Sunday, May 4, 2014

Emerging from the Ice

It's been a few months since I last wrote and what a busy few months it's been!

Just before Christmas, my parents arrived for a visit and Toronto greeted them in true Canadian style.  We experienced an ice storm.  None of us had ever seen anything like it.  Rain falls but freezes upon impact.  The result was that layer upon layer of ice built up on every surface.  The walkways and roads were treacherous, tree branches bent with the weight of the ice and many eventually cam crashing down onto power lines leaving vast areas of the city without power when it was 15 below.  We lost power for about 24 hours and we were the lucky ones as many friends didn't get it switched back on until after Christmas.  The Dunkirk spirit kicked in and it was quite fun hosting a small group of friends for a party by candlelight.

Breaking into the rental car through the ice that hard turned to what was almost thick sheets of glass, however, took over an hour and resulted in sore bleeding hands!  As I was doing this a huge tree came down just across the street from me.

A drive around the area later showed us what the real damage was - the streets looked like a hurricane had swept through with trees and tree branches down everywhere.  No wind though, just ice.  It is estimated 20% of Toronto's tree canopy was lost during the ice storm.  At night, the twinkling branches looked very pretty and Christmassy though!

Despite my mum having a nasty flu during Christmas week, we had a nice time and I cooked my first ever Christmas Dinner.  We also enjoyed watching festive movies such as It's a Wonderful Life, White Christmas and The Polar Express to get us more in the mood.  Afternoon tea at the Ritz and a visit to the new Ripleys Aquarium were other highlights.

In an effort to escape the polar vortex, we headed south to Mexico and spent the next two weeks in Tulum on the Riviera Maya.  We had a bit of a rental car nightmare initially but after that got sorted out and we eventually acquired some wheels, we enjoyed pootling back and forth to the beautiful beach as well as seeing some of the Mayan ruins.  We had a few days of rain but were just thankful to be away from the snow and ice!  It was a lovely break.

Not long after I was somewhat, although not entirely, incapacitated following a minor operation on my big toe.  I was not a happy bunny for a week as I trudged through the snow in my sandals as I couldn't get my shoes on properly without being in agony.  Still, I improved my bandage-tying techniques and it is on the mend now!

In February, I was supposed to be going to Ukraine on a three-city tour to Kiev, Donetsk and Odessa.  All three cities have been in the news over the past few weeks but at the time, the unrest was mainly centred on Kiev.  In the end, the Canadian Ambassador took the decision to call off our tour and, as a consequence, my follow-on trip to the UK also got cancelled.  Sometimes you have to play it safe and we were all relieved not to go in the end as the day we were due to arrive was the day many lost their lives in Kiev.  Protestors also sought refuge in the Canadian Embassy, where we had been due to have some of our events.  Fortunately, the staff I know there and other people I work with regularly in Ukraine are all safe.

My Plan B was instead to move house...again!  So, at the beginning of March, I moved from the East End of Toronto back to the centre and an area of the city called Little Italy.  It's about a 40 minute walk to work and right in the heart of the action.  My new apartment is on the top floor of a century-old house and has a fabulous view across the roof-tops to the CN Tower from my large balcony.  The move itself was quite entertaining as my rather large church pew had to be hauled up outside the house in the snow in order to get it in.  Thankfully, one of the movers was originally from the Netherlands so had experience of this type of thing! I love my new pad in the loft and am enjoying being surrounded by little Italian bakeries, delis and even a second-run cinema.  It's great to be able to walk places and when summer eventually arrives, I will break my bicycle out again.

Talking of transport (!), I was 'over the moon' to win tickets to see the Canadian astronaut and former Commander of the International Space Station, Chris Hadfield, give a talk at the University of Toronto.  He shared his amusing tales of life getting to, from and being in space as well as inspiring us all to 'reach for the stars' in our own lives.  He's an amazing guy who has done so much to educate and inspire a whole generation of fellow stargazers.

At the end of March, I was asked to fly down to Brazil on short notice and attend a very interesting conference in Sao Paulo on student mobility between Canada and Brazil.  I then went on to spend about a week in Rio in order to do a couple of education fairs and visit one of the universities there.  My hotel was overlooking Copacabana Beach and I enjoyed my free time sitting by the rooftop pool taking in the view when the sun shone.  Rio is gearing up for both the World Cup and Olympics although, like the IOC, I am not sure all will be ready in time.  There is a huge amount of construction going on and it is quite chaotic in some parts of the city. I hope I am proved wrong.  I flew south to Porto Alegre for another fair and then home.

I was back for just a week before jetting off again.  This time it was on holiday though rather than for work.  I went to Cuba with some of the ladies from my yoga studio.  We went on a yoga retreat...I say that in the loosest terms possible as it was more like a "girls week" with a bit of yoga thrown in in the early morning and evenings.  The weather was fabulous and I thoroughly enjoyed the yoga and beach.  The downside to a vacation in Cuba is that everything is a bit crumbly and the food is not great...but it's no surprise as to why with all the blockades they face.  The people are very friendly and our day trip to Havana was enlightening as there has been a lot of investment here since my last visit.  It's a beautiful city with a fascinating history.

The past month has seen the last of the snow melt as we emerge from the harshest winter in Toronto since the mid-1970s.  Summer is just around the corner but we've still got to get to spring yet!  I'm hopeful though as if you look carefully you can see the buds appearing on the trees and the odd daffodil sprouting.

Speaking of looking carefully, I've enjoyed taking part in a couple of scavenger hunts over the past few weeks.  The first one was organized in an area of the city known as Liberty Village.  Along with my two team-mates, we had two hours to solve clues and track down various treasures such as dogs in clothing as well as undertake a number of challenges such as singing nursery rhymes on street corners and going down a playground slide!  It was all good fun and ended in a brunch for all the participants.  The second hunt by Urban Capers took place at the Royal Ontario Museum.  Again, we had two hours but this time the clues helped us to solve a murder.  Our team, the Raiders of the Lost Artifact, came in second!

The past week, I've once again been enjoying my favourite Toronto film festival, the Hot Docs documentary film festival.  Highlights have been seeing the man behind Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street as well as George Takei aka Captain Sulu from Star Trek and now a social media icon.

Next week, I will once again be taking part in the Sporting Life 10k along with my colleagues in order to raise funds for Camp Ooch, which provides a camp experience for children suffering from cancer.  This is the third year I have participated and holds special significance as once again I am running in honour of another friend to be taken away from us all too soon by cancer.  Sue Hicks was a fellow adventurer and we travelled to many wonderful places together.  Her cheery "Hallo" and wicked laugh will stay with me always.  Sadly, Sue died at the end of January from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.  On that note I shall finish and say that if you would like to support me in my 10k and raising funds for Camp Ooch, I would be very grateful: Thank you.