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And we’re off – a pretentious reflection from inside a horrible Air Canada Rouge plane at 3 am

Countdown to lift-off: 0 days

As I write this I am sitting in a plane that belongs in a museum nestled beside fertility jars and terrible educational taxidermy displays rather than in the air. No touch screen entertainment system? No inflight movie screens? For a seven hour international flight no less. This may be the first place where someone reads Air Canada’s enRoute cover to cover and clings to every word of the feature piece on Eugene Bouchard with the tagline “the Canadian tennis champ on poutine, diamonds and infinity pools”.

This is of course all hyperbole, but it did allow for the absorption of the scenery as we took off instead of flicking through the screen trying to find out if they had “Guardians of the Galaxy” yet.

I watched as my home was yanked out under from my feet and the land I have known all my life grew small enough that the lights of the cars appeared to be working to pump golden blood through the freeway veins of Toronto. The veins ran through the dark and feed into the glowing, pulsing organs of activity that I used to be a part of.

Canada is the body I understand. I know it’s aesthetic; from the poutine that Eugene Bouchard’s mother picks up at Montreal’s Gibeau Orange Julep, to the need to apologize for someone else bumping into you. I know not to eat the devil spawn they call Coffee Crisp, to not question what precisely constitutes “all dressed”, and that despite French being on every product and sign, I will still be unable to understand it when trapped in a one way street in the suburbs of Quebec City.

In Canada I get the clusters of light the stream of cars pump into. I understand it. And as I say goodbye to all I understand, I leave with the same trepidation, nervousness, and excitement that comes with exploring a new partner for the first time.

Madrid will be the new place I crawl into the skin of, the place I seek the new map of golden veins, the hubs of life I attempt to insert myself into. I’ll get to understand it’s likes and dislikes, it’s favourite food, lifestyle, and sense of humour. It’s dating someone new with all that entails.

Sure I’ll miss Canada, I’ll miss the familiar and routine, despite it being less sexy, but it’s time for a break and to see other people.

After all, if everyone stayed together for the sake of the familiarity there would be way less divorces. And like the next white suburban upper middle class pseudo-intellectual, I do appreciate a good divorce.

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The Farewell Five – AKA NO MORE GOODBYE DINNERS I BEG OF YOU

Countdown to lift-off: 3 days

With my flight right around the corner not only have I started to have miniature panic attacks at the sight of suitcases, but it has finally set in that I’ll be apart for eight months from… my dogs.

My dad keeps trying to hug me close as he gets weepy and, while god I’ll miss my family too, I just beeline it for my favourite pooch Jack and suffocate him in affection. Since the dogs are too dumb to understand the logistics of Skype (or to not eat their own poo) I’m probably going to miss him and my other dog Maggie the most. God damn it.

It’s all starting to sink in that I’m really leaving. I’ve got my travel adaptors, my backpacking backpack (Osprey Farpoint 55L), enough maple candies to give cavities to an entire country, and the most telltale sign is that the goodbyes have started.

Oh god, have they started.

I’m super thankful that I have enough people in my life to warrant all these goodbyes, it’s a sign that I’m truly lucky. The only issue is THERE ARE SO MANY GOODBYE MEALS. So many. Since I’m going to be leaving to a country with a different cuisine, people keep encouraging me to eat worse and worse foods. Perhaps even worse is I’ve started to adopt that mindset.

“Eh, what’s a fourth Tim Hortons jalapeño bagel with herb and garlic cream cheese going to do? We both know there won’t be Tim Hortons in Spain.”

“Come on, eat that mint Aero bar, who knows when you’ll see it again?”

“Sure have a whole bag of party-sized all dressed chips is bad but it’s so Canadian.”

Oh god I’m going to die without these hooked up to an IV.

I’ve been eating like a bear storing up for a Canadian hibernation. It’s not just me though, like I mentioned I’ve been taken on so many goodbye meals with so many fattening dishes that I’m putting on what I have dubbed “The Farewell Five”. It’s the five pounds you gain before leaving the country on a long trip where everyone thinks you are going to die and fattens you up with Jane Bond’s Fat Ass Grilled Cheese (I mean look at the god damn name) and Cora’s inhuman omelette portions (amongst other things). 

I’ll end up waddling into my Getafe residence and then will gain a second round of the “Freshman Fifteen” from the cafeteria food.

On a slightly unrelated tangent—because who needs logical order in these posts anyways—my Spanish is going splendidly.

I recently reblogged this post:

“i want a blowjob”

quiero una biblia

“call a prostitute”

llama a la monja

“where is the strip club”

donde esta la iglesia

“i want to get laid”

quiero leer la palabra de dios

With the caption “the only Spanish I’ll need to know“… with no ounce of sarcasm. For those of you who, like me, have zero Spanish knowledge past mumbled attempts at singing Enrique Iglesias, each of the “translations” are really religious references. For example, I’ve been informed that the “I want to get laid” line is translated to “I want to read the word of God”. Fuck.

I would be religious too if this was where you read the word of God.

I’ve signed up for an intensive course (but will be missing the first, most important day due to La Tomatina) and I also have the Spanish semester course, but jesus it was a harsh reminder of just how far I have to go.

So with all that being said… I’ll try and fit a few more posts in as I settle into lift in Madrid but with the courses and the chaos I’ll be lucky to sit down and write some cheesy fiction, never mind a semi-intelligence blog post. Although on further consideration “intelligent” has never really been my style.

Ladies and gentlemen, and all you lovely non-binary people, cue the dramatic music! Only three days left… and I’m still trying to figure out how to stuff my dog into my carry on and get through border security. If you have any tips, let me know.

 

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Madrid exchange is a go — AKA breaking down to Shakira at work

Countdown to lift-off: 73 days

Seriously, it looks the exact same.

Look, it’s Daenerys in the red waste with her khalasar!

I will admit something I never thought I’d utter. Today I starting crying at my desk to Shakira. Thank god my supervisor was off this week so I could mop up my pathetic, latin music induced tears on my “dress-down-Friday” sweater. With a crappy tea in one hand and my dignity quickly slipping through the other, I sat there crying to “Te Dejo Madrid” by Shakira in what was supposed to be my own little happy celebration regarding the email I received this morning.

“Dear Student, 

Congratulations for your admission at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid as an international student!”

I was too cozy in the cocoon of warm blankets and too cranky at 7am to really process what the hell I’d just read. So it wasn’t until I played upbeat Shakira at my desk in an attempt to really bring it home that the full weight of what had happened dropped on me. I was looking at the collage of my family, friends, and my dogs when I realized… holy shit, this is really happening. I’m actually going to be living away from everything I know, alone, in a country I don’t speak the language and then will be travelling by myself for an extra two or three months.

Feel free to laugh. I mean the Shakira alone was ridiculous, but the concept of someone who loves travelling getting upset over doing just that would seem ludicrous to a more seasoned traveller. I invite you though to think of your own youth, or for those who are still young to imagine the future.

There is a time, I believe, in every life where some sort of monumental change is about to occur. You can sense it as if the feeling of foreboding could be physical and crawl under your skin. It’s a little like when you are outside and see large, dark rain clouds rolling in. Even if you love the rain there is a feeling that there is something larger than you, something big and potentially scary that looms over you, charging the very atmosphere. The choice you are left with is whether to take cover or to dance in the rain.

That’s how I feel right now as I enter the stage of starting to prep student visas and look into flights. Those clouds are rolling in and I can feel it and even though I love the rain the temptation to run for cover is there.

What if I can’t pick up the language and I’m lost in some back alley in Gran Vía, with an abuela screaming at me in Spanish? Or what happens if I’m so homesick I end up having a mental break down in the middle of a supermarket the moment I see maple syrup? Worst of all… what if my mother’s prophecies are true and I’m to end up as a skin suit for the real Buffalo Bill?

The face of my future imminent breakdown.

The face of my future imminent breakdown.

And yet… at the same time another part of me is screaming that this is my chance to experience the world. PUT ON YOUR BIG GIRL BOOTS AND LEARN THAT YOU CAN HANDLE ANYTHING! Stolen passport? Psh, you got it. Lost? So last year. Making new friends despite your crippling shyness when first meeting people? Eh, okay, maybe not anything.

Despite all my fears and apprehension about moving to Madrid, I want to dance in the rain (to extend an overextended metaphor). I want to take this experience for what it will be and milk it for all it’s worth. If I’m going to be stuck in Reykjavik for a twenty hour layover on my way home you better damn well believe I’ll be going to the Blue Lagoon. Life is too damn short to spend it worrying about the “what if”s, no matter how cliched it may sound. So screw it! I’m officially going to Madrid in 73 days and I’m going to enjoy it! ¿Entender?

And in the end if everything goes wrong, I will at least have the chance to become an alcoholic off of red sangrias.

Hello darkness my old friend.

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Body-Slamming Spanish Cuisine

Countdown to lift-off: 131 days

I’m not yet close enough to my departure for Madrid to be focusing on packing, getting visas, or any of that other boring and mandatory crap. Instead I get to do what I always love to do: over prepare to the point of insanity.

When the first Hunger Games movie came out in theatres in true mimesis form my friends and I—a bunch of then 18-year-olds—went around the parking lot after the movie pretending to impale each with arrows and ranting about how long we’d live. It came down to my friend Matt living the longest because of his bloodlust and ability to disappear for months at a time. Where did I rank and how does this have to do with travelling? Hush sweet reader, for I shall get there soon. For myself I loudly proclaimed I, with my ambition, patience and inflated sense of self worth, would surely get to the final four. “Oh no”, they claimed, “Christ, you wouldn’t even make it out of the cornucopia.” I demanded an explanation only to be told, “You’d rush right into the cornucopia and proceed to try and pack everything into your bag until you were gutted. You’d totally be like “wait, I may need these five different throwing daggers, this camp stove, maybe a spear—no wait, I totally will need two spears incase one gets lost”.”

On evaluation it was scarily accurate.

I’m sure there are many other people out there who have a similar problem and would be helicopter lifted out of the cornucopia along with me. As a previous entry mentioned, this really does bleed into my style of travelling and pre-travel planning.

So with Spain finally in my vision I am currently at the cornucopia of knowledge, shoving every fact I can into my hideous metaphorical fanny pack. My current unhealthy obsession is…

GIVE ME BOOKS ON CHEESE, GIVE ME WEBPAGES ON COOKING SCHOOLS IN MADRID, PLEASE SPANISH FOOD GODS LET ME DEVOUR EVERY PIECE OF KNOWLEDGE ON SPANISH CUISINE. I WANT TO DEVOUR SO MUCH PAELLA MY STOMACH SPLITS OPEN, I MUST DINE IN BOTIN, FEED ME JAMÓN AND PULPO A LA GALLEGA.

Ahem.

I’m pretty fucking stoked to be able to write about the food while I’m there, but in the meantime I’m going to mention some of the resources I’ve been ploughing through recently in preparation for the Spanish portion of my eight months abroad (Italy and Germany will be next on my hit list).

The first book I bought, which is applicable to all of my stops, is the “Food Lovers Guide To The World” by Lonely Planet. It is a fantastic resource with recipes, recommended culinary pitstops, where to find the best of the best along with food-related festivals in each of the areas it reviews.

Here is the introduction page for Spain, giving an idea of the super pretty pictures and information. (As a note, I will probably be including a few recipes from these books in a later post!)

And here you will note my bed duvet. First my home and now my sheets... I dare say our relationship is getting pretty serious.

And here you will note my bed duvet. First my home and now my sheets… I dare say our relationship is getting pretty serious.

The next thing I slit open my wallet and shook it’s near empty contents onto a counter for was “Spain: Recipes and Traditions from the Verdant Hills of the Basque Country to the Costal Waters of Andalucía” by Jeff Koehler.

 

The photos in this book are incredible and while it may not have the level of information that the Food Lovers book does, it has so, so many recipes.

Look how colourful and pretty!

Look how colourful and pretty!

This is of course on top of web resources like About.com and Spain’s Official Tourism Website. I also bought “Cheese for Dummies” and have been studying up on different Spanish cheeses (who can believe that there is more than just manchego!?). If you have any other awesome books on Spanish cuisine of any kind, please do tell! This of course is on top of struggling, emphasis on struggling, to learn Spanish through Duolingo¿El perro come un niño? I fear for when I’ll ever need to use this sentence.

Pretty much in the past few weeks since I finished my huge chunk of exams I have been trying to really learn as much as I can about Spain, with a giant emphasis on its food. The only downside is the more I learn about their food, the more I begin to hate Canada and our lack of a cultural cuisine presence. Sure Madrid isn’t as fancy with their cocino and stews but it sure as hell beats poutine, maple syrup and ketchup chips (shhh, I’m so sorry poutine I don’t mean any of it). Then again, perhaps it is all about perspective. Having worked with many ESL students at my past job it’s surprising to hear about people studying up on so-called “Canadian cuisine” before coming here with the same fervour as I am currently studying Spanish cuisine. Maybe… just maybe… if I spent this much time learning about my own country I could learn about all the great foods that Canada has to offer….

Nah.

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5 places every Canadian should visit

Regardless of where you go in the world, so long as you have a Canadian flag sewn on your pack, you are pretty much guaranteed to be treated well — it’s not a secret that many Americans have taken to sewing our maple leaf all over their gear in order to sneak under the radar.

Some places, though, are extra special to us Canadians, and as a Canuck you are almost morally obligated to visit them at least once in your lifetime. Plus, even if you aren’t Canadian, they’re still awesome places to visit.

The Netherlands

Source: http://www.wallpaperstop.com/

After housing the Dutch royal family from German occupation in World War II and having one of their princesses born in Ottawa, Canadians liberated the Netherlands from the Nazis and thus the two countries became friends.

Canadians not only liberated the country, but also provided air drops to areas cut off from food by the German forces, and after the liberation moved in to bring much needed supplies to the troops.

Every year the Netherlands sends thousands of tulips to our country as a continued thanks for our help.

Vimy Ridge

Source: www.warhistoryonline.com

The Battle of Vimy Ridge occurred when Canada got tired of being in Britain’s shadow, kicked some butt, and became all-around badasses. We created new artillery tactics and stood on our own with all four of our divisions finally united, all while under heavy fire.

Vimy became a symbol of the birth of Canada as a nation, and going to pay your respects to the thousands of Canadians who fought and died there is something every Canadian should do.

Laura Secord’s Homestead (Niagara-on-the-Lake)

Source: http://www.niagaraparks.com/

Not only is Niagara-on-the-Lake beautiful, but it is also the location of Laura Secord’s house.

Who is she other than the face on that delicious chocolate? She is the woman who helped alert the British of an American attack during the war of 1812 by walking 20 miles through American-occupied territory. Although her story has become something of myth at this point, she is still an important part of our history. (Anne of Green Gables’ house in PEI is also just as valid a choice.)

Turks and Caicos

Source: http://4photos.net/

Last year there was a proposal sent out by an Albertan MP proposing that the British-owned islands Turks and Caicos should unite with Canada to become our 11th province.

Obviously that didn’t happen, but it still isn’t quite off the table yet, nor is it a new idea. In fact, the idea has been tossed around for almost 100 years, starting in 1917. Even in 2004, Nova Scotia voted unanimously to invite the islands to join. So go visit the beaches and get a small taste of what could have been, and what may still be.

Cuba

Source: http://latour.com/

Americans aren’t allowed to go to Cuba, and that’s reason enough to go and rub it in their faces while smoking Cuban cigars and exploring this fascinating country.

(Posted originally in my IMPRINT column “A Broad Abroad”)