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!