Monday, February 22, 2010
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Today is the day that Gabriel makes the long flight back from Amsterdam to Canada :) Finished with work in the Netherlands, he is coming home! Yay! It’s a bit bittersweet for us, because while we are ecstatic that we’ll be together (after looooong-distance for 5 months), we’re also a bit sad that our time in Amsterdam is over. Amsterdam was such a great city for us to live in, and we dearly loved our apartment (pictured above). I feel like I can now freely show our apartment, without the risk of crazy people knocking on our door haha. As silly as it sounds, I think the last 5 months I have been living with one foot in Canada, and the other in Amsterdam. Seeing Gabriel and our apartment on Skype nightly, and hearing his stories about life in the city, really made me feel like I was still there…partially. Now that chapter of our life is over, and the only thing left in our apartment is the massive palm tree that I carried home from the Albert Cuyp Market a year ago. Truth be told, I’m not really that sad…it’s just fun to be sentimental sometimes. I’m too busy being excited to see Gabriel!!! Just in time for Valentines Day, and our 4-year anniversary :)
Monday, February 8, 2010
Saturday January 2, 2010
Our first full day in Montevideo. We woke quite early and headed out, eager to explore the city of Gabriel’s childhood. Our walk took us down the Avenida 18 de Julio and through the center. It was early, and very few places were open. We saw a plaza with an imposing structure of Artigas before entering a small gate leading to the Ciudad Viejo (the Old City). Our first stop was a tree-filled park, linked with antique vendors. They were selling such beautiful treasures: jewellery boxes, old vanity sets, and items from Uruguay’s past. At one point I felt the most burning pain I’ve ever experienced, and looked down to see about 35 mosquitoes hanging from my legs. When I tried to shake them off, they continued to cling. A woman peddling silver bracelets looked, smiled, and said (in Spanish), “they are terrible this time of year.” We made it our mission to find a nearby pharmacia to buy some DEET.
For breakfast we stopped in at Cafe Copacabana. As we waited for our desayuno (breakfast), I saw a man and child ride by on a horse and carriage. Bags and bags of trash were clumped onto the carriage with an enormous sac on the back. They stopped outside near a dumpster, opened it, and began to scavenge. When they had found some food, they threw the bags onto the back of their carriage and rode away. Gabriel explained to me that the economic crash in 2001 left the country riddled with poverty. With a gnawing pit in my stomach, I watched as our waiter brought over our croissants and traditional coffee service. The coffees were on individual silver trays, with a shot of freshly squeezed orange juice, a small glass of sparkling water, some chocolates, and a silver cup of whipped cream.
After our desayuno we continued on down the main street, working our way in and out of the old city. The buildings were stunning, but extremely battered and crumbling. We entered the main area where stalls sold fur and leather goods. The smell of parilla (Argentinean/Uruguay barbeque) was so strong that it lured us into a huge building. Inside we found parilla restaurant after parilla restaurant. With wood burning stoves and giant grills filled with meat, it was a carnivore’s Mecca. We left the good-smelling hall and continued around the city. Along one road, a building right beside us completely collapsed, crumbling pieces of its edifice all over the road, nearly falling on an elderly couple. We eased cautiously into an equally as decrepit nearby shop where Gabriel purchased some souvenirs.
We found our way down to the waterfront, and walked along the Rambla in the 35C degree heat. Local people were sunning themselves on the rocks near the shore, sipping mate (an Argentinean/Uruguayan herbal tea drink) out of Thermoses, and swimming in the contaminated water (or so we were told). When the sun became too intense, we weaved our way back into the city, basking in the cool shade from the large trees lining the cobbled streets. Stray dogs milled about, ribs jutting out at all angles, eager for any food. A pregnant woman, no older than me, with bare feet, ambled along the busy Avenida 18 de Julio, digging in a garbage pail and picking out a half-eaten sandwich for her lunch. We watched as she ravenously devoured the sandwich, and proceeded to look in the next bin for more food.
This portion of our trip to Montevideo was eye-opening. There are more beautiful, clean, and wealthier areas of the city, which we got to see later that day. However, our trip through the Ciudad Viejo and the surrounding neighbourhoods really struck a chord with me. Despite the poverty and poor infrastructure in some of the areas, Montevideo was a charming city with the most friendly local people.
Sunday, February 7, 2010
We all have that one place that is our dream vacation. Of course, there are many places where I often dream of visiting. Strolling through the cherry blossom lanes of Japan, wandering amongst the souks in Morocco, or gazing across the Mediterranean in Santorini are some of my travel goals for the future. Thoughts of visiting these faraway places dance through my mind almost daily, as I’m constantly thinking up new places to explore. I blame it on Gabriel, who, four years ago, introduced me to the exciting world of international travel. Ever since we have traveled to roughly 15 countries together, and are always talking about future travel opportunities. While some couples enjoy hobbies such as golfing or cooking, Gabriel and I undoubtedly share the hobby of travel.
The one destination that continues to crop up in our discussions, and is a staple in my daydreaming on a cold Canadian winter day, is a trip to a Bora Bora lagoon resort. Yesterday’s Toronto Star detailed the emergence of the over-water bungalow concept in Tahiti in the 1960s. Since then, extravagant and romantic thatched roof bungalows have been popping up all over the Polynesian islands and South Pacific. To be able to jump off the deck of your bungalow, snorkel in the crystal clear lagoon, and feast on the most delicious fruits and cuisine as the sun sets behind the green mountains in the distance…sigh.
We all have that one “dream” destination; the one that we just know we’ll have to visit one day. The destination that, while others may be fleeting “oh that would be cool…” thoughts, is more of a mission than a dream.
I would love to hear, what is your dream travel destination? What is your Bora Bora?
Friday, February 5, 2010
Thursday, February 4, 2010
Last night our university hosted a charity bowling night for kids. Unsure of how to interpret the theme, “Hall of Fame”, we decided to form the Alpine ski team and dress up as ski bunnies! While we may have slightly misinterpreted the theme of the night (most people were dressed up as Hollywood stars or famous rock bands), we had a great time bowling and cheering on our fellow bunnies :)
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Last week I made a post regarding a Q&A session here on Life Abroad! Today I’ll answer some of the comments and e-mailed questions I received…
Bluefish asked: When are you coming back to Amsterdam? And have you decided where to go on exchange yet?
Well Bluefish, to answer your first question: probably not for a long long time. My boyfriend is moving back to Canada next week, as his time in the Netherlands is now over. This was quite unexpected, and a twist in our plans. I’m so happy to have him coming home though, and cannot wait to spend time together in Toronto. Even though I won’t be moving back to Amsterdam in the near future, I would gladly move back permanently, and will always be trying to find ways to live there!
As for your exchange question…Australia! I believe it was you who suggested the idea in the first place actually! Plans are still tentative, but I will know for sure in March whether I’m accepted into the partner school. Six months of kangaroos, beach BBQs, and surfing?! Sign me up!
Orangesplaash asked: As an expat myself, it would be interesting to know which is the one most important thing that you felt you missed out on, as a result of your expat life? Just one thing..:)
This is a great question. When I moved to the Netherlands, my niece was only five months old. She was my first niece, and also my god-daughter. Being away from home for so long, I felt like I really missed out on her first year and a half of life. I saw pictures, videos, and occasionally spoke with her on the phone, but it wasn’t the same. When I left Canada, she was absolutely infatuated with her Auntie Heather. When I returned 1.5 years later, she didn’t know who I was. That was really hard, and it took some time before she began to realize that I was her Auntie, and was not just some random visitor. She’s such a big part of my life now, and I’m so happy that I get to cherish watching her grow up!
Sophie asked: I recently lived in Denmark for a while, and what I missed most about the US (especially California) was the food! Did you feel the same way when living abroad? What was the food/dish you missed most?
You can find a comprehensive post that I wrote a while back about what Dutch food I liked and disliked here. Overall, I was really happy about the food situation in the Netherlands. Amsterdam is such an international city, with such diverse restaurants, that you will never get bored of the food there! I really did miss North American peanut butter though (thanks Yvonne for bringing me some when you visited!).
Karina asked: How did you end up moving to the Netherlands? Is this easy for us Canadians to do?
I chose to move to the Netherlands with my boyfriend, Gabriel, when his work took him there. I could’ve gone as a registered partner of his, but instead chose to apply for a Working Holiday Visa with the Canadian and Dutch governments. The Working Holiday Program allows 18-30 year old Canadians to live for one year overseas. It gives you the ability to work and to travel around while doing so. The Canadian embassy and Dutch embassy websites have information on more of these programs! It was easy to apply, and although the paperwork took a looong time to process in the Netherlands, it all worked out smoothly in the end!
Jenn asked: I’m visiting Amsterdam this summer! Do you have any tips for me?
In terms of packing, bring lots of layers. Amsterdam has very fickle weather. One moment it’s raining, the next its sweltering! Amsterdam is a city that can be easily seen in 3-4 days, or even a weekend. If you have a short amount of time in Amsterdam, here is my list of things NOT to see. Amsterdam is best seen by foot, and stopping in at cozy cafes, visiting local markets, and browsing the quaint boutiques on de Negen Straatjes is a great way to spend your time there!
Thanks for your questions everyone! That was fun :)