NYC, Day 2: Return to Central Park

The Sites 

  • Belvedere Castle
  • Turtle Pond
  • The Metropolitan Museum

Belvedere Castle 

Irina and I head out around 10am on our second day of being in the city, intent on taking a look around the southern half of Central Park that we didn’t have the opportunity to get to the day before. We only have until about 4pm, at which point we need to go eat and briefly go back to the Airbnb before our Statue at Night cruise in the evening (stay tuned for this in the next post!).

Our first destination within Central Park is Belvedere Castle, which had piqued my curiosity on Google Maps the day before. We enter Central Park at West 86th Street, having grabbed breakfast nearby. We enjoy a brisk walk through the park, already bustling with visitors. There are sprinklers on everywhere, a fact to which I am alerted when Irina yelps and cringes; I get sprayed an instant later.


Belvedere, which is Italian for “beautiful view”, is nestled in mid-park on 79th Street. Built in 1869, it is a petite structure that offers excellent views over Central Park and the cityscape.



If you ever hear the weather being broadcasted in NYC, chances are that the day’s temperature were taken from one of Belvedere Castle’s towers. It is, despite its rustic and elegant appearance, a weather station. There are exhibit rooms documenting meteorological data and some of the wildlife in the area, and observation decks in the grounds, open from 10am-5pm daily. Admission is free, with the option of giving a donation to preserve the site.

Turtle Pond

Nearby, depicted in the last photo, is Turtle Pond and beyond, the Great Lawn. The entire space itself occupies 35 acres. Irina and I spent some time relaxing at the west end of Turtle Pond, which has a spacious pavilion. The pond is still and a peculiar shade of bright green. Manmade, much like the other water bodies in Central Park. We don’t happen to spot any turtles, but there are plentiful dragonflies in the area.


The west end of Turtle Pond is also where the King Jagiello Monument happens to be erected. IMG_2259Jagiello was the King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania. The monument is dedicated to the Battle of Grunwald, wherein the Polish and Lithuanian forces defeated the Teutonic Knights, a crusading military order. It is considered to be one of the most famous and important battles of Medieval Europe, and led to the eminence of Poland-Lithuania dynastic alliance.

The Met

I can easily say that the Metropolitan Museum, located on the Museum Mile on the outskirts of Central Park, is the most impressive museum I’ve ever seen.


Stepping inside is like being transported to an entirely different world. Three floors and hundreds of galleries containing art from cultures across the globe and eras spanning millennia. The lobby of the building is crowded-not as muggy and nearly unbearable as that of the Louvre, I should note though-and there is an information desk at the centre. I grabbed a map of the museum, but ultimately, got so caught up in the Greek and Roman wing that I didn’t get to see much else.

In terms of admission costs, there isn’t a fixed price. The recommended price for students (bring a student ID card!) is $12 and with the audio guide that I elected to purchase, my total came out to $19. Given how vast and well-designed the art collection of The Met is, the admission is well worth it.


This is the audio guide ($7). For all pieces that have a small sign depicting headphones beside them, you can get anywhere from 1-5 minutes of added information. The guide discharged very quickly, but you can get it replaced free-of-charge as many times as you need.

In light of my trip to Greece and the opportunity I had to visit several museums, including the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and the Historical Museum of Crete, I thought it would be interesting to compare exhibits and to broaden my knowledge of Greek history to include the historical development of the mainland.

The exhibit does a fascinating and well-detailed job of documenting the expansion of the Mycenaean civilization through trade in the Mediterranean; the ascension of Athens to power in the 5th century through its leadership role in the Persian wars; and its subsequent destruction through the death of its famed politician, Perikles, plague, and losing the war to its rival, the Peloponnesian League. There is a gallery dedicated to Alexander the Great, who led conquests that expanded the Ancient Greek Empire of Macedonia from the Adriatic Sea to the Indus Valley in modern Pakistan and northwest India. He was “defeated” by his own homesick troops and was forced to stop his conquests short of rendering Babylon his new capital and embarking upon campaigns in Arabia. After his death, his empire dissolved into smaller kingdoms throughout the Mediterranean and Middle East. Eventually, every last one of these kingdoms and, thus, the Greek heartlands were assimilated into the Roman Empire.

I greatly enjoyed the I spent in The Met, which was regretfully far too short. We only had time for approximately three hours, but you’ll require far more to cover a significant portion of the expansive art collection. Admittedly, I am quite slow when it comes to making my way through museum collections, but there is such a great deal of knowledge to be absorbed and it’s difficult to progress any faster. So, when I return to NYC, The Met remains as one of the top destinations on my list.


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NYC, Day 1: Hit-or-Miss

Note: I’ll be posting a list of the places that are documented in the post at the top.

The Scenes: 

  • M60 Bus
  • Metro Diner
  • Central Park

Drama on NYC Transit 

“What do you mean, get my foot outta the door? I can’t. It’s stuck!”

I jerk to alertness from my peaceful melancholy on the one hour bus ride from LaGuardia Airport’s Terminal D to our accommodations on 908 Amsterdam Avenue. First, I glance toward the front of the bus, where the bus driver is sitting and glaring into his rearview mirror. Then I turn around.

A man is standing just outside the rear doors, his foot caught squarely in the middle of them. He hops slightly on his other foot, trying to free himself.

“Stop holding the doors open,” The bus driver shouts.

“I’m not joking. I’m actually stuck. Open the doors,” The man outside yells, the sound slightly muffled through the glass. There is a pause, and then the driver slams his hand down. The doors open and the man jumps in, breathing a sigh of relief; he remains standing in the way of the doors closing, however.

“Son, are you still holding the doors open?” The driver is nearly apoplectic.

“Quick,” The man whispers to the lady who is hurriedly inserting her Metro Card into one of the machines at the bus stop, “I can’t hold it much longer.” The lady makes it inside with the doors closing right behind her.

That’s a lot of effort for a bus that’ll come in another 10 minutes.

Diner Don’ts 

After we settle into our Airbnb, Irina and I wander out into the city, intent on grabbing a bite to eat. It’s past 4:00pm and I haven’t eaten since 8:00am that morning, before we left for the airport. Though our original intention is to eat at the Broadway Restaurant, we bypass it in favour of another place: the Metro Diner.

The decor is very typical of a diner, what with its red-and-white checkered floors and walls, and red booths. Service consists of finding your own seating and grabbing the attention of waiters as they pass by. I ordered a salad dish topped with salmon called, Organic Field of Dreams.


The spinach, strawberries, blueberries, almonds, and feta cheese dressed with light balsamic dressing was enjoyable.


The salmon that came with it, however, was not. Rather than being juicy and flaky, it felt like a cold lump of meat.

It’s worth keeping in mind that food in NYC is quite expensive. I paid $15USD for my salad, while Irina paid $12USD for her Greek salad (no add ons).

Needless to say, I’m really curious about the Broadway Restaurant after the Metro Diner experience.

A Pleasant Stroll through Northern Central Park 

The entrance to Central Park from West 103rd Street is about a 10-minute walk from our Airbnb. Though I had heard much about it beforehand, I am not prepared for the idyllic beauty of the location. It is, in a way, both an escape from and the beating heart of New York City. All around us, people are riding bikes, jogging briskly, walking their dogs, and playing recreational games with each other; it seems to me that Central Park is to the New Yorker as Times Square is to the tourist.



We walk around for hours, to sunset and beyond. Occasionally, I glance at Google Maps, trying to make sure that we drop by and see certain spots in the park that are near us. Mind you, the park is enormous; all of our walking results in us viewing only some of the northern stretch beyond the reservoir.


The Huddlestone Arch, built in 1866.

At one point, as we are approaching the Conservatory Garden (which is actually composed of three smaller gardens), we notice police officers dismounting from their mopeds in our periphery. One of them brandishes a gun and disappears into the bush. Irina and I look at each other, eyebrows raised.

“I know that it’d be damn stupid,” She finally says, “But I really want to follow him.” I chuckle, nodding in agreement, and we keep walking.



The French garden.


The Untermeyer Fountain in the French garden, featuring the Three Dancing Maidens.

Though we don’t see the English garden, which can be accessed through Vanderbilt Gate at 5th Avenue and 105th Street, we walk along the central plat of the Conservatory Garden.


The Italian Garden.

After spending some time in the Conservatory Garden, we head up to Fort Clinton, which is right up the hill nearby. Fort Clinton, named after the mayor of New York during the time-DeWitt Clinton-was built as a fortification by the British during the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War. It was an important strategic site that was a part of a defense system consisting of two other forts: Nutter’s Battery and Fort Fish.


Fort Clinton marks the last major spot in Central Park that we see that evening. The sun is setting as we make our way out, casting the sky soft shades of pink and orange. The onset of evening doesn’t change the influx of visitors to the park; daily activities carry on and bubbles of laughter ring out across the open space. We slow the pace of our walk home to a crawl, looking out at the buildings on the radiant skyline, thinking ahead dreamily to the days and nights in NYC that beckon us.



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NYC Trip: Practical Details (Flights, Accommodations)


So, this trip to New York City had been in the works for a long time. The idea was brought up jokingly amongst my friend, Irina, and I during a particularly drawn out guest lecture during a Cellular and Molecular Biology class last November. Our original plan was to get away for a few days in between the end of exams in April and the start of summer classes in early May. However, we found that the turnaround was far too short. So, the trip got postponed to June. Then, August. And that’s where the delays stopped. We decided to go, once and for all.

The duration of our trip was from August 24 to August 29. Thereafter, we divided up the planning work needed: I was to book flights (and Broadway tickets, though I’ll talk about that in a later post), while Irina took care of our accommodations. The cost of our respective bookings evened out quite nicely, and we settled the small difference later on.

Flights and Other Transportation: This was fairly straightforward, as there are many flights out of both Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) and Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (YTZ) to any of the major New York City airports (travellers commonly go through LaGuardia or JFK). We flew into LaGuardia (LGA), which is convenient if you are staying in Manhattan as it is closer to Midtown and Upper Manhattan than JFK. You have the option of taking the M60 bus into Manhattan, which runs only from LGA and costs $2.50 USD (if you don’t have a Metro Card– more on that in a bit).

I used Expedia and SkyScanner, both of which are easy-to-use and comprehensive search tools, to look for the flight tickets. I ended up booking two one-way flight tickets with two different airlines-WestJet and Air Canada- and the total came out to ~$240 CAD (Economy class tickets). Booking each leg of the trip separately can be advantageous in that the overall cost is cheaper, in some cases (this applied to our situation). However, that is not to say that there aren’t risks involved. One such example is if you have to cancel your trip for whatever reason: you would have to pay a cancellation fee to each airline instead of a single airline if you had a round-trip ticket.

In terms of transportation on the ground, we each bought a Metro Card that covered all forms of public transit for a week for $32 USD. This is cost effective and makes the process of getting to where you need to go far smoother as you do not have to pay in coin each time; you simply swipe and go for subway access or, in the case of buses, you insert the Metro Card into the machine inside the bus. It is worth noting that for the M60 bus out of LGA, there are such machines near the bus stop. Irina and I missed the first M60 bus because we did not insert our Metro Cards into these machines and obtain a receipt to present to the bus driver. In all other cases, we had no such issues; everything was done inside of the bus.

Accommodations: Our five night stay took place at a Manhattan studio apartment owned by James and Phylline that we found using Airbnb. For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, it’s a site wherein locals are able to list their homes and have visitors rent them out for a certain period of time. It can be a couch or an entire mansion, it simply depends on the Airbnb owner. The amenities included for the price of the Airbnb are all provided on the listing. Make sure to look for Airbnbs that have quite a few reviews.

The place we stayed at was a duplex; guests stay on the bottom floor, whilst the owners live upstairs. Check in was at 3:00pm, though we arrived almost an hour later (make sure to notify the owners ahead of time). James met us and gave us a brief but informative tour of the place, before leaving us to our own devices. The room was small but clean and had two Queen beds, a bathroom, and a patio outside. There was a television in the main living space and some toiletries (gel, shampoo, and the like) already provided in the bathroom for our convenience. Another bonus is that the Wi-Fi was fast and reliable.

In terms of cons, the walls are very thin so you can hear pretty much everything going on upstairs. If you’re looking for a place that has a great lookout over NYC, this isn’t it. Lastly, the location is certainly not in the heart of Manhattan. Irina and I found that virtually everywhere we wanted to go (even for breakfast) required the subway (there’s a station about a 3-5 minute walk away).

If interested, you can check out the Airbnb and contact James and Phylline here.

This post was meant to provide a basic rundown of the arrangements that we made and the resources that we used. In the coming weeks, I’ll be posting about all of our adventures in New York City, including reviews of classic shows on Broadway and some of the must-see sites. Stay tuned!


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Lookouts: Riverdale Park

Heading out to a lookout point is one of my favourite things to do, to put it lightly. I especially love lookouts over a cityscape lit beautifully at night (though I have yet to find the camera that will enable me to take photos that fully capture its beauty). I’ve spent hours and hours doing that, sometimes with a friend, sometimes alone, well into the early hours of the morning.

Today, I’ll be writing about Toronto’s Riverdale Park.


The entrance to the east end of Riverdale Park from Broadview Avenue.

Riverdale is a massive, public park spanning the Lower Don River from Cabbagetown at its west end, to Broadview Avenue at its east. Irina and I enter from the east end, having left my car parked in the convenient Loblaws lot just up on Broadview. The daily maximum permit cost is $7 and there is a flat rate of $4 after 6pm until the following morning at 6am. There are cars parked along the street leading to Riverdale as well, which is permitted within a designated timeframe; I scarcely ever feel confident enough to take my chance parking on the street when I can avoid it, however.

Riverdale features many useful amenities, such as a pool, tennis courts, an outdoor hockey rink, fields for soccer and other recreational sports, and more. Not to mention a phenomenal view over Toronto:


Riverdale, while  smaller, is comparable to New York City’s Central Park in that it is a green haven within a major metropolis that is a go-to getaway for many city-goers. Irina and I spend several peaceful hours in the park, alternately seated on the hill overlooking the cityscape or strolling around the greenery. A group of kids plays Ultimate frisbee out on the field and a pair of ladies take turns running up and down the steep portion of the hill, cheering each other on through the exercise. A husky and a bulldog chase each other through the grass, nipping and pushing at each other playfully.

To the southeast of the park, there is a silvery monument depicting the famed revolutionary and Father of Modern China, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen. He is holding his novel, The Three Principles of the People, in which he writes about nationalism, democracy, and socialism.


Graciously donated by funds raised by the community, including a considerable number of Chinese locals.

We head southward and then turn onto the footbridge constructed over the Don Valley Parkway, which connects the Gardiner Parkway in downtown Toronto with the Ontario Highway 401. Emerging into view of a myriad of cars zooming down the expressway is yet another defining aspect of a green space within a heavily urbanized environment; you’re just barely one step away from re-immersing yourself in city life.


Don Valley Parkway (DVP)


A view from the footbridge over the DVP, in the opposite direction of the previous photo.

There are narrow paths under the bridge, which are very popular with cyclists. We see a number of them carrying their bicycles up and down the stairs leading from the bridge to its underside. And with the ubiquity of cyclists comes the reflexive jerk to either side of the road upon hearing the bell signalling someone coming up behind you. Not to mention the  instinct of sensing an incoming close call with a cyclist that turns to avoid you at the last possible moment. It’s almost a zen state of mind.


Under the bridge.

All in all, Riverdale Park is an exceptionally gorgeous area boasting varied recreational activities and a unique lookout over the skyline of Toronto. Its serene beauty makes for a perfect getaway from the city within the city. The next time that I return, I look forward to relaxing under the stars on the grassy hills and watching the city light up.


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5 Reasons You Should Visit Greece

View my article here and the exciting stories of many other tourists in Greece.

1 5 Reasons You Should Visit Greece

“You’re going to Greece now? During the crisis?” was the incredulous refrain that I kept hearing as I was packing for my trip to Crete in July of this year. Having ignored it entirely, I went and came back (in one piece!) from my two-week trip, and am now here to tell you why you shouldn’t let the media or others dissuade you from doing the same.

Economic Crisis

Ironic, huh? In reality, as a tourist, you are not subject to any of the hassles that the locals have to deal with. Other benefits include decreased hotel prices and fewer tourists. All the while, you’ll be injecting much needed tourism dollars into the economy.


Greeks have always been known for their warmth and the economic crisis has done nothing but make them even more welcoming towards tourists. In my personal experience, hotel staff was more like family, restaurant servers were extremely courteous, and even strangers on the street would flash a beaming smile and gladly help you with directions. And speaking with locals yields fascinating discussion: they weave a tale of struggle, but never lose a tone of optimism.

The Sights

2 5 Reasons You Should Visit Greece

With its mountainous landscape and seemingly endless stretches of crystalline water, Greece boasts some of the most impressive sights in the world. The peaceful rallies have done nothing to mar these sights, not even in the heart of Athens. So you can stay in the capital or get away to Crete or one of the Cycladic islands, but no matter what you choose, you will undoubtedly find a place to settle down and spend an idyllic day looking at out remarkable views.


Greece’s historical landmarks extend beyond just the iconic Acropolis and its history is not solely contained within the Classical Period, during which democracy was invented. For instance, I had the pleasure of spending a great deal of time in the Cretan capital of Heraklion. Through the city’s famed Archaeological Museum, I learned a great deal about the progressive yet peaceful Minoan civilization.

And, just as important, you can witness the history unfolding around you at that very moment as a country struggles and moves toward rebuilding itself. Speak with the locals and, by that, I don’t just mean the adults; the youth have some very valuable insight to offer.


3 5 Reasons You Should Visit Greece

Aside from tourism, the fact that agriculture is one of the largest industries in Greece is easily evident in the vast array of delicious, fresh ingredients. Greece has a reputation as one of the foremost gastronomic destinations in the world and this rings true as decadent, flavourful indulgences-from classic eggplant moussaka to snails- abound. And it doesn’t cost much either!

So, whichever of these reasons calls out to you the most, pack up your bags and don’t you dare cancel that flight. An incredible experience in one of the world’s most culturally rich and beautiful countries awaits.


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Canada’s Wonderland: Conquering the Beast

I wake up to my phone buzzing beside my bed. Groaning, I roll over and peek at it, reading the two messages on the screen through bleary vision:

Hey, let’s do something today. Sent at 9:09am. And the second message, sent about an hour later reads:

Wake up! Let’s go to Wonderland. 

The messages are from Irina. I sit up and rub my eyes, ignoring the persistent beckoning calls from my bed. There’s only so much lazing around that I can do in one day. And besides, I haven’t been to Wonderland since the previous summer, which feels like an eternity ago.

It’s a Tuesday morning and the lines aren’t unbearably long. Neither of us has a season pass, so we opt for the price of a regular ticket (about $70 CAD), which includes a second day free of cost.

“We should definitely make sure to go on Leviathan before we leave today,” I comment as we walk through security and into the park, “I’ve never been on it.”

“Neither have I, and I agree,” She replies, “But let’s build up to it. You know, do some easy rides first.”

Easy is a relative term. The first ride we go on is Flight Deck, which is a winding, inverted roller coaster that makes for a head-banging ride. Quite literally. Last time I was here, which was the summer of 2014 with my brother, we promised that we would never go on that ride again. As I emerge from it, rubbing my temples, it’s easy to remember why.

Not long thereafter, we find ourselves lining up for Behemoth, formerly Wonderland’s king coaster.                                          2015-08-11 18.37.49 It features an initial drop of 230 feet and reaches peeds of 128km/hr. The line moves fairly quickly and it isn’t long before we’re boarding the coaster. That’s when I feel my first few pangs of anxiety.

“There’s like, almost nothing to hold on to,” I mutter to Irina, who chuckles nervously. I slip my hands into the handles on the device that’s holding me in place on the ride and lean back, trying to relax. The climb up to the coaster’s summit is the most unnerving part of it all. I feel my body tilting backward and I close my eyes as we climb over the hill. My stomach drops in tandem with the coaster. Screams erupt around me and, in the row in front of us, I see riders throw their hands up in the air. Crazies. 

The coaster zooms rapidly toward another peak and I close my eyes again. This time, I take notice of a curious, floaty feeling. The sensation persists with each hill that we go over. Gradually, I loosen my grip on handles of the seat. I don’t ever let go, but by the end of it, I start thinking, this is actually kind of fun. 

We spend several more hours enjoying other rides in the park before we even consider getting in line for Leviathan. We get rattled and shaken about repeatedly on the Wild Beast, a rickety wooden coaster that barely anyone lines up for. Hence, we go on it over and over again, until I feel my back and neck start to ache.  The other wooden coaster, the Mighty Canadian Minebuster, is fun too, though the lines are longer. We try out Night Mares, which is a stand-up coaster that undergoes a 90 degree tilt and loops repeatedly.

“It’s centripetal force that keeps you in place,” I say as we get into the cage of Night Mares. Pause. “Though I never really understood centripetal force, so that’s hardly reassuring.”

2015-08-11 19.12.15

The lines for Leviathan are always long. Our current waiting time is 15 minutes, which we were told by a lady that was lined up with us at Drop Tower is fairly fast. So, no excuses, I guess. Irina and I don’t talk much, we just follow the path of each new set of people that emerges from the building and climbs up Leviathan’s famous peak.

2015-08-11 16.37.23

Headed toward the 306-ft drop.

Leviathan does its namesake well, as its height renders it one of the few Giga-coasters (300ft+ roller coasters) in existence: it is the eighth tallest steel roller coaster in the world, and has the sixth longest drop. The build-up to that drop is absolutely nerve-wracking, for first timers like us.

“Enjoy the 306-ft drop!” One of the attendants calls to us as the roller coaster departs. I roll my eyes. Admittedly, I’m a skeptic.

It seems to take forever. I hold on dutifully to the handles of the seat and stare out at the skyline of Toronto in the distance. I try to point out the excellent view to Irina, but she’s leaning back against her seat, eyes closed, humming to herself. The coaster creaks along and I eye the staircase to the side of it, briefly entertaining the possibility of wildly waving my arms and having this whole process stopped, and descending down the dependable set of stairs back onto ground level. Honestly, I don’t even know what I’m afraid of, but I am nonetheless.

As we round the peak, I catch sight of the near vertical drop. It feels surreal. I prepare for the inevitable stomach-dropping sensation as we begin to pick up speed…and feel nothing. This is, by far, the smoothest ride that I have ever been on. We race downward to ground level and then pick back up again, twisting and weaving and turning, and I can’t help but release my hands and throw them into the air a few seconds after the drop.

“Holy crap, that was amazing,” Irina breathes as we screech to a stop. I nod along, grinning widely. Mission accomplished.


The rest of the day floats by languidly. There is no sense of lingering tension in anticipation of something fearsome to come. We’ve conquered Leviathan. Nothing more to do but truly enjoy the day. And go on Leviathan again, which we do end up doing. Leviathan is the type of ride that makes me wish that we’d invested in one of the atrociously expensive Fast Lane passes.

As sunset approaches, crowds start to ease up. We take a peaceful stroll through the park, intermittently going on the occasional ride.

2015-08-11 17.59.06 HDR

The best ride.

2015-08-11 20.12.11

The Medieval Faire.

2015-08-11 19.56.06 HDR

Eventually, we make for the exit of the park. We stayed for a good eight hours or so, and there is a satisfying soreness in my limbs to speak for it. I take a few more pictures as we head out, admiring the soft pink glow that the fading sun casts on the park.

2015-08-11 20.34.37 HDR

2015-08-11 20.36.26

As we walk out into the parking lot, our newfound favourite ride bids us farewell, looming high in the distance.

2015-08-11 20.37.54


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Return to Toronto: The Harbourfront

It’s been a long time since I’ve been in Toronto. First it was the academic year that kept me busy in Hamilton most of the time. Then, after my last set of exams finished in April, I went off to Miami. Then back to Hamilton for a summer school semester of Organic Chemistry. Then New Haven. Then Greece. So it seems like it’s been forever.

That’s why I didn’t hesitate to go on an impromptu outing to the Harbourfront, a neighbourhood in downtown Toronto on the northern shore of Lake Ontario. The area has been transformed, having served as the setting for the 2015 Pan Am Games and, currently, the Parapan Am Games.

2015-08-08 18.07.01

The Celebration Zone. Behind the tent, you can see the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery and the CN Tower.

Tent structures have been erected in Ontario’s Celebration Zone to serve as venues for food, drinks, and cultural community showcases. In the leftmost side of the above photo, you can see the structure erected for the purpose of ziplining (which was closed by the time we realized what it was…), rock climbing, and adrenaline jumping.

I took a long walk along the waterfront, enjoying the bustle of activity and entertainment springing up all around us. For instance, a group not listed on the musical itinerary suddenly took to WestJet Stage:

2015-08-08 18.13.51 HDR

And then there were those having fun on the water in somewhat unconventional ways, thereby drawing crowds of interested passerbys (including me…can you rent one of those? I have to find out.) :

2015-08-08 18.19.13 HDR

One of my favourite aspects of walking up and down Queens Quay West during these festivities is that the street never looks the same. The area is a haven for artistic expression. As I was walking back up the street, I noticed a crowd of people gathering. Figuring that it was a street performer, I stopped to watch, curious.



His name, as he announced cheerfully after a performance, is Jonasun. He hails from Japan and travels the world doing both stage and street visual art performances.

2015-08-09 19.05.45

His site:

There was only one mishap during the entire segment of his performances that I watched: he dropped one of the balls that he was holding. It bounced out onto the street. He looked sheepishly at us and went carefully to retrieve it. Promptly returning, he dropped down and did ten push-ups.

“Bad. Bad!” He admonished himself to the amusement of the crowd. There was a grin on his face as he got up and continued thereafter as if nothing had happened.

The mistake was not repeated.

As I left the circle that was engrossed in watching Jonasun, the sun dipped downward and it began to grow dark. And that’s when the city really lights up.


Paws Way Bridge.

Along the street itself, street lamps flickered and lights shone out of the windows of towering office and condominium buldings, the chrome elements of the facades reflecting light off of each other.


And, of course, rising far above the cityscape is our city’s most iconic landmark, the CN Tower, the base of its observation deck lit in a striking emerald hue.


I felt an immediate urge to seek out a lookout point to watch night settle over the city, but the clock is ticking. I resolved to return to fulfill that promise to myself very soon.

It’ll be a while before I leave again.


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Mountain Retreat: Rogdia

Prior to my last day in Greece, I decide to head out to a secluded mountain village called Rogdia. What with the constant flurry of activity that volunteering entails, in addition to my determined daily sightseeing, I’d become a bit fatigued. A getaway up into the mountains for a few hours of phenomenal views and peace is just what I need.

Rogdia is a 10-minute drive up from the Hotel Handakas in Amoudara. I take a taxi up there, which costs me 18 euros on the way up and later, 15 on the way back. The higher cost of the departure rather than the return trip is due to the fact that there’s an additional charge for calling the taxi.

The taxi drops me off at the entrance to the village. I negotiate with the driver to have him return to pick me up and take me back at 6pm. If you decide to embark on a similar trip, make sure to request a driver that speaks some English. There’s no taxi stand in Rogdia and phone service is shaky at best.


It’s 3pm when I arrive, so I set out for a bit of exploration before I settle into a spot to write. Rogdia is a small, quiet village with a rustic charm to it. The streets are narrow and in some state of disrepair.


I wander further through the town to its outskirts. There aren’t that many people out at this time, which many happen to allocate to a siesta.


It’s peaceful. I walk aimlessly, feeling completely relaxed and unhurried. I don’t seem to feel the heat of the Greek sun beating down on me all that much today, I note. Maybe I’m starting to get used to it. Occasionally, I encounter living beings.

Usually of this variety though.

Usually of this variety though.

I turn left at a crossroads and eventually come to a rickety-looking gate.


I pause for a brief instant, and then push it aside. It nearly tips over. I begin the trek upward, following a path that winds up the side of a cliff. As I get higher, I become extra careful with my steps. Looking down, I notice a car slowing to a stop and the driver craning his neck out of the window, staring at me. It’s times like these that make me mildly curious as to whether I’m doing something stupid. I press onward, eventually reaching a section that has a railing.


Once I ascend to the top, I find myself facing elegant black gates. And that’s when I realize that someone’s Venetian-style villa is situated up here. I look at it, and then survey my surroundings in awe. From my vantage point, I can see Rogdia, the ocean, and all of Heraklion in the distance. I gotta get me one of these cliffside mansions.


There’s more hustle-and-bustle later on as I’m sitting in a shaded area overlooking Heraklion, though that’s relative. It’s still quite quiet. Occasionally, I can hear the laughter of children and their parents calling out to them. I become so accustomed to this sound that it takes me a while to realize that there’s movement behind me. And a shadow. I turn around.

I see a young girl dressed in a pink tank top and white shorts, seated on a matching bicycle. Her skin is deeply tanned and her dark eyes are sparkling mischievously. I smile at her, and she smiles back and waves. And then leaves. I think nothing more of it, and continue writing.

About five minutes later, I feel a stare at my back. The girl is back. She stops closer to me this time and gets off of her bike. She approaches me, looking curiously at me and my notebook, and sits beside me. She speaks to me in Greek. I shake my head.

“I’m sorry, I don’t speak Greek,” I tell her. Her eyes widen. She’s holding two gel pens. She offers me one insistently; it is a bright pink colour, contrasting sharply with the regular blue pen I’m using. I take it.


She grins when I show her my embellishment with her pen.

And then her friends ride by on bikes. Noticing them, she gets up and runs to them, talking excitedly. Their eyes turn to me. I freeze.

“What is your name?” One of the boys asks.

“How old are you?” The other chimes in. “Where are you from?” They nod to my responses and eagerly chime back with their own. Idly, I wonder how I went from being a lone wanderer to the attraction of the village. Things happen so fast, sometimes. And these children speak so quickly in Greek with occasional smatterings of English.

We all whirl around as we hear a loud voice calling in Greek. An elderly woman stands at a distance from us, shaking her finger at the kids. They look at each other and, with another round of speaking in Greek, run off down the road. To run an errand, perhaps? I’m not certain. The elderly lady smiles at me and then keeps walking.

“19,” I hear an exclamation from the kids.

“Ah, 19,” Another says. I chuckle.

It’s a completely different world up here, I think as I start heading back in the direction of where my taxi will be waiting for me. No suspicion and wariness of me, as a foreigner and adult. Not on the part of the kids, nor the adults. I had half-expected the elderly woman to lambaste me or the children thoroughly for interacting with each other. At the very least, to give me the side eye. But she had smiled.

It’s a mad, mad world, in the best of ways.


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Weekend Getaway: Santorini Tour (Finale)

Contrary to what you might think, I don’t immediately head to the hotel after my donkey debacle. It would have been the best decision, given that I look like I ran into a dust storm and probably smell like a donkey. But I’m hungry.

To his credit, the waiter at the restaurant Fanari doesn’t bat an eye as I stumble in, out-of-breath.

“Oh, you are tired, yes? Come sit down. Please, come this way. Relax,” He tells me, guiding me to a table with a view of the caldera.


I skip the bread basket and olive oil, placing my order immediately. It arrives in a timely manner; I’d say that I didn’t wait any longer than 10 minutes or so.


Moussaka and pina colada.

While I’m eating, a couple and their two children enter the restaurant. The same waiter hurries to seat and serve them. He gasps quietly. And then:

“You two look like Jay Z and Beyonce,” He exclaims. “You are Jay Z, you are Beyonce. Sorry, that is the truth. I love Beyonce though. In all my years here, I have never seen a Beyonce.”

I nearly choke on my food. This guy deserves a tip for entertainment value alone.

Sunset is at 8:38pm. It’s 8:31pm and I’m hectically trying to find the sweet spot I had occupied a short while earlier, before my urge for ice cream steered me off on this ridiculous detour. I swear that I only went down a set of stairs and turned left once, but I’m running around up and down, left and right, stuck in this seemingly endless maze. At least I got the chance to taste baklava ice cream.

Rounding a corner, I note a steady stream of people heading up the stairs that I went down earlier. I chase after them, leaping the stairs by twos. Pushing through the throng, I finally emerge on a road that offers a view of the caldera, rather than shops. The sun is low in the sky. It’s 8:36pm, and my mad rush culminates in me being lucky enough to catch the very end of the sunset.


The rest of my time in Santorini passes by in a blur. I wake up in a leisurely manner on Sunday, sleeping in for the very first time on this trip (I had to get up at 7am on Saturday to meet my driver at the Hotel Castro). I check out of the Hotel Hellas and head into Fira, turning left instead of right at the first major intersection. After a rather American-style breakfast,


Delicious pancakes and freshly squeezed orange juice at a cute breakfast cafe.

I find the hospital in Fira, which is my pick-up location, just to ensure that I don’t have more panic and another mad rush later on. There’s only one hospital in centre; any other medical buildings are private clinics.

I have until 3pm, so I spend the rest of my time in downtown Fira. I stop by one of the museums, aptly known as the Santozeum. It features the ancient wall paintings of Thera, before it was known as Fira.


There are no additional plaques of information to provide context hanging beside the wall paintings, nor are there any guided tours available, which I find disappointing. The museum admission is 5 euros, so I don’t recommend the Santozeum if you’re hoping to absorb a great deal of information. There is a balcony and chairs outside of the museum though, and there I spent a good deal of time before heading back to the hospital. Two hours, in fact, writing, listening to music, and watching boats sail to the volcano and around the caldera.


The last stop of the tour bus is Kamari beach, which is rendered unusual by the fact that its “sand” is actually black volcanic ash. The beach is rocky and the footing is anything but soft. The water is quite shockingly cold when I dip my feet into it at first; by the end of the hour, I don’t even notice anymore. There are rows upon rows of lounge chairs and umbrellas (renting those costs 10 euros for an hour. And 10 euros for the whole day as well), filled to the brim with beachgoers. I seek out a quiet spot at the side of the beach to spend the hour that we are given here.


I’m a little melancholy as the end of the hour approaches. Santorini has been an idyllic oasis, and I’ve yet to experience all that it offers, such as the sunset in Oia. I haven’t even explored the full expanse of the island yet, and it’s a relatively small one.

Oh well. All the more reason to return.




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Weekend Getaway: Santorini Tour (Donkey Adventures Edition)

After our 90 minutes in Oia are up, we pile back into the bus. Our tour guide runs on a few minutes later, looking flustered and out-of-breath, and counts us multiple times. We set off for our next destination: Fira, the capital of Santorini.

“The five people on the two-day trip, we will be dropping you off at the Hotel Hellas now,” The guide’s voice buzzes over the PA. I look up, startled, and approach the tour guide.

“I thought we would stay with the main group in Fira and Kamari, and be dropped off in the evening?” I ask. She shakes her head.

“No, you will go to Kamari tomorrow. You have the rest of the day free in Fira,” She explains. I frown. This is not what was written in the tour schedule.

“But what about the tour of the volcano?” I ask. She pauses.

“If you want a tour of the volcano, you will have to go to a travel agency in Fira and book one. Now, here’s your stop. I will see you tomorrow at 3pm in front of the hospital in Fira for pick-up,” She says.

I’m not impressed.

“Madame, wait!” The driver calls after me, opening his window, as I exit the bus. The four other people also on the two-day tour are a family. I look back questioningly. “Are you alone? You’re travelling alone?”

“Yes,” I shout back, mildly annoyed. Is he really holding up traffic for this? He gives me an incredulous look before leaning back inside the bus. The family and  I walk off in the direction of the hotel.

The Hotel Hellas is a family owned business, much like the Hotel Handakas. It is a notch above it, however, in terms of size and the quality of the rooms. The owner’s daughter shows me to my relatively spacious room, which has a comfy double bed and a single bed, in addition to a private bathroom and balcony.


Not sure what to make of this sign though.

I change and immediately head out. Fira has one long, main road but unlike Oia, it has many side roads branching off of it. These side roads create a maze of tourist shops, cafes, and all sorts of clothing, jewelry, and shoe stores. It’s quite busy at most times of the day, but especially leading up to and after sunset.


My first goal in Fira is to get down to the Old Port, which used to be the main port of Santorini but was later replaced by Athinios. One of the cashiers in the tourist shops tells me that there are two main ways to get down there: either descending the approximate 100 stairs, or taking the cable car. I resolve to take whichever path I stumble upon first.

There are signs leading to the cable car, though I end up getting distracted by the prospect of authentic Greek frozen yogurt (one of the best decisions I made!). Instead of heading directly to the cable car, I eat my frozen yogurt while walking along a small path that has fantastic views of the caldera.


Eventually, I come across a small staircase which invites a descent downward. I round the corner and immediately lose all interest in the remains of my frozen yogurt.


A line of donkeys that continues well down the staircase.

“Madame, donkey?” One of the men sitting on a bench calls to me, whip in hand. I hesitate.

“I can’t ride a donkey. No, thank you,” I mutter, heading down past the donkeys. There is manure and dust everywhere, and a rather pungent smell. Again, I round the corner and this time, look down.


The Old Port below. Far, far below.

I pause. And then toss out my frozen yogurt in the nearest can and head back to the group of men that evidently operate this business. I take out my wallet.

“How much?” I ask. He grins.

Five euros and an aching back later, I can safely say that this is literally the worst idea that I have ever had. And the best.


Taken from atop my trusty steed.

Now, I’ve ridden horses before. I’ve done some basic dressage. I know how to guide a horse. But I have no idea whatsoever of what I’m doing on a donkey. And my attempts to steer using the “reins” or to pet him and give encouragement go unnoticed. The donkey forges ahead, declaring its own path and not caring what I, its rider, or pedestrians on the path have to say. Especially when there’s another donkey.

“Sorry, no clue what I’m doing,” I shout as my donkey and I barrel past a couple, just barely missing them. All my steed seems to care about is bypassing the other donkey.

“Madame, it’s ok!” I hear a call from behind me. It’s one of the men that train these donkeys. He shouts in Greek and occasionally cracks his whip. At the sound, my donkey jumps forward and slightly to the side, slamming my right leg into the wall. I wince.

As we’re about halfway down, my donkey slows. The rest of the group passes us, including the trainer. They make their way to the bottom of the steps and the donkeys line up. The trainer helps my fellow riders dismount. But my donkey has decided to grind to a halt at the top of the last set of stairs.

“Please, please move. Join your brethren,” I beg him. A mother and her son passing by me chuckle as I look on helplessly. The trainer glances at me from the bottom.

“Madame, it’s ok!” He calls, and then returns his attention to helping the remaining riders. The wind whips at me, blowing dust in my eyes. It takes me a moment to notice that my donkey is turning around.

“Wait. Wait!” I protest, pulling at the rope supposedly acting as a makeshift rein. I had wanted to get off at the Old Port. My donkey’s ears twitch, but he doesn’t stop. I sigh. There’s no question of who has the stronger willpower between us. The men at the top help me dismount. I look down at myself; my white shirt is almost brown with dust and dirt, as are the back of my shorts. My legs are slightly wobbly. Chuckling, I pet the donkey and walk back up, away from the stairs leading to the port.

Look like I’ll be heading to the cable car anyway.


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