Beautiful Calgary

[Matilda]

Let’s catch up! Our final stop between the U.S. and the Rocky Mountains Buffalo Ranch was Calgary, where we spent 3 days  before heading into the Rockies. Our Airbnb hosts were kind enough to offer an airport pick-up service which saved us some time and money. Throughout this trip we have mostly stayed at Airbnb locations over hotels and it’s such a great way of travelling. For example, our stays in New York City and Toronto were both in great neighbourhoods (Greenpoint/Brooklyn and Roncesvalles) where we felt like locals rather than tourists.

Upon arriving at our accommodation in Calgary we knew that we’d once again made the right choice! Our place for the next 3 days was located in a beautiful neighbourhood, just above Bow River and a 10 minute walk from picturesque Kensington with lots of small stores, pubs and restaurants. We were also only a 25-30 minute walk from downtown Calgary. The city had, much like our previous stop Chicago, just received a dump of powdery snow which just added to the beauty. I could keep going about how pretty it was. Honestly, every street in the surrounding areas could easily have been plucked right out of a Christmas movie – complete with light decorations! Did I mention we saw polar hares running around in the street every night?! You could barely see them at first as they just look like piles of snow until they start moving. At which point you’ll probably see 5 or 6 of them! Probably having a very important polar hare meeting about things and stuff.

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Our first mission after leaving our bags at the Airbnb was dinner. We ended up at Menyatai Japanese Noodles which was the first restaurant we saw and the food was delicious! After this we took a stroll around the neighbourhood and made mental notes of places to go back to over the next couple of days. We discovered that they had a CAT CAFÉ (!!!!) and had to immediately message our friend Sofie as we’ve been wanting to go to one for ages. Unfortunately we didn’t have time to visit this time around, but I have a feeling we’ll be back in Calgary before the year is over.

On the second day we decided to checkout downtown. It was pretty cold outside so most people were making their way around the central areas by using the pedestrian skywalk system +15. We wanted some fresh air and sun though so we spent the morning outside. On our way back towards Kensington we decided to walk across the Peace Bridge. Just before reaching the bridge, we happened upon a travelling outdoor photo exhibition called The Fence. It was apparently the first time it was being shown outside of the U.S. and it was very cool. All photos, with accompanying stories, were attached to a fence that went around a construction site by the river. Read more about it HERE.

We had a late poutine lunch back in Kensington before checking out the stores in the area. I ended up getting myself a nice big scarf (desperately needed in the cold temperature) and we both scored ourselves a bargain at a local bookstore. As we hadn’t seen much of the Winter Olympics we decided to leave our purchases in the Airbnb and then make our way back to find somewhere with drinks and sports. The place we chose to hang out for the evening was Hayden Block. It’s a great place with a good atmosphere, lovely staff and HUGE tv screens which makes for good Olympics watching! We had a couple of drinks each and shared a plate of hushpuppies while being entertained by the  Men’s Half-Pipe Snowboarding.

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Peace Bridge

Our final day began with a walk to the Prince’s Island Park which is located in the Bow River. We learned that the island, along with the rest of Calgary, was heavily flooded a few years ago. The island is still being restored. It was a nice little walk where we met many squirrels. I don’t really know what more to ask for in a walk, other than seeing cute animals? We came from the west end of the island and headed East to the man-made wetlands. It is inhabited by a range of different bird species and a few beavers. Unfortunately we did not see any beavers, but we did see signs that they were present in the area which was cool!

As it was the 13th of February, aka Galentine’s Day, we thought we deserved a waffle treat after all the walking. Leslie Knope would definitely agree with us on this. The perfect place for a waffle brunch was of course Buttermilk Fine Waffles on 17th Avenue. I’m gonna let this picture do the talking:

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Moa had a haircut booked in the afternoon which meant we had some further time to kill. Calgary is located in Alberta, which we’ve been told is country music land in Canada, and it has a few country/western stores (Calgary Stampede anyone?). We checked out a couple of them and Moa got herself another postcard for her travel collection. We went our separate ways when it was time for the big haircut. I found myself killing time in the nearby CORE shopping centre with a late A&W lunch. I told myself I wouldn’t do any shopping. It didn’t work. In fairness, I absolutely did need to get the cleaning and waterproofing kit for my leather boots. They are naturally waterproof, but in the extremely slushy streets they had sadly started leaking and had salt stains all over. So I started in ALDO where I got these much needed supplies… and H&M was basically next door with a sale… 17 CAD for two knitted sweaters was too good to pass up!

Around 3 hours later, Moa was finally done with her marathon haircut. It was at a hair academy so I’ll forgive it… even though it made me spend money.

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We ended the day at Hayden Block once more to watch the Olympics. The Women’s Ice Hockey tournament was on with Sweden facing Switzerland. The staff made sure to have at least one screen show the game for us which was super nice of them. We had a few drinks each and I ate a great bacon mac & cheese. Sweden lost against Switzerland, and all over the world, people were confused as to how one country could play a game against themselves in the Olympics and lose.

I must add a final note about our fantastic Airbnb. Our host Christine was incredibly nice and the house was all you could ask for. They even stocked the kitchen with a “mini supermarket” where you could take any items you needed (such as noodles, coffee, energy bars) and pay by putting change in a jar. Great if you don’t have the time or energy to go to the supermarket! They had not been doing the Airbnb thing for long so we made sure to leave a glowing review. If we are back in the area, we will for sure stay with them again!

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On the 14th of February we got on a Greyhound bus and headed to Golden where we’ve now been for just over a month. We’ll be here for most of April as well, so expect some more posts about this wonderful place in the Rockies!

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Chicago and the Bean

[Matilda]

After spending 2,5 days in Cleveland it was finally time for us to get up stupid early and get on a bus to Chicago where we would be staying with Moa’s friend Jared. Chicago was one of the places I was most excited about seeing, largely due to my family history with the city.

On our way to Chicago we got to tick off Indiana as another state we had set foot in and Moa got herself another rest stop postcard. In case anyone back home is wondering: Ohio and Indiana basically just look the same as southern Sweden. Farmland, farmland, farmland!

We finally arrived in Chicago around 15:00 and it was COLD. Should we be used to this by now? Yes, we should. But after spending 8 hours on a warm bus it’s still a bit of a shock. If you’ve not been to Chicago before, you should know that in the metro there are two maps within the map. If you do not find your stop on the big map, look for the tiny Loop one! It may be in the corner somewhere. The Loop is basically the downtown area. After some initial confusion regarding this, we managed to make our way downtown.

We met up with Jared at the Merchandise Mart and got on a train heading North. Moa and Jared have known each other since they met on a Paris trip a few years back, but it was my first time meeting him. As luck would have it, we all got along very well. It would have been a very awkward couple of days otherwise! We mentioned that we wanted to go see the Swedish American Museum the next day and were surprised to learn that Jared’s place was located a mere 10 minute walk from there. We were basically staying on the border of Andersonville!

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Meeting a dalahäst in the middle of Chicago!

After dropping our bags off, we were taken on a walk through Andersonville. You can really tell that people are proud of their Swedish heritage! The main street is filled with Swedish flags and Swedish American businesses. We made some mental notes on what places to visit the next day and then headed back home to eat some deep dish Chicago pizza. It was very weird! Good, but weird. It’s like a pizza in reverse (cheese at the bottom, sauce on top). It’ll also make you REALLY full after only 1 or 2 slices.

Our Friday morning adventures were all located in Andersonville. The day started at the wonderful SVEA Restaurant which is a small Swedish American café/diner that has been open for a century. We were pleasantly surprised by the food! The menu was naturally a bit Americanized but it still had plenty of Swedish elements which made us feel right at home. (This was a pretty big contrast to the “Swedish” coffee shops we encountered in New York, where the only Swedish connections were a flag and maybe a couple  of translated words on the menu.) I had pancakes with lingonberry jam and Moa went for an omelette. Delicious! If you’re ever in the area, you should definitely visit this place. It has a great atmosphere and they only accept cash – just like back in the day!

At the next table were two very nice American ladies who struck up conversation with us when they found out we were Swedish. They gave us some great tips on places to see in Chicago and where to go for a good book or a meal in the surrounding areas. They ended up offering to pay for our breakfast which had us a little speechless and very grateful. “We have to show you there are still some good people left in America!” And there are indeed! I think that’s one of the things that so far has really left an impression on us in both Canada and the USA – people are generally very open and friendly. We love it!

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The corner of Andersonville where the Swedish American Museum is located!

After breakfast it was time to visit the museum down the road. We were greeted by a lovely lady by the name of Diana who volunteered at the front desk. She gave us a rundown of how to best experience the history museum upstairs and also some background info on the exhibitions currently on display downstairs and in the Wallenberg gallery. We were definitely made to feel welcome from the moment we stepped in the door.

The museum upstairs was great and had paper guides in both English and Swedish. We had already learned a lot in school about the Swedes emigrating to America so there wasn’t brand any new information for us. It was, however, very interesting to read about it from “the other side”. The room is set up so that you walk counter clockwise in a circle and get to see each step of the Swedish immigrant’s journey. For me it was cool to see how my great grandmother would have travelled and spent her days in the city. The museum also had a lot of info about Swedes who made an impact on Chicago and the country in general. For example, Swedes played a large part in building Chicago and other cities, both as architects and as labourers. And Walgreens, a huge American drugstore chain, was founded by a Swede in Chicago!

We spent quite some time upstairs as we wanted to read and look at everything. Once done, we had to visit the museum store downstairs which was packed with Swedish things. They stocked Kosta Boda glassware which is created not far from my little town in Sweden. And the most important thing – they sold Marabou chocolate! It was of course very expensive but we both decided to treat ourselves.

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It probably snowed for about 95% of our visit. PRETTY!

In the afternoon we made our way downtown where it was apparently very important for us to see “the Bean”. I didn’t know what this bean was or why we should see it. Moa, Jared and the ladies we met at breakfast did however assure me that I should see the Bean. It is allegedly a famous Chicago landmark, but I mean… I didn’t know it existed… Sooo… here is a bean:

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BEAN

Post-Bean we went for an ice cold walk by the beautiful Chicago river. I was very surprised at how clear the water looked. (I guess that’s what looking at the dirty Thames for 5 years does to you.) We then decided to go for an early dinner to warm up and make plans for the evening.

Ever since we decided to visit Chicago we had been talking about seeing some improv comedy, as we’d read so much about the Chicago improv scene. So during dinner we looked up possible shows to see in the evening. We settled on an 8 o’clock performance at the iO Theatre – another place we can highly recommend to everyone! Just walking around the place and seeing the pictures on the walls is very cool. It shows you just how many famous comedians and actors that have passed through the theatre over the years.

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iO Theatre stage pre-show

The show itself was great, with the improvisers taking inspiration from a “mindreader” performing tricks on the audience in between scenes. The particular show we went to was apparently new but we wouldn’t have been able to tell! In general I felt the tempo and overall standard was higher than the improv we saw in New York (and that was still VERY good). So thumbs up for the iO!

Saturday started with breakfast at SVEA Restaurant once more. I opted for the viking style french toast with bacon. Also delicious! We then made our way downtown and wandered around as Jared showed us the city. When going by the Chicago Cubs stadium I made the mistake of asking what sport they play and was quickly hushed by Jared (all in good fun). “Don’t say that too loud around here!” But I mean, every American city has all the sports… how am I supposed to know which team does what?!

Early dinner was had at a great place called Cheesies which serves grilled cheese sandwiches. Moa and I had our minds BLOWN. “I would be so fat if I lived in America, there’s too much tasty food” – direct quote from Moa. After our big cheese experience, Jared took us out for our first Target experience. We spent a pretty good amount of time in there but didn’t come out with much. I can definitely see how one might spend a lot of money in there, though…

Our Chicago visit ended with cider, snacks and a movie at Jared’s place. He had bought all the snacks he thought we should try before leaving the U.S. and we combined it with the original Jumanji movie. I had wanted to see it ever since I was a kid but somehow never got around to it. I guess a trip to Chicago at age 26 is as good a time as any to fulfill your childhood movie watching goals!

Our American roadtrip had now come to an end, and we prepared to get up depressingly early and get on a flight to Calgary the next day…

I think we can both say for sure that we will be back in Chicago! In the summer, though. Definitely in the summer.

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On your left! (Washington, D.C.)

[Matilda]

Next stop: Washington, D.C. and the start of our “epic” Greyhound roadtrip! The express bus from New York got off to a rocky start when the bus driver decided not to show up to work. We ended up being delayed by an hour before we finally made it out. I fell asleep almost instantly and woke up in Delaware. We arrived around 3 hours later at Union Station in DC. While trying to figure out how to get to our Airbnb (and probably looking very lost), we were approached by a very nice man heading home from work in the city. He showed us to the DC Streetcar which is free to ride from Union Station down H Street Corridor and Benning Road. We were given lots of information about the area, and advice on what corners to avoid during the night. He then proceeded to walk us to the Airbnb, to make sure we got there safe, and gave us his business card in case we needed any help.

Our Airbnb room was really nice and located not too far from the U.S. capitol. If it weren’t for my inconvenient knee “injury” we could definitely have walked there, but on this occasion we did have to settle for public transport.

On Friday we had a guided tour of the Pentagon booked. It was completely free but subject to application and background checks in advance. As you come out of the metro there is a strict no photography policy around the Pentagon – they mean serious business! We were around 15 minutes early which meant that we weren’t allowed inside and had to take a short walk and come back. We were then subject to airport style security checks before being allowed in the waiting room and eventually invited to a tour group of around 10 people. Our guide was walking backwards while taking us through the history of Pentagon’s different departments and we got to see quite a few areas of the building, including the 9/11 memorial.

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After our guided tour, we got the metro back into the city and visited the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum which was really cool. They had lots of stuff from NASA, such as satellites, astronaut training facilities, and a piece of the moon! We were very fascinated by the space part of the museum but also enjoyed learning about the history of air travel.

We did become a bit tired of looking at airplanes towards the end and decided it was time to find something to eat. As we walked around the city looking for food, we were struck by how empty it was. There were virtually no people, which in contrast with the wide streets and grand buildings made us feel like we were walking around a model city rather than a real one! It was definitely very different from New York.

 

Our main aim for the Saturday was to visit the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. We ended up spending most of the day inside the museum, and there is so much to take in that your brain just starts shutting down after a few hours. We particularly enjoyed the exhibit about human evolution, but the mammal and narwhal rooms were amazing too. The nature photography exhibit on the second floor is also something that you do not want to miss.

After frying our brains with information we spent some time sightseeing. It was a beautiful and sunny afternoon/evening – not as cold and windy as the day before.(Warning: when it’s windy in DC, it’s reeeeally windy! Too many open spaces!) There were a lot more people out and about on the weekend, which made it feel more like an actual real life place.  We started out by Capitol Hill and made our way to the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the White House. Unfortunately we did not manage to find the exact bench that Leslie Knope was sitting on in an episode of Parks and Recreation, but we did get to walk where Captain America and Falcon used to go for daily runs so it’s okay.

 

On Sunday we had arranged to meet up for lunch with my friend Faith, whom I got talking to online through a very dedicated group of Alex Lambert fans a few years back. (Actually, this was back in 2010 so it’s almost a decade ago… what’s up with time, guys?)

Here is a thing that happened while we were waiting for the streetcar in the morning:

Random man: “Are you watching the Superbowl today?”

Us: “No, don’t think so.”

Random man: “What?”

Us: “Well, we’re Swedish so we don’t know much about it.”

Random man: “That’s no excuse.”

MOVING SWIFTLY ON. We had some time to kill before lunch so we popped into the National Archives to take a look at the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution of the United States. It was very interesting to see the original documents up close and then to be able to read about how things lead up to each and everyone of them being signed.

 

At 1 PM we headed over to the Hill Country Barbecue Market to meet up with Faith. It was really cool to finally meet face to face after all these years! The restaurant choice was Faith’s idea and it was mine and Moa’s first introduction to a real Texas barbecue. The food was absolutely amazing and we had a very nice time, chatting away. We are hoping to visit California later this year and got some great tips on what to do there.

After lunch we decided to check out the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. It was cool to learn about how American culture developed through various different cultures coming together over the centuries. A huge amount of Swedes moved to the USA in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s so it’s not uncommon for us to have American relatives. Two of my great grandmothers popped over to work in the USA in the early 1900’s. One of them was in Chicago for around 12 years before going back to Sweden, but her brothers stayed in the U.S. and had families. A third great grandmother was actually born in New York!

We found a little corner at the museum about Swedish immigration to Chicago and a note recommending a visit to the Swedish American Museum there, which we immediately wrote down. (More about that will come when we tell you about our Chicago visit…) When we left the museum we were absolutely drenched by heavy rain. What better way is there to end a day, really?

That’s a wrap on our Washington, D.C. tourist adventures! I bet you can’t wait to hear about our next stop. You are going to be SO jealous… but I won’t spoil too much. I’m sure Moa will have some fantastic things to say about it.

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Moa, thinking about that next blog post… probably

New York, New York

[Matilda]

Before I get started on our first few days in the city, I just need to say that I absolutely LOVED New York. The atmosphere is amazing and if immigration laws and money were no object, I’d probably move there right this instant. It’s like London on crack – in a good way!

Like every good trip, we were thrown into a panic before even arriving. During the train ride down, we ended up having our original Airbnb cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances and had to chase up new accommodation (thank goodness for wifi on trains). After half an hour of looking around, we found a place in Brooklyn hosted by musicians. The apartment was great and located in a really nice neighbourhood with a beautiful view of Manhattan so we definitely felt like we hit the jackpot.

 

Friday morning we got up bright and early to head into Manhattan. We got off at a random stop and started walking up towards Central Park to get a feel for the city and pass some landmarks, such as the Empire State Building, on the way. Tip: if you’re in New York on a budget and don’t want to cash out on the Central Park Zoo, you can still catch a glimpse of it as you’re walking by. The sea lions can be seen from outside the zoo for free!

Moa at the High Line Park

The rest of the day was really just spent walking around the city and we eventually made it to the High Line Park just before the sun began to set. The High Line is definitely a place I’d recommend anyone to visit when in New York – especially if you’re going later in the year when it’s warmer and the plants come to life. It’s an old freight rail line that has been turned into a park and runs along a large part of West Manhattan. Check out the High Line website to read more about it: http://www.thehighline.org/visit

We walked from the Hell’s Kitchen end and down to the Meatpacking District where we grabbed a quick bite at a diner before heading back to Brooklyn. It was an awesome but exhausting first day, and we weren’t exactly about to get any rest… As we got back at around 20:00, we headed straight for bed with our alarms set to 00:30. To read about our Saturday adventure, click HERE!

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On Sunday we woke up to rain and the sad news that IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad had died. We therefore concluded it was our duty as Swedes to visit IKEA Brooklyn and have a meal in Kamprad’s honor. We both opted for the Swedish meatballs and a classic Swedish dessert: the princess cake. Unfortunately, I must admit that the IKEA restaurant in the US was nowhere near as good as its Swedish and UK counterparts. But I guess that’s down to differences in American/European taste and culture. After lunch, we headed straight for the food market which is generally a gold mine for Swedes abroad who are missing home. This was again very different in comparison to IKEA in the UK or Sweden, but we found our Marabou milk chocolate which was the most important thing. Note to Americans: if you think the cinnamon buns served in the US IKEA food markets are Swedish… think again! We definitely do not glaze our cinnamon buns. In fact, I’m a little offended that IKEA is selling glazed cinnamon buns.

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This picture has no relation to the above or the below. It’s just Times Square. You’re welcome.

Sunday evening was dedicated to waiting in yet another line. Moa and I are both huge fans of Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation, Saturday Night Live, etc.) and wanted to check out the Upright Citizens Brigade theatre which she co-founded. On Sunday nights they do improv shows in Hell’s Kitchen – one show at 19:30 and one at 21:30. The late show is free and tickets are distributed to those who line up at 20:15. We had never been to see improv before so we were excited to learn what it was all about. The show was fabulous! I was really impressed by the actors ability to think on their feet and create a scene that was instantly hilarious. Something to remember is that the theatre does welcome donations at the end, so bring some cash with you. You don’t have to give much and the free show is worth it!

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Monday morning began with me sleeping in while Moa went off to climb walls somewhere, so we both got do do things we enjoyed. I’m a firm believer in “what goes up must come down, and it’ll probably break a few bones on the way”. I therefore do not climb things unless I have to. Can you tell I’m the person who keeps this duo grounded? ANYWAY. We met up by the Brooklyn Bridge after each of our individual activities and walked across to Manhattan. It was super windy and super cold but we managed to look happy in at least one picture (above, if you hadn’t noticed).

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We took a sharp left after the bridge and made our way towards the older parts of New York. One of the things I didn’t know before this trip was that New York was initially New Amsterdam, founded by the Dutch (they also gave name to Manhattan). Then the British came along and renamed the place. Does Brexit mean New York will go back to being New Amsterdam? No? Britain still gets that one? Okay.

The older parts of New York are in lower Manhattan, where you’ll also find Wall Street and *drum roll* the Staten Island Ferry! Now, our knowledge of Staten Island is pretty much limited to this video clip…

… but hey, the ferry is free and goes past the Statue of Liberty so we thought we’d go for it. The ferry itself isn’t much fun but you get a nice view of Brooklyn Heights, Manhattan and the statue. You will also get to see the US coast guard side by side with the ferry. They have a big-ass gun at the front. (The coast guard, not the ferry people.) We did the touristy thing, which means we did not stay on Staten Island. We got off one boat and ran around the hall to catch the next one back.

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Once back in lower Manhattan, we figured it was about time we visited the 9/11 Memorial. I think it’s a place that everyone who remembers that day needs to visit at least once in their life. When arriving at the memorial, my first impression was that it was beautiful and incredibly well thought out. Moving around the pools was emotional. I found myself jumping between admiration of the memorial, waves of sadness, and annoyance at tourists inappropriately taking selfies smiling. I tried to somehow wrap my head around the whole thing, remembering the tv images I saw when I was 10, looking upwards at where the towers used to be. After we left, my brain was kind of itching to go back to keep trying to make sense of things, but I’m pretty sure that’s impossible. There is also a museum at the memorial but as we are travelling on a budget we did not go in there this time around.

So those were our New York adventures from Thursday 25th to Monday 29th of Jan. I’m gonna let Moa wrap it up with a post about the remaining days, so look out for more New York shortly!

Can you tell we’ve done a lot of walking? I may have busted my left knee. No joke. I didn’t know you could do that just from walking…

 

22 Hours in Montréal

[Matilda]

Yesterday, the time had sadly come for us to leave the cozy farm life in Kenmore and start our 22 day travel run, beginning in Montréal and ending in Calgary before our next Work Away stop in Golden. It was a bittersweet feeling as we were sad to say goodbye but also excited (and nervous) to head out. Our first, and shortest, stop was Montréal. The train ride between Ottawa and Montréal was only 2 hours which is pretty comfortable. We had booked a cheap hotel for the night which wasn’t too far from the train station.

Upon arriving, we made the poor and very regrettable decision to walk the 26 minute distance between the station and the hotel. The temperatures around Ottawa and Montréal have been very weird lately, going above 0 and raining, only to fall back down to -15 or lower. There is now a pretty decent layer of shiny ice on everything. It can even be hard to tell if you are going past a field or a lake. Why am I telling you this? Well, because of the ice being literally everywhere, I guess the city of Montréal had to prioritise where to salt and sand. Unfortunately for us, this meant most of our walk went over uneven ice and slush. Now, imagine that I was carrying a backpack + a guitar in a hard case whilst dragging a fully packed, medium sized suitcase along. Are you feeling the regret? I am feeling the regret.

That’s not the end of it, by the way. When we arrived at the hotel, we realised it had a long and narrow staircase up to the reception. No elevator. We were then shown to our room which was *drum roll* on the upper floor! Another narrow staircase! What joy.

After this, we were both pretty sweaty and exhausted so we relaxed in the room for a bit before heading out again. We got the metro to downtown and went looking for a nice place to eat poutine. It is apparently very important to have poutine when visiting Canada, especially if you are in the Québec province. We found a great place called Frites Alors. Moa went for a coleslaw poutine and I got the pulled pork. YUM. We both think poutine would do great in Sweden. It has all the things us Swedes enjoy the most – fries, cheese and sauce. Future business idea?

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My pulled pork poutine. In the background you can see Moa thanking the food gods for this gift (that we had to pay for).

Post poutine, we were on the lookout for a pair of gloves for Moa. She really wanted a thinner pair with the Canadian flag on them, so we went through a few souvenir shops before finally finding some that she liked.

We continued our icy adventures by foot and found some really beautiful sights. I have no idea what these buildings are called, but if you’re ever in Montréal on a winter night, you should definitely seek them out.

We spent the rest of the night in the hotel, snacking and watching Saturday Night Live clips before going to bed. Our wake up call was at 7 AM to prepare for the next stop on our trip… New York City! We are still on the train from Montréal to NYC as I’m writing this post. It’s a 10 hour train ride but that’s fine as there are some really nice views and trains in Canada and the US have been very comfortable so far. Thank you, VIA Rail and Amtrak!

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Somewhere between the states of New York and Vermont.

You always hear about the US border being intimidating and I’ve never been outside the EU before this trip, so it’s still a little nerve wracking going through border control. It was all fine though. The US border officials were strict but friendly as it was clear we weren’t up to anything sneaky. Moa and I both agreed that if music doesn’t work out, we might look into border control. After 3 years in customer service, we have learned a great deal about sniffing out BS. Working in a call centre is totally the same thing as policing a country’s border, right?

We are now pulling into Schenectady, a place I did not know existed until just now. Below is a picture of Moa enjoying her time in Schenectady.

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Over and out!

Toronto

[Matilda]

In the weeks leading up to our flight we were closely monitoring temperatures in Toronto, just so we’d have a rough idea of whether we’d freeze to death upon leaving the airport or not. After being warned about the -16 C weather, we anxiously left the airport, half expecting to die on the spot. Thankfully, we both had proper winter clothing on which meant the cold was absolutely fine. It’s easy to build these things up in your head but all you need to manage it is a few good layers.

We got a taxi to our Airbnb in Roncesvalles, which is a wonderful village west of downtown Toronto. Our home for the next 5 days was a garage turned guest house and we were pleasantly surprised by how warm it was. This garage was better insulated than any of the London flats we lived in. Take note, England! Our host was incredibly nice, allowing us to use the bathroom in the main house anytime, and giving us great advice on where to go for meals in the local area.

The next day we decided to explore Toronto by foot. According to Google Maps, it would take us about an hour and fifteen minutes to get downtown. We accepted this challenge. After all, we are quite used to the Londoner way of walking places. Of course, things are generally within more of a walking distance in London, but I’ve always found that you get to know a city better as a pedestrian rather than riding the subway all day. So we started off by heading south towards Lake Ontario. We stopped by Tim Hortons for breakfast, which we had heard was kind of like the Costa of Canada. It was cheap and good for money-saving, but later in the week we did discover that you quickly tire of the drinks (you get what you pay for essentially).

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We were accompanied by a light snowfall as we walked along the shore. Every now and then, we’d stop to take in the view and try to realise that we were actually on the North American continent. I still don’t think we’ve fully grasped it! It was a beautiful and quiet walk which eventually lead us to the city core. A few observations were made during this time:

  • Toronto is very easy to navigate. Because of how young the country is (Canada only turned 150 last year!) it seems there has been more planning involved in how cities are built, in comparison to our old European towns. The streets are straight so we just set out in the general direction of our destination and found that we ended up right where we wanted to. 
  • THERE ARE NO PEOPLE ANYWHERE. Okay, that is a slight exaggeration. But coming from a cramped London and being used to the struggles of just walking down a high street, this was amazing. The streets are wide and so are the sidewalks, but even if they weren’t you’d still be able to easily make your way down any street. Of course, someone who spent their whole life in Toronto might disagree. It’s all about perspective after all. But this was a pleasant surprise for us – even downtown you’d never feel cramped unless you got near one of the main tourist attractions. (On our last day we also realized they had these underground shopping walkways called ’PATH’. This could also be why we didn’t see many people in the streets…) 
  • The city is divided into districts and they very much follow the description. We were looking for some shopping, as I stupidly lost my brand new and very warm beanie before we even left Copenhagen (Christmas present – super sad). We soon realized that you can’t just walk around hoping to run into relevant retail. Sure, there are some individual stores here and there, but if you are in the Financial District you’re gonna see banks. If you’re in the Entertainment District, you’ll find a bunch of arenas. We eventually found the Eaton Centre which is massive  and located just above the Entertainment District.

So while we were walking around looking for a new beanie, we ended up passing the Rogers Centre which is the home of the Toronto Blue Jays. That day it was however very clear that baseball was not on the agenda. Having worked in the ticketing industry for some time, we soon realised that all the kids and parents walking by could only mean one thing… Disney On Ice! Without going into too much detail, we have both been slightly traumatized from selling tickets for this event in the UK, so we ran past the venue and didn’t look back! (We’re sure it’s a lovely event.)

As we then made our way up through the Financial District, Moa loudly exclaimed that she knew where she was because she ”recognised it from Suits”. I remain doubtful of this.

After walking back to Roncesvalles, we were very tired. I think it’s safe to say this was 50% jet lag and 50% exhaustion from walking literally all day. We had a late lunch at Chipotle on the way back and they’ve still not charged my card so YAY free food!

 

The next day we were up bright and early to make our way back into the city for a visit to Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada. It was pretty crowded as we were there on a Saturday, and on New Year’s weekend at that. But it was a fun experience and very educational. Our favourite part was definitely the moving tunnel walkway where you had tropical fish, sharks and turtles swimming all around you.

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Halfway through, we purchased some drinks in the café and it’s very weird how they don’t add the sales tax on stuff until you get to the cashier. Note to whoever is responsible for this: PLEASE STOP. (This is a general thing in Canada by the way – on pretty much all purchases we’ve made so far.)

After the Aquarium, we made plans to go see a movie in the evening. And by this, I mean absolutely no later than 19:30 in the interest of staying awake. Damn you, jet lag! We got tickets for Downsizing at the Scotiabank Theatre and made our way to a pub called Belfast Love for dinner beforehand. We walked in just in time to catch the end of an ice hockey game between Sweden and Switzerland. Meant to be! And I barely stayed awake for the movie afterwards…

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For New Years we had planned to visit the CN Tower early in the afternoon as the weather was supposed to be cold but clear. We weren’t disappointed! The sun was out and we got a great view of the city and the lake. Moa loved the glass floor area, where you can see the ground hundreds of metres below… I wasn’t so thrilled. The survival instinct in me kicked in and I stayed clear of the death floor. Don’t worry though, it’s perfectly safe. Or so they say.

After our excursion into the sky, we walked past the Air Canada Centre and found a couple of familiar Swedish faces…

 

Some more walking ensued as we checked out Old Town before heading back to rest up before the big Eve. Believe me, when your body still thinks you are running 6 hours ahead, you need a rest before attempting to stay awake past midnight. We didn’t have any plans for the night, other than watching the fireworks display at Nathan Phillips Square. Around 20:00 we walked out onto Roncesvalles Avenue and found a gastro pub a few doors down that served a very tasty buffet at a decent price. A few hours later we got on the street car towards downtown for fireworks! I didn’t realise that public transport was now free for the night and paid $3.25 for no reason. Oh well.

We arrived just in time for the firework display with only a couple of minutes to spare. This was the most people we ever saw in one place in Toronto during our stay there. The fireworks were very cool and also signalled the end of Canada’s year long 150th anniversary celebrations.

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New Year’s Day was our last day and we decided to explore High Park which was just down the road from our Airbnb. It’s a really beautiful park AND they have a zoo! The animal displays are located along one of the roads in the park and it’s completely free to go past them. They had llamas, bison, highland cattle, yaks, sheep, reindeer and wallabies. Unfortunately we did not get to see any wallabies in the snow – that would have been cool! We did get to walk on the ice in Grenadier Pond for a bit, surrounded by people skating and playing ice hockey.

 

To round off our walk, we had lunch at the Grenadier Restaurant inside the park. The food there was great – especially their home fries. Try them if you get the chance! All in all, I absolutely loved Toronto and look forward to going back there soon.

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