Dreaming of Geneva

My stress is pretty low right now, for me, at least. But that doesn’t mean it’s non-existent. During the school year I operate at a sort of baseline-level of “could use a holiday”, and never take one, of course. This year is a little more intense in that I’m simultaneously working on PhD and grant applications, coordinating reference letters and transcripts and all sorts of things that make me go on mental vacations on a regular basis.

I asked myself this morning where I would go right now if I had the choice. The UK is always an easy pick for me, and I’ve got visions of travelling to a non-drought-ridden LA, but these are not what I settled on. Geneva came to mind as a supervisor I had last year sent me some photos of his holiday there. I’ve never been there myself, but I found I was looking through photos online today.

Meeting of two rivers. Photo from Wikimedia, click thru for more info on it.

Perhaps it’s all my time spent reading Mary Shelley’s works, since she conceived of Frankenstein by Lake Geneva back in 1816. The novel certainly hits all the right notes for my holiday mood, despite all the unlawful science and murder. Scenic lake, mountains, forests. And a dash of city thrown in. I’m fully saturated on the seaside right now, having spent most of the last three years in the Maritimes with daily views of the ocean. Don’t get me wrong, take me away for long enough and I’ll be fully depleted and need to stare off at the sea for a good long while before I feel better. But right now the tank is full, so to speak.

Have any of you been to Geneva? Is it as lovely as I imagine? Thinking about it reminds me that I’ve been meaning to work on my French. Learning all the grammar in elementary school has served me very well but there’s a point when I no longer need to know how to ask where a pencil sharpener is, and need to ask if a dish is vegetarian, or where to buy Advil, because I inevitably forget it every time I travel. Oh well. That’s what duolingo is for…and google translate. Ugh, I better get some better resources.

Botanical Garden. Photo by Norbert Aepli, Switzerland. Click thru for more info.

Whirlwind Shopping in Mahone Bay and Lunenburg

I was in Mahone Bay over the weekend showing my visiting friend around. My brother and I have explored the south shore pretty thoroughly in past summers but this was the first time we’ve been out further west than Chester in a while. It was a low key day as we all were pretty hung over after our 4th of July party (okay, the date was just coincidental, we are Canadian after all).

IMG_3122I found out the antique store I loved on the lower floor of the Mug & Anchor Pub was closed. Very disappointed, luckily the town was pretty busy and there was an open-air market in the parking lot of the Saveasy. I picked up this squirrel picture by local artist Eli Bondarenko, and I’ve gotten a ton of compliments on it since it went up on my shelf. It’s hella cute and I’ve been making the move towards more colourful art so this fits right in.

My friend asked me why I picked the squirrel so I had to admit to her the time I ran over one two summers ago. I swear the little guy ran out in front of my car, right on the driver’s side, looked up at me, and threw up its tiny arms with a scream before being hit by the car. It was almost comical if it hadn’t clearly scarred me forever. Ever since then I’ve been sort of extremely tender towards squirrels.

I brought the others to Bluestone Magik & Enchanted Crystal, which despite the name has mostly tourist souvenirs and toys. But I did find a really pretty chakra bracelet – no photo of it right now but I’ll be wearing it often.

We also made it over to Lunenburg, and before having an early dinner at the Salt Shaker Deli (my fave in Lunenburg) we shopped over at Dots + Loops and The Moon Grove Folklore and Mysterious Gifts. Two stores I hadn’t been to before but we had a great look around and my friend bought some gifts for her sister’s new baby. I was really inspired by the stuff at Dots + Loops, lots of local brands and products. Whoever does the buying for that store does a fantastic job, it was kind of immaculately curated.

Just wanted to share what I’ve been up to over the past few days! I’ve got a lot of work to catch up on this week but I’ve got some things I have been working on that I’ll be posting soon. xo

From somewhere in Cape Breton

I’m on a bit of a road trip right now, albeit a short one. I’ll be back to my regularly scheduled life tomorrow. But today I am in Sydney, Cape Breton, enjoying all the sights it has to offer – or at least, the lobby of a lovely hotel, and later a visit to the big fiddle downtown. Yes, I’ll take a photo, and share it tomorrow.

I haven’t been to Cape Breton for a purpose other than going to the Newfoundland Ferry before this. And as you might imagine, those were not my favourite trips. So being able to enjoy this part of the province without any looming dread is rather nice. I’ve taken a handful of photos of the highlands but they are rather difficult to capture in such a small frame. Perhaps if I had a helicopter at my disposal I could manage some great aerial shots. No such luck, however.

I haven’t had the chance to visit Scotland yet, but I think this is a nice sight in the interim. I’ve been told that the landscape between the East Coast of Canada and parts of Europe (especially the UK) were once connected way back in Pangea days, so the similarities between the two aren’t just a coincidence.DSC_0860

Summer Festivals 2015

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I have a laundry list of events and festivals I want to attend around Nova Scotia this summer. A few of them will be repeats from previous years, but I am making it a goal to try and attend more local events. The farmers market in town here opens this Saturday, which I am really looking forward to. We’re familiar with a lot of the vendors and it’s a great place to grab breakfast and stroll around (if you wake up early enough, which often I do not).

In what is left of the month of May, there’s the Tattoo Convention in Halifax (May 16-18), a flower sale in Annapolis Royal (May 17), Obey Convention VIII in Halifax (May 21-24), and the Apple Blossom Festival in the valley (May 27-June 1). I’m really excited about all of these, and hope I’ll have time to make it to them all. I’ll be bringing the pro camera when I can so look forward to some great shots of these events.

I don’t have much on the calendar for June, but at the end of the month and into July is the Halifax Tattoo (mind you don’t get it confused with the actual tattoo convention; this one is about bagpipes and patriotism performances). I last saw the tattoo two or three years ago so I’d like to see it again, but there are other things happening around town that week based on the event that will probably be worth seeing. July is a really full month – I have friends visiting, but there’s also the Halifax Jazz Festival (July 7-12), the Peggy’s Cove Area Festival of the Arts (right in my neighbourhood!) from July 9-19, the Mahone Bay Home and Garden Tour (July 12), Halifax Pride (July 16-26), the Seaglass Festival in Kentville (July 25-26), and then the Busker Festival in Halifax (July 29-August 3).

August is, quite honestly, going to be filled with me spending time at the beach, but I have noted down a couple of local events to go to – the Nova Scotia FolkArt Festival in Lunenberg on August 2, Lunenberg Folk Harbour Festival (August 6-9), the Chester Art Festival (August 7-15), and the Growing Green Festival in Bridgewater (August 20-23). And that more or less takes us to the end of the summer!

The nice weather is already settling in to the south shore, so I can tell that this is going to be a lovely couple of months. I’m absolutely craving the sunshine so I must stop writing and take the dog out.

Are you going to make it to any festivals or events around Nova Scotia this summer? Or any in your local area? Let me know about them in the comments!

Surviving School While Studying Abroad

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Sometimes it seems like the least important part of studying abroad is, well… the studying. When a new country, new friends, and new experiences are just waiting for you to enjoy them, it can seem impossible to remember to take care of schoolwork at the same time. Lots of students that travel abroad will say that they learned more outside the classroom, after all. But here are some tips to help prioritize that pesky coursework.

take interesting classes

Often you’ll have some flexibility about what you take. Try and enrol for courses that really catch your interest. Introductory courses are rarely much fun and can be easy to ignore; if a class is challenging but exciting, you’re more likely to want to spend time on the work.

befriend profs and classmates

This will make you accountable for going to the classes. If the professor knows who you are, they’ll notice if you’re missing, especially in smaller classroom settings. Befriending classmates means you have someone to sit with, study with, and go for after-class drinks with. Where’s the downside to that?!

make study trips

When you have a free afternoon, pack up your study materials and catch a train or bus to somewhere interesting. Work on the trip over, and then find yourself a nice beach, cafe, or library to settle down in. The change in location will keep things fresh. I did this with Penzance, on my days off. I would take the 2-hour train ride down, take a walk on the beach, then sit in a cafe and work until it was time to train back home. Much more fun than sitting in a dorm room working!

live close to campus

This may be difficult, depending on your situation, but the closer to campus the better. If you have a big walk or bus ride ahead of you, it’s much easier to just hit the snooze button, especially on bad-weather days. If the distance is shorter you’re much more likely to muster up the strength to attend class.

You’ll be glad that you went to class and did your assignments once you are back home, and you remember that your time abroad still shows up on your transcript (unless you are lucky enough to have a pass/fail system!) Different school systems can be hard to integrate into, such as the ones in Canada and England. Remember that the bare minimum is attending class, and you’ll be able to figure out the rest as you go along!

Annapolis Royal Historic Gardens, Nova Scotia

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We arrived at the gardens in between rain showers on the tail end of our road trip last summer. Being in the car had started feeling less like an adventure and more like a means to an end, so it was time to get out and see something green to feel refreshed.

I had been to the gardens years before, when I was a toddler and my parents had a house a few towns over. It was another one of those places, like I’ve written before, that was below the surface of my memory, floating somewhere in the back of my mind with other childhood recollections.

I was determined to take some beautiful shots of flowers, as my new camera lent itself particularly well to the task and all the plants in the yard at home were exhausted by my crouching around them and trying new angles to photograph. There were gardens with vegetables and herbs that were beautiful to see but I hadn’t figured out how to capture them yet. I retreated to the rose gardens.

Taking photos of large flowers is always satisfying – the way the vibrant colours come across so clearly, the crisp focus of a stationary target, and the angle of the bloom giving it the aesthetic of a portrait. I made my way down the rows of roses but hadn’t found the ideal flower yet. It wasn’t until we had navigated the rest of the gardens and came across ponds and bridges that I saw the big sleepy hibiscus flowers being swarmed by fat bees. That’s where I found that shot up above. It’s one of my favourites and transports me back to standing on the bridge in the summer-warm valley.

I love loving by the ocean, there’s no doubt about that. I’ve spent my time in a fair number of port cities and coastal towns. But there is something about the valley that I have always loved. Maybe it’s how the hills curl up on either side and the sun baking down is like a giant womb. I don’t want to disturb you with that image; rather, all the best summer fruits come from the valley. I was just a baby when I lived there. It’s like crawling back inside a kangaroo pouch, for me.

Always a Maritimer

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I’ve moved around a lot. The question “Where are you from?” was never a straightforward answer, until I realized the truth. I’m a Maritimer. Atlantic Canadian through and through. I was born in Toronto, and six months after was brought to Nova Scotia. I like to think that I spent my formative years in these provinces just minutes from the beach, where the winters are brutal and the summers are paradise. I think it’s in my blood.

I try and remember to feel pride in this. I reflect on the great things about my heritage and place of origin. And that’s what I want to do here.

1. Kitchen parties were a great time growing up, when all the family would come over and there would be food cooking all night, music playing and aunts dancing till the house shook. Everything was warm and bright, even in the winter.

2. I knew who Alexander Keith was before I knew what beer tasted like. He was mentioned fondly, like a founder of the city. His birthday was always a party.

3. Lobster traps piled up around villages is the most common sight in the world. They dry out in the sun and are mystical to me in their function.

4. Understanding English in Moncton is useful, understanding French in Moncton is useful; understanding both does not make you good at either. Language is modern art in New Brunswick.

5. Bagpipes are awesome. Even if we like to complain about them, there’s something in the blood of a Bluenoser that pays attention to the wails.

6. Great Big Sea is the soundtrack to summers in the backyard with my parents. Even when we lived somewhere far from the East Coast we would hear those albums play and hear the ocean crash in the back of our minds.

7. Speaking of the ocean, we know all its temperaments. It is the moodiest of neighbours and the dearest of friends.

8. New Brunswick is endless forests, Prince Edward Island is endless hills and windmills, Nova Scotia is endless coastal drives, and Newfoundland is endless moose and mountains.

9. Visitors will always want to know where the best lobster is. I will rarely have an answer for them. Make something up, quick!

10. Umbrellas are useless and it’s always colder than I think it is (except from June to September).

11. The drive from Halifax to Moncton seems forever. Then I try driving in another part of the country and it feels downright convenient.

12. The Confederation Bridge between New Brunswick and PEI never photographs as well as I think it will.

13. The Newfie accent (and its variants) is hard to catch if you’ve been away. Once you’re reintegrated, its the simplest thing in the world. If you’re not careful you start picking it up. This is a charming local hazard.

14. There is nothing better in the whole world than fresh picked fruit from the Annapolis Valley, fresh washed on the porch on a summer afternoon.

So ends my love letter to the East Coast. It is hard to remember all the wonderful things about living here on a week like this, with constant frigid temperatures, ice and snow. It is good to think of the things to come in a few months.

Maybe you’ll resonate with some of these things that represent home to me!