Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fall Round Up

The last few months have been busy and you know when "Fall' starts in Toronto as the celebs all roll into town for the Toronto International Film Festival.  This year I wasn't as wowed by TIFF as I have been in the past.  I feel the divide between the audience and the industry may be widening, but that's just my opinion.  I still saw a few good movies although, to be honest, some of them left me wanting to crawl out from under the seat as well.  There were no major star sightings this year...George Clooney let me down...but I heard some good Q&A sessions with directors, which I always enjoy.

The Fall also signals the start of the travel season for those of us who work in international student recruitment so it was time to pack my bags again and hit the road.  My first stop was Brazil in September and I visited a few different cities this time.  We began our tour in Brasilia, which I had studied in A-level geography and was desperately trying to spot from the plane as I flew in over the jungle to see if it really was still in the shape of an aeroplane.  The recently-deceased architect Oscar Niemeyer designed most of the city and although it's not really my taste, I spent what little free time I had, trying to see some of the sights, such as the cathedral.  It's a strange city, as I often find planned cities are, that is not really built for pedestrians and I found it quite soulless compare to other Brazilian cities.

We went on to Recife for another education exhibition.  I was very disappointed not to be able to swim in the sea, which was just over the road from our hotel, as the beach was gorgeous but there were huge signs everywhere warning of shark attacks.  Apparently, they've recently built a new port in the city and, in so doing, the reef has been damaged causing the sharks to have easier access to shore and to human snacks!  I didn't fancy being one of them so decided not to tempt fate.

I spent a few days in Sao Paulo and then headed into the countryside to visit a university I was hoping to work with.  I had an interesting time there being shown their prize-winning cows worth over ten million dollars each (!) and a number of cloned calves who, to my surprise, all looked slightly different.  Although they were genetically the same, because they had been bred in the wombs of different mothers they had each developed slightly differently.  It's amazing what I learn on these trips!

I came back to Canada for a few weeks and then was off again.  This time to Europe.

I started in Berlin, attending a big industry conference.  It was also a nice opportunity for me to connect with my cousin, Fran, who lives there. We had a lovely evening out and I also managed to spend a few hours exploring the German capital, which I hadn't seen since reunification.  It felt slightly strange but at the same time wonderful to attend an event in the Canadian Embassy that now stands on what had been when I was previously there no man's land.

From Berlin, I flew on to Istanbul, where I used to live, for a week of meetings and visits.  It was great to be back in the city I know so well and to see it looking so vibrant in the sunshine.    I was part of a group of Canadian language education institutions that were there.  It was a great crowd and I enjoyed being able to share the joys of Turkish cuisine with others.  Whilst there I was also sent on a rescue mission for my friend, Giulia, who had lost a ring in a hostel she had been staying a few weeks previously.  I am pleased to report the ring was found and has now been returned to her owner.  The whole process meant I got to enjoy a great night out in Isty on the way so I was quite happy!

Prior to my European trip, my friend Diana and I went on a one-day Russian art workshop in Toronto to learn all about matryoshka dolls.  These little Russian dolls are something of a favourite of mine, probably ever since my grandparents used to bring me a traditionally-dressed dolls back from their various world travels when I was a child.  Anyway, it was lovely to find out more and hear that they are actually a Japanese import upon which traditional Russian folklore art was transposed.  We heard about the different art styles and then were let loose and given a couple of hours to decorate our own matryoshka doll.  I chose to follow a very traditional style and my little doll, Olga, was born.  However, I felt Olga would never be truly a Russian doll until she had been taken to her homeland so on my recent visit to Moscow, immediately after Istanbul, she came with me in my suitcase.

I had another busy week in Moscow with various meetings, university visits and embassy functions but then was able to take Olga out on the Saturday and show her the main city sights.  She is now truly a Russian doll!

The other highlight of my most recent trip to Moscow was that I booked myself a ticket to see the Bolshoi Ballet perform Ivan the Terrible set to Prokofiev's music.  The Bolshoi Theatre has recently been reopened following a complete renovation.  The ticket was not exactly cheap but was well worth it for the experience.  I was told off by the ushers at first for not having been to hang my coat in the cloakroom but once that was sorted and they showed me to my seat, I was almost moved to tears again and again.  The auditorium was simply breathtaking with its chandeliers and gold decoration, the dancing was amazing and the music was just beautiful...and I'm not a huge ballet or classical music that's saying something!

As I was in Europe, I felt it would be wrong not to pop by my own homeland on my way back to Canada so I stopped by Leeds for a week on my way back to Toronto.  It was great to spend some quality time with my parents and catch up with friends and family as well as a spot of Christmas shopping.  My folks even used me as an excuse to throw an early festive party.  It was a lovely way to see so many people although it's never long enough!

On that note, I shall take this opportunity to wish you and yours all the very best for the festive season. As the Canadians say, Happy Holidays. I hope to see you in 2013 and remember, guests are always welcome here in Toronto.  Here's to a wonderful year ahead full of adventures in whatever form they take!