Experiencing Mystical Landscapes in a City Centre

(I did not take photos of the paintings and the ones I am using do not do the colours or texture of the real things justice – this exhibition is a must see)

cropThis past Tuesday, Chris and I had afternoon plans in Toronto so we decided to make a bit of a day out of it. We live approximately an hour away from the city and don’t go downtown very often. I am someone who really loves her hometown and usually visits small town antique stores rather than busy city boutiques – this only makes my treks to Toronto all the more special.

Since late October, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) has been hosting an exhibit called Mystical Landscapes: Masterpieces from Monet, Van Gogh and more. I hadn’t been to the gallery in over five years and was so excited to see the temporary collection, I was also thrilled to be going with Chris who had never gone before. We caught a train into the city just before 10:00 am and did a crossword together for the majority of the ride.

Fun Fact: I love crosswords and keep a pen in my purse just in case I happen upon one.

When we arrived at Union Station, we went upstairs to the Pilot Coffee stand where Chris bought me a hot chocolate (a child at heart) and a coffee for himself. We took our warm drinks and headed to the subway to save time. We rode the University line to St. Patrick and walked the short distance to the AGO.

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Chris and I pre-Mystical experience.

After getting our tickets and checking our coats, we climbed the stairs to the Mystical Landscape exhibition. We chose not to opt-in for audio headsets; although the audio files are educational, I find that they can take away from the viewing experience. Instead, Chris and I moved to the paintings at our own pace, viewed them in our own order, shared discussions, and read the descriptions of pieces that we liked.

The spaces were dim with picture perfect gallery lights that highlighted the masterpieces that were hung on the wall. It was incredible. The rooms were packed with art lovers, listening to their audio sets, and taking in the different forms of expression. I was so excited to see pieces that I had once studied in art history books displayed right in front of me. As soon as

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Vision of the Sermon (1888) – Paul Gaugin

we walked in, I saw Paul Gaugin’s Vision of the Sermon (1888) to our left and couldn’t wait to see more. The first room really started the collection off with a bang, there were famous paintings that I recognized every few feet. Claude Monet pieces were outstanding, I hadn’t imagined them to be so large! as a fan of impressionism, I couldn’t get enough of the colourful shading in person, you could really see the flecks of warm colours mixing with the blues and purples to represent

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Haystack, Sunset (1891) – Claude Monet

shadows – no use of black. Two of Monet’s haystack paintings were there and were a favourite of mine, but they also had some water lilies and two of the Rouen Cathedral series (allowing us to see his practise of painting the same building at various times of the day for light and colour study).

One section featured four or five different artists that depicted scenes from World War I (WWI) – Chris deemed this the Battlefield 1 display. My favourite WWI themed painting was Frederick Varley’s Gas Chamber at Seaford (1918) and Chris’ was Felix Vallotton’s Verdun (1917). It’s always fascinating to see artists’ drastically diverse interpretations, as well as how subjective viewer’s tastes are. I really enjoyed seeing which pieces Chris liked and thought about how great it would be to study a person’s psychology based on artistic preferences. If this already exists, please lead me to a link for further reading!

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Left: Gas Chamber at Seaford (1918) – Frederick Varley | Right:Verdun (1917) – Felix Vallotton

Without a doubt, the most anticipated and most enjoyable painting to see was Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night over the Rhone at Arles (1888). It was incredible to stand mere feet away from the colourful textured strokes

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Starry Night over the Rhone at Arles (1888) – Vincent Van Gogh

that are much more beautiful in person than they are in any art history textbooks. I pointed to the man and woman in the bottom right corner and told Chris that they were us and we should paint our dog Summit in. We made sure that we really allowed ourselves to take the piece in because it’s quite likely that we’ll never get to see it in person again.

If you are in or near Toronto before February 12, 2017 (the last day of the exhibition), I strongly encourage you to see Mystical Landscapes. You will not be disappointed, it was truly exceptional.

Other favourites (see below) between Chris and I were: Henri Sidaner’s Moonlight, Bruges (1900); Eugene Jansson’s Dawn over Riddarfjärden (1899), Edvard Munch’s The Sun (1909); Lawren Harris’ Decorative Landscape (1917); and Georgia O’Keeffe’s Red Hills, Lake George (1927).

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Moonlight, Bruges (1900) – Henri Sidaner
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Dawn over Riddarfjaren (1899) – Eugene Jansson
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The Sun (1909) – Edvard Munch
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Decorative Landscape (1917) – Lawren Harris
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Red Hills, Lake George (1927) – Georgia O’Keefe
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Struggling with SAD-ness: Blue Monday and Maintaining Mental Health

(Today’s featured image/header is a self-portrait painting I did in highschool when I was 16, acrylics on canvas)

As “Blue Monday” has come and gone this week, I think about the significance of maintaining one’s mental health.

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Blue Monday formula above.

The term Blue Monday was actually coined in 2005 by Sky Travel, a company looking to boost sales for destinations with warmer temperatures. It is believed that Sky Travel hired a university lecturer to come up with “a pseudo-mathematical formula to pinpoint the most depressing day of the year: he combined weather, debt, time since Christmas, motivation levels, the need to take action, and time since New Year’s resolutions were made.” There is no actual scientific evidence that the third Monday in January is the most depressing day of the year, but maybe that’s okay.

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Self-portrait I painted as a teenager when I was feeling down.

Although Blue Monday is somewhat of a recent notion, it doesn’t make it any less of an annual tradition – people still celebrate Valentines Day, Labour Day, and in Canada we now have Family Day in February! As time passes, people will likely start to care less about the history and more about the positive associations and memories that come with Blue Monday. The label encourages people to put effort into their happiness and check in on one’s mood. Sometimes being reminded that other people are also experiencing hard times can make someone feel better – feel less alone. Mental health is a difficult thing to measure in quantifiable terms, so finding scientific evidence of the most depressing day of the year would prove to be difficult as well.

 

Seasonal Affective Disorder
“Weather often affects people’s moods. Sunlight breaking through clouds can lift our spirits, while a dull, rainy day may make us feel a little gloomy. While noticeable, these shifts in mood generally do not affect our ability to cope with daily life. Some people, however, are vulnerable to a type of depression that follows a seasonal pattern. For them, the shortening days of late autumn are the beginning of a type of clinical depression that can last until spring. This condition is called “Seasonal Affective Disorder,” or SAD.” – Canadian Mental Health Association

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) acknowledges what is called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which could realistically be connected to the origins of Blue Monday. Approximately 10% of Canada’s population is affected by the reduction of sunlight in our winter months. This means that Sky Travel’s creation of Blue Monday was capturea brilliant PR move – a quick solution to combat SAD is to hop on a flight to an all-inclusive beach resort and soak up some rays. However, taking a last-minute vacation isn’t in the cards for everyone, especially after an expensive December.

Like the capitalist society that we are, other corporations have jumped on board the Blue Monday bandwagon. Discounts, sales, or one day deals actually help us afford to treat ourselves, even if it’s something small. For example, I got an email from Cineplex last week informing me that my Scene points would be worth double (get a movie ticket for half the amount of scene points) for one day only, for Blue Monday.


collage1.jpgI asked my mom if she wanted to come see
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with me (second time for myself, first time for her) and she was an obvious yes. We ate dinner at home, picked up some grapefruit coolers for after the movie, and went to check out of reality for a couple hours at the theatre.

We did girls-night right:

I think that it’s important to live a balanced lifestyle, or try to at least because I don’t know anyone who has actually mastered this art. We all have a lot going on and you need to remember that as amazing as other people’s lives may look on social media, they’re not perfect either. That’s why this particular capitalist-created day of the year isn’t all that bad. Embrace the concept of taking care of yourself, there are many affordable (or even free) ways to actively work at keeping happy. Start a pinterest board that you can go to when feeling down, one of things that make you happy as well as ideas of free ways to cheer yourself up!

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Sacchan the mysterious and overweight japanese dog from my favourite video.

What are some small things that you do to make yourself smile and maintain your happiness? For me, I look at an excessive amount of dog photos and videos. I’ll finish this week off with my current favourite dog video, enjoy!

 

 

Travelling Together: My Top 3 Dream Destinations

Occasionally my husband and I buy a lottery ticket, then we talk about living out our dreams stress-free and smile about all the what ifs.

Some of those aspirations are to:

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    Screenshot of Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary’s Facebook page.

    build our ideal home on a waterfront property somewhere in Canada

  • open a senior dog sanctuary similar to Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary in Tennessee
  • have all the time in the world to work on our hobbies
  • travel together

Seeing new parts of the world seems to be a common thing on people’s bucket lists, but maybe an explorative nature comes with the personality of someone who creates things like bucket lists.

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Photo of Chris and I in Barcelona.

Chris and I come from very different vacation backgrounds, but we generally have similar interests in destinations. Chris travels for work, but it isn’t the same as vacationing. He often visits places that aren’t exactly being raved about on a top ten guide, he’s currently in Guwahati, India. He also grew up travelling to parts of Europe to visit family whereas we drove 17-19 hours to New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to see grandparents and cousins. Chris’ total countries visited adds up to a number over 50 vs. my total of 3 (Canada, the United States, and our honeymoon destination in Spain). Although our travel experiences are very different, our destination dreams line up: explore together, have fun, and create lasting memories.

So where do I want to travel to?

Here are my current top 3 dream destinations:


New Zealand

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Photo from Natural Habitat Adventures and WWF

Things to do: LOTR fan fun; visit the toothbrush fence; Zorbing
Things to consider: Flights are expensive; it takes a long time to get there; don’t rush

I have wanted to travel to New Zealand since The Lord of The Rings (LOTR): The Fellowship of the Ring was released in 2001. Amazingly, I had just started reading the series (my dad’s copies from the 1970s) article-1302835-0ac849a2000005dc-845_634x338when Peter Jackson announced the plans to the film the trilogy. I was over the moon excited to see the hobbits, wizards, dwarves, elves, and orcs come to life on screen (I definitely fell in love with Legolas immediately since he was basically a real-life Link from Zelda). Even at the young age of eleven I recognized the beauty of Middle Earth – the beauty of New Zealand. I can’t wait to see the rolling hills, snowy mountains, and the sheep that inhabit former hobbit homes in person someday.17211534

When I met Chris, he introduced me to his favourite television program Flight of the Conchords. This comedy show only heightened my interest in all things New Zealand as the main characters hailed from the country and the show poked fun of New Zealand’s innocence with parodic posters. Chris has yet to travel there and we’d both love to take a looksee at the famous toothbrush fence in between LOTR/nature walks and other Wellywood adventures.


 

Trans-Siberian Railway (TSR)

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Photo from Nomadic Expeditions

Things to do: Enjoy the views; stop to smell the metaphorical Russian roses; make friends
Things to consider: Plan A LOT; get the right visas; do your homework; lack of privacy

This one is on the list largely for my husband, he has absolutely convinced me that this would be an amazing trip, but it is one that is a huge commitment. The Man in Seat 61 recently wrote a very detailed post about transsib-train-dirk-_0.jpgeverything you need to know if you want to plan you TSR adventure – you should definitely check it out! You need to be prepared to sit a lot, to enjoy the view, and to pack light. Getting off the train is an important part to enjoying and actually experiencing the different places that you are passing, but there are periods of time where you may be on the train for up to 24 hours or more.

It’s not known for its romantic atmosphere, but more so for its accomplishment in going the distance – the Trans-Siberian Railway spans across ten time zones and continues through Russia, Mongolia, and China. This is an adventure for a low maintenance traveler looking to complete an impressive goal in life.

Suggested articles:
Trans-Siberian Railway: Best Cities to Visit
Everything you need to know about booking a trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway
Surviving the Trans-Siberian Railway


 

Iceland

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Things to do: Soak in the Blue Lagoon; walk in black sand; camp under the Northern Lights
Things to consider: Cheap flights, but expensive once there; cute hostels; time of the year

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Blue Lagoon Geothermal Spa with a bar to swim up to and everything!

It is only within these last several years that Iceland has become a dream destination for me, Chris and I have been talking about going there for almost four years now. Chris has technically been to Iceland on a few separate occasions for work stopovers, but he really wants to take me there. He told me about the Blue Lagoon/natural hot springs that are said to be good for aches and pains, then Google did the rest of the convincing: Northern Lights, if you go at the right time of the year); black volcanic sand; Icelandic ponies; puffins; and towns that are fit to be picturesque jigsaw puzzles. The country’s natural beauty is of the same level as New Zealand, but it’s much closer to Canada which is a bonus in terms of flight costs and travel time.

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Atlas of Wonders goes over where Star Wars: Rogue One was filmed, noting that the fictional planet Eadu is actually a southern Icelandic landscape.

If you’re a pop culture buff like me, then you’ll also love that many popular film and television productions have used the land for filming locations. The long list includes personal favourites of mine such as Star Wars: Rogue One and Game of Thrones. Attracting fantasy and science fiction genre productions is another of Iceland’s similarities to New Zealand, I believe that this is because their beauty is surreal and fanciful. I look forward to the day where we can live it up in Reykjavik before renting a vehicle and camping across the country (our almost honeymoon choice before we decided on Barcelona).

PS. Watch one of my favourite documentaries, The Final Member, and maybe you’ll also want to visit The Icelandic Phallological Museum!


Where are some of the best places that you’ve travelled to? Where are some places that you want to go? Let me know some of your thoughts and maybe you’ll convince me to add it to my own travel-to-do list.

Honeymoon Part 9 – (Barcelona) Wednesday, August 24, 2016 – Day 8 + Day 9 flight home:

This is the ninth entry in a series of posts featuring our Barcelona Honeymoon Adventure!


10196 Steps

Our last full day in Barcelona was a quiet one. We spent time in the apartment all morning and went out for lunch. Chris and I went to Placa de Reial and realized that we hadn’t gone down one of the attached side streets, which was odd since we had been down all the others.

This took us in a new direction and we found a really nice restaurant called La Castanya. The owners seemed passionate and the food was presented beautifully. Portions were smaller, but the quality of the food made such a big impact that it really did make up for quantity. We loved our lunch and decided it would be our fancy meal of the day instead of our dinner and that we’d get sandwiches from Conesa’s and watch Game of Thrones for the night.

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Photo by Chris Bowman.

After lunch we wandered the streets looking for the store that I’d bought a purse at on the third day so that I could get the name, but we were unsuccessful. We had officially been in Barcelona for over a week and had walked down small streets in our neighbourhood so many times that you’d think the store would be easy for us to find – but it wasn’t.

There are so many side streets there, the places look familiar and we were definitely able to say that we had been to many of the streets before. The issue is that a lot of the streets look very similar in style: they wind beautifully; tower above us with balconies, window railings, clotheslines, and shingled rooftops; they are littered with graffitied doors next to elegant entryways; and many connect to open squares surrounded by eateries. Each street has its own beauty, but they do get a bit confusing when you are actually looking for something you “stumbled upon” just one week earlier.

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Photo by Chris Bowman.

 

We had small servings of gelato, wandered a bit more and went to our apartment. I read Pride and Prejudice while Chris napped. We then had the quiet night that we had planned for consisting of sandwiches and Game of Thrones. Not only was I excited to get home to Canada, but my friend Caitlin Currie had sent me a selection of sneak peak photos from our wedding that I loved. I slept a total of three hours that night.

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Instagram post of our sneak peak wedding photos by Caitlin Currie.

(Barcelona) Thursday August 25, 2016 – Day 9:

               We woke at 6:45am and got ready faster than Chris had thought we would. We waited until 8:00am to descend the steep four fight staircase one last time and got a cab on Las Ramblas. Our cab driver was a really nice guy, he told us how popular Arcade Fire (an amazing Canadian band) is in Barcelona and that tickets were sold out when he tried to get them the last time they were here.

Although the flight was longer because of the time difference, it went by the slightest bit faster than it did on the way there. I slept for a half hour, but aside from that Chris and I watched Weekend at Bernie’s, The ‘F’ Word (released as What If in most countries), we read, we played chess, and we eventually arrived in Toronto. We were home.

After hours of customs lines and a long cab ride… we were home.

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Daq wearing her new Catalonia bandana from us.

Honeymoon Part 8 – Tuesday, August 23, 2016 – Day 7:

This is the eighth entry in a series of posts featuring our Barcelona Honeymoon Adventure!


7465 Steps

I woke up feeling hopeful and excited that today going to the Picasso Museum would become a reality, but was still unsure of how big of a line there might be on a regular day. We arrived 15 minutes before the place opened and there were only eight other people ahead of us – this was extremely pleasing! By the 9:00am opening time, there were approximately 50 people in line behind us.

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Me in front of the museum before it opened.

The building was beautiful inside, very rustic and castle-like with modern windows and doors built into existing structures. First, we walked through the temporary exhibition which consisted of nearly 100 different Picasso ink prints, mostly dating from the late 1950s and onward. It would have been better if the temporary collection was to be seen last for Chris’ sake, I told him that once he saw what Picasso was capable of he’d respect his more simplistic cubism a little more.

The museum’s main collection is laid out chronologically with small bits of biological information told on the walls going room from room. Chris and I enjoyed reading each bio-blurb that added to Picasso’ life story. These facts definitely added to the viewing experience as we were able to then look for influences in his style within the paintings. Picasso’s artistic capabilities at age 14 were incredible, it makes sense that he got bored of controlled line and colour work and explored freer forms. As a much less accomplished artist myself, I admire his ability to stray from the ordinary and contradict normalcy.

The recommended viewing order of the collection flows as follows: first the rooms take you through stages by location of where he was living at the time, how geography and culture affected his style; then of course through his blue and rose periods; back to Barcelona; and lastly by differing subjects, muses, and series’. It was a really wonderful length and size of gallery that allowed us to see everything displayed without getting bored or tired. I was, however, disappointed not to see Guernica in person, but learned that it is actually housed in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid, Spain.

Chris and I left feeling very content and discussed Picasso’s different visual interpretations of vaginas, penis’, bums, and boobs. Chris and I are both adults with strong childish sides, so there was definitely some pointing of fingers and smiles when we looked at Picasso’s print work that resembles a cartoon-esque style of exaggerated nudes. We walked back to our apartment and had a nap.

This was the point in our trip where we had seen everything that we had planned on seeing and didn’t want to spend much more money. We loved loved loved Barcelona, but it was at this moment that we both admitted we were looking forward to returning home to Canada. Living ‘authentically,’ and by that I mean in a small fourth floor apartment with a somewhat shared space and no air conditioning, is seen as charming for a trip like ours, but our home in Canada is what we love more. We look forward to returning to suburbia, we miss our dog Daq most of all, but we also miss the smell of the air, our friends and family, our personal items that we spend our leisure time with.

 

After our nap we had a bit of normalcy, I lounged in bed re-reading Pride and Prejudice for hours while Chris browsed the computer and watched a documentary.

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We had plans to go to Messie Pizza again for dinner. We took the metro and walked the several blocks only to discover with a laugh that it was closed! A sign on the door said that they’d be closed until September 2, likely gone on holiday. Hungry and thirsty, we stopped at a convenience store to get water and a snack while we looked for another place. Many restaurants seemed to be closed and the ones we inquired about could not guarantee gluten free.

We took the metro back to our temporary neighbourhood and got McDonalds, brought it to the apartment, and binge watched Game of Thrones. I was perfectly content with how the night ended as it felt a bit like home, somewhere we would return to in a couple days.

Honeymoon Part 7 – Monday, August 22, 2016 – Day 6:

This is the seventh entry in a series of posts featuring our Barcelona Honeymoon Adventure!


14489 Steps:

We woke up a little earlier than usual, but still slept in compared to our normal routine in Canada. I had been awake for an hour or so earlier in the morning after having nightmares about Daq’s health, I felt a bit better when I saw that my mom had posted cheery pictures of her and Daq at a dog park from the previous day.

 

We took the subway to Glorias and walked the very short distance to a massive flea market called Encants Vells or Mercat de Bellcaire. It’s a great place to outfit your apartment or get fabric for making your own clothes as a local. As English speaking Canadians, the market vendors very obviously tried to charge us high prices. I also found that the items that would be able to fit into our suitcase were either mass produced or a collection of overpriced vintage knick knacks.

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Mirrored ceiling covering the multiple level Mercat de Bellcaire, photo by Chris Bowman.

I would like to emphasize the power of walking away at the first price. It is very common to be overcharged at these places even if they don’t think you’re a tourist and if you ask for a price, say no thank you, and start walking away – the price will drop almost every time.

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Arc de Triomf, photo by Chris Bowman.

After walking around, we took the subway to Arc de Triomf. Chris claims that the French version is much larger, but this being my first Arc, I thought it quite tall and quite beautiful. I suggest going to this area if you love parks. Around the Arc is a long stretch of plaza lined with palm trees and benches. We ate our lunch here in the shade. We saw a nearby park and decided to take a walk, some museums are in there as well, but didn’t seem to be open on a Monday. We realized we were closer to our apartment than we thought and walked the rest of the way, finding some interesting shops to look as we went.

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Arc de Triomf, photo by Chris Bowman.

We relaxed and drank wine at the apartment. We dressed fancy for a dinner date at a place that we’d heard of called Tapeo, but when Chris looked up their location we discovered that neither of us had checked to see if it was open, and apparently they are closed Mondays.

This leads me to a helpful hint for Barcelona travelers: constantly research where you’re going. We learnt that many stores, restaurants, and most museums are closed on Mondays here. We didn’t want to change and decided to wander our neighbourhood to look for an intimate restaurant.

There are a large number of restaurants in Barcelona, but most weren’t as fancy or romantic as what we had wanted for our date night. We finally stopped at a less than authentic, yet upscale eatery attached to a posh boutique hotel. The restaurant was called Le Bouchon, it was decorated nicely, had delicious tapas, and moderately higher price tags, but we didn’t stay too long as most things were not guaranteed to be free of cross-contaminated gluten.

With some food in our stomachs we continued to wander in hopes that we would find another romantic tapas place that was also, as Chris said and I agreed, “not too big and not too full of people.” We gave up, with many places being closed on Mondays, we retreated to a random casual tapas bar, much too overdressed and tired. We ate a bit more and headed back to the apartment as we needed to wake up for 7:00am to get in line for Picasso!

Photos from our walk back to the apartment:

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Neat building that we passed on our walk to our apartment, photo by Chris Bowman.
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Photo by Chris Bowman.

 

Honeymoon Part 6 – (Barcelona) Sunday, August 21, 2016 – Day 5:

This is the sixth entry in a series of posts featuring our Barcelona Honeymoon Adventure!


12530 steps:

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Read their policies on the bottom right! Photo by Chris Bowman.

We woke up late today not feeling 100%, but still planning on having tons of fun in Barcelona. The fun night we had was definitely worth it, but we were paying for it now (haha).

 

We got ready and walked to a café that we’d read about online. Chris, being a major coffee buff, was dying to try the place out. It was a quick walk from where we were staying and was very cool inside (not temperature wise, they didn’t have air conditioning). The place is called Satan’s Coffee. Our barista had a very awesome anatomical heart tattoo on her right forearm that had splashes of colour, she was also very nice. Chris enjoyed his coffee, I enjoyed two bottles of water, and then we were off.

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Satan’s Coffee, photo by Chris Bowman.

We walked to the subway, took two quick rail lines (green and red), and walked a little more than a block to get to a brunch place that we’d researched that provided gluten free options called Copasetic. The service wasn’t amazing, but the décor and the taste was to die for. I had a Benedict, Chris had fried eggs, beans, and veggies – both tasted incredible and we were very full when we finished.

Our plan was to head back to the apartment and go to the Picasso Museum. Every Sunday after 3:00pm this museum is free which is why we waited until today to go. I was so excited! We walked the 15-20 minute walk from our apartment and then we saw the line.

It was a line to conquer all other lines that have come before it. We immediately knew we didn’t want to stand in it, but walked along the way to see just how long it went on for – it was insane. The line was longer than any that I’ve ever seen at Wonderland, but about as equal to lines to get into Toronto’s FanExpo. It would have been at least a three hour wait so we decided to go another day and that the entrance fee would be worth a shorter wait. The museum is closed Mondays, but back open on Tuesday so we designated this to be our new Picasso day.

When we got back to the apartment I was annoyed at myself for just how disappointed I was. I researched into other local museums and had hoped that we could visit the National Art Museum (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya)– it has the most gorgeous entrance and a rooftop viewpoint on top of all the beautiful pieces of art inside. BUT the nearest metro stop was a 22-minute walk from the building which seemed a little ridiculous. We were going to make Picasso happen, I just had to wait a little longer.

My bad mood needed a reset, I was hungover and disappointed which made me extremely grumpy. I did not want to be this way on our honeymoon so we had a nap (we’re big nappers).

When we woke up, I was feeling a lot better and we decided that today would be a much needed rest day. We planned to get fast food for dinner and watch “Game of Thrones” (GOT), Chris had been catching up and then we were to watch the latest season together. We walked to McDonalds at 7pm and got our food to go. We laid out our spread and set up an episode of GOT on the laptop. I thought to myself “This is awesome, what an amazing honeymoon” with zero sarcasm.

We had another –entirely different – perfect evening, this time being a lot more realistic and homey. We hung out in a very hot apartment eating fast food, and watching a binge worthy show. We researched for a gluten free gelato place nearby and walked to it. The place was called Gelaaati De Marco and was a 5-minute walk from us.

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The sun had gone down, there was a breeze blowing through the streets and we held hands as we casually strolled through Barceonla. I got one scoop of banana and another of dulce de lece, it was insanely delicious. Chris got banana, peach, and caramel, he loved his too. We sat in a square, sharing a one seater bench and admiring the dogs who passed by. Again, I thought to myself “perfect, this is perfect.”

When we finished the gelato we weren’t ready to head back quite yet so we took a longer walk through the streets and although we discovered some new ones, it was comforting to realize that I recognized the area more (I’m better than Chris for knowing where to go even though he won’t admit it).

We climbed the four flights of stairs for the fourth time that day and were completely content with ourselves. I took a shower, washed my face and we watched a comedy. “The Eric Andre Show” is one of Chris’ favourites that I used to strongly dislike, but now I somehow fully admit to loving, even when he grosses me out. We then found a John Mulaney (my favourite standup comedian) audio on Youtube and listened to it as we fell asleep. 

Possibly for the first time ever, I fell asleep before Chris. It was a beautiful day.

Honeymoon Part 5 – (Barcelona/Girona) Saturday, August 20, 2016 – Day 4:

This is the fifth entry in a series of posts featuring our Barcelona Honeymoon Adventure!


24605 steps:

We woke up early to start our train trek to Girona and rode the metro to Barcelona Sants railway station. We spoke with at least three different miserable employees who didn’t seem to care very much about helping us. We lucked into finding our train despite the lack of assistance we had been given with our mildly confusing train tickets.

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Exterior shot of the newer AVE RENFE train that we rode into Girona.

Our train was similar to those of Via Rail (Canadian) except that this train traveled a lot faster. Spain has a high-speed rail line, Alta Velocidad Española (AVE), which is run by RENFE – it made what was once an hour and a half train ride into merely 38 minutes. On the way to Girona, our train was shiny and new, but very hot inside. We took pictures of the train for our friend Ian who loves them.

Girona’s train station was gorgeous and obviously renovated within the last ten years. It was a lot less busy than the Barcelona station and the staff were much friendlier. Chris and I didn’t know where we were going, nor did we have a map of the city, but we assumed that the station must be moderately central and it turned out that the city had very helpful directional signs.

We walked into the city-centre and came across a set of old outdoor steps. We climbed them, and walked a few kilometers along what are known as “The Walls of Girona.” This upper path revealed a view of endless beauty in surreal cityscapes, but the walk itself looked as if it would never end. Chris and I went back down a set of stairs after some time and were still unable to see where it trailed off.

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At the top of the stairs before we walked the Walls of Girona, photo by Chris Bowman.
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I made Chris sit for a photo too, photo by Cassy Goulding.
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Chris with Girona houses in the distance, photo by Cassy Goulding.
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The Walls of Girona, photo by Chris Bowman.

My post-walk online research indicated that the history of the walls varies between websites. One site curator claimed that the walls were built “between the 11th and 15th century,” while another claimed that they were an “extension of the Roman walls during the medieval ages” and that they are remain as some “of the longest Carolingian walls in Europe (9th century).” 

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Beyond the walls, photo by Chris Bowman.
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Within the Walls of Girona, photo by Chris Bowman.
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Girona rooftops, photo by Chris Bowman.
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Photo by Chris Bowman.

The picturesque rooftops with mountainous backdrops were incredible – I highly recommend pushing yourself to walk along the walls so that you can see the combination of old and new architecture that exists in breathtaking Girona.

The centre of town contained many community squares and a multitude of expensive boutiques, but we excitedly happened upon a small vintage store amidst a collection of tourist shops. This unique establishment sold vintage books, antique knick knacks, and hilariously irrelevant postcards from the 1950s to today. The shop was called Portal Del Colleccionista and was run by a woman and her toddler – perfect store-keeps for the charming boutique.

For lunch, we searched for a supermarket and bought water, prosciutto, swiss cheese, a peach, and an apple. It was just right for us! We ate under a tree in a nearby square next to a statue of books. We then wandered the city streets and crossed many of Girona’s bridges, but the most beautiful and most famous bridge that we crossed was the Eifel Bridge, built by the Gustave Eifel before he built the Eifel Tower!

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View from the Eifel Bridge, photo by Chris Bowman.
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Eifel Bridge in the distance, photo by Chris Bowman.

Our day trip to Girona was a success and definitely worth the visit, but it was exhausting – some of the most walking we’d done on the trip so far. We headed back to Barcelona earlier than planned, wrote our postcards at the Girona train station while we waited for our train, and tried not to fall asleep as we zipped back across the country by train to the big city.

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The funny post cards we bought.

The intimidating stairwell to our apartment seemed even more challenging after Girona. Chris labeled the daily activity of climbing four flights of stairs as our “Thigh Thruster, Butt Buster, Calf Crusher.” We then drank some wine and listened to music in our apartment.

Spain’s time difference compared to Canada’s forced us to choose between enjoying our cultural environment or waking up in the middle of the night to watch the CBC live coverage of The Tragically Hip concert in Kingston, Ontario. We joked about how horrible it was that we were on our ‘stupid’ honeymoon in ‘stupid’ Spain instead of at home watching the Hip – heavy on the sarcasm here as we were completely aware of how lucky we were and found out Chris’ parents had PVR’d the concert on their TV so that we could watch it at a later date.

We went out for dinner to a Gluten Free Pizza place that we had read about called Messie Sin Gluten. Pizza is my favourite food and the restaurant did not disappoint! They had 26 kinds of gluten free beer for Chris and every pizza was gluten free so cross contamination wasn’t an issue. If you don’t suffer from Celiac disease, Messie also has another location that uses regular dough.

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Feminist street festival on the left and me faux-singing with a paper mache version of the alien opera singer from The Fifth Element on the right.

We were having a lovely time and were ready for an impromptu adventure. The street festival extended to Messie’s neighbourhood and we wanted to see the festival nightlife in action. While Chris and I wandered around the Gracia area we found a feminist street festival that also housed vendors of the revolutionary cause to liberate Catalonia from Spain. Fittingly (activism-wise) a Spanish punk band was sound checking on the stage which struck our curiosity.

Fun fact about my Christopher: he is a pilot who is an excellent photographer, drummer, and he loves punk music. He proposed to me in his favourite Clash t-shirt that has holes in both armpits (I’m trying to convince him to let me make it into a pillow).

The band didn’t start the actual show for another half hour so we wandered through an awesome space street and also found a craft beer shop called The Beer-Ket! We drank bourbon and danced to Los Tronchos with a crowd of friendly Spanish punks.

On our way to the metro, we glided along in marital/bourbon bliss and met a wonderful New Zealander to whom we gushed about our admiration of his country – telling him it is at the top of our travel list. He laughed at us for being so in love with his home country as he was always getting away from it in his travels.

Before going into the apartment we went into one last bar near our place called Nevermind. It was a 90s grunge themed bar, yet they tended to play a wider range of 90s music than that. We each had a drink, enjoyed each other’s company, the music videos, the graffitied/stickered walls, and then went back home to bed.

This was our party night, we are not very wild partiers, but we had a great time!

Chris took a lot of really great photos in Girona, here are more of them:

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Photo by Chris Bowman.
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Photo by Chris Bowman.
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Photo by Chris Bowman.
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Photo by Chris Bowman.

 

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Photo by Chris Bowman.

 

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Photo by Chris Bowman.

 

Honeymoon Part 4 – (Barcelona) Friday, August 19, 2016 – Day 3:

This is the fourth entry in a series of posts featuring our Barcelona Honeymoon Adventure!


13194 Steps:

Chris and I ended up sleeping in again today on our new later schedule. We decided that today was going to be a bit more relaxing since we are planning on doing a day trip to Girona tomorrow. I’m definitely the kind of person who appreciates a rest day.

We got ready and took the metro to the beach. We figured that we needed to be able to say that we went to the beach at least once on our trip and I got to go in the Mediterranean Sea which is a big deal for me! It was a very sunny day so we only tanned for a half hour or so before packing it in. We had read that the further down the beach you go the less touristy it becomes, but the area was still very packed. We got off the metro yellow line at the Ciutadella Villa Olympica stop and walked south-east to the shore line, I’d suggest trying to go even further down to see if it’s more isolated.

What I love about the beach in Barcelona is how many older women feel comfortable going topless and how many older men feel secure enough to wear Speedos. I had considered going topless for the experience, but the self-conscious Canadian in me held me back. Besides topless ladies and Speedo-‘covered’ men, I’d like to comment on the ratio of gorgeous women to men. There were so many beautiful young women in extremely sexy bikinis at the beach we went to, but only a handful of young men. I’ve seen you in the city guys, why do you not go to the beach? Heterosexual men and lesbians of Barcelona, go to the beach, your odds of meeting attractive women multiplies there by approximately 100x.

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Our favourite photo of the entire trip.

Chris and I aren’t big beach people, but we took a selfie with an oblivious sweet old man in the background (he was sweet because his significant other rested on the towel that they had brought and he stood by her side the whole time, without a towel of his own – he may have been enjoying the views I mentioned earlier though). This photo may actually be my favourite of the trip because of his oblivious photo-bombing. We got a little colour on our skin without getting burnt and headed back to the metro. We picked up some apples, prosciutto, and Havarti cheese slices at the store and had a super affordable lunch in the apartment. We drank some wine with it, had showers and tried to figure out our next plans on the laptop.

Before getting on the metro we went to McDonalds because they actually do some gluten free options in Barcelona! Chris had been missing the odd gross burger (I’m not a fan) and I got a much needed ice cream cone so it all worked out. We decided to check out some shopping as we like to believe that we are thrifty people who know when to tell each other to “treat yo’ self.”  THE shopping area in Barcelona turned out to be full of expensive designer stores that we wouldn’t want to spend excessive money on – it’s “treat yo’ self,” not “go broke for one pair of jeans.” I did however find a small shop tucked away on a side street called Melocoton that had excellent clothes and even better prices! We quickly realized that this was not the shopping district for us and returned to the apartment for the second time (MORE STAIRS).

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Our stairwell/vacation exercise equipment. Photo by Chris Bowman.

We wanted to find a gluten-free restaurant nearby so that we didn’t take the metro for the millionth time in one day. It was a fantastic idea. We found a sandwich place called Conesa, it was about a half hour wait in line, but the prices were amazing and so was the food. We ate our sandwiches on the steps of an old parliament building and took in the sights of the streets.

I cannot emphasize enough how amazing it is that there are so many small side streets that each have more beauty and history than most of the architecture that I’ve seen in North America in my whole life. Architecture alone –graffiti and all – makes Barcelona easily the most romantic place that I’ve ever been in. We stumbled across a store with good prices and cute purses so I got a new one to replace my Varage Sale find that is looking a little rough.

 

As we continued walking I was able to pet a handful of dogs, trying out the new phrase that I insisted on learning from the internet “puedo acairciar a tu perro” (can I pet your dog). We found a closed in square where we sat on the steps of a historic building and listened to live acoustic flamenco music being performed by a man on the patio of a restaurant. On our walk back to the apartment we also got to hear an older man singing a beautiful opera solo in the streets.

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We finally got back to the apartment and climbed the four flights of stairs for the third time in one day that had left me exhausted and ready for our early night before our journey to Girona tomorrow. Chris and I say with our feet up, sipping glasses of wine, and resting – wining while unwinding.

Rest day = not many photos, but the Girona day trip makes up for that! 

Honeymoon Part 3 – (Barcelona) Thursday, August 18, 2016 – Day 2:

This is the third entry in a series of posts featuring our Barcelona Honeymoon Adventure!


17554 Steps:

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Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, photo by Chris Bowman.

Life in general seemed to start later in Barcelona: people ate later, partied later, and the stores often opened later.

Chris and I took our time sleeping in and getting ready, we left the apartment around 11:00am. We hopped on the metro and switched lines to get to our first stop of the day. Chris and I wanted to be able to say that we at least saw the outside of the famous Guadi’s Sagrada Familia in person, but didn’t want to spend too much time there. I have always thought that this cathedral’s architectural style resembled that of an ant hill, but it’s more like a termite mound to be exact (See the photo of Chris standing next to one in Australia below). Fittingly, the surrounding area was covered in busy ant-like tourists filing in, out, and around the cathedral in groups. After we took our photographic proof of being there we quickly decided to explore the streets nearby to get away from the crowds.

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A picture of Chris next to a termite mound in Australia a few years ago. Doesn’t it look a lot like the cathedral?!

Chris remembered that our apartment host Marc had mentioned that a street festival was happening near where we wound up. We took the metro, switched lines once again and made our way to Chris’ general idea of where Marc had previously pointed to on the map. After 15-20 minutes of walking in one direction, Chris realized that it was actually about that same distance in the opposite direction of the metro station! Chris also being my incredibly handsome ever-pregnant wife when it comes to peeing, needed to find a bathroom and we were interested in finding some coffee. As we headed down the same street that we had just walked up, we found a beautiful café with dark interior and an owner who didn’t speak any English. The café was called Aloe, Chris had an espresso, peed to his hearts content, and the owner kindly offered to take a photo of us in his shop.

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California Dreams street festival, photo by Chris Bowman.

We continued down the street and were delighted to have found the festival. At first I thought that it was an entire festival dedicated to Jules Verne, which would have been cool on it’s own, but it turned out to be even better. Different streets had collected materials to upcycle all year long for the theme of their choosing. The first one we entered was Jules Verne themed, but others included: under the sea, Game of Thrones, roller disco, California dreams, feminism, and they also had a ton of stages where we presumed live music was showcased at night. Chris bought a gluten free beer and I got some Sangria as we walked the streets and explored some local stores.

I bought a shirt of a Bull Terrier tattooing spots onto a Dalmatian that I was very pleased with (see below).

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As we wandered the streets, we saw a little storefront called Aeroteca. Floor to ceiling, the shop was filled with plane-related knickknacks, hobby sets, décor items, educational materials, and more. The two guys in the shop were big plane enthusiasts (clearly) who had a multitude of plane simulators for people to train with. I loved that they treated Chris like a bit of a celebrity for flying a DC-3 plane from WWII (the company he works for does mineral exploration and has fitted a large machine in the back that engineers run to measure levels in the ground below). Chris and the storekeepers talked plane jargon for a good 15 minutes and they gave us a detailed tour of their place, it was adorable so I made them take a picture together.

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Chris with the two nice guys from Aeroteca. (Doesn’t the guy on the left look a little like Jay Baruchel?)

After searching for a gluten-free restaurant for a while, we found a little Italian place with excellent food called Piras Braseria. On the metro home I got to pet a little Beagle/Jack Russell Terrier who was behaving so well on the train! We had walked quite a bit that morning and made our way up the four flights of stairs to have a much needed hour nap.

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Chris and I on the Terraza 360.

Chris and I decided to eat dinner later to immerse ourselves culturally so we left the apartment for 8:00pm and had drinks on a very cool terrace with views of the whole city – it was called Hotel Barcelo Raval: Terraza 360. It was very modern and swanky with small hot tubs on two sides of the circular patio and those large standing binoculars that you always see in movies about travelling to New York that allow people to take a closer look at the cityscape. This is definitely one of the best places to take in the rooftop views.We saw a cathedral at the top of a hill that was lit up with what looked like a purple spotlight. Storm clouds surrounded the cathedral and contributed greatly to the distant building looking like a villainous castle from a Disney cartoon. Apparently the cathedral is called Tibadabo.

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My drawing of Chris in Palosanto.

We found the BEST place to eat tapas (my concluded opinion after our whole trip) near Hotel Barcelo Raval called Palosanto. It was wonderful because they had sketchbooks and crayons at the tables for patrons to draw in and they will sometimes put the drawings on the wall. I’m hoping that mine will go up so that I can say that I have art in a restaurant in Barcelona – not sure how I would ever find out though, someone let me know if you visit and see this drawing! The food was insanely good, Chris and I each had two glasses of wine and were feeling a delightful buzz.

We walked back toward our place, but were feeling great so we stopped at another small bar and had patio bourbons. I met three more dogs personally on the way home (a bonus in my books), one who was adorably spoiled and eating at the table with her owner!

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Spoiled Spanish dog who is happy to be photographed by the paparazzi.

So far, we love that there are so many small streets that lead us to constantly discover new squares and romantic places no matter how well we think that we know the neighbourhood. We researched and planned our next two days when we got back. I then laid in bed and thought about what a truly fantastic day it had been.

Collection of other photos from day 2:

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Sagrada Familia view from further streets, photo by Chris Bowman.
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Photo by Chris Bowman.
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Photo by Chris Bowman.
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Me being attacked by a garage squid in the Under the Sea street festival.
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Close up of the paper mache surfers above us at the California Dreams street festival, photo by Chris Bowman.
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The Game of Thrones throne at the related street festival, photo by Chris Bowman.