't demand special treatment or fancy cars. They wanted a platform to show the world that their skills were meant to be admired. And damn did they command it.

The summer of 2012 I return to be part of the Paralympics. Already I have had the opportunity to watch one of the most gruelling sports of the Paralympics: wheelchair rugby (also called murderball.) Imagine trying to throw score points by throwing a volleyball-like ball down the court to a teammate but being smashed from behind by a wheelchair. These are the toughest athletes I've ever seen. In 108 London welcomes the world to watch, cheer and participate in the 2012 Paralympics. It promises to an educational and entertaining experience for everyone involved. I can't even begin to explain how thrilled I am to be part of it. Let's get this show started!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Prague: old, new and lots of Italians

My travels over the years have brought me to a number of different places. In 2005 I travelled through Austria and Poland and returning to Eastern Europe meant seeing the the beautiful architecture once again. The pace of life is evident when you step outside of the Italian tourist-infested tourist district. And it's important to step outside those districts. The masses of smoking, rude, inconsiderate Italian student tourists that have been dragged by their teachers and chaperones really couldn't care less about the historical significance of the Jewish cemetery or the Astronomical Clock with it's intricate workings.

Summary: escape when you can and go for a wander along the river. The views of the city are fantastic and the crowds much, much thinner.

Prague is an extremely well laid-out city. The 3 metro underground lines combined with the tram lines make getting around the city extremely easy. I stayed outside the downtown core at Hotel Anna in the district of Vinohrady and getting to the centre of town was extremely easy. The metro stations even have their own art:

My favourite bits of Prague (aside from the amazing food) would have to be, in no particular order:
  • The Prague Castle (specifically St. Vitus Cathedral)
  • The view from tower of the Astronomical Clock
  • The Old Jewish Cemetery (approximately 100,000 people are buried there)

Ride a tram or two. Get lost in the windy streets and enjoy the slower pace of life. Oh, and the cheap, cheap food.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Trdlo: old Czech bread. And meat.

When visiting a new city, country, region or what have you I feel it is important if not crucial to spending some quality time with the menu.
In London this means curries and fish and chips and of course artery-clogging pork pie (don't tempt me with them, it is a weakness!) In Prague there was no shortage of food. One of our favourites would have to be the Trdlo or Trdelnik. It truly was a well-deserved treat after a long day wandering the historical city. Essentially a trdlo is a piece of sweet bread wrapped around a pipe (hopefully not lead) and baked over a flame and is in the shape of a ring. It tastes amazing with sugar and almond bits on the outside. The kicker is when you ask for Nutella to be added. Heaven. Sheer heaven.
Yes the sweet trdlo was welcomed with open arms. That being said it was of course the meat that stole the show. I haven't seen many menus that were as jam-packed with meat-focused meals than when I was last Memphis Blues BBQ Restaurant and overdosed on brisket. Warnings from friends about the amount of meat served up where accepted with a bit of a laugh. Little did we know that the epic Bohemia Platter would put our laughs to rest:

Silly Canadian girls were are, we thought it wise to order chicken wings on top of behemoth platter of meat. Ridiculous I know. Needless to say we didn't finish the Bohemia Platter. Nor did we finish the chicken wings. Instead we rolled up the hill 2 blocks to our hotel.
And I may have had one of these as a bed time snack.

Milka biscuits!?!?!?!?! I must be dreaming. Milka and I go way back to 1998 when I went to Austria for the first time.

Did I mention I had goulash for lunch. And loved it? It must have been the dumplings. Ohhh the dumplings, how they go to your hips.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Alight here for Little Venice

If you're free one afternoon head out to Maida Vale or Little Venice. You won't believe what you see.
Tucked under street with traffic whizzing by. Next to an adorable plot of land with spring flowers blooming (where no tape machines can be played - but perhaps an mp3 player can be?).

Right in the mix with geese, swans and ducks galore is a little place called Brownings Pool.
Several times a day the small establishment of London Waterbus Company collects locals and tourists a like and takes them on a bit of a 'behind the scenes' ride to Camden Town.

When I think of London the first few things to come to mind are the crowded streets, pub life, accents, strange says and tea. Life on the canals is not in the top 100 things I would come up with about London life. I overhead the operator tell a fellow customer that because of the extremely long wait times for a water moorage licence people can wait years and years to get one. The entire canal was packed with narrow boats converted for business and for living. I'm curious if there are illegal moorings and how that is managed as a system. Also - how do you get your boat out when you're done with dirty London canals?
It's the million dollar question.
The tour itself allows you to see some amazing houses, real working (and lived on) boats as well as takes you past the London Zoo and Regents Park.
There are some spectacular houses along the way.

The trip this past weekend was suggest by another international person working in London. One of the things that I enjoy most about this city is that there is so much to do and you can combine things by taking different modes of transport. My favourite is walking because you get to experience the good and that bad of the crowds, the smells, the sounds and the sites. This city is absolutely massive and it can feel like it's swallowing you up on some days. That's why stepping out and trying a slower method of travel can be nice.
You never know what you will come across. As a local in whatever city you're in make sure you enjoy what you have. Be a tourist in your own city, town or village.

And of course don't forget a cup of tea or chocolate at the end.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Gustav Vigeland: more than just a few statues

Sculptures in Oslo go hand-in-hand. I spotted them all over the city. Having public pieces of art, open for interaction and interpretation is fantastic. I wish cities, residents and visitors appreciated art pieces more often.
In Oslo, they were everywhere. There were some at the new harbour front, I even found a new friend:

The most impressive collection of sculptures was in Frogner Park, in particular the Vigeland Sculpture Park. I thoroughly enjoyed the Oslo Winter Walks tour through the Vigeland Museum. The tour guide was able to give us a bit of a background on the artists and his family and love life. He'd had a son with his first wife and then left them with only money and no relationship. The rest of his life was filled with long-term relationships with his assistants and helpers. That being said he never developed a proper relationship with his son. This is interesting seeing as the theme of circle of life with parent-child relationships and husband-wife relationships are prevalent throughout the park.

The Vigeland Monolith is found at the centre of the park - Vigeland and his stone cutters began work on the Monolith in 1929 and was completed in 1943. It is an incredible sculpture that is intricate, delicate and immense all in one go. The 121 human figures that make up the Monolith represent the cycle of life: some people battle to reach the top while others accept their place in life.

There are 212 bronze and granite statues in the park. Vigeland donated all of his work to the city of Oslo.
His sculptures are playful:
And a little bit famous:

Then there are sculptures that just beg you to have fun. When it's completely unexpected that's when you have the most fun: