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"If this isn't nice, I don't know what is"

"I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'" - Kurt Vonnegut


I have been rather obsessed with Humans of New York (HONY) lately. I love reading real stories about real people. Their personal quarks, their cute love stories, their words of wisdom, their passions, joys and sorrows. This woman's story stood out to me.


"I worked at the same cafe for 28 years, but it just went out of business, so I had to find new work. Before it was like I had a family. I saw the same people every day. But now I just have a job. One day you lose something, and you say: ‘Oh my God. I was happy. And I didn’t even know it.’"

This weekend, I took a stroll along the waterfront. It was a clear, crisp, perfect fall evening. I sat in Harbourside park and watched the boats sail out through the narrows, into the ocean. In that moment, I realized that I was totally and completely 100% content.


Kurt Vonnegut once said "I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is.'" 

So. What better time is there than Thanksgiving to say.. that in this moment I am happy. In this moment I am thankful.

The land of castles, kilts and bagpipes.



"The wish to travel seems to me characteristically human: the desire to move, to satisfy your curiosity or ease your fears, to change the circumstances of your life, to be a stranger, to make a friend, to experience an exotic landscape, to risk the unknown." - Paul Theroux 



It's said that "the best things in life are unexpected, because there were no expectations". My trip to Scotland was just that. Alex's company shipped him off to Edinburgh for training. When he arrived he phoned me and invited me to join him... it didn't take much convincing. The next day I booked a flight, and three days later I was on a plane to Scotland. #yolo

Generally I find that Scotland tends to get overlooked, often overshadowed by its neighbours England and Ireland. I can't believe it's taken me this long go get there. Scotland has earned it's place in my top 2 countries, after New Zealand. In fact, Lonely Planet ranked it the #3 travel destination of 2014

Walking around Edinburgh feels like you've stepped into a postcard. When you pull into the train station, you find yourself staring up at a gigantic castle seated on top of an extinct volcano, overlooking the city.




The Royal Mile extends from Edinburgh castle, through Old Town to Holyrood Palace. Holyrood Palace is the Queen's residence when she's in Scotland. We wandered around the Royal Mile, exploring charming little nooks and crannies and closes and courts. We even found both Alex's grandmother's and great grandmother's houses. 


             


We climbed Arthur's seat, another extinct Volcano, that gives a 360 degree panoramic view of the city.






From the summit we noticed some intriguing looking pillars, and set out to find them the next day. We thought the pillars were ancient ruins, but apparently the monument was never actually finished. I later learned that's it's referred to as "Scotland's Disgrace". And here we are, posing with Scotland's Disgrace. 



They started constructing the monument modelled after the Parthenon in Athens but the funds ran out. Anyways, this is part of town is referred to the "Athens of the North". Most of the architecture in Edinburgh is very gothic, so it was interesting to see this Greek neo-classical design.



While Alex was in class I hopped on the train and rode through Braveheart country to Sterling Castle. Sterling Castle is one of the most significant parts of Scottish history and has been attacked or besieged at least 16 times.






From the top you can see the rolling highlands in the distance.



The town of Sterling is quite charming itself, it's like a tiny Edinburgh.




I took the train to Gasglow and wandered around their university. Their campus is actually a castle. Like Hogwarts or something.


 



Then I was escorted out of the city hall by an angry Scottish man. Apparently there is more marble in this building than the Vatican in Rome. And apparently it isn't open to the public after 5 o'clock. (Whoops)



This is Gasglow's infamous traffic cone statue. The government pays around £10,000 a year to remove the traffic cones, but they keep reappearing. Gasglow City Council proposed a motion to double the height of the statue in order to discourage cone pranksters (£65,000 project). But the city revolted and signed petitions to "Keep the Cone". For the record, I am pro-cone. 



Another day I took a trip to the Scottish Highlands. I was beyond delighted to find Highland Cows, or "Hairy Coo's" as the locals call them. They're basically a cross between a cow and a teddy bear. Alex calls them "Beiber Cows" due to their awesome hairdos. 




I saw 3 more castles in Highlands. Inverary Castle was especially interesting because the Duke and Duchess of Argyll live in the castle today with their three children. 



Note to self: don't mess with the Duke of Argyll, he has a lot of gun power. 


On my last day we took a boat to Incholm Island and explored the ruins of a medieval abby built in the 12th century. 



Apparently the abby wasn't designed for tall people. 

                       
My favourite part was this narrow spiral staircase (you could have an epic game of spotlight here)

We tried to walk around the island but got viciously attacked by seagulls. It was absolutely terrifying. The seagulls were nesting, apparently, and they were absolutely vicious. One of the visitors got dumped on 4 times!! And another one got scratched in the head! Poor souls. 

And that concludes my Scottish adventures. In summary: if you ever have the opportunity to take a spontaneous trip to Scotland, do it. 

New Orleans.. and all that jazz

This post has been sitting on the back burner for a while, but without further ado.. may I present New Orleans.

My favorite thing to write about is travel, probably because my favorite thing to do is travel. When my boss asked me if I wanted to go to New Orleans, it took every ounce self control to maintain my composure.

Before I knew it, I was on my way. In Toronto the customs officer asked me why I was going to New Orleans and I said that I'll be attending a "grounding and lightning" conference. He heard "grounding and enlightening".. "So it's a yoga conference, going to find your Zen"


*I burst out in laughter* yah... not quite



I was pleasantly surprised when I opened the door to my hotel room and was greeted by name and jazz music. I knew I was going to like this city.


I find that most major North American cities tend to be melting pots different cultures. But New Orleans has it’s own unique and distinct flavor, music, cuisine, architecture and culture. It's most famous for being the birthplace of jazz. It’s home to great musicians such as the great Louis Armstrong. Today some of the most talented musicians make up this city, the first night I just wandered around following the music.


New Orleans or "the Big Easy" is also renown for it's cuisine. I made it my mission to try all the signature dishes including: Gumbo, Jambalaya, Po-boys, Muffulettas and Pralines. I even ate crawfish (despite the fact that I have never developed a taste for seafood… and yes, I hale from an island that was colonized for the fishery). I'm not going to say that I enjoyed the crawfish, but it wasn't entirely revolting. New Orleans cuisine is seasoned with many Cajun spices and hot sauces due to the strong Cajun influence.

If you ever find yourself in New Orleans, you must stop in "Cafe du Monde" and try their world famous cafe au lait and beignets (french dough nuts). The entire cafe is coated in icing sugar (don't wear black).


The French quarter is the historic heart of the city. The buildings are designed in Creole and Spanish style with exquisite laced balconies and shuttered windows.


All the brightly coloured houses reminded me of home. 


Copper gas lanterns illuminate the streets of the French quarter, and create an antique charm. 


I extended my stay for the weekend after the conference, and transferred to an $18/ night hostel. Everyone was mortified to learn that I was staying in a hostel. Honestly, I feel that in general people underestimate how hardcore I am. Like I can’t take care of myself or something. It’s rather frustrating, but that’s a rant for another day.

Burban St. lived up to its reputation, every night was a party. There were street performers, random marching bands and people throwing Mardi Gras beads. 


The city is absolutely coated in beads. They were growing on trees and hanging on lamp posts. They were even in the hostel shower!




There was also *this* hanging up in the shower. Ahem, this is what class looks like, people.


On Saturday I ventured outside the city to explore the swamp. I was on a mission to see an alligator. To my dismay, they were all hibernating. Alligators are cold blooded so they must conserve energy in the winter. I was, however, able to see some form of reptile: a snake! Anyways, it counts for something... right?


I found this intriguing: part of the root system from the bald cypress tree extend above the water. These are called “cypress knees” and provide structural support and oxygen to the roots.


It was neat to see the houseboats, it's hard to imagine life floating around in a swamp. This Catahoula leopard dog has a quaint little homestead.


This houseboat went down while someone was living in it. Rough day.


On my last day I visited the above ground cemetery. I've seen this kind of thing in St. Pierre and Europe, so I thought that perhaps this was due to the French influence. But apparently it’s because New Orleans is below sea level. And apparently James Bond was filmed here.

I was told afterwards that I shouldn't walk around the graveyard by myself because people get mugged all the time.. whoops.


There is a history of "voodoo" in the city and many restaurants and stores use it as a marketing concept. I was chatting to someone the other day about New Orleans and he described the city as if "Paris and the Bahamas had a kid and it was raised by a witch" - best description ever.

Just before I left, some backpackers told me that they broke into the old abandoned Six Flags theme park and climbed on the roller coasters. Darn, why didn't I think of that. Now I need to go back.

525,600 minutes

"525,600 minutes - how do you measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee. In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife. In 525,600 minutes - how do you measure a year in the life?" - Rent

It's crazy how drastically life can change in 525,600 minutes. These past few years have been the most terrifying and exciting and confusing and wonderful days of my life. Here's a look back on a few of my favourite "minutes" that made up 2013. A collection of various adventures and misadventures ..(misadventures have always been my favourite)


1. I did something I always wanted to do. I traveled to Africa.




2. I did something I thought I'd never do, I moved home.




3. I fell off many slacklines.




4. Twice I attempted to surf in the Newfoundland, and once I just ended up swimming with a seal.




5. The time I showed up at work, no one was there, found out that it was a holiday. BEST MONDAY EVER.


6. I spent the summer on the ocean sailing with my father.





7. We sailed over a sea of jellyfish. 


8. Explored Montreal & Quebec City 



9. Salsa danced by the lake on a perfect summer's eve.



10. I was introduced to the game "joust" & life will never be the same.



(Photo Credit: Steven Butler) 

11. I hiked 6 of the east coast trails with Molly, my trusty sidekick, & company. (Molly's butt got famous when it was chosen for Tourism Canada's photo of the day)





12. Once upon a hike, we ran out of daylight, and had to navigate through the woods by the light of a stolen solar lantern.


(Photo Credit: Daniel Smith) 

13. Went to my first pow wow... and I joined in the dance.




14. Watched a meteor shower at Cape Spear (I tried to take a photo and it was a black square, so you'll just have to trust me on this one)


15. I went to St. Anthony, and was invited on-board a boat by a random stranger. I saw icebergs like I've never seen them before.




16. I visited the arches with a coworker on our way back from site, and he fell in.


17. We had a few pretty memorable summer beach bonfires. One of which some random dudes came over and gave us a sofa. (I feel like someone must have a photo of this, but apparently I don't... once again.. you'll have to trust me!)


18. The infamous Bell Island picnic. If you haven't heard this story, remind me to tell you sometime.




19. We had the most easterly game of joust in North America ( at Cape Spear).




20. We went on the most memorable "Sunday afternoon stroll" ... through a river.





21. I was introduced to the Goulds drive-in bingo. Lost every game. Still an excellent life choice.




22. One Saturday morning Janessa sent me on a surprise scavenger hunt.





23. We had an impromptu mexican fiesta, I bought a piñata ... and almost destroyed Jordan's house. 


 

24. I discovered New Orleans in all it's jazzy glory (currently my favorite American city)




25. I got to know some pretty awesome humans.



(Photo Credit: AJ Smith http://ajsmith.ca)

26. And we deep-fried a turkey.




27. I shot a potato gun for the first time.. then decided to build one (with a little help from Alex & Ryan)



28. Rocked a size 42 bra in the mummer's parade 




Even made it to the paper!(See mom, I knew I'd make you proud!)


29. When Alex, the self proclaimed "grinch" got home on Christmas Eve to find his pimped-out ride.



30. The most magical, perfect Christmas ever. My parents packed us up on Christmas Eve and we drove through a winter wonderland to a "surprise destination". The bought a gorgeous cottage on a lake, fully furnished. Happy dance to the MAX.




31. Went snowshoeing for the first time in Newfoundland (have I ever mentioned how beautiful this place is?)




32. Rang in the new year with joust (of course) and a few of my favourite people.








I have no idea what will happen in the next 525,600 minutes. But, I know that in this moment I have never felt more grateful, content, and blessed in my life.