Just got back from an awesome trip to Italy! It was my first trip within Europe since moving to Spain and I will remember it forever. Italy is a beautiful country! The architecture, the food, the wine, the people, and the language combined make for an incredibly romantic and magical atmosphere that I have never encountered before.
I travelled with three other friends from work at CYPE, and we had a blast. We flew into Bolonia, rented a car and drove to Florence (Firenze) and Pisa. Here are the trip’s highlights:
Parking! It took us at least half an hour to find parking and it involved manoeuvring into impossibly tight spaces and bumping into both cars in the front and back. One parking job required the re-location of a dumpster.
Driving! Italian Drivers drive wherever there is space on the road without much regard for traffic rules or street markings. Mopeds are often seen tailgating ambulances and whizzing past gridlock by driving in the centre of the road.
“Tonight’s Going to be a Good Night” by the Black-Eyed Peas. We heard it at least 2 or 3 times a day.
Ordering 1 L of red house wine with dinner every night.
Finishing an entire bottle of Limone liquor on our first night.
Waiting for 2 hours to see a 20-metre… uh 6-metre tall statue of David.
Getting lost in the walled city of Lucca.
Always being the last ones to eat in restaurants at night, and always finding restaurants closed for lunch at 4pm.
You can also check out a multitude of pictures in my gallery.
It’s been just over a week since I first arrived in Spain and I think I am finally settled in. With the help of Nicole, another EngSci student here on PEY, I was able to find a large room with a newly installed hardwood floor, TV, desk, and private ensuite bathroom for just 280 euros a month. Not only is the room nice, but it’s located right in downtown Alicante, just minutes away from the beach and nightlife, and it’s across the street from work! Here are some pictures:
A typical day in Spain goes something like this:
7:45am – Wake up after my cell phone alarm has gone off for the third time.
8:00am – Check my e-mail.
8:20am – Eat a quick breakfast.
8:28am – Leave home.
8:31am – Arrive at my desk at work. The mornings are usually not the most productive since I’m still tired, but I usually figure out what it is that I need to accomplish for the day.
11:30am – 2nd breakfast! In our office at CYPE, everyone works in “boxes” or clusters of 6 people. Every box tends to hang out together, except for my box which splits up and goes with people from other boxes. Since I’m new, everyone wants me to join them, so I tend to rotate which groups I eat with. 2nd Breakfast consists of walking to a nearby cafe and ordering a “tostada media con tomate y un cafe con leche” which is a toasted panini-like bun topped with olive oil and crushed tomatoes, usually seasoned with garlic, salt, and pepper. “Cafe con leche” is basically the Spanish equivalent of a cappucino. 2nd Breakfast costs anywhere in the range of 1.90 to 2.20 euros depending on where you go.
12:00pm – Back to work. I usually get the most work done in this period of time since I would have just had a coffee.
2:30pm – Lunch break! I typically go home for lunch since it’s just 2 minutes away. Sometimes people from work go out to eat at a nearby restaurant, and sometimes I’ll go to the supermarket to buy fresh bread with which to make a “bocadillo”.
3:30pm – Return to work. Sometimes I’ll take another hour for lunch and return to work at 4:30, but then I have to stay an extra hour at the end of the day.
6:30PM – Home time, unless I took a 2-hour lunch. Also, on Fridays, we skip lunch and leave at 3:00pm. During the summer months, we get out of work at 3:00pm every day.
7:00PM – Go for a run by the beach. There’s a nice 6K route along the water.
8:30PM – Start cooking dinner (unless Nicole is cooking for me… we tend to take turns cooking for each other).
10:00PM – Do stuff on my computer (like upload pictures, respond to e-mails, and update my blog).
12:00AM – Bed time.
As it’s now midnight, it’s time for me to go to bed.
Adios! Here are some pictures (I’m now experimenting with Flickr):
It’s about time I made a post about my recent trip to Vancouver from July 24-26. In a following post, you can look for my experiences at the Enlightened Warrior Training Camp in Squamish, BC. Now, this was my first solo trip ever. I usually always travel with friends or family, so I wasn’t quite sure how things would work out…
First off, the flight there was amazing! It was my very first flight with WestJet and I was very impressed. The efficiency of their scheduling and on-time performance is incredible. About 10 minutes before the first boarding call, the ground crews assembled ready to load luggage, clean the plane, and stock it with food. 5 minutes before the boarding call, the plane rolled into the gate, unloaded and was ready to accept my flight’s passengers on-time. The crew was very friendly and were happy to be there! In-flight service was amazing: the crew came by twice to offer free drinks and snacks, and they had no problem providing multiple drinks and snacks each time, if asked. To cap it all off, our flight departed the gate 5 minutes early and landed 10 minutes early. I am very proud, as a Canadian, to have such an incredible national airline.
Amazingly, both flights (there and back), I sat beside someone really nice and we talked for the whole flight! Since I was on my own, I found I was far more open to new friendships, so I ended up talking to just about everyone I met!
While I was in Vancouver, I stayed at the University of British Columbia. During the summer months they run the Pacific Spirit Hostel out of one of their residences. It has super-cheap rates ($30/night with an ISIC card, $33/night otherwise), is fairly clean, offers private and secure rooms, and is surrounded by natural beauty. It is outside of the city, however, so you have to take a 20 minute bus ride into the city, which really is not that bad at all.
Public Transit in Vancouver was really efficient, and will be greatly improved once the Canada Line opens in September. It will offer a direct SkyTrain link from the airport and Richmond to downtown Vancouver. The public transit system, operated by TransLink, consists of SkyTrain (light rail), the B-Lines (express bus routes), an extesnive bus network (both diesel and electric trolley buses), and the SeaBus (a catamaran ferry connecting downtown Vancouver to North Vancouver). Furthermore, if you have internet-enabled mobile, you can access on-demand transit routing via the Google Maps Mobile application, or you can download a TransLink application for your iPhone.
I started my day by taking an hour jog along the coast. It was a sunny Saturday morning, and the streets and paths were teeming with cyclists, dog-walkers, and fellow runners. It seems like a morning ride or run along the beach is the thing to do in Vancouver! Thanks to my handy Frommer’s Vancouver & Victoria 2009 travel guide, I found a great place to stop for breakfast close to Jericho Beach where I had the best Eggs Benedict of my life. After exploring the beaches a bit, I walked down to Granville Island (a public market similar to St. Jacobs and St. Lawrence Market for those of you from Toronto). It was sunny, and the Fraser River was sparkling when I arrived. The market was very busy, and was host to a number of some of the most colourful and talented buskers I’ve ever seen. The food inside the market was far too tempting, so I stopped and bought an apple cinnamon crepe for snack.
After leaving Granville Island, I decided to catch the next SeaBus to North Vancouver and visit Grouse Mountain. I had heard about a particular trail that most Vancouverites fondly know as the “Grouse Grind”. The grind is a 3km trail that consists of essentially climbing stairs and steep slopes for an hour straight. Some people call it the natural StairMaster 😉 I had the pleasure of meeting Pat Akey on the bus there, a recent finance grad from McGill, and we kept each other going as we journeyed upwards. He was nice enough to invite me to drinks that night with some other friends he met at a conference.
Next, I visited the Capilano suspension bridge, which is one of the most advertised attractions in Vancouver. It was pretty neat to cross a man-made suspension bridge (like the ones you often see in movies), but felt the admission was too high and would classify it as more of a tourist trap. I would recommend visiting Grouse Mountain instead.
Although I wanted to rent a bike and ride around Stanley Park, which everyone told me I should do, it had started to rain by the time I got there, so I decided to search for a place to eat instead. After consulting my travel guide, I discovered a fairly new and hip seafood restaurant called Coast. I called the restaurant, made a reservation and hopped on the next bus to take me over there. Unfortunately, I had their old address as they had just moved a few weeks before, so I had to hop on another bus and find the new place. When I got there, It was totally worth the long journey. The atmosphere was amazing, the staff were friendly, and the restaurant was buzzing with life. I sat at the bar which was a round island in the middle of the restaurant and was served by the bartender. There was fresh fish, shrip, and oysters on ice in the centre of the bar, as well as an extensive collection of vodka, whisky, and other spirits.
I ordered the Haddock Fish and Chips and a cool Rickards Red Beer. It was one of the most delicious meals I’ve ever had. The fish was so tender I swear it must have been caught that same day. On my right were two thirty-year old women celebrating a birthday. Just past them were two men who were knocking back Vodka Red Bulls, and trying to pick up the women. To my left was a couple who were making bets on whether or not the men would succeed. All in all, a really great time 😉 After dinner, I ordered a shot of the restaurant’s finest Vodka, which turned out to be Exquisite, a premium Wyborowa Vodka from Poland. The restaurant even called me the next morning to ask how my meal was!
I was about to head home when I got a call from Pat Akey telling me that he and his friends were heading out to a night club. I gladly accepted and joined them as we danced the night away (thanks for the drinks, guys!).
My experience in Vancouver was incredible. I could not believe that I was still in Canada. The people are so different there. They are all very active, very friendly, and very laid-back, which was a pleasant change to the people I’m used to in Toronto. I think this Bud-Light advertisement put it the best:
I will definitely have to visit Vancouver again. It is an absolutely beautiful city, and is located in the most beautiful part of Canada. If you have never been, I recommend you buy yourself a round-trip ticket when you visit, because you might be tempted to never come back!