My Week in Pictures.

I’ve been taking it easy lately, trying to recharge my batteries and “find myself” again, so “My Week in Pictures” has been on hiatus for the last fortnight or so.

This week I:

Went to the Myer Christmas window with April.

We also shopped for clothes we “needed” (translation: wanted) and spent way too much!

Put up my Christmas tree.

I love the festive season and so does my housemate, Eddie. The bottom of the tree is adorned with his childhood ornaments and my Belle ornament that April gave me for Secret Santa last year, and Eddie did the star-putting-on honours. He also went overboard on the decorating of the house, which I will be toning down on Friday, the first of my three-day weekend!

Saw Elton John in concert.

And what a concert it was! I’m not the biggest Elton John fan, but I do find his voice positively beautiful and figured this was potentially a once in a lifetime opportunity. I was not disappointed. As my Facebook status said on the night: “I can die a happy woman having heard Elton John play ‘Candle in the Wind’ live.”

Caught up on some reading.

All this free, non-socialising time I’ve had up my sleeve has allowed me to (almost) finish Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife, plow through a few magazines, and some longer articles (some of which will be featured on “On the (Rest of the) Net” tomorrow). What have you been reading?

Collected the final components of my work Christmas party costume.

Thanks to Laura for picking up the vines. Can you guess from the picture who I might be going as? (Hint: I have written about it here this week.)

Guest Post: Postcards from Canada.

Open Doors (28/05/11–29/05/11).

For one weekend a year, here in town, over 150 buildings are opened up to the public for them to have a little look-see for the annual Doors Open Toronto. A lot of these places are not normally accessible to us mere mortals pedestrians. In order to be a part of this event the buildings must have been built before 1940 and you can look at any or all of them (if you have the time!) for free. [Early Bird note: Sounds a bit like Melbourne’s Open House.)

While this may not be something that everyone gets excited about, I am in awe of old buildings and enjoy perusing the architecture and sticky-beaking inside. I set out on my own on Saturday and my first stop was the Old City Hall building: by far my favourite building in Toronto from the outside, so I was very excited to take a look inside.

The building was designed by Edward James Lennox who also designed Casa Loma, another notable Toronto landmark, and about 70 other buildings around town.

These days Old City Hall is used as the provincial court house. Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside but I did get to look at the amazing foyer, complete with murals, and an example of one of the court rooms. It even had the upstairs viewing area, reminding me of the court room used in the film version of To Kill A Mockingbird.

After that I was bound for a firehouse at the top of town, station 311, about an hours walk from where I was. Well, what was probably meant to be an hour turned into two, and a very sore body. I kept passing intersection after intersection, hoping the next street I would get to would be the one I was looking for. Eventually I found it and went in for a look around. It was rather dull in comparison to what my expectations were.

With no one there with me to take a photo of me behind the truck’s wheel or at least hanging out the window I was a little let down.

Since most of my Saturday was filled with walking I didn’t have much time and/or energy to go to any of the other buildings on offer,  but luckily there were some to look at on the walk back down the hill, homeward bound.

I had made plans on Sunday to go explore The Beaches with James but I decided to squeeze in a little excursion beforehand to the Elgin & Winter Garden Theatre and the Arts & Letters Club of Toronto, time permitting.

When I got to the theatre there was a line down the block and I thought about just bailing. But seeing it as my only chance to look around inside, for free, I decided to just join the back of the queue and hope that I wasn’t too far down the line and would actually make it inside. Turns out they had a really good system in place. We all filed into the lower level, the Elgin Theatre, and all took seats. An older gentleman welcomed us and proceeded to give us a lovely rundown of the history of the theatre, being the only double-decker theatre (that’s one theatre positioned directly above another theatre), and some information about the kinds of things it had been used for.

After that we headed upstairs to the Winter Garden Theatre for yet some more history and an in depth description of the theatre’s construction.

Some interesting things that I learnt were that the ceiling over the seating in the Winter Garden theatre is decorated with approximately 80% real leaves that have been through a process to preserve them in a life-like state and that the ceiling of the Elgin theatre is actually floating, suspended from the floor of the above floor.

After the informative talk and a good look around the theatres we were invited to hang around to look at some memorabilia and perhaps purchase some wares, with all of the proceeds going to keep the theatre running. I got myself a badge for my collection and picked up the book, as well, as a memento because it was full of wonderful photos and ran through the history of the building. When making my purchase, the lady who served informed me that me that the man who had compiled the book was standing right behind me! I got him to sign my copy and thanked him for his informative speech and shuffled out.

I looked at my phone and realised I actually had enough time to squeeze in a trip up to the Arts & Letters Club.

I headed further up Yonge St (which for those of you playing at home is the longest street in the world and the same street I had spent what felt like all day schlepping up the day before!) and easily found the quaint building at 14 Elm St. I snapped a photo of the historic society sign out the front and was informed on the way in that there was no photography allowed inside. It was, of course, to protect the artworks but I really just wanted to take photos of the building. 

Having spent a little too much time exploring, I raced to meet James for our trip to The Beaches. He decided that, since we were in the neighbourhood, he’d like to take a quick look inside Old City Hall, too. So, in one weekend I got to explore it twice!

After another sticky beak we jumped on a streetcar out east. Thanks to James’ choice to sit near the front, we got semi-harassed by some crazy homeless guy who made inappropriate comments and felt up my leg. Eek!

When we jumped off the streetcar I saw another fire station, this one also open as part of Doors Open Toronto. James agreed to come take a peek with me and was very please to find an old style Pepsi vending machine where the cans were only 50 cents. Bargain!

This station, 227, was much like the one I’d already seen but I did get to enjoy a nice mini-tour with one of the fireman who filled me in on some history and the amount of call-outs they get a year. Pretty crazy!

With that, we made our way to explore The Beaches. Our journey started at the Kew Gardens where we looked at the Alex Christie gazebo and a few war monuments. We met a sweet little squirrel that a lady was trying to feed a mint. He took it, tried storing it in his mouth, then spat it out and decided to bury it. All of which I got photos of. Absolutely adorable!

Making Progress (30/05/11–04/06/11).

My fifth week in Toronto got a little bit quieter. With Sol gone (that’s right, he went off to camp. Did I not mention that?!), and the others having moved into their sublet, I was on my own again in the hostel. 

Luckily, I had my second job interview to distract me.

Again I was left with nothing to wear so I had purchased another H&M dress. This one was a pale pink, rather modest, and somewhat fitting for a job interview.

This time my interview was with the assistant manager of the store and covered some of the same questions, just a little more specific. Being a business running inside a hospital I fielded some questions on my experience with similar environments/experiences and felt like I answered them quite well. I got to know a little bit more about the job itself and the people I’d be working with.

Again, it was over pretty quickly but I felt fairly confident in my efforts. And who can complain about getting through to a second interview for the only job you actually applied for?! I just had to wait a few days to know whether or not I had the job. Fingers crossed!

Having not much else to do and only really seeing the others at night, I was quite delighted to be asked by the bar manager to pick up where Sol had left off in painting the tables for the hostel’s patio bar. So my week consisted of my touching up painting over the old flags that were on each table so they were all shiny and new again. This time they also had lacquer so I sealed them as well. It took me a few full days and a few hours here and there to get it all done to my liking. My work actually got me four free nights in the hostel, much to my surprise. Works out to be the same as being paid minimum wage here. Handy!

On the Thursday, when waiting for Sarah, as we were going to have lunch together, I got a call from the bookstore to tell me that I had been successful and that they wanted me to start work the following Monday! I was so excited to now have something to fill my days with. I shared the news with Sarah straight away. We also met up with the boys, Thomas and Declan, who congratulated me on my news.

Thanks to my new job I had to go pick myself up some new clothes to fit in with the dress code. After scouring H&M and other cheapish stores, I ended up at Sears where I found discounted black pants that fit me perfectly and a respectable collared black top to team with my black shoes. I also treated myself to a new warm jacket, since the weather was still miserable.

I had a job. Now the only thing left was to find a place to live!

(06/06/11).

Today marks my first day as an employee in a Canadian workplace! I can now officially say I work ‘in a bookshop’!

I am envisioning it being something like the show Black Books. I’d like to be Bernard but I know I’ll be Manny! No seriously, it’s going to be fun and a little bit hard since I really have no idea about books, but I am incredibly confident in my ability to serve customers so that bit is going to be easy. The book smarts can come later.

The first thing my new boss said to me was actually that he knew when he met me that he wanted me to work in his team, that I would fit in really well. He listed a lot of things that he identified in my from my interview. Some true, some not so true. Man I’m good at that bullshitting interviewing thing!

Summer Wonderland (08/06/11).

With the weather predicted to be 31 degrees (that’s Celsius, of course!), we decided it would be a good time to head to Canada’s Wonderland, an elaborate water/theme park about an hour from downtown Toronto, public-transporting it.

After all meeting up on the subway, we headed off.

 Arriving there we discovered the water park was only open on weekends, despite it being summer holidays, a fact the Internet neglected to mention! Our crew for the day—myself, Thomas, Declan, Sarah, Yann, Peter, Tanya and new recruit Gary—decided we’d just wander around the park, clockwise it would seem, and select rides that took our fancy.

There were a few in the bunch that didn’t partake in some of the rides due to their specific dislikes/fears: heights, the feeling of falling, the resulting dizziness or going upside down. I must admit to some degree I’m not okay with any of those but with the chances of anything going horribly wrong (à la Final Destination 3) very slim it was pretty irrational to be afraid of a ride. Gary pointed out all fears were irrational and, with that being a very valid point, I decided to overcome ignore my fears and go on all the rides the others suggested. Oh, and of course to preserve my dignity!

We spent the day going on pretty terrifying ride and, when we enquired about going on one again, we were told the park was closing. 

It was 6pm. The Internet had said the park was open until 9pm.

We had only made it about halfway through the rides and had missed the one we’d been building up to all day, the Behemoth.

Slightly morose, we headed back to collect our belongings and grab the bus home. As we were packing up it started to rain.

 Following that came a massive thunderstorm just as we were making our way to the bus. As we drove back to the subway station we watched the lighting crack all around us. So vivid. So close. So intense. Yann helped lighten the mood with his own rendition of Kiss From A Rose by Seal!

All it all it was a good day. I didn’t let the freak weather at the end sully my memory of all the crazy fun we had riding our way around Wonderland. I only hope we can go back again soon and check out the amazing water park.

I left the park bruised and battered, with a throbbing neck and very tired eyes but a very warm feeling in my heart.

—April Bonnick.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Postcards from Canada: 19th May to 26th May 2011.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Postcards from Canada 2nd May to 14th May 2011.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Postcards from Canada 26th April to 1st May 2011.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] My Week in Pictures 5th August 2011.

Related: [Explorational] Homepage.

Guest Post: Postcards from Canada.

“Take Me Out to the Ball Game” (19/05/11).

Thursday night brought my first real baseball experience. Okay, so that’s not entirely true. I saw Australia VS. Chinese Taipei play an exhibition game for charity but I’m talking real American baseball! I see a distinction, even if this is Canada.

The usual crew headed to the game, stopping for $1.50 hotdogs on the way. We arrived sometime around the 6th or 7th inning, much to my annoyance. Everyone else preferred to get their pre-drink on then get there on time. However, we settled in to watch the home team, the Toronto Bluejays, take on the Tampa Bay Rays.

With all sports I need to have a favourite player. Not too long after we got there a batter came to the plate, one JP Arencibia, who looked reasonably attractive so I picked him. After a couple of pitches he slogged the ball for a home run! In my books that’s a pretty good choice. I like my sportsmen the way I like my superheroes, able to save the day!

I’m not sure at this point that I totally understand the game and I do have the most terrible memory, but I think that the Blue Jays won this particular one. 

Sadly, I forgot my camera to catch any memories but please enjoy the above terrible photo, captured on my phone.

“Lions & Tigers & Bears… Oh, Museum?!” (24/05/11)

A seemingly boring day at the hostel was transformed into a mini adventure at the last minute.

Sol, like me, was sick of lounging around at home so he suggested we head down to the Royal Ontario Museum since it was free with our City Passes.

We didn’t get there until about an hour before closing so we grabbed a map, chose all the areas we wanted to see the most, and made our way around the museum. We figured if we had any time left after that we’d see whatever else we could squeeze in.

First stop was the natural history section. We looked at a lot of taxidermied animals. I was most excited about the local animals: grizzlies, polar bears, moose and the like.

I was devastated to discover that the battery on my camera was almost dead so I tried to conserve it and only take photos of the important stuff. I already knew the museum had a free afternoon so I figured I would just return at a later date to take in all the galleries had to offer and capture it in digital permanence.

Luckily, like me, Sol has a fascination with dinosaur skeletons, so we made a beeline for them. The prehistoric moose was a nice oddity!

With the very little time we had left, we had a gander at their elaborate geology exhibit. There were things in every colour, size and shape. Some of my favourites were precious stones, not usually seen in your average jewellery store!

Sadly, we got ushered out before we could see anything else but I definitely enjoyed what I did see and plan on finding the time to head back.

Working Girl (25/05/1126/05/11).

As I was walking home from Fort York, the birthplace of Toronto,  I got a phone call. It was about a job I had applied for the day before. After a very quick and super breezy phone interview, I was offered an interview the following day. Things were coming up April!

After only a day’s notice and lots of fretting over not having an appropriate job interview outfit, I decided on a new dress I had purchased from H&M and made my way to my meeting.

The job I was interviewing for was in a bookstore, inside a hospital. I got there nice and early and met with my potential future boss for semi-formal chit-chat. He said he wanted to get to know me and my work experience to see if I’d fit well in his small team.

The questions were kind of expected, the usual. I never prepare for interviews as I’m pretty good with coming up answers on the spot but I really should have planned ahead for the most obvious question: what books do I like?

Well, let’s just say I don’t think I answered it very well and didn’t even think to mention two of the authors whose catalogues I have read most of: Nick Hornby & Chuck Palahniuk. Or even get some cred for loving Shakespeare!

—April Bonnick.

Stay tuned for next month’s installment to see if April gets the job and what other shenanigans she gets up to in Old Toronto Town.

Related: [The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Postcards from Canada 2nd May to 14th May 2011.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] Postcards from Canada 26th April to 1st May 2011.

Elsewhere: [Explorational] Homepage.

Guest Post: Postcards from Canada.

As you may already know, my bestie April has jetted off indefinitely to Canada.

In this new monthly post, I will be collating the best (and worst!) of April’s adventures from her travel blog, Explorational: An Aussie’s Adventures Abroad, for your vicarious pleasures.

Here, she details her feelings about her first overseas flight, trekking around Los Angeles and its theme parks, and arriving in Canada:

Parting is Such a Sweet Sorrow (26/04/11).

The whole airport thing went surprisingly well. All that worry for nothing! My mum and step-dad, as well as three very special friends, came to wish me “bon voyage” and help me navigate check-in, money transfer, and, most importantly, attempted to calm my nerves.

We had a lovely, sophisticated breakfast at good old McDonalds, checked in my luggage, got me some US and Canadian dollars, and then said our goodbyes at the rather non-ominous doors.

The goodbyes were the hardest part. My mum had already worried herself sick and I don’t know how she was after I left but she was crying, and making me tear up, as I was leaving.

My friends were very encouraging, rather than teary, but Scarlett didn’t want to let me go from our hug! I like hugs, but goodbyes have always been awkward for me. I don’t often feel like it’s going to be the last time I am going to see someone. Perhaps I can liken it to feeling it to be more of a “see you later”…

Going through all the departing procedures was reasonably breezy but waiting something like 2 hours for the flight to board was painful. I got fed a substantial amount on the flight. I had a yummy vegetable curry for our big meal (Mum would be proud!), and then a frittata which had mushrooms not mentioned on the menu.

Everything being free was great. I watched a series of movies including: Despicable Me, Due Date, Tangled, Gulliver’s Travels, The Social Network, It’s Kind of a Funny Story and Love & Other Drugs (bar the last 15 minutes – shattered!).

Not long after I unsuccessfully tried to sleep on the plane, while listening to an excellent playlist, we touched down in LA. The girl next to me decided it was a good time to vomit in a sick bag, making me feel kind of queasy.

I then headed through the initial customs checkpoint, grabbed my bag (which conveniently came round the conveyor belt as I walked up), and waited in line for baggage check. After looking at my passport, the overly burly customs officer waved me straight through. No one even asked me about the food I declared. So my Vegemite and Cadbury crème eggs made it in just fine!

The Happiest Place on Earth! (29/04/11)

My second day in Anaheim was planned as a California Adventure Park day but after waiting 45 minutes for the shuttle, I decided to follow a family for the walk to Downtown Disney, a place I didn’t even know existed.

Hooked from the first glance, at the Pin Traders store, where I subsequently spent $50 on badges, I decided shopping would constitute the day’s events.

I then visited the Lego store where I got a Ron Weasley Lego man keychain.

My next thought was food but I got distracted by Build-A-Bear (and the lack of appealing food options). I went into the store with one intention and left with exactly what I wanted—a chocolate brown-coloured Downtown Disney 2011 exclusive bear in green scrubs named Turkleton! He is absolutely adorable. Build-A-Bear also gave me some great ideas for presents so my plan is to return to Disneyland for one day in February before I head home.

I also discovered D Store and Mr. Potato Head versions of Chewbacca and C3PO. Very merrily purchased!

Upon entering the ultimate Disney store and making one last purchase, a stuffed Cheshire cat (to go with the Alice & Mad Hatter I’d got the day before), I asked for the nearest post office and set off to send my bulky loot home to mum. $80 later, my $200-ish worth of purchases were homeward bound, making me happier not to have to lug them around.

Next stop was California Adventure Park, and it definitely had some good stuff going for it. Not the lines I encountered or the confusion about how to get around thanks to the construction of the new Tron “experience”, though.

So I headed for Paradise Pier. I decided a fifteen minute wait for the California Screamin’ was acceptable as I had my chocolate soft serve to keep me occupied. (FYI: It was scrumptious!)

I seem to have developed quite a knack for consuming unstable foods right before discovering, and boarding, vomit-inducing rides. Thanks to my iron stomach, and the lack of “heart in throat” sensation (as my cousin Lizzie would call it), I kept everything internal. For a roller coaster, it wasn’t even as much fun as the good old Pirate Ship at the Rye Carnival!

I also went on the Mickey Mouse themed Ferris Wheel (opting for the non-swinging section as the wait was 25 minutes less), where I met two other Aussie travellers. We chatted about our impressions of the US and our plans for the rest of our trips.

The Silly Symphony swings were next on the agenda, followed by my favourite ride of the day, the Grizzly River Run. I met a couple of 20-something American boys in line who ended up with me on the ride. We had a good group in our “raft” and I spent the whole time in stitches. Was so much fun even if I ended up completely water logged (pun intended!).

At this point it was getting dark and I was a bit over the rides. So I ventured into yet another store where I found the build your own Mr. Potato Head section that my friend Eddie had told me about, which actually made me want to visit Disneyland. (In case you didn’t realise yet, I collect Mr Potato Heads!)

It, sadly, wasn’t as impressive as I was expecting from Eddie’s description. I had the option of a Pirates of the Caribbean, Tinkerbell or Mickey Mouse potato. After grabbing my box and stuffing my potato’s insides with little pieces, like eyes, noses and tongues, I realised the box, which must be closed upon purchase, was only really designed for one full ensemble. Determined to beat the system, I applied my practical application of Tetris skills and maneuvered all the pieces I wanted and shoved the lid closed. It was quite a process, as I had to decide what I really wanted and then make it all fit just right. I eliminated the pirate pieces as I already have two pirate themed potatoes at home and then worked with the Tinkerbell and Mickey pieces. Upon realising that Tinkerbell’s hair took up a ridiculous amount of space I knew I had my work cut out for me. But everything successfully fit in the end so I took my one of a kind Mr. Potato Head to the counter and handed over my $19.95, plus tax.

I consider Disneyland: defeated.

GTL: A Venice Beach Story (01/05/11).

I realised I hadn’t eaten all day and after nearly passing out and/or vomiting on the 733 Santa Monica via Venice bus, so I hit up UrbanSpoon (which has been my saviour!) and had all but decided on Mao’s Kitchen until I saw Bondi BBQ. As the website claimed it to be Aussie inspired, I wanted to try it for myself. It was just across from my hostel but was boarded up (never a good sign) so I headed for Mao’s Kitchen instead where I chowed down on my favourite: beef with black bean sauce (mum would be proud!), and it was pretty damn good.

My second day I made the effort to walk the 45 minutes along the boulevard to the Santa Monica Pier. I’m not quite sure what the appeal of it is; same goes for the whole of Venice Beach. It’s not my kind of place. I only decided to stay here because it was closer to the airport than downtown Los Angeles or where I’d previously been in Hollywood. The whole place had an unsettling feeling about it.

But if tanning and/or pumping iron, street vendors and beggars are your thing, then maybe you should visit. [Early Bird note: Maybe the next season of Jersey Shore should be filmed here?] I somewhat regret not staying downtown but I will be back in August and will still have somewhere fun to explore.

First Impressions: An Open Letter to Canada (01/05/11).

On my last night in Venice Beach, my lovely German roommate, Marco, informed me he had received a text that Osama Bin Laden was dead.

All it said was: “Osama Bin Laden has been killed.”

So we did some internet research and watched a video confirming the news.

Barack Obama was to do a speech to confirm it.

I really didn’t think at all about how this news would impact on me until the next day, when I was waiting in line for security scanning at LAX for my flight to Toronto and overheard someone exclaiming, “Why did I have to fly this day, of all days?!” It dawned on me that today was, in fact, a day to be concerned about travelling in the United States.

Security leaving the US was a lot harder than entering, much to my surprise. Shoes and jackets had to be removed and as I jumped in the shortest line I realised I was about to be body scanned! Thinking it a bad idea and contemplating a shift to a simple metal scanner in another line, I read a sign that said if you refuse to be scanned you will be frisked. Deciding someone seeing me naked for a few seconds was far less invasive than someone frisking me for about a minute, I stayed in line and experienced my first body scan.

Having arrived at the airport 4 hours before my flight, I ended up with about three hours to kill, so I tried to write some stuff for my blog and just waste the time away, while enjoying a Starbucks breakfast.

My flight was rather boring and uncomfortable. American Airlines, despite the higher price they charge, doesn’t seem to offer much more than what I would imagine a budget airline here in North America would have. I felt cramped and overcharged. ($25 for one piece of checked luggage on top of a $300 fair—seriously?!) Nothing like my fabulous V Australia experience to LA.

Arriving in Toronto was a rather subdued affair. I had my working holiday visa processed, sadly only for one year, and was lucky to once again pick up my luggage the baggage carousel just as it came round the corner.

Then came the real security check. Having not been questioned on it arriving in the US, I was a little thrown when the Canadian Customs officer asked me if I had bought any food into Canada. I declared my Vegemite and half-eaten bag of Cadbury crème eggs and he let me straight through. I guess neither have been deemed threats to Canada so I was free to enjoy them at times when I missed home.

Again, with no plan, I headed out of the airport, found a shuttle and made a beeline for my new home, the Global Village Backpackers, in downtown Toronto.

 My lodgings are nothing flash; just the bare essentials. But the staff are nice and it provides the bed I need at night for a reasonable price. I’m set to stay here two weeks but I can always extend it if the accommodation search doesn’t go quite as well as I am hoping.

From my first few days here, Toronto feels a bit like Melbourne. There’re trams, which they call streetcars, and it’s rained a lot, just like home! Not sure yet if I like it here but it is going to be my home until August whether I do or not. So bring on the Canadian friendliness and the swooning over my intriguing accent.

—April Bonnick.

[Explorational] Homepage.

[UrbanSpoon] Homepage.

[The Early Bird Catches the Worm] United States of Ameri-Canada.