Since I have been back, (almost two years now) I have had the chance to do and see a lot of things here in North America. Here are just a few things I did to finish off 2015:
One of my favourite places in the world is The Cottage, a place that I have been going to since I was a kid. It is just north of Goderich and, for as long as I can remember, we have spent a week there every year in the summer. In 2012 the owners, family friends of ours, asked if we wanted to buy The Cottage as they also owned the one next door. With very little hesitation, my mom and step-dad said yes. Since then, the cottage has undergone various renovations and now, instead of spending just one week there, we go there all the time, winter, spring, summer and fall. Even when it is raining it is so relaxing looking out at the lake. And when it is sunny and hot, there is nothing like lounging on the beach, reading a book, and going for a swim or a kayak.
On Labour Day weekend of 2015, I had the opportunity to visit my friends Josh and Sophia who were living in St. John’s while Sophia did her masters. It was a wild weekend. The shenanigans began when I got into Josh and Sophia’s old Volvo and Sophia handed me a Gin and Soda disguised in a Starbucks cup. I met Spencer, their friend who was a character in himself. We drove through the hilly streets to get to their place in the heart of St. John’s where we ate and got the night started with shots of Kracken rum. We then walked those hilly streets to George Street, where many of the bars and pubs are. It was a busy night at the bar and things got a little wild between making fun of a couple of guys claiming to be Navy Seals by stating “I’m the captain now!” to Josh spitting ice cubes over the balcony, getting us kicked out of a bar, to Spencer (the American) almost causing an “International Crisis” when he lost his ID in a bar that he got kicked out of. After all of that we some how managed to find ourselves at a place called Trapper Joes where Spencer and I got Screeched In by saying, eating, kissing and drinking something from Newfoundland. After kissing the cod, we made our way home and called it a night.
The next day we toured around St. John’s, visiting the harbour and Cape Spear, the easternmost point of North America. We walked around Cape Spear, taking in the lighthouses and eating wild blueberries. Driving around I realized that Newfoundland is really what everyone pictures when they picture Canada: rocky hills, rows of pine trees, fishing boats and beautiful expanses of land. It was rugged and gorgeous. After Cape Spear, we went and had a coffee in the cute town of Penny Harbour before heading back home.
That night, we went out for dinner at a nice place called Yellowbelly Brewery and had a power hour of drinking at home where we all passed out pretty early. The next day, we went out for sushi, had a coffee by the harbor and took it easy. Later that night we went out for drinks, chatted with some locals and heard a real Newfie accent and managed to get Josh on stage to sing us a song. At the end of the night we walked up a few more hills to get some pizza before crashing.
On my last day, we decided to check out the horse races just outside of St. John’s. Having grown up with my parents racing horses, it was fun to teach Josh, Sophia, and Spencer about how to choose a horse and place a bet. I will say though, the Newfoundland horse racing scene is a bit different than the Ontario one. First of all, the purses are much smaller, about a tenth of the ones here. Also, there are fewer horses in the races and the track itself has fewer amenities, with just a small room where people can sit and place their bets. Luckily it was a lovely day out so we sat outside in the sun and watched the races with those rows of pines in the background. After our lovely time there, we went back into town and went for a walk up to the historical monument of Signal Hill. Signal Hill is on the rocky edge of St. John’s Harbour and has great historical significance as well as amazing views of the city. It was also extremely windy which added a sense of adventure. We wandered around there and went up the tower until it was time for me to start packing. It was a great way to cap off a trip to St. John’s and a visit with friends. I still say this trip was one of the most fun trips I have ever done.
One weekend in October, my sister Jackie invited me to Our Nation’s Capital of Ottawa. Jackie is a police officer and every year a group of her coworkers go down to be a part of the colour guard, a group of police officers in formal uniform who perform ceremonious duties. They and hundreds of other police officers go to Ottawa in order to pay respects to fallen officers across Canada. It is also a social event where officers from across Canada get together and have a good time. So, we arrived in Ottawa on the Friday and started the night with ukulele and guitar in our hotel. After nailing some Taylor Swift songs, we then had a few drinks at the Heart and Crown, a classic in Ottawa. For anyone who hasn’t been there, Ottawa has a great bar scene and is always a good time. The next day, we explored the city , walking by the canal, around parliament and through the market. That night we had a lovely dinner at the Keg before having a few more drinks downtown.
On the Sunday was the ceremony. Jackie had to get up early to prepare and be a part of the ceremony. So I walked to Parliament a little later in the morning. I found a spot in front of the Peace Tower and looked out on the lawn at the ceremony. It really was amazing. Police officers in their formal uniforms marched with their departments, saluting the families of those who had fallen. Dozens of motorcycles lined up with their lights around the edges of the lawn and the mounted police marched in their red jackets. It was hard not to be moved. Jackie and her group in the colour guard stood on the steps with Enfield rifles from the First World War. They shot blanks in honour of the officers and a cannon was sounded as part of the moment of silence. It really illustrated the brotherhood that goes with becoming an officer and the respect they have for each other. After the ceremony, I had a chance to take the most Canadian photo I have ever been in with some Mounties and posed with Jackie and the rifles before we headed back to the hotel to pack up.
New York City
Just before Christmas 2015, I had the chance to visit New York City, the City that Never Sleeps, though we did. I went to NYC because my good friend Kylie was visiting from England! It was exciting as I hadn’t seen Kylie since I lived with her in London and we had a lot to catch up on. We stayed in a hostel called Jazz by Columbus Circle which was in Manhattan near Times Square. It wasn’t my first time in New York, I had been twice when I was in high school, but it was my first time there as an adult which made the experience completely different as I couldn’t depend on parents to lead the way. I arrived in the evening, just in time for dinner and a visit to the famous Times Square. As we walked the blocks with the outrageous number of lights and screens flashing, we realized it was very over rated. There were creepy mascots everywhere trying to get a picture, there were too many tourists and it was extremely cheesy. It was hard to believe it is such a famous landmark. But, we had drinks, and chatted and it was quite lovely otherwise. I even ended the night by drinking a Manhattan… in Manhattan, something I had never done before.
The next day, we went out and explored Manhattan some more, walking past the Empire State Building and the Flat Iron Building before meeting up with Carlos, a friend of Kylie’s that lives in New Jersey and knows the city well. Carlos guided us onto the subway and took us to Brooklyn, where the Hipsters live. We explored a cool area near Williamsburg that had funky shops in what used to be warehouses selling vintage clothes and to a chocolate shop called Fine & Raw where I got a delicious Hot Chocolate. We then had lunch at a very hip place called Roberta’s, where the pizza was super tasty and the atmosphere was too cool. From the outside Roberta’s looks run down, with metal siding like a factory, but inside, it was warm and inviting with picnic tables and string lighting. It was definitely worth the visit. After gorging on some pizza, we wandered through Brooklyn, taking in the urban vibes, and found our way to the Radegast Hall and Biergarten, a warm and inviting hall with tasty beers. We warmed up there and had a few beers before heading back to Manhattan.
Once back, we did some more wandering through Washington Square Park and had dinner at a Ramen place near NYU. After a long day, and with Kylie’s jetlag, we decided to call it a night.
The next day we decided to see as much as we could on a budget aka by walking. We went to the Trade Centre memorial, walked through Wall St and saw the famous Bull statue before walking along the river to the Brooklyn Bridge. We had lunch at the Shake Shack, which was super tasty, and strolled through Central Park, feeding the squirrels. We ended our evening strolling down 5th Ave, looking at the Christmas window display, going into shops and stopping by the Rockefeller Christmas Tree before having a lovely drink at the Gingerman.
It was a great trip, where I got to experience a city I enjoy and also got to see a great friend again. I even convinced Kylie to come to Canada just after Christmas for a visit. I took her to see Toronto and Niagara Falls and she experienced some real snow for the first time in the form of a blizzard that came through.
It was a great way to end the year. Kylie went back just before New Years and I spent the New Years Eve with friends in Waterloo. And with that, it was 2016. It was a great holiday, especially as I was entering the new year without a job, single and living at my parents… less than an ideal situation.