Sunday, January 19, 2014

Krepesz in Kensington, Yorkdale, St Lawrence Market, Luce & Marcellos: Wandering Toronto's Boutiques & Food Spots

Five days in Toronto flew by as I explored a beautiful city (in quite a mild winter temperature; turns out I missed their week of -40 by a few days -  lucky me!). The city itself is amazing - so much to do, a real, multicultural metropolis. 

I stayed with Jess, who was an amazing host - we had so much fun cooking healthy meals, going to the gym, going for coffee and watching movies together. Jess also introduced me to Arbonne's protein powder which is - get this - vegan, with no preservatives or fake stuff - and TASTES AMAZING. I swear. Mixing chocolate with vanilla and just water is so great! Definitely on the right track for this year's fitness goals :) 

Leonardo di Caprio performs incredibly well in The Wolf of Wall Street  - a must see story about the rise and downfall of a cutthroat investment banker. IMDB reviewers have given it 8.7 so far - which is incredible for that site!

After handing in my paperwork for the Tier 5 visa at their office close to Eaton Centre, I spent most of my days wandering around the shopping mall. I also spent some time at Yorkdale, another large mall nearby. It turns out that Toronto has an Yves Rocher store; it's my new favourite store for beauty and health care products - totally natural and from France. Toronto had lower prices that the UK and 50% off-  so I stocked up!

I also had a chance to meet up with Stephanie B, and we hung out at St. Lawrence Market and then got a slice of gluten free pizza from a place called Luce. We'll meet up again when I return in a week or so, so more posts then!

Here are the highlights of my few days (and ideas on what to do in TO):

  • Krepesz Cafe in Kensington  - a cute, Hungarian cafe that has lattes to die for and an interesting "Chimney Cake" that is like a twirly donut/sponge cake textured treat that originates in Hungary
  • St Lawrence Market   - Apparently one of the the best farmer's markets in the world, and highly rated by National Geographic. It was a large, interesting mix of foods - I've heard it's much better in the summer, when the market expands to the street and vendors from all over the city come to sell their goods
  • Luce  - Steph and I stopped here for a quick bite of gluten free pizza. It's an organic, healthy restaurant. Yum!
  • Marcellos - This is a popular spot in Toronto --with excellent Italian food. Jess and I went there for dinner one evening. Their tiramisu is one of the best I have EVER tasted (and tiramisu is my favourite dessert of all time!) They made it with a cake-like, rather than cookie-like base.


  • Harbourfront -- I missed this one because it was really, really windy and seemed like the worst day to head down to the waterfront. If it's nice enough, I may go skating on their rink when I'm back. Definitely a place to visit in the summer though!

So, the office in Toronto has opened my visa application and is processing it. Fingers crossed, everyone - I can't wait to get back to the UK and start working!Posts on my last few days in Calgary and my upcoming week in Edmonton  coming soon. Can't wait to catch up and then fly back to my favourite city!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

London for Free: A Disturbing Photographers' Gallery and A Trip Through History

Elina Brotherus photography
Just a brief, belated post about Sean and my "free day" in London about a week ago. Feeling quite broke after our splurge at Swan Lake, and having nothing to do in Oxford, Sean and I headed to London for one last day in search of "free".  

Thanks to Lonely Planet's list, we decided to head to the Photographer's Gallery on Ramillies street, a tiny street by the Boots on Oxford Street, London. You can very easily miss this street - it's hidden in a corner down a small staircase!  It is an interesting place that is housing a unique (albeit disturbing) exhibition called "Motherlode: Home Truths". It featured women who photographed their own (or others') childbirths and their first hours and months with their child. Some had strange poses such as a 6 year old and a mother in a tub playing with mud (?!); some had disturbing womans' full frontals showcasing brutal scarring from c-sections. Best birth control exhibition ever. 

Now, I'm sure I'm going to stir up some trouble here, but I have to say it. One of exhibitions by Elina Brotheras portrayed a woman and her stages of "agony" at not being able to conceive a child. They show her with pharmaceutical drugs and drugs and more drugs (and all of her bruises and side effects from the drugs) trying to force a child into existence; she looks about 40 in the pictures. The middle plaque says they are two things you should never say to a woman in this situation 1)  Relax and it'll work  (ok, fine, that's reasonable) and 2) Why don't you just adopt?

WHY THE HELL NOT? There are tons of babies and children that need homes. Parents that can't take care of those kids. If you really want to raise a hellion, does it matter whose DNA they have? Is it worth bruising your body and injecting drugs?  Really?

The Photographer's Gallery will soon be showing "Motherlode: The Wall", which is apparently a response to Home Truths on the perceptions of motherhood.  The artists are: Janine Antoni, Elina Brotherus, Elinor Carucci, Ana Casas Broda, Fred H√ľning, Leigh Ledare, Katie Murray and Hanna Putz.

Museum of London

This is a hidden gem! The Museum of London houses a beautiful exhibition showcasing London throughout the times, from pre-historic to Roman to Victorian times to modern day.  You walk through timelines of history, view artifacts and feel as if you really are walking through stories of the past. The walk through early 1900s London was particularly interesting, as was the walk through fashion trends and British suit-making and the exhibition on War, Fire and Plague. One could spend hours here, but we spent only about an hour and a half, with the intention to return. 

Sean with an old fireman's hat
It seems that if you were writing a novel about London at any point of history, this would be the way to feel as if you were immersed in the setting. Definitely a must-see!

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Happy New Year! Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake & Stef's Italian

New Year's Eve is always a bit of a downer...all that hype, and you usually end up sitting around your house and clinking glasses with a couple people, watching the fireworks online. Well, this year, as Sean was up from France, we decided to pre-plan to have a blast. Turns out that entering into a bar on New Years Eve, without any drinks, will cost you £25 to £40! So, of course, we decided to spend thirty quid on a show instead.

Swan Lake - Matthew Bourne's Adaptation

Photo: Bill Cooper, from Obviously we couldn't take our own photos.

Beautiful. Visually stunning. Modern. Critically acclaimed. Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake was a twist on the theme and a bit of a role reversal with male swan dancers, not female.  We both wished we had a better understanding of both the original and adapted storyline, though! With no subtitles like opera, dialogue like a play, or singing like a musical, my first ballet was quite the experience. 

For anyone considering skipping a show because they can only afford the "cheapseats" - definitely go ahead and book those anyway! We were seated at the very last row and there were only two disadvantages  1) It was SO HOT because our "restricted view" was underneath the second gallery overhang and the air doesn't circulate well there and 2) We couldn't see the orchestra and at times, I really wondered which instrument they were playing for some of Tchaikovsky's pieces, but couldn't see!

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Stef's Italian
Logo  from

Stef's Italian was a beautiful place for a 3 course New Year's Eve set menu. Only £30 per person (this was definitely our student "splurge" day!), the meal included a porcini mushroom soup for me and proscuitto melone for Sean, beautiful vegetarian mushroom crespelle for me and steak and potatoes for Sean, and a lemon tarte for Sean and of course, tiramisu for me. Delectable tiramisu! My favourite dessert of all time!

Thankfully, we were sitting a few tables away from the table of drunken teenagers/uni students who proceeded to (at 8pm) throw up all over their table. Gross. You can't even hold your liquor in until you get to the bar? I felt bad for the restaurant owner, who chased them out yelling that they were the worst table they had ever had (you could tell he really, really wanted to yell in Italian).

So, our ingenious plan to "beat the rush" and catch the bus back to Oxford to celebrate at Raoul's cocktail bar was a FAIL.  Turns out while buses to London run until 3:30 am, the local buses stop at 7pm. SEVEN PM. Eek.  So, our planned £6.5 cocktail would have turned into a £22.5 drink.  After scoring the cheap-seats in the ballet and the cheapest NYE 3 course meal we could find (Mango Tree, a thai restaurant which I've been dying to try, was going to charge us £55!), we really couldn't justify it. So, we walked home in the pouring rain!

Ironically, guess where Sean and I ended up?  Sitting around our house, clinking glasses with a couple people and watching the fireworks online. It was lovely, though! 

The Resolutions 

I'm not much of a New Year's resolution girl; I like to set my goals every 3 to 6 months, to keep me focused.  However, here are the highlights of the year ahead, in case you were wondering:

  • Get a youth work visa while on my two week trip to Canada and love my new contract job in Oxford, which starts in February . Make enough money with that and tutoring to love and enjoy London, and pay back student loans before they charge me too much interest!
  • Get into a funded PhD place this September or October term in either England, Holland or France (I better get cracking on the French applications!)
  • Get back into writing (something, anything, perhaps poetry?) and hopefully read a couple books that aren't textbooks
  • Get better at German (my exam is in February, and then I'll be at first term second year university  level!) and improve my pronunciation and fluency in French
  • Get back into photography and  find a lighting class I can afford on a British wage!

Here's to a wonderful 2014  the one where all my dreams come true, and yours too! Happy New Year, loyal readers!