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!