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Tuesday, 18 November 2014

HAPPY THINGS OF NOVEMBER

   


1. First snow! This weekend we had the first Canadian snowfall of the year and since then it hasn't actually stopped! I woke up Monday morning to a crisp white winter wonderland outside of my window and a scary -10 this morning! Despite the cold, I love the snow, it reminds me of skiing and Alpine mountains...

2. Volleyball Practice. This year I've got into Volleyball at McMaster and so far I'm really enjoying it. I'm not really a competitive person, I just love the game. We've been playing on an all girls team so far but next term I'm going into a corec team to keep up playing.

3. Weekly pub quizzes at the local; almost like being back at the UK. A friend here at Mac has been hosting weekly pub quizzes for charity at one of our favourite local pub spots. Two weeks ago my team actually won and we all got free t-shirts. I never win anything, so big celebrations were had.

4. Taking photos down by the lake. A group of us took a walk on Sunday around Cootes Paradise, most of the autumn leaves have fallen off of the trees but the frost and snow had made the lake freeze over in some parts and the trees glisten. I love taking photos of this kind of stuff- although I missed a chance to snap up a picture of a deer on the pathway down to the lake!

5. Laying in bed, catching up on The Walking Dead. Not very exciting but it's one of those little pleasures in life. Studying is kind of constant whilst you're at university but taking the chance to watch a good TV show is the best kind of break.

6. Skype catch-ups with friends from home. I've managed to speak to a few friends from home over the last couple of weeks; ranging from locations in Leeds to Singapore. It's weird thinking coming up to Christmas how the next time I see most of them it will be hot outside again!

7. Festive things. I'm one of those people who listens to Christmas music in November ok? I just love it. I got myself an advent calendar the other day, yes I know I am a child and we watched Home Alone Sunday evening, what a classic! Can't wait for Christmas, even if mine with be a little unorthadox in Cuba...

8. My new party dress. I've ordered a stunning silver dress from Topshop for the party season. Can't wait to pair it with some spiky heels and a bright lipstick! I've got tickets to the Winter Wonderland Ball for all us International Students, which I see as a good excuse to wear it eh?

9. Signing up for Dog Sledding. Yes, that's right, I'm going Dog Sledding early next year and I can't wait! Snow, puppies, snow, puppies, there's too much good in  that one sentence. Not only that but the accommodation has a hot tub and a sauna, super relaxing ahhh. 

10. Warm soup at Burnt Tongue. I was out shopping the other day for groceries and I stumbled accross this little soup cafe. It serves fresh soup and chilli; the menu changing every day. I had a tasty tomato and yoghurt soup, but there were plenty other flavours, peanut and yam, morrocan chickpea, yum! 

Saturday, 8 November 2014

REVIEW > DETOUR CAFE

It's not easy to find a good coffee in Hamilton it turns out. However, the discovery of Detour was really like finding a hidden gem. A small, independent coffee roasters doing both amazing breakfasts and and lunches, it's the perfect place to get your fix of coffee and cake. On my first visit there I had an amazing grilled 3 cheese sandwich with homemade chili jam and a bowl of potato and kale soup (I was hungry ok). The second trip was a pot of jasmine tea and the yummiest white chocolate and pumpkin loaf I wish I had the recipe for- perfect for autumn! But this morning was the peak of my foodie journey there- a full eggs benedict made with a crumbly chive bisuit, spinach, 2 poached eggs and hollandaise sauce. This was washed down with a frothy cappachino which I am craving again! The menu is vegetarian and vegan friendly and is definitely keeping up to date on all the latest food trends; kale and quinoa everywhere! I've got my eye on a red pepper muffin and the shallot and time mac and cheese for my next lunch date. The cafe is pretty small, but has a community feel to it, it's loud and warm and perfect for coming in out of the -2 degree November cold. Saying this, I've never been inside and got a table instantly, 10-30 min wait every time I've been- which I guess demonstrates the reputation it's given itself! If you're not there to induldge in breakfast or lunch, you can easily pick up a coffee or hot cocoa to go- maybe treat yourself to a sweet potato scone or homemade brownie?

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

HAPPY THINGS OF THE WEEK

                         
                                

1. I've booked onto the ski trip! This year McMaster University Ski and Snowboard society are going to Tremblant in Quebec. Ideally I wanted to go back to Whistler, but I might have been aiming a little high there. So naturally this is the next best place and I can't come to Canada and not go skiing, that would be sacrilegious.

2. Clothes shopping (AND RESEARCH) in Toronto. Ok, so I may have got a little distracted in American Apparel and Anthropologie but I’m loving Toronto. I visited Koreatown and Chinatown this weekend for some early research for my dissertation and they're great places. I walked for over 3 hours around the city and didn't get bored once.

3. A new pair of winter boots! Winter is coming. You can feel it every day- the subtle drops in temperature, the early morning frost... I took a trip to the local mall last week and splurged on a good pair of winter boots- making sure they were insulated and waterproof. I now love them, they're so comfy and my feet are very snug thanks!

4. Baking autumn/fall goodies. I also attended a baking event last week! The fact my kitchen doesn't have real ovens is a bit of a downer for me, I remember baking homemade apple cider doughnuts last year! However I managed to bake some great stuff this weekend with a few other keen bakers; everything from apple turnovers to pumpkin roll and butter tarts.

5. Finding a decent coffee. It's been a struggle surviving off Starbucks and I miss my dad's coffee maker at home. But a quick trip to Dundas introduced me to Detour; a cute cafe on the main street selling quality cappuccinos and healthy soups and sandwiches. The grilled cheese with chilli chutney is a good choice FYI.

6. Mid-terms are finally over! This is both a happy and a sad thing. Yes, my mid-term exams are over. But I have three huge assignments due over the next two weeks, so you win some you lose some. Anyway I prefer coursework to exams- it means I can sit down with a cup of tea and plan it- rather than cram information into my head pre-exam day.

7. Postcards and letters from home. I have such great friends back in the UK and a few of them reminded me of that this week. I got a couple of cards and postcards which kept me up to date on the goings on back home as well as some great anecdotes. They were thoughtful and funny and I'm looking forward to sending some back.

8. Oktoberfest! Ok, I realise we're not in Germany, but did you realise the second biggest Oktoberfest celebration is in Kitchener in Ontario? Well it is. We took a trip up there just before Thanksgiving and had a dance and a drink in a big music hall (ice skating rink?) along to German music. Lots of people were dressed up in lederhosen and I kind of regret not having my own...

9. Thanksgiving itself!! I was lucky enough to be invited to my housemate’s thanksgiving this year and I was so pleased. I won't be getting a real Christmas dinner (considering I'll be in Cuba) so I was excited to have an early-turkey dinner! And I wasn't disappointed; turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and stuffing- you can't go wrong.


10. Spontaneous wine and cheese nights. I walked home late from the pub one night and managed to crash my housemates wine and cheese night. We spent the night mostly drinking the wine and catching the end of a horror movie...Wine and cheese are possibly some of life's greatest little pleasures and this is a great way to spend a chilly fall evening.

Monday, 20 October 2014

REVIEW > CHUCK'S BURGER BAR

Just a quick trip downtown and a little walk away on Locke Street, you'll find yourself at Chuck's Burger Bar. A no-frills gourmet burger joint with good craft beers and big portions. It's very low key, with only 5 tables and a bit of bar space. We crammed 7 of us onto the bar and ordered a round whilst pouring over the menu. And there's plenty to choose from; venison burgers, lobster poutine and enough different sauces and toppings to last a lifetime! Peanut butter on your burger anyone? I went for a (healthy) turkey burger, with caramelised pears and a cranberry mayo, this was served alongside skin-on fries and a crunchy house slaw. Although, yes we were eating at 9pm and I was starving, this was easily one of my favourite indulgent meals in Canada. Finding a good burger is like finding the perfect little black dress and you just know when it's a good one from the first bite. You can tell this place is a hit with locals and students alike as the place was packed with people when we first got there- I would suggest booking a table or turning up earlier to get a proper seat as this place get's busy even on a random Tuesday night. But waiting at the bar isn't so bad either, there's a good selection of Canadian beers and enough Ice Hockey to watch until you're seat is ready. Next time I go I would love to customise my burger and pick out something adventurous or ask the waitress for a good combo! I would also order the maple bacon doughnut bites, not sure why I didn't do this before for $3 a bag.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

DINNER ON THE CN TOWER

It was a windy Saturday afternoon and I was ridiculously excited. I was finally going up the infamous CN tower. I had asked everyone for recommendations of where to go and what to see in Toronto and nearly every one of them told me to take a trip up the tower. We decided to try it out and (for a bargain price of $55 try the lunch menu too!) After checking in, you're ushered into a lift which zooms up into the clouds. It's very odd walking out of the lift into a revolving glass room. The scene spins around you and you're transported from high rise skyscraper views to sprawling suburbs to the shimmering sea-like lake. I couldn't stop snapping photos; every second was a new photo opportunity! Now for the food, the $55 menu came with 3 courses. For a starter I had the pea and pancetta spring tart. The pastry was a bit dry and the pancetta was more akin to bacon lardons but it was 2pm and I was starving so I gobbled it down. My medium rare steak with mashed potato and peppercorns was however- to DIE FOR. Perfectly cooked with buttery mash and just enough creamy sauce. Lastly dessert; the final act. Maybe the best one? You can't say no to a chocolate lava cake with espresso ice cream and raspberry coulis. Melt in the mouth chocolaty goodness. Hands down the best meal in Canada so far with the best views! Not only this- but everything on the menu exhibited the best of Canada! You could try everything from 'Vancouver Island Sea Salt' to 'Grilled Ontario Calf's Liver' and of course Maple Blancmange, which is as Canadian as it gets without putting a beaver on it. After lunch we wandered around the observation deck and they lay down on the glass floor for some edgy looking pictures. Overall it was a great afternoon, although service was slow at the start, it picked up and gave us enough time to enjoy the views! I would love to see Toronto again at night and try out a few more tasty offerings when I get the chance! 

Monday, 29 September 2014

ALGONQUIN


100% my favourite weekend in Canada so far. Algonquin Provincial Park is about a 4 hour drive from Hamilton and covers over 7000 sqkm. It's located in Central Ontario between Georgian Bay and the Ottawa River and is the oldest Provincial Park in Canada. We drove up on a sleepy Friday night to stay for a night in traditional cabins before heading out on the lakes for some canoeing. After a brisk 7am wake up call, we packed up our gear, got into our groups and headed out onto the water. In groups of 9, we had four canoes between us. Mostly in pairs, I was put in the three man and acted as 'princess/team flightless bears professional photographer'. Algonquin is truly spectacular, the autumn colours shone through in reds, gold’s and oranges. This combined with a shiny, still lake meant that the reflections were almost identical to the trees themselves. We spent the first half of the day paddling through a narrow creek. Not used to canoeing this was a bit of a struggle and a few of us beached ourselves in the grass a couple of times. After coming out into a wide, open lake, we spotted a flat-looking island and headed out for lunch and to soak up the sun. After lunch it was back on the open water. At one point we even lost a paddle (even less for me to do). In between getting to all the lakes we had a number of 'portages' or as I liked to call it 'French-canoe-walking'. This is where you need to hoist the canoe up and carry it on your shoulders to the next available body of water. Luckily for most of the guys carrying the canoes, the longest one was just over 500m! Canoes, dear readers, are a bit heavy. However these portages gave us the opportunity to walk through some of Algonquin's woodland, see some chipmunks and get out of the sun for a bit. The last hour of our day was arguably the best. In this hour, I saw a swimming moose and my Canadian dream was fulfilled. At first we thought it was a really big bird...I know. Stupid. Then we saw it's antlers and it's one heck of a snout puffing away. My pictures weren't great but so happy that I got to see a Canadian wildlife icon. After that we drifted in the lake for a bit soaking up the last of the sun’s rays and enjoying the peace and quiet. Arriving at camp, we parked the canoes and jumped straight into the water at sunset for a swim! The water was pretty icy but refreshing and laying out in the sun after was arguably the best way to end the day. The evening was spent stargazing. The stars were breathtaking, you could see the Milky Way and we even spotted a bunch of shooting stars! Despite a restless night, the next morning we got up and continued our canoeing. This was an easier day and a shorter one. The lake remained calm and a big pike nearly jumped in our boat! We encountered one fast moving waterway which apparently took out a few canoes in its rapids- we decided to avoid it altogether! Overall Algonquin was amazing, I'm not sure how many times I muttered 'this is the life' to myself but it's truly a beautiful place. 


Friday, 26 September 2014

Exploring Canada


Canada is a pretty big place and I've only really been exploring a tiny portion of it. But I want to share with you some of the beautiful places I've been to and show you how even in your backyard, Canada is a beautiful place. The majority of these photos are surprisngly from Hamilton (my current home). Hamilton is a University town and industrial steel city but for many it's gone a bit into decline. I would argue that Hamilton has some of the best hidden gems including over 1000 waterfalls and an emerging art scene. Dundas Peak gives you a great view of Hamilton and the surrounding area (you can even see Toronto) and hiking along the Bruce Trail takes you to some gorgeous waterfalls which you can paddle in. If you continue to hike along the Bruce Trail you will eventually end up at Niagara Falls which as you will know straddles the US/Canada border (the Canada side has better views mkay?).


Horseshoe falls is probably the most famous of the two and is spectacular when lit up at night. I've also managed a sneaky trip to Toronto, as I mentioned in a previous post. It's a really amazing city- what I would call a 'liveable city'. The waterfront is for many the best view of the city, illuminating the famous CN tower and offering great views of the Rogers Centre Sports Stadium. The best views can be seen from the island, which I haven't been to yet, but I do have a good 7 months left! This weekend I'm travelling to Algonquin National Park. There I'll be canoeing and swimming in the lakes and enjoying the autumnal golds and reds of the surrounding trees- honestly the photos look amazing! The park itself is huge and offers plenty of oppurtunities to see local Canadian wildlife; moose, bears and wolves all live here! Although if I do see a bear I'm not sure if that's good news. The weather is set to be beautiful- 26 degrees and sunny! So I'm pretty excited.


So a quick overview of the backpacking trip I did last weekend. We woke up bright and early for a breakfast at Pancake House and to pack all of our goods away. This included stuffing a sleeping bag, mat, part of a tent and a few pots and pans into my already over-filled backpack. Heaving the thing on made me feel like a turtle to say the least. After a big pancake and bacon breakfast (with a bucket of strength inducing coffee) we jumped on the bus to Dundas and started the hike. The first part of the hike got some getting used to. Carrying an 80l backpack in 20+ degree heat aint so easy my friends. We walked along an old railway track which eventually led up to our campsite. However after walking for 20 mins or so, we took the high ground which led up to Dundas Peak and some great views. We even spotted a train that had at least 50 + carriages! It was great so see some of the autumnal colours coming through and also see a bit of the surrounding area. After this our walk took us past a golf course and along to see some of the waterfalls.


Most of the falls were pretty shallow but some you could paddle in. Which leads me onto the second day! After an evening of s'mores, campfire stories and 'interesting' pasta, we woke up in a puddle. It had been raining all morning and we had to pack everything up in torrential rain. It wasn't a great start to the morning and trying to cook bacon has never been so tiresome! The rains cleared up eventually however and this took us on a great path through the woodlands. It was a very peaceful start to the day, sun shining through the trees and a couple of wildlife sightings; snakes yo. Then when we reached some of the bigger waterfalls, paddling and climbing happened. A few of us drenched ourselves in the falls to cool down, others (like me) enjoyed the spray and snapped a few shots.  We carried on walking back towards Hamilton and even passed McMaster, seeing it from an almost birds-eye view! Finally we ended up near downtown and caught the bus back to campus. A great trip and a new side to Hamilton I'd never seen!