Sunday, December 4, 2016

North American Notes

Summer in Toronto was long and lovely this year.  In fact, the mild weather has really continued on throughout the fall up until now although we have been warned to expect a 'traditional' snowy winter!

Nothing screams summer for me more than watching tennis and I had a super day at the Rogers Cup tournament again.  Although I was disappointed many of my favourite players dropped out due to injury or the impending Olympics, I managed to get a ringside seat to watch Stan 'the Man' Wawrinka, Kei Nishikori and Novak Djokovic hit a few balls around the court.

Shortly before my secondment to Medicine ended and I returned to my job at the English Language Program, I decided to have a long weekend away.  I headed north to Quebec City to stay in a monastery for a few nights. The Monastere des Augustines was a great find. The monastery, which at one point had over 120 nuns living and working there, has been turned into a foundation-managed boutique hotel and retreat as the handful of nuns still living there realized they wanted to preserve both their legacy and continue to raise funds to support work in the community after they were gone.  The building has been beautifully renovated and the nun's cells are now the hotel bedrooms.  There is a lovely restaurant serving locally-sourced, organic food.  It is also where breakfast is served in silence - a few people struggled with this!  I enjoyed exploring the old town and took the slow way home by train to see a bit more of the country I now call home.

Also in September, I managed to do one of those things that define you as a Canadian - I went to a hockey game.  My good friend, Guy, was over from Leeds for a few weeks working at the World Cup of Hockey here in Toronto so kindly treated me and some friends to a night at the rink.  Tickets for hockey games are usually very expensive and we not only had tickets, but seats in an executive box.  I was glad I had some Canadian friends on hand to explain the rules as I was a bit confused by the players staying on the ice for about a minute and then jumping out of the rink.  There were a fair few punch ups as well but I'm told this is 'sport'!

I continued to pursue my own new hobby of sewing over the summer and took a course in quilting.  However, when compared to some of the spectacular quilts I saw on display at Quilts at the Creek, I have a long way to go! These works of art were very impressive and something to aspire to.

Still, I am pursuing my craft and have now added lingerie to my repertoire.  In October, my skills were honed further when I attended a wonderful 'sewing camp' in the Catskill Mountains, a few hours north of New York. Joining almost 100 other sewists at Camp Workroom Social, I had a great time learning how to make bras as taught by Amy Chapman of Cloth Habit.  Not only was the weekend challenging and fun but it was set at the amazing Frost Valley YMCA surrounded by the most gorgeous trees and nature that looked at their absolute best with the fall colours being at peak.  In addition to sewing, I took part in a pyjama party, knitting, yoga, archery and a campfire sing song.  I was delighted to win the Camp Trooper Award for being determined to finish my project, which I did!

Before going to camp, my friend and I had a super few days exploring New York City.  We stayed in a cool and reasonably-priced hotel called The Jane.  The hotel is located in the West Village close to the Hudson River and Meatpacking District which meant we had ample opportunity to explore the nearby sights on foot and by bike.  These included the High Line Park and incredibly moving 9/11 Memorial and Museum. We also saw an off-Broadway show, "Love, Love, Love" starring Richard Armitage and had fun exploring the Garment District on the hunt for bargain fabrics.  In addition, we went back to school and took a class in Fabrics 101 at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

At the end October, I used my beginner-level fabric-draping skills to construct my Halloween costume and enjoyed scaring the small children in the neighbourhood as we handed out sweets to the hundreds that came by trick-or-treating.  Again, this year, I also enjoyed the pumpkin parade the day after and admired all the many pumpkin creations.

In November, I was lucky enough to be invited to stay with a friend in the pretty university town of Guelph and also headed up to Ottawa, where I managed to catch up with my friend, Fair, before spending a few days at the Canadian Bureau for International Education Conference.  During my stay in the capital, I had an out of this world experience when I happened to meet Canada's most famous astronaut, Commander Chris Hadfield.

Next week, I jet off to the UK and will spend three weeks catching up with family and friends over Christmas and New Year.  I wish you all the very best for the holidays and a wonderful 2017!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Spring into Summer 2016

I can't believe it's July already!  Time seems to have flown by since I last wrote.

Just before Christmas last year, I flew south to Costa Rica to join the snow birds fleeing the Canadian winter and my parents fleeing the British one. We spent around two weeks exploring this nature lover's paradise as we travelled around this tiny but lush country.  Our first stop after a couple of days in the capital, San Jose, was Tortuguero National Park where we spent a few days in the rainforest at sea level having travelled in by longboat.  Here, we saw sloths, snakes, monkeys, iguana, butterflies, parrots, toucans and many other species of exotic birds. We then headed inland and stayed on the edge of a Arenal volcano in a highland region of the country.  Again, we were able to explore beautiful rainforest at the Mistico Hanging Bridges Park.  Our guide was excellent and I was very grateful he was on hand when we had a very close encounter with a HUGE snake.  Having survived that, we moved on to stay at the gorgeous Hotel Belmar in Monteverde and took a stroll in the cloud forest in search of the elusive quetzal bird.  Luck was on our side and, along with some other wonderful creatures, we spotted the resplendant quetzal - a truly stunning bird! We then headed to the Pacific coast and Playa Tambor where had a lovely week relaxing in the sun over the Christmas period before flying on to Panama.

Managing to avoid any Panama Paper scandals we spent about a week in Panama.  One of our stops was in the coffee-growing highlands at the Finca Larida plantation where my dad and I became rather fixated with photographing the hummingbirds which were in abundance outside our hillside cottage.  Having crossed the country's backbone and undertaken a somewhat daring boat ride, we then spent New Year resting up on one of the islands in Bocas del Toro before heading back to the capital to check out the famous Panama Canal and old town where, naturally, I had to by a Panama hat!

The last few days of this rather special trip, in memory of my belated granny, were spent in the old city of Cartagena in Colombia staying at the beautiful Ananada Hotel.  This was a return visit to Cartagena for me as I had been earlier in the year on a business trip when I had fallen in love with the place and knew it would also hit my parents' buttons, which it did.  We stayed in the walled city and enjoyed strolling around the streets, listening to live music, shopping in the markets and sampling the local cuisine as well as learning about the pirate history and modern day life of this vibrant city.

Making pizza in the c-c-c-c-cold!
After nearly a month away it was time to return to Toronto and the dead of winter. Although not as bad as the previous year, I found this winter felt quite long.  It was also punctuated with a few days of extreme cold. In February, my friend and I headed north to make the most of a long weekend and "embrace" winter.  We stayed on the edge of Algonquin Park at an eco-resort called Northern Edge.  Our accommodation was lovely with wonderfully prepared organic and locally sourced meals.  Fortunately, it was also well-heated as we picked the coldest weekend of the year to go on our winter outdoor activity adventure.  And when I say cold, I mean cold.  On the first day, the temperature dipped to -44 degrees centigrade.  Even when I went to see the polar bears in northern Manitoba a few years ago, it was warmer than that!  I really feared for my fingers and toes on our initial foray out cross-country skiing.  Despite heat packs in my gloves and boots plus many layers, I was seriously worried about frostbite and, certainly, my face and eyelashes froze. Brrrr!  It did warm up a bit over the next couple of days to -20, which actually felt quite pleasant in comparison, and we enjoyed more skiing, the outdoor sauna and a pizza oven cookout in this beautiful spot before heading home.

I had to work quite a few weekends between February and early April as we were conducting interviews for the medical school.  It was interesting to be part of the process and see how the next crop of medical students are selected.  I also continued with my sewing exploits and am still enjoying my new hobby, especially with my beautiful new machine - an early birthday present from my parents!  I also added to my crafty skills by learning how to wax and dye eggs Ukrainian-style for Easter by doing a workshop in 'pysanky'.

In May, my friend and I headed for the deep south of the US for a few days on a musical odyssey to Memphis and Nashville.  We had a great time tracing the history of the blues through to rock 'n' roll with a bit of country to top it off.  Highlights of the trip included seeing Sun Studios, Graceland, the National Civil Rights Museum, the Johnny Cash Museum, the Country Music Hall of Fame and a concert at the Grand Ole Opry. I also enjoyed seeing the Peabody Ducks strut their stuff on the red carpet on their daily meander from the lobby fountain to their rooftop penthouse at the Peabody Hotel.  It was also fun just hanging out listening to the music in various music haunts in both Memphis and Nashville.  Our journey home was somewhat chaotic though with bad storms resulting in delays and an enforced overnight stop in Chicago.  However, there was something of a silver lining as we were able to squeeze in a sightseeing tour of the Windy City - always a pleasure to see Chicago in the sunshine!

Surprising my dad!
In June, I surprised my dad by heading back to the UK for his 70th birthday.  However, that was not the only surprise.  My mum and I had, with the helps of friends, plotted a surprise party on the theme of one of his passions, photography.  About 120 friends and family members joined us at home, complete with a bouncy castle and ice cream (cara)van in the garden. It was a super day! My mum also arranged an overnight trip away to Derbyshire for us and a few friends. We had a great time and enjoyed seeing Chatsworth House and Gardens in all their glory  It was great to share in the special celebration, catch up with friends and family, and enjoy the north of England in the sunshine.

As I was in Europe (pre-Brexit vote!), I took the opportunity to also enjoy a week sailing around the Greek Islands, the Small Cyclades to be precise.  I joined a boat full of strangers and set sail from Mykonos, having seen its windmills, for seven glorious days of sunshine, swimming, sailing and island hopping.  Each island was very different in character but all were lovely.  I particularly liked seeing Amorgos, where one of my favourite films, The Big Blue, was filmed. We ended our trip bobbing up and down for the night in the middle of Santorini's volcano crater.  It's quite a strange feeling to be sleeping above a dormant volcano's caldera!  The next day, I explored Fira town and took in the magnificent views from the volcano rim before flying back to Toronto via an overnight stop in Manchester.

Receiving our award from Dean Trevor Young
Since getting back to Toronto, I've been quite busy with Canada Day celebrations and a girl's weekend away with friends on the lake as well as being the proud recipient of a special Staff IMPACT Award at work.  Along with two colleagues I have been working with, I have been recognized for the work done to develop the Community of Support initiative to encourage more black students to apply for medical school. The award is for "Fostering a Collaborative Environment" as the project has involved pulling together many different departments, individuals and community groups to establish the project.  As pleased as I am to share in this team award, the biggest reward will be seeing significant positive change in the demographics of our future physicians. There's still a long way to go!

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Grounded...sort of!

As many of you know, July is my birthday month.  This year it was something of a sporting weekend celebration.  Having been priviliged to attend the dress rehearsal of the opening ceremony for the Pan Am Games, I then scored more free tickets to watch the rugby sevens with five friends. Canada eventually won.

My actual birthday itself involved an early start to get myself to a local cinema which was screening the Wimbledon men's final.  Despite my hopes and sporting my Roger Federer hat, my tennis hero sadly lost to Novak Djokovic so the rest of the day was spent trying to pull my bottom lip in!

A few weeks later, I set off on a cross-Canada adventure.  I flew to Vancouver Island and boarded a ferry to sail up the British Columbian Inside Passage.  It was a long and chilly but spectacular sea journey punctuated by wonderful views, breaching whales, soaring eagles and First Nations culture.

I arrived in Prince Rupert and enjoyed another incredible day sailing out on the water, very close to the Alaskan border, to watch humpback whales.  We were treated to an amazing sight of three whales bubble-net feeding.  The whales team up and then dive blowing bubbles.  The bubbles confuse the fish into thinking they are inside a net.  At this point, the whales breach and swallow as many of the dazed fish as they can.  The whales came so close to us (with engines off) you could smell their stinky bad breath!

Prince Rupert was also the start of an epic rail journey which would eventually bring me back home to Toronto.  The first two days were spent about the Skeena as we travelled inland towards the Rockies and Jasper.  Much of my time was spent in the 1950s observation car pretending to be Marilynn Monroe and peering out across the vast landscape.  Eventually, we caught sight of Mt. Robson, Canada's highest peak, and as we neared the town of Jasper, I caught a glimpse of a young bear ambling along the tracks just feet away from an oblivious lady walking her dog.

I had two nights in Jasper and stayed at a lovely place, Storm's Retreat, in the centre of the town.  This was my second visit and I spent a couple of days driving from lake to mountain to lake taking in the crystal clear water, fresh mountain air and even having a close encounter with a wolf along a back road. Jasper and its surrounds really are one of my happy places! 

Boarding a different and much longer sleeper train in Jasper, I again hit the rails.  On board the Canadian, I spent the next three days and nights rattling across the Rockies, Prairies and Canadian Shield to get back home.  Disappointingly, the weather was not that good so it rained or was misty for much of the ride but it still gave me a wonderful perspective on just how vast Canada is.  I also enjoyed life on board the train meeting lots of interesting travellers and enjoying the excellent service.

In September, after a lot of reflection, I decided it was time for a bit of a change at work in order to give myself a new challenge and develop my skills set further.  I am now on a one-year secondment at the Faculty of Medicine, still at the University of Toronto, where I am now Associate Registrar for Enrolment Management.  They are not short of students applying for the Medicine program but the work I am doing is to ensure the quality and diversity of applicants.  I am not travelling overseas on business this year but am visiting other campuses across the Ontario region.  I'm also involved in some interesting developments such as a new website launch and implementation of a customer relationship database as well as initiatives to bring in more black, indigenous and low income students.  Although I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss working in the international arena, it's been interesting to see a different side of university recruitment and to develop my knowledge and connections further.

One advantage of being in Toronto a bit more has been the opportunity to see more friends and places locally.  Over the past few months, I've managed to squeeze in a couple of lovely out of town trips with friends.  Stratford, the home of Justin Bieber, was visited twice.  Firstly, to see some Shakespeare and the Sound of Music at the Stratford Festival and secondly, to take in the edible delights of the garlic fest.  The Biebs did not put in an appearance!

I also made a trip north of Toronto to Midland and Penetanguishine where we stayed in a floatel on a lake and visited Sainte-Marie-among-the-Hurons, one of the first immigrant settlements in the region.  We also managed to get a bit of team rowing in on one of the wetland areas.

Another weekend was spent in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is a very pretty town not far from the US border and the famous falls.  Here, I encountered Steampunk for the first time and was very intrigued by this quirky sub-culture.  We had a great afternoon watching magic shows, listening to lectures on 18th century surgical techniques and seeing cookie-dunking duels - believe me, it's a thing!  The wacky costumes people had made were amazing.

Perhaps this is where I became inspired to develop my latest hobby - sewing.  I've taken a few courses at the Make Den to learn how to sew over the past few months and am planning on a few more in the new year.  I think I've inherited my mother's passion for it and am really enjoying the creativity and using my hands to make things that are both useful and pretty.  I was even kindly donated a sewing machine that a friend found by the bins at her apartment building but which, after a service, works just fine.  I'm not yet taking orders but I am now able to alter my own clothes and make a few bits and pieces from scratch.

Anyway, on that note, I shall sign off and wish you all a very Happy Christmas and New Year!  I will be spending the next month with my family exploring the jungle and beaches in Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia.  Happy Holidays one and all!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Six Months on the Road's been a while and, as I have a bit of time to write at present and am enjoying the sunshine on my balcony, I am finally getting down to reflecting on all that has happened in the past six months or so.

Towards the end of last year, I headed back to the UK to spend Christmas and New Year with family and friends. It was great to catch up with everyone but almost as soon as I landed, I was thrust into something of a family crisis having to take my dad to hospital as he writhed around in agony. Turns out it was a kidney stone and my dad was in hospital for a few days until they managed to stabilize his pain. He still has the stone six months later but is on the list to get it sorted. My Christmas shopping was set back slightly but it didn't stop me from seeing people and enjoying the festivities. I also managed to get up to the Scottish border region and see my Granny for one last visit. She sadly died in mid-January after a fall from which she did not recover.

A highlight of my time in Leeds was having the opportunity to take my godson, Alex, to see Paddington at the cinema. We both loved it! Another highlight of our Christmas was that my Canadian friend, Darlene, who was mid-way through a round-the-world trip, joined us to see Yorkshire and enjoy a traditional Smith family Christmas. I think she was initially a bit shell-shocked by the over-indulgence as she flew in from a month in India. We enjoyed being able to show her some of our favourite regional sites and see Yorkshire through a tourist's eyes. Darlene has just returned to Canada having explored Europe and Africa after she left us in early January.

Not long after my return to Toronto in January, I again boarded a flight back to the UK. This was unexpected but I wanted to be with my family and attend my Granny's funeral in Scotland. It was a fitting tribute to a grand old lady and I was glad I went.

After a brutally cold Canadian winter, I was very happy to head south to the sunshine in March on a business trip to Colombia. I had not visited this beautiful country before and was really pleasantly surprised by all that it has to offer. Although I was very cautious in terms of safety, I used my free time to get out and explore some of the cities visited. In particular, I loved the walled old town of Cartagena and Islas del Rosario - so much so that my parents and I are planning another visit just after this coming New Year.

In Bogota, I was extremely lucky to have my own personal guide, my lovely friend and native Colombian, Alix. Alix gave me a great tour of the city and its surrounds for a couple of days. We ate at the famous Andrés Carne de Res restaurants, toured the underground Salt Cathedral and climbed up (the last bit!) of the chest-squeezing heights of Mount Montserrate. Towards the end of my trip, I went off on my own to explore the downtown and took a wonderful Graffiti Tour . I learned all about the different artistic styles and artists based in the city. I also visited the famous Botero and Gold Museums - both visually stunning. Fortunately, I managed to avoid being attacked by the rather vicious llamas in the main square!

In March the sun came out in Toronto and the thaw commenced. Although it was still very cold, I ventured out on a day trip with some of the students to the town of Elmira. Here, we enjoyed the world's largest Maple Syrup Festival. After a bone-chilling ride on a hay wagon to get into the sugarbush, we learnt all about how maple syrup is tapped and sampled some of the delicious baked goods made with the end product by the local Mennonites.

Much of spring for me was actually spent overseas. First, I headed to Istanbul for some meetings and was lucky enough to be there for the Tulip Festival - the city looked spectacular with all the floral displays.

I then flew on to the city of Baku in Azerbaijan for a whirlwind stay of 36 hours. This was a new spot for me to visit and I was very impressed. As soon as I stepped off the plane into the brand new airport terminal I knew this place would be different from what I had expected. Baku Airport was like a five-star hotel with bouncy carpets and incredibly glamorous decoration. Driving into the city my jaw dropped as I saw all the designer stores and high-end luxury car showrooms. I knew there was money here from the country's natural resources but was somewhat bowled over by the opulence. On the Sunday, I managed to get out for a short walk before work and explored the old Islamic quarter of the city - beautifully restored. I also walked along the newly-created sea-front promenade overlooking the Caspian Sea with the famous Flame Towers in the distance. All very fancy. When you learn more about how much all this renovation has cost in the run up to the European Games, things start to fall into place. It is estimated that the President has spent $8 billion on improving the city's appearance - much of it to reflect a Parisian-style favoured by his wife!

I moved on from Baku to Hanoi in Vietnam - a city I have visited many times and which I love. It was again a very brief visit but before work, I had chance to stroll around the lake and do a spot of shopping in the heat and humidity.

A couple of days later, I moved on to Bangkok, which was positively steaming! Super hot and almost unbearable to be outside. After a few days in the big city, it was a welcome respite to take a week off and head to the second largest Thai island about five hours' drive south of the capital. I took the ferry over to Koh Chang (Elephant Island) and spent a most relaxing week at the gorgeous Amber Sands Resort. Located on the quiet north side of the jungle-clad island full of monkeys, elephants and other critters, the small resort was so lovely that I only left it once to go shopping with the owner and get the money out of the ATM to pay my bill!

After a very long journey home, I returned to a much warmer Toronto gearing up for the start of summer. Life returned to normal for a few weeks before I took a short one-hour flight down to Boston for this year's NAFSA conference. I added on the weekend and had a super time exploring this beautiful city that I had last been to with my folks when I was five years-old. The weather was fabulous and I loved visiting the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum as well as Harvard. The annual conference traditionally marks the end of the work travel season for me and this year was the largest ever with over 11,000 international education professionals attending. It's always a great place to catch up with people I know but this year was particularly so, with former colleagues from the UK as well as, very surprisingly, a former boyfriend of mine who I had not seen in 13 years and was last known to be distributing pet food in Russia. It really is a small world!

Anyway, on that note, I shall sign off and wish you a great summer wherever you are!

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Fall around the world

Fall started off with a short visit to Montreal in order to celebrate the marriage of my dear university friend, Rob, and his lovely, Canadian wife, Valerie. Rob has now also made the permanent move to Canada although is still working on the Quebecois lingo!

I made the most of my quick trip by stocking up on Montreal bagels and checking out the World Press Photo exhibit as well as taking in the amazing fall colours that had just reached their peak in the city.

Shortly thereafter, I set off on what was to be almost six weeks of travel, most of it business-related. My first stop was Kazakhstan and I spent a few days in both Almaty and Astana, both of which I have visited before. Here, I discovered a new meaning to having a cup of tea...this 'tea' was slightly more alcoholic in nature than that which I'm used to. Still, for some of my colleagues, it helped wash down the horsemeat entree.

Next stop was a fleeting visit to St Petersburg and a chance to catch up with a couple of friends who also happened to be in town on business. St Pete's is one of my favourite cities and I have seen it transition back from being a Soviet city to one of Europe's finest. I truly fall in love with it a little bit more every time I visit.

I left Russia and headed south to Barcelona where I got my fix of Gaudi, tapas and Spanish warmth. Again, I was only there a couple of days but it was lovely to have the chance to stroll around the Parc Guell and take in the rooftop views.

I left Barcelona and almost retraced my steps flying over Kazakhstan to Mongolia and the city of Ulaan Bataar. This was my second visit but I approached it somewhat cautiously having experienced my worst ever bout of food poisoning in the hotel I stayed in last year. This time, I decided to play it safe and stayed in a German-managed hotel which gave me more confidence that the kitchen would be spotless. Fortunately, I remained healthy throughout this visit and even managed to see a few of the sights.

Most impressive was the enormous Genghis Khan statue that has been built in the countryside about a half hour from the capital. Made of stainless steel the Mongol leader and his horse dominated the landscape.

My next pitstop was Istanbul for a working weekend so I didn't get to see much other than the inside of my hotel but did manage a quick wander down Istiklal Cadessi to get my mum and dad some baklava.

My parents seemed to appreciate the sweet Turkish delights when we met up the following week in Rome. I had a week off work and when I had suggested to my parents I could visit them in Leeds before my next stop in Rome, they replied that actually they'd prefer to join me in Rome. We therefore rented a very cute and compact apartment in the Trastevere area and enjoyed a wonderful week touring the ancient and modern sights. We even saw the Pope! I must admit we truly were blessed with incredible weather and Rome looked at its very best in the sunshine. We even managed to meet up with our friend, Lynn, and her sister. We were lucky that they were able to join us for one of the fabulous Italian dinners we inhaled that week.

My parents left me and I spent a few more days In Rome working before heading to Lisbon for my final business stop on the trip. I managed to squeeze in a quick cooking lesson from Cooking Lisbon learning how to make Portuguese custard tarts - delicious!

Eventually, though, it was time to head home although not for long.

The following week I flew south to Florida to escape the -18C temperatures that hit Toronto but, most importantly, to attend the wedding of my friends, Alix and Carlo, at DisneyWorld. Mickey Mouse was truly present throughout the weekend and we had a lot of fun at both the Disney-themed wedding and visiting a couple of Disney theme parks.

So, this fall/autumn really has been a whirlwind of non-stop travel and I will end the year in a similar way by using one of my two passports to visit the UK and spend Christmas and New Year in Leeds with family and friends. This will be my first Christmas as a true Canadian and I won't even be staying in Canada...ooops!

I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2015!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Canadian Summer

Summer finally arrived in Toronto and although it's not been as hot and steamy as usual, it's been a very pleasant one.

In May, I completed the Sporting Life 10k for the third time. Thanks to everyone who sponsored me.  I raised $775 in honour of my friend Sue, who died from cancer earlier this year.  The money raised will go towards helping kids with cancer benefit from a Camp Ooch experience.

Shortly after, I jumped on a plane and headed out west to Vancouver.  I had a few meetings there and then extended my stay over the
weekend.  Vancouver is a lovely city and you can smell the ocean and forests as you sit watching float planes come and go in the harbour with the mountains ahead of you.  My counterpart at UBC gave me a gourmet tour of the city and I had a lovely relaxing couple of days.

Not long after, I headed south to the beautiful city of San Diego for a conference.  Again, I added on a few days and had a super time exploring this border town.  I loved the laid-back California feel and had fun shopping, exploring the Mexican sites, seeing the animals at the world-famous zoo, visiting the Coranado Island Beach (where Some Like it Hot was filmed), reliving my Top Gun-obsessed youth on the USS Midway and checking out the seals along the shore.  I was also lucky enough to
be invited to join some Canadian government colleagues on an evening sail around San Diego harbour.  We sailed past the huge aircraft carriers, submarines and hospital ships stationed there whilst enjoying the perfect evening weather.

After the conference, I headed north by train to Los Angeles and spent a few days exploring this huge, sprawling city.  I particularly enjoyed Santa Monica, seeing the space shuttle Endeavour and having a VIP tour of Paramount Studios.  I didn't spot any famous movie stars but it was great to be walking in their footsteps almost everywhere I went in the city.  Having said that, walking is no easy task in really is car central!
Back in Toronto my summer has meant quite a lot of theatrical adventures.  I enjoyed a couple of plays at the Toronto Fringe although a few others was not so great!  I also discovered Stratford in southern Ontario - home to Justin Bieber and an excellent theatre festival.  Naturally, given the town's name, there is Shakespeare on tap and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing King Lear but also the musical, The Man of La Mancha.  Another highlight was seeing Cirque du Soleil again.  This time they were performing their new show, Kurios.

In early August, I had a super day watching the Rogers Cup tennis once again and was lucky enough to see my hero, Roger Federer, win in straight sets.

Later in August my friend, Janet, and I flew out to Newfoundland for a two-week road trip.  We landed in St John's amid a torrential downpour which set the tone for the next couple of weeks.  Despite the fact, Newfoundland had enjoyed a scorcher of a July, we had dreadful weather with cold temperatures, rain, fog and grey skies.  We tried to make the best of things and had a few enjoyable experiences but it really put a dampener on things and meant we didn't really see the island at its best.  We managed to see puffins, whales, a moose and icebergs though so not all was bad! Oh, and we ate A LOT of cod!

Just after my return from Newfoundland, I was called to attend my Canadian Citizenship Ceremony having passed the Citizenship test in July with flying colours.  The ceremony itself was lovely and along with about 95 others from all over the world I swore my oath to the Queen of Canada (in English and French, which sounded awful!), received my certificate from an Order of Canada recipient and sang O Canada.  I am now a proud Canadian and Brit - a good feeling!  My friends helped me celebrate in style at a Canadian-themed "Citizen Becky" party held in my honour.  Given the amount of travelling I do, I have to say it's quite useful having two passports!