Country #36: Luxembourg (So Lucky!), & One Sunny Day in Montreal

Hoi,

 

It is Friday at 9:20 am. I have not been blogging like I intended to, but that’s fine. Might as well go see places while I’m traveling instead of being on my computer, right? I can always ketchup when I get back to Canada.

I’m on the bus from Brussels to Paris. It gets in around 12:30, and my plan is to find a coffee, refuel, and then go to the Pompidou Centre. My lovely host Helene is working until 3:30, so I’ll kill time until she’s ready. Here’s hoping the Centre has coat check / luggage storage!

And then tomorrow, Helene, her boyfriend, his brother, and I are going to Versailles in the morning. I hear it gets hella crowded, so I’d like to get there early, to ensure we have enough time. Because tomorrow at 7:45 pm, I fly back to Montreal. This one is direct and lands at 9:30 pm local time. I’m strongly considering staying the night in MTL and then seeing friends / spending time there on Sunday. Still gotta find some friend to put me up, and I haven’t fully decided (might want to just get back and sleep in my own bed), so we’ll see.

Where did I leave off last time? I was on the bus from Paris to Brussels. Typed up a quick update (quick for me, I mean – it was still 5000 words lmao) and then watched the first 2/3 of Zodiac. David Fincher is one of my favourite directors, Jake Gyllenhaal is great, and I love horror – but this one was a bit too plodding for me. Glad I watched it, though, and it did make the ride go quickly.

Then I arrive to Bruxelles-Nord station and have to make my way to Sam’s, by Place Flagey. Perhaps watching a scary movie wasn’t the best idea, since wandering around a strange city, alone at night, had me jumpy. It didn’t help that the North Station is in a sketchy part of town and my Maps wasn’t working (kept showing me as being in Nantes). So that was a struggle. Eventually, I did manage to find the right road (after somehow happening upon Brussels’ red light district) and got on the tram. I only got to Sam and Francois’ around midnight, which is ridiculous. I should’ve been there 3.5 hours earlier! UGH so annoying. I still need to email Flix Bus to try some recompensation. Wish me luck, I guess.

I rinse off in their waterfall shower, catch up with Sam a bit, and then go promptly to bed, because the next day, I had an 8:30 am bus to Luxembourg! Honestly, I wasn’t feeling it, and when my alarm went off and the skies were dark – I considered just going back to sleep. This is a vacation, right? And I had just spent 8 hours traveling the day before, and before that was 18 hours of traveling, all told. So did I really want to spend another 6 hours on a bus? No.

But I figured, whatever, I already bought the tickets. I picked up some baked goods and an apple on the way there, caught my bus right on time, ate a cinnamon bun, then snoozed the entire way to Luxembourg. That’s what I’d hoped to do, and although it wasn’t super comfortable, it still energized me. Thank goodness, because I had six hours in Luxembourg City and wanted to see as much as I could!

I disembark, get a map from the ticket counter, and go explorin’. As I had just woken up, though, my first priority was a coffee. It’s very unlike me, but I went into McDonald’s for this. I know, right? Ugh. But the cashier told me the €1 coffee was a café-crème and there was free WiFi, so why not. Except it was an espresso, not a café au lait, and the Internet was nice, but the washrooms cost another euro to get in. not what I expected. Regardless, an espresso for $1.50 Canadian is a great deal, and they even had milk you could put in, for free.

Then I walk into the city in earnest. [K, I’m suddenly tired – I had no coffee today yet either. There was no time this morning, and I barely made this bus as is. So I’m gonna rest some now.]

 

..

 

Okay, now it’s Saturday at 9:30 pm. I did manage to fall asleep on the bus yesterday, and then I had a very full afternoon, evening, and day today as well. Gotta make the most of my trip before it’s over, right? I’m exhausted, but I don’t feel like I missed much of everything. No, I didn’t make it to Rotterdam, and there was no time to see the Montmartre Cemetery (sorry Tony!), but I caught up with old friends and saw some amazing cities. No regrets.

I’m currently on the plane ride back to Montreal. It’s a direct flight, but not with Icelandair this time. That disappoints me, since I was so pleasantly impressed with them on the way in. No biggie. This one was supposed to be Iberia Air, but for some reason, I’m on this airline called Level? Never heard of it. It’s a bit strange. Ditto with how I got to the airport and went to the ticketing counter (since online check-in was not available for this flight), and the woman there said “You’re lucky. We would’ve closed already, but we are delayed today. Please go directly to your gate.” So I’m like, sh!t, okay then, let me rush through security. Even the screens say boarding… But I still need to wait 40 minutes to actually get on the plane? Peculiar.

It’s all well and good, though, since I was placed in one of the first rows on the whole plane, after first class. So I have nobody in front of me – and thus more leg room – and there’s nobody beside me either! I even have a little overhead compartment to myself! Not sure how I got so lucky, but I’ll take it.

I just watched last week’s episode of Survivor David vs Goliath (which had a supremely satisfying #blindside), and now I figured I’d write a bit more in here. This plane does have monitors with free movies, so I’ll chronicle some of my journey and then watch a movie. I’m thinking Deadpool 2, or maybe Love, Simon. Both have queer representation, but different flavours. Ha. Probably the former to start. I gotta stay awake somehow, right?

Unfortunately, once I get to Montreal (at 9:30 pm local time, or 3:30 am Paris time), there are no more Greyhounds back to Ottawa. I was considering staying the night and spending most of the day there anyway… But I also miss my bed and have no clean shirts, let alone a winter jacket. No idea what the temperature is, but I have been B L E S S E D with the weather this past week. It only rained twice – the day I spent commuting to Brussels from Paris, and in the morning when I was walking around Antwerp. Beyond that, it was sunny and mid- to high twenties! In October! I love it. Chanceux.

So I’m sleeping over at Matt and Tyler’s (not Chris’ as he’s out of town). Tomorrow, I’ll walk around, go to the AntiCafe, and hopefully see some friends. Then, at last, return home, throw all my stuff in the hamper, take a long, hot shower, and make nachos before watching the latest episode of The Challenge: Final Reckoning. I decided not to view it on my trip, since I didn’t really have a comfortable setup for a TV show. Might as well just wait and watch it on my big screen.

And then, go to bed early, and hopefully not be jet lagged for my return to the office on Monday morning!

 

Anyhow, back to my trip. I don’t reckon I’ll finish describing it now, but I suppose we’ll see. Now, where was I?

Ah yes, Luxembourg. It was another glorious day. I spent the afternoon walking around this luxe city. The Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it’s easy to see why. Great architecture and a quaint village feeling. The colours of the trees were splendid, too. Especially with how nice the weather was, I am jubilant I decided to go in October. The autumnal hues, smaller crowds, and ideal temperatures – just perfect. Maybe somebody’s looking out for me.

I saw lots of the main sites of Luxembourg, including “the world’s most beautiful balcony” (something Corniche – phenomenal views the entire way down it, wow), the Grand Duke’s Palace, Place d’Armes, this old Abbey, Andolphe Bridge (which was the one thing captured in Mini-Europe, which struck me as a strange choice), the valley park, etc. The #1 site according to Lonely Planet was the Museum of City History, but as it was Monday, it was closed. So I went to the second best attraction, the castmates. Which are these tunnels dug into this ridge, used for defense during battles, for shelter during storms, that kinda thing. Only €6 to enter, and although it wasn’t mind-blowing, I still enjoyed myself. Lots of stairs, though, which – despite how I climb 110+ flights in 20 minutes on the stair climber, thrice weekly – sucked.

I decided to walk over to the modern section of the city as well, and poke around there – why not, right? – but let me tell you, it was a waste of time. It was onerous to get over there – down a big hill and then up another large incline – and then it wasn’t very exciting. Not really sure what I expected, since it’s not like Luxembourg City is known for its contemporary architecture, but I thought I’d regret it if I didn’t. But on the contrary, I regret going over in the first place. I didn’t want to spend more time, so I did not explore that part of town thoroughly, but I did see the Philharmonic and some government building and the Modern Art Museum. Nothing wowed me. So, if you happen to go to Lux City (if only to add another country to your list, or not), feel free to skip it.

On the better side of the city, they have this grand elevator, which is free to use. I didn’t go down it, but I’d advise you to do so. However, what was cool about it was how there is this long walkway to get out to the lift, and at the end of it, they have a glass floor. Not sure how high up it is, but the view raised my hackles. I still went and stepped on it, though. Gotta #faceyourfears.

By that time, around 3 pm, I was ready for some lunch. I tried to go to this one place, A La Soupe, but they were completely out of sandwiches and didn’t have more of their soup of the day. So disappointing, since it was a creamy pumpkin one. Like, YUM!!! And then the sandwicherie beside it didn’t have its kitchen open. But to counteract that, they were having a degustation – so I got to try two of their offerings, for free! Superb.

I leached off some WiFi from another McDonald’s and did more research on “best cheap food Luxembourg,” then set out looking for these places. I did find the one, a coffee shop, but a café-crème was like €4. No thanks. Instead, I went right beside it, to this Italian place I just happened upon. Got an iced espresso and homemade pomodoro-mozzarella panzerotti. It hit the spot, even if the latter was just a glorified pizza pocket. Lol. I ate this stuff with glee while reading Less, which I have since finished and definitely recommend. The ending was a bit sh!t, but the book overall was wonderful. Very fitting for me to be reading while on my Eurotrip, since it is about an older gay man who declines an invitation to his ex’s wedding (why would he even invite his ex anyway……) and instead accepts all these offers he has, to attend conferences and retreats and ceremonies around the world. Kinda like how I was like, “f*ck work right now, it’s a bit much, let me fly the coop and go exploring more of Europe.” And it was great!

Sufficiently fed and watered, I meandered more around the Old Town, crossed the famous bridge, descended into the valley between the, like, buttes, and made it back to the bus station. Exhausted by this point, I plop down on the concrete, enjoy the warm sun, and read more.

Of course, the Flix Bus is late again (though it was timely that morning, so) and I start to get worried. I ask the woman next to me if she’s waiting for Brussels as well, which she is – but for the bus direct to the airport. Hm. She and I get to talking, and she’s actually great. Pretty, charming, funny. She was Irish, so I loved hearing the accent. But it was also nice to meet new people, something I didn’t do much this trip (since I wasn’t staying in many hostels). She called the places I decided to visit “the most random choices” and generally just was entertaining. Unfortunately, we weren’t on the same bus (since mine skipped Charleroi), but both of our rides arrived, I made it back to Brussels, and presumably she flew back to Ireland that day.

I was drained from pounding the pavement for six hours in the hot sun and with a not-not-heavy bag on my back, so I put on an episode of the Brain Candy Podcast (about The Real World, natch) and watched the Belgian countryside fly by out the windows. It was a great view and a good podcast, and I dozed off towards the end. Then I awoke, finished watching Zodiac then an episode of Floribama Shore (omg, if you haven’t watched it, y’all should – it is wild), then one Modern Family before getting back to Bruxelles-Nord.

I take the tram back, drop my stuff off at Sam and Francois’, chat a bit, then go wandering for food. The original plan was for me to meet Sam somewhere in the centre, at a bar or something, but the bus didn’t have wi-fi (of course), so that was impossible. Plus, they ended up making chicken nuggets from scratch, so all was well at the end.

The two happen to live in a residential section of the city, so by the time I went walking around – around 10 pm – almost nothing was open. I was desperate at this point, since all I had that day was an apple, cinnamon bun, blueberry muffin, and the panzerotti. After I was on the go and doing light cardio since 7:30 that morning. Needless to say, I was famished. Fortunately, I found one place whose kitchen was still open, and I plopped myself down. The waitress recommended the ginger chicken wings, so that is what I had, with some free baguette + butter and a Belgian beer. Not the cheapest meal, but oh-so-satisfying.

Then, back to Sam’s and back promptly to bed. And that is Day #3. I’ll cut it here, for a while. I’ve had a headache all day – maybe related to how I didn’t have a coffee until 7 pm, but don’t call it an addiction – and I tire of this. Time for a movie, and hopefully some sleep later! Zzzzzz.

 

..

 

This is becoming one of those updates. It is now 8 pm on Sunday, and I just sat down in the rideshare to (finally) head back to Ottawa. I had trouble finding a good way back, actually. I wanted to see a friend, but he was working until after 5 and only got home around 5:40. So I reserved a spot in a covoiturage for 7:30… And later got a text asking if it was okay if we left at 9 instead. But, uhh…. That’s when you said we’d be arriving there? I’m not trying to get home at 11 pm tonight. One, I wanted to go to bed early, but also, damn, I gotta watch the Challenge! So I looked around for another, it was a whole to-do, but I’m sitting in this one now. So I can relax.

I did watch Deadpool 2 yesterday, which was alright. I liked how there were other X-Men in it, and it really is self-aware. I tried sleeping for a bit, but it just wouldn’t work – so I turned on another movie: Love, Simon. It was much better than I was expecting. I thought it would be some arty, symbolic movie (maybe like Call Me By Your Name, which I admittedly haven’t seen) – but it was modern and straightforward (or maybe gayforward). Either way, a cute movie, definitely check it out if you are inclined to queer topics. I even cried a bit during it. You know, coming out ain’t easy, especially if you don’t have a choice in the matter, as I didn’t. On that note, happy belated National Coming Out Day.

After, I finally managed to doze off, but by that time, there was only about an hour left. Not a big deal. I cleared customs quick, hopped on the shuttle, and headed right to McGill Metro. The absolutely sweethearts, Matt and Tyler, agreed to put me up for a night, in their exciting and beautiful new place. I was expecting to sleep on the couch, but it was MUCH better than expected. I slept alone in a king-size bed with 6 pillows available, AND I had a whole bathroom to myself. Like, what!! So unexpected and so phenomenal. I felt like a proper princess. And by the time I got to bed, it was 5:30 am Paris time, so maybe I deserved it. Weirdly, though, I had trouble falling and then staying asleep. But I did get a solid 8.5 hours, so hopefully the jet lag isn’t too bad tomorrow, when I return to the office and host trivia (and possibly go to the gym).

Finally, to end my vacation, I had another marvelous day. Montreal was much chillier than Paris – only about 10 Celsius – but it was a sunny and clear day, which warmed things up. I struck out of the house early, walked through the Village, checked out the new open-air gallery, then went to the AntiCafe, where I had two double lattes (handmade by the employee there, who was actually so sweet) and some snacks, while charging my phone and watching Instagram stories. Then I saw my friend Stephane, then met Ndaku for a delicious lunch (Southern fried chicken with fries, cornbread, and potato salad at Diablos BBQ on St-Laurent). I was also shopping at Eva B, looking for inspiration for a Halloween costume and also for sunglasses. Found a nice pair for the latter, but didn’t buy it immediately – and when I circled back after lunch, they were gone. Damn! I also found this great pair of women’s high heel leather boots, that fit me, for only $9 – but the heel was a bit unstable, so I didn’t purchase. I’m also regretting that. Guess it wasn’t a good shopping day for me. Alas.

Then swung back to Matt and Tyler’s (“The Durocher Domain”), grabbed my things, talked about Laganja Estranja, said goodbye, saw my friend quickly, then went to Plamondon for the rideshare. I’m FINALLY back home now – it’s after 11 pm. Got the coffee brewing so it can be cold tomorrow, already unpacked, and am getting the file for Le Défi from Paul. YAY.

 

And that’s enough for now. Ciao!

 

Jefe

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Staying in Paris, some Time with the Parents, & then some!

Bonsoir,

 

It is currently 4:50 in Paris. I am sitting on a bench overlooking Parc Bercy. I got to Paris yesterday, and am going to Luxembourg tomorrow. However, the bus tickets I bought depart from Brussels, not Paris. So I am at Parc Bercy because this is where Flix Bus has its station. My dear friend Helene advised me it’s confusing to find, so to give myself enough time before departure. So I did. I arrived here at 3, and my bus to Brussels was supposed to leave at 3:40. Plenty of time, and I found a free washroom and got a nice café-crème as well. Found the right platform and waited. The bus came late, and then the driver said he was going on a tour. I, and other people waiting as well, were surprised by this… Since the screens said to be at this specific quai for the line to Brussels and Copenhagen.

Annoying. So some people go and ask the woman in the bright green Flix jacket what’s happening, and the bus we are looking for pulls up. She tells us to go to quai 15 instead, so we do that… And then the bus drives away. I thought it would just go around the block and then come pick us up, but that is not what happened.

And now it’s nearly five, and my feet hurt from standing. I asked someone else waiting what’s happening, and she told me we have to wait another hour… And even then it’s not guaranteed. WHAT. She didn’t know about refunds, so I went and asked the Flix rep about what the f*** is happening, and she said it would come in an hour. For a refund, I would need to call. I obviously told her my phone doesn’t work, since I’m traveling, but….

Her coworker said the bus will come at 5:30. We’ll see about that, it’s not that far away. But I decided to come get some fresh air instead of waiting in the smelly bus station, and I wanted to write a blog post anyway, so maybe things are fine. Things could be better, of course – especially since, when I finally do get on the bus, it’s another 4 hours of waiting. But at least I’ll have WiFi, a comfortable seat, and (purportedly) an outlet. I can finish up with this blog post and then watch a movie, take a nap, whatever.

So, fingers crossed it comes at 5:30. If it doesn’t – I don’t really know what to do. I could stay in Paris another night without issue – Helene, Arthur, and Jordan are here. But that leaves the question of how I will get to Luxembourg tomorrow. Perhaps I could simply book another ticket to there, but this one from Paris – and then keep my way back, and end in Brussels tomorrow night. That wouldn’t be too horrible, but it means I’d be lugging my backpack around Luxembourg City the entire time I’m there.

Oh, if only I had an internet connection to figure this out. Let’s just hope the bus comes at 5:30, and then I can message Sam that I’m a full two hours behind (and hopefully learn his address, since he hadn’t shared it with me the last time I was online), and then I’ll just have to be patient until I get there.

 

C’est la vie, I suppose. This encapsulates even more la vie bohème that I was discussing last night. Helene was working, so Jordan and I went to a show at her restaurant, Le Bal Blomet. Apparently the entertainer is super interesting, witty, and transgressive. Problem is, it was all in French (obviously), and even if Jordan and I can get by – we are not used to punny, poetic, and frenetic French. In addition, I took an overnight flight to get here and only managed to sleep 3 or 4 (fitful) hours. So as soon as the lights went down and I was sitting in one place, the exhaustion started to hit me. Obviously, I couldn’t stay for the whole show, especially since I was only catching 5% of the words anyway.

So we left, and wandered through the Parisian night to a corner store, picked up some drinks and snacks, then had ourselves a little picnic at the Eiffel Tower!! It was glorious, and it was really nice spending time with her. It had been more than five years since I saw her last! Can you believe that?

Thanks to social media, we’ve kept in touch, and I’m so glad we got to link up while we both happened to be in the same ville! Wouhou!

We also hung this morning, saw the “I Love You” wall, wandered around Montmartre (so cute!), visited the Sacre-Coeur Basilica, and located (Le Bal, La Machine du) Moulin Rouge. Then I hopped on the metro to come to Bercy station. Ugh. A nice morning but this evening sucks so far.

I planned on grabbing breakfast with Helene and Arthur, but she got home from work after 2 am and both of them are sick, so that didn’t happen. I meandered through the 15th arrondisement myself and happened upon this great café. They had a “formule petit dejeuner” – a breakfast combo. A hot drink (café-crème), fresh-pressed juice, and a tartine (bread with butter and jam), all for €8! Not bad at all, especially since the previous places I looked charged €4.50 for a café-crème itself. Btw, that’s a café au lait, but how they call it in Paris. Thanks for teaching me, Helene!

Also, Helene and Arthur had plans to go see his family for lunch today, so I couldn’t spend time with them afterward either. Not a huge deal, since my flight is out of Paris Orly, so I’ll be back here for a day or two at the end of my trip (next Friday and Saturday). Yes, it’s a short trip, but it’s all the time I was permitted to take off from work. And yes, many other people have taken much more time off – 3 weeks consecutively is pretty common – but whatever. I’m not gonna be upset about it anymore. I also only have a finite number of vacation days, so I’d rather have 2 or 3 trips in a year, instead of one big long one. Plus, this way I only miss one week of volleyball!

I caught my bus at 4pm in Ottawa, arrived to the Montreal airport around 6:15, breezed through customs, got a Starbucks sandwich and bagel, then charged my phone at my gate. It was an overnight flight on Icelandair, and they had adorable pillows and blankets for each person! I saw them when I entered, but I figured it would only be for first class. Was pleasantly surprised that it was also in coach, as was I when I learned that there was nice TV screens, free movies, and drinks included! I guess I’ve grown accustomed to flying the real discount airlines (WOW air, Ryanair, EasyJet), because these little things blew my mind. But I suppose these tickets cost $200 more than the ones I had to Berlin and back – and are movies, a small coffee, and a blanket really worth that price? I don’t think so. You can just treat yourself to a $5 coffee on WOWair and bring your own movies! But it was great to have for the way in. I couldn’t sleep at first, so I watched one of the movies they had available: Game Night. With Jason Bateman, Rachel McAdams, and Winston from New Girl. Surprisingly good! Recommend.

 

Okay, it is about 6:10, 2.5 hours after I was supposed to leave in the first place. This is horrible, but I guess, at least it came? I’ll be getting to Brussels now around 9:45pm. Since my bus to Luxembourg is tomorrow at 8:30am… There won’t be much time for anything before bedtime! Yikes. Sorry Sam 😦 Maybe it’ll be more convenient for me to just get a hostel for the night.

I’m actually wondering that for my own trip. Obviously I love spending time with Helene and Sam, and staying with them facilitates. But I feel like I’m imposing the whole time, and I am not a total free agent while I’m doing so. I’ll try the first night with Sam, if he and his boyfriend let me, and then determine from there. It’s not like I wouldn’t see them at all if I wasn’t staying with them.

 

Regardless. I’m on the bus, and I somehow got two seats to myself, right in front of the steps to the lower level. So that comes with the cute little table! Yes! However, no outlets to speak of – and my computer is down to 62%. There is Wi-Fi, however, so I’ll write this up and then figure out how to get to Sam’s flat and what to do tomorrow in Luxembourg! Productive. [Note from later: I actually found the outlet. So I guess I’ll watch a movie and eat this leftover baguette and camembert! Yay!]

For the rest of my trip, here is my plan. Monday: day in Luxembourg and sleep in Brussels. Tuesday: spend the afternoon in Bruges, sleep in Brussels. Wednesday: go to Antwerp, sleep there. Thursday: go to Rotterdam, sleep there. Friday: somehow make it back to Paris (I need to look for cheap flights) and explore more with Helene. Saturday: visit Versailles and then head to Paris Orly for my flight at 7:45pm. Arrive in Montreal around 7pm local time. Sleep there (still have to ask Chris, Matt, and Tyler – or Brendan, Ky, Ndaku, etc). Sunday: spend the day in Montreal, go to Anticafe, see friends, then get a rideshare back in the evening. Throw everything in the hamper, take a hot shower, and hit the sack early, since the following day is work!

Now, the way I like to travel is spontaneous. I don’t like to book everything in advance, because what if I don’t like a place I’m staying? Or what if I really like it, and want to stay longer? Or what if I meet amazing people in some hostel and want to follow where they go? I like to see where the wind takes me, fly by the seat of my pants, that kinda thing.

So I haven’t booked anything beyond the bus tickets to Luxembourg tomorrow. And if I can’t find an easy / fast way from Rotterdam back to France, I think I’ll skip it altogether. I don’t want to spend my entire trip waiting in buses, you know? This 2.5 hour debacle (we haven’t started driving yet either…) coupled with how long it took me to get to Helene’s yesterday from the airport (another 2.5 hours), and that’s enough time wasted. I know the trip to Luxemburg takes 3 hours one-way, so that’s going to suck. It better be on time (although it’s also Flix Bus, fux), and hopefully I can sleep on the first leg… And maybe nap on the second. Beyond that, I’ll read (currently about halfway through Less by Andrew Sean Greer) or listen to podcasts (I downloaded various Brain Candy episodes before I left) and look out the windows.

 

Back to my flight over. I had a 2.5 hour layover in Reykjavik on the way in, which arrived at 5am local time. It was cold there – below zero for sure – and there were doors to the outside. So the terminal itself was also chilly. I took one of the pillows from the first flight and tried to sleep on a bench, but it was too hard and there was too much noise around. So I hung out in the sitting area of one of the nice coffee shops there and watched Instagram stories while charging my phone. I had my Starbucks bagel and chatted with some friends, and before you knew it, it was time to go through passport control, change terminals, and find my gate. Pretty painless… But it would’ve been nice to sleep.

That is, however, what I did on the second flight. I was somehow placed in a row with extra-leg room and a window seat – lucky me! – and I immediately leaned against it with this wee pillow and dozed right off. I slept the entire flight, somehow, and woke up just before we were about to descend. Got myself a coffee and watched as Paris materialized through the window!

The weather yesterday was gorgeous – which softened the blow about the shuttle bus taking forever to arrive. I read my Kindle and enjoyed the sun. We drove through the Paris streets and I had such a smile on my face, looking around at all the architecture. It’s truly a beautiful city. Using the metro brought back memories from when I was here with Dave, Steve, and Courtney, during Reading Week 2013 – another reason to smile.

And I found Helene’s flat without issue. It’s a great place, and they have this wonderful garden right outside. Enviable. So we chit chat some, I wash my face (which I needed to do; I felt so dirty) and change into shorts, then go wander around the arrondisement. She takes me to the place with the best croissant (it’s won awards!), but I was hungry for something heartier. So we find another bakery, and I order a goat cheese sandwich. Yum, right? And it wasn’t bad, but for some reason, they added hard-boiled egg and mayonnaise to it. Which covered up the toast of the chevre… So it was more just an egg salad sandwich. Whatever. Still tasted good!

(FINALLY LEAVING NOW. THREE HOURS LATE. THESE B*TCHES BETTER OFFER ME SOME COMPENSATION, MERDE)

Then I’m on the hunt for a café, but Helene, the total sweetheart she is, offers to make me one at her workplace, Le Bal Blomet. Who am I to say no? It was delicious, AND it gave us time for her to give me a little tour of the restaurant and concert venue! I loved it – it’s so interesting to see where she spends so much of her time, and how she controls it all! (She’s a manager) Helene, if you read this: keep on kickin’ ass! You’re an inspiration.

But by that time, she had to run to work, so Jordan met me at her and Arthur’s place, and I ordered this bus ticket. In hindsight, I should’ve gone with the competitor company, OuiBus. I’ve used Flix Bus before and never had an issue with it – it actually was more reliable than the Italian trains – so hopefully this was just a (massive) aberration. Fingers crossed everything goes off without a hitch tomorrow morning.

Then Jordan and I walk around Paris some, catching up and enjoying the warmth, I get a banh mi, and then we go to Helene’s resto for the show!

 

And that catches y’all up to my trip heretofore. Now, some SparksNotes for my life:

 

  • I’m not even sure the last time I wrote in here. My last post started with “Happy Pride Month!” so I guess it must’ve been June. Yikes. That’s 3.5 months. Maybe I shouldn’t complain about delays 😛
  • Since then, this guy who I thought I was involved with / seeing / whatever-you-want-to-call-it and I have concluded. He thought we were “friends that hung out every now and then,” but I personally don’t take day trips that involve hour-long car rides and one-on-one picnics on beaches, while holding hands the entire time, with my platonic friends. But maybe that’s just me.
  • Work continues. We are still a lean and mean team, Vinita and I. Budget 2018 included money to establish a Public Service Centre on Diversity, Inclusion, and Wellness – providing funds for 7 full-time employees for the D+I part of this Centre. Except for the past couple months (maybe early July up until now), it’s been only me and my manager. Someone else is starting in 2-3 weeks, finally… But then we’re still a small team. I dunno, really. I don’t like to think too much about it. I’m busier than normal, which I prefer, and I’m good at what I do. I actually applied to the posting we put up to find more senior analysts on our team. But because it’s a PE-5 level, I of course didn’t qualify (not that I ever received that in writing).
  • In better news, I did have an interview, for another position. This was an EC-5 with the Public Health Agency of Canada. EC is more of an analyst / researcher role, whereas PE is “personnel administration” and human resources advisors… So the former is more a fit for my wheelhouse. I think I rocked the interview, but I haven’t heard anything since I had it (in mid-September), so perhaps it’s a bust. Whatever. It’s good experience regardless.
  • My current contract on the D+I team is until March 30, 2019 anyway – so I have plenty of time to figure things out. I know for a fact Vinita and Louise (and even their superiors – Nadine and Carl) like me and want to keep me. So I’m not worried. Of course, there’s no guarantee of continued work. But I suppose I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. I don’t want to leave my position – I know it backwards and forwards, I get along with my colleagues, I live five minutes walking from my office, diversity and inclusion appeals to my passions, etc. etc. etc. – but if there’s no forthcoming contract, what am I to do? It hangs over my head because I really don’t know what else I would be doing. This is my only experience with the public service, and I don’t want to leave it. Apparently the Centre on Gender, Diversity, and Inclusion Data at Statistics Canada wanted to offer me a position in charge of outreach, but then filled it internally first. What if, right?
  • But anyway. That’s work. And I’m very pleased to have a job, in general, but also one that pays so well, is located so conveniently, and gives me paid vacation days for Eurotrips. I could do a lot worse for myself.
  • Beyond work – many habits continue. I still play Dominion regularly, including online sometimes now. There’s a new expansion coming out this month sometime, called Renaissance, and Donald X (the designer) made the cards he previewed available on the web version. So, naturally, I had to try it! And loved them.
  • Still watching lots of reality TV. Paul and I watched the #1 season of Survivor, according to the What Season Should You Watch list on the Survivor subreddit. It was China, and it was fun – but my expectations were probably too high again, because I didn’t think it was totally phenomenal. I felt blue-balled just like during Ghost Island, because Denise and Amanda would not turn on Todd, despite the editing teasing this the entire time. UGH.
  • I watched S14 (Fiji) essentially all alone, because this sickness hit me like a tonne of bricks, out of nowhere. It came over me on Sunday night and I didn’t work Monday. I felt better after that, so I went into the office. I wasn’t as sore or fatigued, and I had no headache. I was just in a lot of intestinal discomfort, so I didn’t want to be there. I left after that and worked the rest of the day from home, also on Wednesday, also on Thursday. Still had to go in for a meeting with the Executive Director, though, so I womanned up for then.
  • But then, Thursday night into Friday morning, it was horrible. Paul was out of town – probably for the best, actually – and I spent half the night in the washroom. And I had really strange dreams too – probably fever dreams. So I didn’t go in at all on Friday, and instead went to the clinic. I was dizzy and unstable the entire walk there, and moving so slowly, so it took a while. It was horrendous, people. I had been sick since Sunday night but still had a fever of over 100, when they took it at the clinic. Yikes.
  • The doctor prescribed me an antibiotic and gave me two things to give a stool sample to a lab. I dropped off the scrip at the pharmacy, but of course, it took 45 minutes to be filled. And with how exhausted I was, no way was I venturing back out of the house. So I waited, bought some Pedialyte, purchased the pills, then struggled on home and immediately went back to sleep. Freddy, the dear, dropped off some bananas and applesauce for me – and that is all I had all weekend. That, the Pedialyte, water, plain pasta, soup, and toast. I eventually put some avocado on the toast, which was some much-needed flavour… But apparently a bad idea (too fatty). Whoops.
  • But it cleared up after the antibiotic, FINALLY. I was starved for flavour (and in general – I lost 5 pounds that week) but didn’t want to risk it. So I kept on eating the “safe foods.” Very boring. And I didn’t really feel like moving, so I watched all of S14 of Survivor without Paul and curled up on the couch. Sorry bud. I can give you the files later. (Oh, and thanks for The Handmaid’s Tale, I watched it, albeit a 1.3-4x speed, and I loved it! I have season 2 downloaded and my start that this trip!)
  • Finished watching Big Brother 20, and the one I chose pre-season to win, Kaycee, somehow did! Wouhou! Exciting for me, of course – but even more momentous because she is an out, queer, gender non-conforming woman of colour. And won against a blond, All-American, white straight cis man. In Trump’s America. Amazing.
  • Final Reckoning continues, and I am first place in the fantasy pool. Thanks for all the drama points, Amanda, even though you eliminated yourself!
  • The gym continues. Obviously I didn’t go when I was sick, so I felt like I lost of lot of strength then, but I’m getting back on that horse. And maybe the illness was a blessing in disguise, because I weighed myself soon after and was down to <15% body fat! Instead of >19%! Yay! (It was probably a combination of not eating much, not eating any cheese, and all the hours and sweat from the stair climber)
  • I’ve supplemented my exercise wit playing tennis with Paul, my roommate. I hadn’t played in literal years, probably since 2013 in Montreal, so I was worried I was gonna be rusty. But I remain undefeated in sets against him! So awesome. It’s a shame winter is coming, because I have a lot of fun playing with him :/
  • And of course, the volleyball season has begun again! My team is the Big Digs, and it’s me, Cayden, JP, Stephane, Nathan, and Dean. A lot of great guys, and I’m thrilled with it so far. We were placed in Tier 5 (of 10) for the first week, which intimidated me – but we still managed to win one of the sets. And the second week (last Wednesday), we were in Tier 6 of 11. To contextualize, I spent most of last season in Tier 8 of 8. Lol. So being in the middle is quite a jump for me. Fortunately, my team is capable, and we won 2 and lost 2 last Wednesday. We were on track to win another – had a 5-point lead – but we blew it. A truly bogus call from the lineman didn’t help out, either. But the point is that we are performing well and I am doing better than I expected too. Sad I’m missing it this week, but yeah, volleyball is fab!
  • Dad came to visit one week, so he, Paul, and I went to a nice dinner at Biermarkt, then played Dominion after. I was telling Paul previously had Dad is so good at these strategy games and how he almost always beats me… And then he proceeds to get destroyed by me, in the 3 most recent games I played with him. Sure, maybe he doesn’t play weekly (or more) like I do, but damn, Dad is a killer at these things! It’s funny, because after he left, I asked Paul what he thought – and he said “He wasn’t very good at Dominion.” Hilarious!
  • Then Dad, Mum, and Roz came up a couple weeks after that, which I loved. Dad had another business trip and the other two accompanied him. Unfortunately, this was during the week (of course, since Pops was there to work), so I didn’t have a lot of free time to see them. Disappointing for me. It also happened to be one of my busier weeks – trivia, captains’ meeting for volleyball, and the first week of competitive play. But I still managed to see them every day. Mum and Roz came to trivia, which was a lot of fun, and on Tuesday, we went to that Chinese restaurant Dad adores. Wednesday, we met right after work and went to Johnny Farina for their happy hour, since there wasn’t time for a full meal before I had to go to volleyball. The food was actually great there – Italian nachos, meatball slider, pickle fries, margherita pizza, pasta – and the Pimm’s cup I had was delicious. Recommend!
  • Thursday and Friday, however, I had more time to see them. I taught them how to play 7 Wonders, which I gave to Dad last Christmas, and Roz schooled us in it. Then the ‘rents and I played Dominion together (as Roz played Breath of the Wild, lol – which started with the Ganon fight, since I finished the game while I was sick at home). As aforementioned, I beat Dad in this round too – and it was a They actually quit halfway through because they were so far behind. Sorry, folks! But like I’ve told you before – don’t take those free copper, and there should be no reason to buy a duchy early or mid-game!
  • Roz stayed over at my place Wednesday and Thursday, so they watched The Challenge with me and Paul, and we got lots of Smash Bros in. I won that, too! 😉 But Roz and I are pretty evenly matched in it. They play a lot of Melee. The next time I see them (over the holidays), maybe we can take each other on in the new one!! I’m gonna ask for a Switch as my “birthmas” present (what my family does now – one large gift for the whole year, instead of smaller ones for birthday, Christmas, etc. Last year I had them pay me back for the 55” HD TV I bought).
  • Roz had to leave on Friday morning, though, so that night, it was just “the adults” 😛 We went out to dinner at Coconut Lagoon, this Indian place near their hotel that Vinita (who is from India) recommended. I didn’t know this prior, but the chef apparently won second place in a pan-Canadian competition for the best chef, in 2017! Amazing! And you wouldn’t guess it, from the location or the prices. It was delicious food. Dad had lamb thali, I had mango ginger shrimp curry, and Mum had button mushroom gravy curry. Lucky me – there was even some leftovers for me to take home! It was a really nice “Last Supper” with the ‘rents, and they gave me a birthday card during. Adorable ❤ (And Roz, what you wrote in it literally made me LOL – god, love you, you’re so funny!)
  • What else? I had to rush my passport application, only picking it up on Tuesday when I departed on Friday. Big debacle. I had to get a new birth certificate from Nova Scotia, which Mum picked up and brought with her on the drive. They didn’t bring their own passports, though, so I had to get Elena to be my guarantor. Which is actually hilarious, since she signed my photos and application 5 years ago, as I was getting a new one before heading to Peru.
  • Other things: I biked to the beach for my last hurrah when it was super nice out one time. This was the Sunday after I was sick, so it felt glorious to actually be outside and exercising. Jason and Chris and I went to some friends’ for a game night, which I enjoyed very much (and did well at, luckily). I went to El Camino on a hot date and liked it even more than the first time (Mum, Dad, and I went there for my birthday dinner for last year). Imad moved away, and Max and Alan organized this awesome surprise party for him. Emi and I have hung out a lot, and I’ve loved it. At Gabriel’s taco party, at her and Darren’s dinner party, at her potluck, and game nights at my place. So glad she moved back! She’s a fun friend – and is constantly teaching me new words. Like, I thought I had a good vocabulary already, but damn, guess not!
  • Paul and I have had several Werewolves nights, which have been a lot of fun. The second (third?) one was planned last-minute, so I was expecting a lot of people to be busy. But somehow, more than 30 people came, and we played 2 rounds with 20+ people. That was untenable, though, so we just switched to beer pong and had ourselves a pre!
  • Oh, and since Paul’s b-day is October 8th and mine is the 19th, we’re having a joint birthday party on the 20th! My first weekend back from my trip! It should be a riot. Can’t wait!

 

Okay, the WiFi isn’t working here right now, so I can’t go back and check what I wrote in my last post. Hopefully I recorded my amazing experiences at Montreal and Ottawa Pride – because they were beaucoup. Well, just checked, and I last posted on July 31… YIKES. Guess I didn’t write about Fierté. But I’ll do that another day (maybe). I’ll wrap it up here for now (at ~5000 words – concise I am not).

Hope you’re all well! And happy thanksgiving! I’m thankful for friends that I haven’t seen in many years, and when I hang out with them again, it continues without a hitch! I’m hashtag blessed.

 

Will probably write again when I’m busing from Brussels to Antwerp / Rotterdam. Catch ya then!

 

All my love,

 

– Jefe

July Update: New Tattoos, Queer Camping, Upcoming Travel (hopefully), & Dominion/ Volleyball/ Werk/ Friends!

Oh hi,

 

The end of July, another five weeks have past, and here’s your monthly update! I legitimately think I should post every two weeks, but to be completely honest – my life is not all that exciting. I’m very busy, as always, but it’s with the same stuff. Working 40 hours a week + gym + hosting trivia + board games + reality TV competitions. And not much diverges from those core activities! So why bother? ;P

And if you were super sassy – I’m looking at you, Jayme – you might say why bother even updating at all, since nobody cares.

WELL, to pre-empt that question, I’ll say that not everything I do is for other people’s benefit. I started journaling when I was 17 and moved to Montreal to attend McGill. When I was 24 and about to move to Glasgow to attend grad school there, I started this blog. For both of them, it was to chronicle my experiences and memories, so I can return to them later.

The public blog also served the purpose of being a reference to send people to (e.g. my extended family), if they had questions about “How’s school going? How do you like Scotland? Have you gotten involved in clubs? Are people nice? (No) Did you make any friends? (Yes) What’s the 411? What’s everyone talking about these days?” I assumed this would be a more common occurrence – my lovely aunts and cousins asking for individual updates – but it was not. Maybe I was too cynical, or maybe people don’t care as much as I think they do. Ah well.

I enjoy the blogging. It’s a creative outlet, it practices my writing skills, and some of you people get a kick out of it. So why not? I’ll just do it when I can manage.

So.

 

July is done tomorrow. Summer is flying by at a breakneck pace. No me gusta. I’ve been enjoying it, but this season is my favourite time of year, so it sucks it won’t last for much longer. Maybe that’s part of growing up – time passing faster than normal. No use whining about it; I should just ensure I capitalize upon the warm weather and sunshine while I still can.

So what have I been doing?

Gym.

  • Going mostly every day for the past week and a bit. 4-day rotation:
    • Day 1: chest press (160# for 12 reps), leg press (330# for 13 reps), seated row (75# each arm for 13 reps), weighted crunch (125# for 25 reps). 3 sets of each.
    • Day 2: 20 minutes on the StairMaster at level 8. That’s about 250 calories burned and 95 stories climbed in 20 minutes. And you are D R E N C H E D afterward.
    • Day 3: seated overhead dumbbell triceps press (75# for 12 reps), incline hammer curl (30# each arm for 13 reps), standing military press (85-95# for 12 reps). 3 sets each. and then deadlifts (did 275# for 6 reps yesterday without stopping. I can’t wait to break 300#)
    • Day 4: StairMaster again. Pierre recommended it to trim down my body fat, and Matt corroborated. And so far, I have lost pounds. I weigh myself every Tuesday after my workout – which includes your body fat percentage – so we’ll find out soon enough!
  • Rinse and repeat.
  • I’m definitely seeing results (in strength and size), and I’m thrilled about it. Simon and I are doing a lil photo shoot this week, so it should be apparent in those! Yay!

 

Pride Month.

  • The rest of Pride Month went fantastically (or should I say – fabulously).
  • The LGBTQ2+ Panel Discussion was my favourite event we did. We had 6 people on the panel (me, Kylie, Natasha, Thiago, Marco, and Blair) and 2 moderators (Lisa and Colum). More than half of us have lived outside Canada, and we represented many different sexual orientations and languages, so that was great! We ran out of chairs for the audience because a lot of people showed up, and they asked quality, intriguing questions, and we provided donuts and coffee – and it was extremely successful. I’m so pleased about it.
  • The last event was the Big Queer Work Social, and it was a phenomenal way to finish out the month. This was also well-attended – perhaps 40 people in all. I got to make some new connections, including people at the ADM level (Assistant Deputy Minister, aka 4 levels above me in the hierarchy), and even some new friends! The food was good, I was drinking on a delicious blueberry shandy (on special for Happy Hour), my dear colleague Jeff came, and we even were photographed by the cute gay waiter and upload to Social’s Instagram page! Hilarious.
  • Oh, and after, Colum and I quickly swung by the bar next door, which apparently was having their big opening event and giving out free food and cocktails. I had an “All White Everything” and a “Bougie Mojito” while Col drank a…. Draught beer. Whomp whomp. Then we raced over to SOHO to watch the finale of RuPaul’s Drag Race season 10! It was an amazing day all around 😀
  • The day after, we sent out the big thank you email to all of TBS, which also announced me as the LGBTQ2+ Departmental Representative! I couldn’t go public with the information during my last post – so better late than never, right? I have been selected to represent LGBTQ2+ communities on EEDAC, the Employment Equity and Diversity Advisory Committee, for all of TBS. I intend to create a GCconnex page (kinda like Facebook for government) to facilitate this role, and to have a space to share resources, best practices, ideas, and discussions! It’s exciting, I’m thrilled about it, and I see it as raising my stock in TBS / the public service significantly. Hard work pays off. Wouhou!

 

Werk.

  • Otherwise, work has not been super exciting, especially in comparison. Things always slow down during the summer, even if you are on a “hot,” time-sensitive file (as I am).
  • Most of my team has been taking their summer holidays – like my manager and her manager for 3 consecutive weeks apiece, with 2 of those overlapping. In fact, I think everybody is taking time off, except me. In addition to vacation, we have also been undergoing some staffing changes. Specifically, the 3 of people I was closest to at work (Sarah, Jeff, and Christine) have now gone on to different opportunities at other departments. It’s a REAL drag (both because I can’t talk to or hang out with them anymore, but also, we are losing corporate memory, important expertise, and valuable skill sets because of it), but I’m happy for them – especially Sarah, who just graduated with her master’s and landed a permanent position! Congrats!
  • Some of this change is good, though – we got a new Executive Director, Nadine, who I know from the Joint Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion in the Public Service. In fact, when I was still on my Casual, she asked me if I had been continued yet. At the time, I had not, so she said, “Let me know if you don’t find anything.” That made me smile. So now, she’s my boss’s boss’s boss, so I get to work with her. And the best part is she is very organized, with a strong will and clear vision. She’ll bring us the direction we need, since many of our files (especially those related to D+I) are very nebulous and new.
  • With Sarah, Christine, and Jeff leaving, however, many of their files fall to me. I don’t mind – since I like to be busy – but that still brings stress and the need to prioritize and learn new skills. I’m up for the task, but it does necessitate me rising to the occasion and leaving my comfort zone.
  • So, since everybody is taking their vacation and I want a break and my manager told me she wants me dedicated on these files until September and I found cheap round-trip tickets (again) to Guatemala – I asked for a week off in September. But it was turned down, with the main reason being that “I don’t have enough vacation time accrued.”
  • When I went on my trip to Central Europe in April, I booked it without knowing I would be missing work, since my contract was ending March 30th. But then it was renewed, and I still explained to my managers that I don’t mind not being paid for my vacation and the second one starting when I return. But this is apparently bad optics, to have a break in service, so they figured it out where I would be advanced my vacation time and everything would be fine. And it was. But now it’s an issue, because of the apparent lack of vacation accrued and it’s super difficult to justify leave without pay.
  • So everybody else is taking multiple weeks off in a row during the summer – which is common and the reason things slow down this season – and I am not permitted to take one week off in September. Even though things are higher-pressure than normal and I would really like some time off. Work-life balance, mental wellbeing, and all that good stuff.
  • There’s a chance I’ll be able to take this week off around Canadian Thanksgiving (October) or Remembrance Day (November), but this has not been confirmed yet. However, I need to know in advance, if I’m going to book flights somewhere. I’ve voiced this, but people aren’t committing. The launch date for the Public Service-Wide Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and 3-Year Action Plan (my main file right now) will be sometime in October / November, most likely, so that’s something else we need to be aware of.
  • Clearly, it frustrates me. What is the point of working all the time and making all this money if you can’t go out and enjoy spending it? I want to travel when I’m young and not be in sleepy ol’ Ottawa all the time. Hopefully this is figured out soon, because I want something to look forward to / get excited about. And a trip to Central or South America would do just the trick!
  • Update: just looked at my PeopleSoft yesterday, which lists your leave allowances. And apparently I have earned/been advanced almost 92 hours of vacation time as of August 2018. That’s more than 12 work days! So, if the only reason I can’t take a trip in September is because I don’t have the time — then that is not the case. (It might be because of “operational need,” since we don’t have many employees, especially on the D+I side of the team – but that is not my fault. These vacancies should be filled, and I should not need to “suffer” because they have not been.)
  • For a couple of weeks at work, I was very dissatisfied. Two weeks ago, I had this bilat (short for bilateral) with my manager, which turned into somewhat of a vent sesh. There was a bunch of stuff on my mind that I was keeping in, bottling up, and it was not doing me any favours. In this one-on-one meeting, I got a lot off my chest, and things have been much since. She and I have been relating much better and I’m busier these days – so the days past faster. Plus, I don’t fear as much that I’m going to get in trouble or that I’m not pulling my weight or impressing people anymore. She (and my senior director too) have made it clear that the calibre of my work is still high and they are extremely grateful to have me on their team. So, whew. That’s a relief.
  • Anyway, I’ve been applying for other positions as well, so I can finally get an indeterminate (meaning permanent) position and maybe even a promotion. Because from what I’ve heard – from Colum, Pierre, and others – I won’t get those things unless I make it happen myself. It’s a business, and like Tyra said in that amazing yelling-at-Tiffany meltdown, “When you go to bed at night, you take responsibility for yourself, because nobody is going to take responsibility for you.” That actually mirrors what Margaret (my previous Executive Director) gave as career advice during an OCHRO Talk before she retired. So, yeah, I definitely buy it.
  • So there’s an EC-05 posting I applied to, with STATCAN, that seems promising. They’ve asked for my language levels, my PMAs (performance management agreement – essentially an evaluation of my performance), and references for the past 2 years. So keep your fingers crossed for that! It would be a nice lil jump in pay 😀

 

Alright, that’s enough of that. Let’s get to my leisure life: the social goings-on that brighten my weekends and get me through the workdays.

  • I ordered 6 sets of Dominion from this guy on Reddit for only $110 US. Tori & Jason allowed me to use their PO box in Ogdensburg, NY, which significantly cut down on shipping (THANKS SO MUCH YOU TWO YOU ARE SO AMAZING <3). So now I have Dominion (Base), Intrigue, Seaside, Prosperity, Dark Ages, Hinterlands, Empires, and Nocturne. That’s 8 out of 11 versions, people! And I have been loving Playing lots with Paul, Loic, Richard, Freddy, Elena, Alis, Eric, and even Emilie + her new boyfriend! Can’t get enough. (Though I have lost my mojo for it and lose more often than win these days. Dommage, mais je préfère when the games are closer, because it’s more competitive – and I can learn new strategies from my friends!
  • Colum, Simon, Dylan, Rock, Adam, and I went #queercamping on Blueberry Island at the end of June. Most of them went up on Friday, but I stayed and played RuPaul’s Drag Race SceneIt with Eric and Hris on my team (and we ended up winning, again – the current Reigning) instead. Then Dylan and I drove up on Saturday, got picked up by Si with the powerboat, ate some dinner, marveled at the picturesque sunset, sat around the fire, played Loaded Questions, and had a great time. Sleeping wasn’t fantastic, since I had nothing between me and the ground besides a thin sleeping bag (that Paul lent me, obrigado!) and my jeans. NOT CUTE. So I woke up all sore, so it’s a good thing I was only there for the one night after all. The next day was calm and relaxing. Sitting in the sun, reading in the hammock, going for a swim (with some cliff-jumping), kicking Dylan’s ass in Scrabble, playing Monopoly Deal, and generally enjoying each other’s company. Such a pleasant way to spend the weekend. And we had some furry friends too! ❤
  • Beating the heat wave with swimming in the river, in Freddy’s pool, in Dustin and Mark’s pool, and in lakes. My apartment doesn’t have AC and there was one week where it felt like it was above 40 (with the humidity) for numerous consecutive days. Not cute, I was super sweaty – HOWEVER! I would take that any time of the year instead of a frozen winter hellscape. So I kinda enjoyed it, and just took cold showers and slept naked with two fans on me. It was fine! No sweat (but not actually).
  • Pierre and I went on several day trips, which I really enjoyed. To Aylmer Beach, to Lac Meech, to Lusk Falls, and to Silver Lake – the last one on Canada Day. We swam, sat on the beach, had a picnic lunch, and talked about life and our goals. It was grand (except I should’ve worn more sunscreen, whoops)! And on the way to and from, listening to loud music and (me) singing along, however off-key it might have been. Oh well, I least I have a deep timbre and rich volume.
  • Then that night, P, Loic, Freddy, Ricky, and I went over to Anthony’s million-dollar condo for the festivities! Ate delicious ribs and chicken skewers and potato salad, I drank Patrón with orange juice (P had vodka with flavoured sparkling water – so lo-cal, damn – and Rick & Lo had red wine, ew), and watched the fireworks from the balcony overlooking the river. It was a phenomenal evening, and I especially enjoyed various friends I have all meeting each other. Worlds collide!
  • Then P left, so the rest of the boys and I biked down to the Market, as all the streets were deserted. It was a balmy night, the only cars on the roads were emergency vehicles and buses, there was trash everywhere (from the crowds watching the fireworks), and it felt like the friggen apocalypse. It was a REALLY COOL feeling. I ate. it. up.
  • Anne had her birthday party on the beach, so P, Simon, Rock, and I hung out there. Then I biked over to Davy’s party and hung out with Bryan and other Pride organizers. Apparently they’re bringing in Brooke Candy and Bif Naked to perform during Ottawa Pride! Amazing! I can’t wait. (Oh, and MF Aja will be part of the Pride Pageant, and MAX is bringing Shea MF Coulée as well. How is Ottawa getting all these huge names? Shocked.)
  • I played in a beach volleyball tournament with JP and two people I had never met before. Was so excited to play again, since I hadn’t v-balled since GOV season ended in April. I was confident in my abilities and looking forward to kicking some ass… But that did not happen. Apparently, beach volleyball is worlds different from indoor, for many reasons. Of course, the sand changes things – it’s harder to jump and change direction. But also, it’s outside – so you have to deal with the wind and the sun. AND the court is smaller AND there are fewer people on it. I didn’t expect any of this. My team (Les Bicheurs) did not win a single set the entire day – BUT we did manage to play well and hold our own against two very good teams. So, even if we didn’t come out with the crown, I’m still pleased with how did overall. (Although annoyed at my own abilities)
  • Oh, and did I mention, I scraped up my legs and pulled my groin muscle? Yeah. So that had me skipping legs at the gym for a week and a bit, and when I returned to deadlifts, I had lost strength. Damn.
  • The week following that was the HOPE Volleyball Beach Tournament, but no way was I going to embarrass myself again by playing. I still attended, though – biked down and got to spend some time with Bryan and Max. Saw Imad again for the first time in forever, and said hello to Robbie and Jason and Keith, and even had a short conversation with Trevor – a member of the LGBTQ2 Secretariat of PCO (Privy Council Office) who I met during the Panel Discussion we had during TBS Pride Month. You best believe I’m trying netwerk, haha.
  • Last Saturday, I bused and walked for over an hour to get down to Riverside South to attend a birthday party. Ridiculous, right? Ottawa ain’t even that big. But it wasn’t even that bad. I was reading my new book (Social Creature) on the way down, listening to music I just downloaded, and feeling so excited. The commute was totally worth it, too. It was for Katie, one of my trivia regulars, and the rest of her team (TBD) were there too – Justin, Shaad, Sarah, Maryn, and Andy. Plus friends of theirs I have met through them, namely Chris and Naomi. It was a toga party, my very first – so I researched how to tie one and used one of the sheets I have. It was orange, though, so I ended up looking like a Buddhist monk (bald head and all, even if I was wearing a leather harness). Hilarious but unintentional.
  • It was a great friggen party; I had so much fun. Y’all should know how much I love drinking games, but I haven’t really played them in a long time. I don’t really drink that much anymore, and the people that I know here are not really into the fast-paced competitive games that I used to play with the McGill Quidditch team. But not TBD! I learned a new game called Chandelier (and won 2 of the 3 games we played), and then we switched to Flong, which I taught them. I played a bunch of that – maybe too much (had a hangover the next day) – and then we switched to Survivor Flip Cup. You know, because we LOVE Survivor. (Team TBD is the group of friends with whom I do the fantasy league during live Survivor seasons)
  • I did NOT know how I was going to get home after that, since we were so far from Centretown and the buses probably don’t run after 1am. The Uber charge was ridiculous, especially for one person, and all of TBD slept over. THANK GAWD for 2 other people that were there, though. They live across the Rideau River from me – only about 5 or 10 minutes away – and drove me all the way to my street corner. Legit, they came in so clutch. My guardian angels ❤ Honestly, I’m so appreciative of them. Good karma come THROUGH!
  • Matt Kok left for a career opportunity in London, Ontario, so he had a goodbye party at the Lieutenant’s Pump. I enjoyed hanging out with him, James, Nathan, Freddy, Bryan, etc. – but I miss you already, bud 😦
  • Had Bryan, Charmaine, George, and Olivier over for pre’s. We played What Do You Meme? and I did horribly. Who knew I wasn’t funny? News to me. Olivier was supposed to split the wine with me that Bryan brought over… But he only had a glass and a half, so I had to finish the rest. Obvi, right? Then we went to the Queer Mafia party at Babylon – am actually looking for photos from it now – and we danced the night away. To be honest, I didn’t have a great time, but it was more fun when we went to T’s afterwards.

 

Julia Conzon had free tickets to go to see some stand-up, so I met her at Absolute Comedy with two other McGill alumnae. As I’m introducing myself to the one (Emma), she goes – “Were you a frosh leader in 2012?” Turns out she was in my group, or Raymond/Laura’s, or Dave’s – or one of those that spent most of orientation together. She even asked, “Did you have blond hair? Like, platinum blond?” Oh, those were the days! I miss the bright blond fauxhawk.

ANYway, it was my first experience with stand-up. The emcee was hilarious – Fayzal Butt. Maybe my favourite act all night, and he was just in charge of introducing the other comics! Now that is funny. The format of the night was the 5 best of the 8 comedians from the previous night advanced to when I was there, as part of a competition they were holding. So we got to watch their bits for 3-5 minutes each, and there was some good material there. I approve.

But then the headliner comes on, and it goes downhill from there. He’s this guy from New York, older (white hair but probably 40s or early 50s), glasses, short, cis straight man. And WOW he was horrible. He started his act by riffing off the audience, which is always nice, and it was building off what Fayzal had already done. Except the headliner takes it to offensive territory. His main gag throughout is that this one guy is autistic (but he uses the r-word, repeatedly). And keeps mocking him and doing this voice/accent and these hand signals / mannerisms. Like when Donald Trump made fun of that one reporter with special needs. And the headliner would NOT STOP. He just kept doing it, and I didn’t laugh once. So cringey.

And when the waitress delivered him a drink on stage, he goes, “Oh honey, I don’t need to be drunk to have sex with you!” And then he’s saying that he was kicked off the radio in Edmonton for saying “Eskimos and Indians,” and that “You Canadians have code words for these people – what are they?” Then one guy calls, “Spear-chucker!” Unsurprisingly, he was also from the States. So the headliner stops calling the original target r-word, and starts calling this new audience member the r-word. With the same offensive impression. Ay caramba.

His only real “joke” that he said, that he planned earlier, was how his wife is upset with him because he kept telling people how she sh!t her pants… He was telling this to a room full of people. So, that was the zenith of his humour. Very elevated, I know.

But the word thing is – he got a standing ovation? People were laughing the whole time, and thought it was clever and entertaining enough to applaud on their feet. I don’t get it. Fortunately, the girls I was with agreed with my perspective at the end. So I’m glad I was with birds of a feather. In any case, it was a good note overall, so thank you Julia for inviting me! 😀

 

Alright, I’m at about 4200 words, so one more thing: I got my tattoos! “audentis fortuna iuvat” on my inner right bicep and an arrow piercing a geometric / simple / 3D bright blue diamond on my right ribs (right by the words). It’s in my own handwriting, and I even drew the picture myself. Not really what I wanted to do, but that’s what ended up happening, and…. It’s fine. The Latin phrase means “fortunate favours the bold,” ofc, and the image symbolizes courage moving forward, since diamond is the hardest naturally-occurring substance.

Naturally, it stung / hurt to get, but I survived. Apparently foot tattoos hurt more, and I could deal with those. Nae prob, but I did need to take a break in the middle, since my entire arm went numb from holding it over my head. I hate when one of my limbs goes numb / gets pins and needles, since it brings back nasty memories of the attacks/episodes I had that sent me to the hospital in Glasgow, with encephalitis. Oh, speaking of which, I finally got an appointment to get an MRI, to make sure everything is cleared up. It’s at the beginning of September, at CHEO. Better late than never – I’m looking forward to getting everything sorted.

The tattoos only cost me $150 all-in (tip, tax, consultation) and I am very pleased with it. Photos are coming soon – I have a shoot booked with Simon this Thursday! Wouhou!

 

K, that’s it for this time. Gonna go have a leftover salad and finish an episode of Survivor (I’m watching S11: Guatemala currently) before Eric, Paul, and I play some Dominion! Yay!

 

Thanks folks.

– Jefferson

Organizing Pride Month, Gym Tyme, New Tattoo, Werk & Friendz

Aloha! And Happy Pride Month!

 

I have been extraordinarily busy for the past five weeks – and it’s been 2+ months since I wrote last. Yikes.

 

Midway through May, my dear friend Colum asked if I wanted to be involved with the planning of Pride Month. Uh, YEAH DUDE, I most certainly do!

So I attend the first meeting, and I finally get to meet the famed James Mickle. (He, his colleague Kylie, and I were supposed to go for coffee one day, but then something last-minute came up at work, and it was cancelled and never rescheduled).

Thiago’s also there, and then Geoffroy, who I also recognize. And other lovely people too – Isabelle, Lisa, Carolynne, and Dan, and people from the Communications division: Tanis and François. So that is the team we have been rolling with, plus some we’ve picked up along the way – Danny, Phil, and folks from Finance (Elyse, Molly, Ben).

It’s been very busy, but I have been LOVING it. Apparently, last June at TBS, there was only one event planned for Pride Month (with Sharp), but it ended up being cancelled. Not cute. So this year, we wanted to make it much more significant. The first meeting was brainstorming, and we were ambitious – but almost everything we originally planned, we are doing. It’s amazing.

June this year has 5 Fridays, so we are doing 5 activities:

  • June 1 was the launch of our communications products, including a message in the TBS In-Brief (which goes to all employees), an InFocus article (on the home page for all employees), a Calendar of Activities, and slides on the TV screens they have around the building.
  • June 8 was Non-Binary Day. The darling Bryan Q, with ACO, made us nearly 500 buttons with different gender pronouns and Pride Flags on them, in English and French. The Planning Committee had a table set up in both TBS buildings, where we gave these buttons away, answered questions, and took down the emails of employees who wanted more information, and then sent them the document afterward. We tabled from 8-10 in the mornings, and we nearly ran out of buttons by that time! AND we even had the President of our department, Scott Brison, visit the tables – not once but twice! And he talked to me directly! And shook my hand! And we even got an official photo! That he tweeted out! WOW! We’re making MOVES, people!
  • June 15 was the launch of the all-gender washrooms initiative. We made the single-user washrooms at my building all-gender, and at the other TBS building, men’s became all-gender on even floors, and women’s on odd floors. These were updated with new signage (depicting a toilet, active wheelchair symbol, and a urinal if the washroom had one) and an info-sheet posted beside it, explaining a bit more and inviting feedback.
    • I’m currently emailing with a non-binary colleague from the Positive Space Initiative GCconnex page, and they are not pleased, at all. Honestly, I feel terrible about it, because they are raising great points that I wish I had known before. However, the intention for this initiative is to support non-binary and trans people, of course – but also to spark conversations, raise awareness, and gather information and feedback. So we are definitely doing that. It’s not a perfect initiative, it’s not permanent – so when we move to making this permanent, we will employ these lessons learned. (And my team has been involved in the exploration of a future longer-term/larger-scale pilot for all-gender washrooms, so I’m well-placed to make sure my colleague’s concerns are heard, considered, and acted upon)
  • June 22 (tomorrow) is the LGBTQ2+ Discussion Panel. We are having 5 (maybe 6, if I do it, haven’t decided) panelists, including somebody from the Privy Council Office’s LGBTQ2 Secretariat. Had a meeting about this on Wednesday, and everything is falling into place. Should be a great time! I’m excited!
  • The last event is on a Thursday, June 28. Originally, it was called the Big Queer Net-werking Event, but people are so confused and concerned about the O in networking being changed to an E, to make it WERK. Okay, I get it, it’s a good point to make – but it’s just a fun, slang, informal word. We have pushed to keep it as is, to stand out and have an original title, but it has been a process. So the official name for the event is now “Werk” your Network: the Big Queer Social for LGBTQ2+ Pride Month and Allies. (In French, Une célébration pour tous : la grande soirée queer pour le mois de la fierté LGBTQ2+)
  • And finally, on June 29, we are sending out a big THANK YOU email to the whole department and inviting them to give their feedback and ask their questions. This will be combined with an announcement of ME as the _____________ (Can’t tell you the official title yet, but essentially, I will be responsible for bringing up LGBTQ2+ concerns to a committee that discusses diversity issues for the whole department, and also able to hold meetings of my own to discuss queer subjects. I’m psyched about it, but a bit cowed. It’s a BIG DEAL. They even told me I should make a separate social media profile for this position…)

And all throughout the month, we are putting out a lot of communications products. In the In-Briefs, the TBS info-screens (slides on the TV screens), and from various Twitter accounts, including the Centre of Expertise on Mental Health, Free to Be Me, and the official TBS Twitter.

We are making this a BIG DEAL. The publicity we are getting is phenomenal (Scott Brison tweeted a photo of us!!), and everyone is really excited about this strong foundation we are building – for future Pride Month activities, at TBS and elsewhere. As we only started planning this in mid-May, of course our events and activities are not flawless. But considering that this is all “side-of-desk” projects and we only had two weeks to get everything together, in addition to our core workload – what we are accomplishing is significant. I’m thrilled about it.

And I do think it was instrumental in me being selected for this role that will be announced next week. Granted, I had heard about it months ago, when I was writing the question to measure sexual orientation in the Public Service Employees Survey – and when they said they were looking for applicants in the TBS In-Brief, various people forwarded it to me, saying I’d be a good choice. But it is a legit role, so I’m not sure if I would’ve been chosen before. But with planning Pride Month, I have become the de facto lead organizer, the main liaison, and the one writing, editing, and reviewing (and even translating) the communications products.

Yes, it’s kept me hella busy, but it’s work I’m passionate about and good at. So, hurray!

 

In addition to everything LGBTQ2+, I also ran an activity during TBS Olympics during National Public Service Week last Wednesday – called Junk in the Trunk – and I once again emceed the All-Staff Retreat for my entire sector this past Monday. And this time around, it was a full-day affair.

Bi all accounts, I did a(nother) phenomenal job. It was more challenging than last Retreat, since we had to deal with the post-lunch slump. We also discussed the PSES results for my sector (which were the worst of my entire department……….) so it got pretty sensitive / the atmosphere tense. However, my co-emcee and I just added some comic relief, announced various informal awards, and filled the transitions. (Un)fortunately, Farah couldn’t do it this time – so a new employee, Yasmina, helped out. And she was (also) phenomenal. I had so much fun with her AND with Farah! Very happy I was given the opportunity – and it’s definitely better than just sitting in the audience and listening the whole time.

Plus, it gave me another chance to show off some skills of mine, namely public speaking, organization, and charisma. In front of the Assistant Deputy Minister, the various Executive Directors, and even a high-ranking official from the Privy Council Office, Tim Pettipas. Wouhou! Win-win-win-win!

 

And then, of course, there’s my core work, which has also been more demanding than normal over the past couple months. We are still developing the public service-wide Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and 3-Year Action Plan. A huge undertaking, with many stakeholders implicated, different timelines, a necessity to measure success well, etc. Lots of cooks in the kitchen, everyone wants to put their two cents in, and it is a challenge to please everyone. Yikes. I don’t even like thinking about it, because it frustrates me with all the back-and-forth. My manager keeps telling me to be resilient, and I can be – but when people request aesthetic / superficial changes that take me an hour to do, it bothers me. Especially since I know somebody else could come along the next day and tell me to change it back. UGH.

In any case, it’s fine. I am fully aware that what I’m doing has enormous impact on the entire public service, and because of that, I am very fortunate to have this opportunity. But because it has such a broad reach, it requires a tonne of work and consultation and changes. I just have to get used to it.

But also, it’s summertime, so there are lots of people going on vacation. My direct manager is currently away for three weeks, and her manager (my senior director) leaves tomorrow for 3 weeks. Another colleague, Jeff, goes away for 2 weeks relatively soon, and my closest friend on the team (Sarah) just finished her contract today – and is flying to Europe tomorrow. Then somebody else I’m close with (Christine) is also leaving the team very soon, and we have someone working for us for only 6 weeks, and we have a new Executive Director now, and my neighbour moved up to the tenth floor, and even the CHRO is gone for a couple months. Lots of change (it’s the only constant) – it’s hard to keep up with sometimes.

However, the silver lining is I can take some time off as well. I want to visit Nova Scotia in late July/early August, since the family plan is that Mum will be working in Hawaii or California for the next year – meaning she wouldn’t be home for the holidays – meaning I’d go where she is, to meet Dad, Roz, and maybe Lynne – meaning I wouldn’t be seeing my friends, young cousins, extended family, and ailing grandmother over Christmas. Not ideal. So I want to go this summer, to spend time with all these lovely people and enjoy Nova Scotia when it’s good weather. The beach! Hiking! Cottage time! No snow!

So I look forward to that. Just waiting to hear when Mum will be back there. She’s leaving Arizona very soon, but she might stop in Pennsylvania before returning to NS. We’ll see.

 

Okay, what else is happening? I’m getting a tattoo soon! I wanted to get one when I was in Budapest, but I ran out of time and local currency. So I went to a tattoo shop here and had a consultation… But the woman isn’t available until November. She referred me to her colleague, so I went and discussed things with him on another day, gave him $80 as a deposit, and agreed to send him sketches of what I wanted. So I drew something up during trivia, transferred it to my computer, fixed it up in Photoshop, and emailed it over to Matt. Dude didn’t respond, even after I sent a follow-up email, so I was apprehensive. Called the tattoo shop (The Ink Spot) less than 24 hours before the appointment, to see “What’s the deal, what the f***?” And the receptionist made it seem like it was no big deal at all!

So frustrating. But no big deal. So the next day is Non-Binary Day, and I start my work day at 7:30. So I leave around 3:$5, bike to the gym, and am doing my workout. Check the clock and realize I need to get home so I can get to my appointment on time, though! So I leave halfway through my workout, stop home, have a protein shake, put on deodorant, and rush over to Ink Spot, getting sweaty again all the while.

I walk in right at 5:30, literally announce, “Perfect timing!”… And they remind me that my appointment was actually at 4:30. UGH DAMN WHOOPS SH!T. I felt so badly about it. I just wasted an hour of this dude’s time! On a complete misunderstanding! How could I be so stupid!

I apologized profusely, showed him my sketches, and rescheduled my appointment. And then on my way home, I got to thinking – wait, no way should I feel guilty. They have my phone number and my email, and they didn’t try to contact me when I didn’t show up at all. AND the guy didn’t acknowledge the drawings I sent him – even though he asked me to do that – until 11:30 the night before my appointment, after I called the store! Very unprofessional.

But anyhow. My appointment is for July 12, right at 4:30. I won’t miss it again, because I am SO EXCITED about it! It’s probably good (destiny?) that I messed up the times in the first place, because I’ve been thinking a lot about it, imagining it, sketching it – and it’s become a much more cohesive, better idea now. Can’t wait.

 

I’m back to the gym going hard again. 4+ times a week and focusing more on higher reps, to build muscle volume (and not just strength). Just received my 11 pounds of protein powder in the mail yesterday, so it’s legit now. I’m doing squats (currently 285lbs for 13 reps with the v-squat machine), deadlifts (275lbs for 3 reps, then 255 for 3 more), chest press (145lbs on the cable machine for 13 reps), crunches (180lbs for 13 reps), seated row, bicep curl, tricep press, and – after long last – shoulder press! Well, I recently just switched to lateral raise to work my deltoids, but the point is, I’m actually working out my shoulders again. And, much to my surprise – this has curbed my chronic shoulder pain! Maybe it was just a massive muscle imbalance, after everything. Not totally sure, but I am much happier now that I am back lifting again. I feel like I’m self-improving again! And, also surprisingly – I am now more than 180lbs. I haven’t grown taller since, like, grade 7, so my height hasn’t changed – but in my second year of McGill, I weighed 135lbs. Now I’m almost 50lbs heavier, which shocks me. No wonder lots of my clothes don’t fit anymore! But I love it.

 

I’m also spending lots of time outside these days, now that summer is here. Actually, today is the Solstice, so that’s good timing! But I’ve hung out playing Frisbee in the park, went hiking by some waterfalls in Luskville, hung out at Meech Lake, and went swimming in the Ottawa River off Aylmer Beach. Great nature with pleasant company! Love it. Also biking everywhere, of course, which I adore. And this all means that I’ve gotten a nice tan! Wooh!

Also attended Swirl & Twirl, a big annual fundraiser for queer organizations. The charity for which I am a board member, the Lambda Scholarship Foundation Canada, was a beneficiary this year – so I had fun being there. I saw other people on the board – Barb, Meryn, and Cameron – and bunch of other people I know too (Anne, Ernie, Robbie, Tony, Davy, Mike, Justin, Kas, Mike, Robert, James, Matt…………..) It was a great time.

Went to Ottawa’s first drag brunch with Bryan, Osama, and Kevin too. Loved it, can’t wait for the next one! Had a great time at Dylan’s dinner party with Werewolves and then at Jocks ‘n’ Socks, the fundraiser for the Ottawa Wolves RFC. Have had various barbecues with Richard, Loic, and others – and playing lots of Dominion and Smash with them. Checked out GlowFair and got to see some live music, from Virginia to Vegas. Some good shit! Downloading some of their music now.

Apparently Cash Cash played too, but I didn’t know about it until after the fact 😦 Who knew that the biggest act would be playing on the lowest-attended day of GlowFair?! So annoying. I only found out because Coady posted on his IG story about it – which I watched when I was lying in bed. Ugh! Disappointing!

Oh! I also spent a weekend in Montreal in the beginning of May, which I highly enjoyed. Dustini was in town, so we shared an AirBnB and got to hang out a lot! Also got to see Chris, Ndaku, Ky, Dany, Tyler, other Chris, and Matt. I went clubbing two nights in a row (L’aigle Noir and Le Stud) and honestly had such a fantastic time. It felt like Pride, summer in the city, carefree living. Definitely a nice escape for the weekend! So, Dustin, thank you for convincing me to come out!

My roommate and I are still getting along fantastically, so I’m grateful about that. We even had a party together, in which I won four straight queer games of beer pong, coming in clutch with FOUR redemption cups. Then we went to T’s for the theme party/Andre’s send off to International Mr. Leather and caroused there.

That might be it for now. I’m still watching lots of TV – currently on Season 9 of Survivor (Vanuatu), just finished 13 Reasons Why season 2 two nights ago, about to wrap up Season 3 of Teen Wolf soon, watched the finale of Champs vs Stars 2 last night, The Challenge 32 (Final Reckoning) premieres on July 10, and I might rewatch seasons 3 and 4 of Orange is the New Black soon, in preparation for its sixth season. We’ll see.

I finished reading Oryx and Crake this past weekend, and Heather the Totality before that, and Little Fires Everywhere before that, and The Arrangement before that. Just downloaded The Immortalists now, so maybe I’ll start that after watching RuPaul’s Drag Race tonight. Gotta balance it out, you know?

I’m sure I’m forgetting loads of exiting things that have happened over the past two months, but whatever, I had encephalitis, maybe my memory is shit now. (Speaking of, just had a neurologist appointment on Tuesday – and it looks like I’ll FINALLY be getting that MRI, at CHEO, in the next 1 or 2 months! Thank gawd mawma!)

Just remembered some things – lost my wallet like an idiot while hanging out with Catlin at Confederation Park, but apparently my karma is good enough – because someone found it, called my bank and cancelled my cards for me, found me through Facebook, and left it at the desk at the Lord Elgin! So I just had to pick it up during my lunch break! SO convenient and SUCH a relief!

And finally, trivia keeps going well! The 20th anniversary for the Ottawa Trivia League just passed, and Jason and I attended the special games for it! And even got to read a question at it! Felt great. I’m so pleased I still get to do this weekly, more than a year and 2 months later! Love it!

K, hope you’re all well, ‘til next time bbz!

 

– Jefe

Eastern (actually Central, oops) Eurotrip 2018, Part IV: Budapest, Berlin, & Home

Bonjour,

 

Back home. Sitting at my shitty, found-on-the-sidewalk desk while laundry is in the machine. Just got back from the grocery store, and I’ve also backed up, updated, and cleaned my computer today. Transferred my travel photos to it, and to my external hard drive again. Bought a bunch of veggies and yogurt and chicken and whole-wheat bread. Planning to get healthy again – in terms of eating and activity. I put in a tonne of work at the gym and at volleyball, but it’s not really apparent. I wore a Speedo to the thermal baths in Budapest, and I look like a whale. No definition or muscle tone – and that was after 1.5 weeks of not eating as much (particularly late at night) and walking around all day! Wtf! I’m hella discouraged.

So I’ll eat healthier / less and will sign up for a gym again. I cancelled Anytime Fitness before my trip because I wouldn’t be using it while abroad. Had to argue with them so it would happen instantaneously, instead of being charged for another month, since they apparently need that much notice. What? Why? But I succeeded, so yay me.

Was hoping that three weeks off from the gym completely – and much longer in terms of working the upper body – would help my shoulders and upper back heal. But that hasn’t happened, for some MF reason. They are still sore and feel disordered. I don’t know what the cause is, or how to fix it, and I don’t get benefits for another two months – so I should probably lay off the gym until then. But I’m unhappy with my body right now, and want to work to improve it, so I’m not sure what to do. As per usual / for a typical Libra, I’m being indecisive. Any advice?

 

Anyway, I made it back safely last night! It was a long day of traveling, and I caught a cold towards the end of my trip, so yesterday was pretty dreadful. Had a headache the entire time and my nose was running like a faucet – and blowing it so often made it all dry and irritated. Not fun.

However, I survived, and re-experiencing my own shower and bed last night felt amazing. I also had some nachos and drank a peach cider while watching The Challenge Vendettas with my new roommate, Paul. It was nice! And I know that’s antithetical to trying to get back in shape, but whatever, I never said I was a role model.

Woke up at 8 after sleeping a good nine hours, even if the hostel I stayed in was bullsh, and this guy snoring sounded like a friggen foghorn. Got some brie and jamón and baguette from Lidl, made myself a nice sandwich, then grabbed my bag and set out to the airport. Grabbed a large cappuccino on the way, with all my remaining money – and only realized after ordering that the place didn’t have a legit espresso machine, but one of those that is more like a vending machine. Ugh! For my last nice coffee in Europe! Oh well, it was delicious. Then I rode the U-Bahn and S-Bahn to the Flughafen, and getting through security was rough. All these people were cutting the line because they arrived with ~20 minutes to spare. Legit, it was 11:10, and people were asking if they could get in front of me, because their flight was at 11:20. Like, yes!!! Goooooo!!! And next time, get here much earlier, idiot.

I flew WOWair back, and again, it was not punctual. I don’t know what I should’ve expected when my flights were so cheap, but shoot, where’s the professionalism? Boarding was supposed to begin at 11:40, and they didn’t even announce the gate until 11:45 – which turned out to be in a whole different terminal. And then boarding didn’t actually start until after noon, and we didn’t take off until 30 minutes after we were supposed to. So dumb.

Somehow, we still got to Reykjavik on time, and I had three hours to kill there. I found a table with a plug and strong WiFi, so it didn’t really bother me at all. Would’ve loved a nice latte, but just a coffee was more than $6 Canadian in the local currency, which I didn’t have – and I didn’t want Tangerine to charge me lots of fees, so I just toughed it out, sipping on cold Icelandic water from the tap.

Then on the second flight, I moved to an available window seat (woo!) and managed to snooze for the first three hours. Not bad at all, and with how sick I was, I needed the sleep! Then I watched Survivor Thailand for the remainder of the flight, and finished the season while waiting for my Greyhound in Montreal. I don’t think it was an abysmal season at all, though. Not sure why it has that reputation. Looking forward to seeing Shii Ann again!

I also finished my book yesterday, the second of the trip. This one was, as you might recall, What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty. I definitely enjoyed it – as I do with all her books – but Big Little Lies is still my favourite. Then I began reading Little Fires Everywhere, just ‘cause I had so much time to wait. Wanted to write this blog post, but with how my head was feeling – I couldn’t have tolerated starting at a bright, white LCD screen for that long. So today I’m accomplishing it instead!

Then on the bus ride home, I listened to another episode of the Brain Candy Podcast and IMed with some friends and also dozed for a while. And around 10:45pm, I walked in my front door – which was 4:45am in Berlin, the time zone I was acclimated to, when I had been on the go since 9:30am (or 8:15, if you count me going to buy breakfast). Exhausting. But bitch, I did it!

K, gotta go hang my clothes up now, and I’m also going to check out the Jack Purcell Community Centre weight room, to gauge how busy it is when I will typically be going there (right after work).

 

Well, the weight room at Jack Purcell is not what I remembered it being – no leg press machine and only one squat rack – and apparently the pool is small too. So looks like I won’t be registering there. I guess that leaves GoodLife, since I’ll have a good rate due to being a public servant… But everybody works out there. Ugh. We’ll see.

Got home, hung my clothes up, and got hungry – so I made six salads and a pizza. Watched the latest episode of RPDR (Cracker and Aquaria and Monét <3) and now it’s 7:50pm. It’s Loic’s birthday party tonight, and he already told me to show up at 8:30, not 8, since I’m always late anyway…. And I daresay he might be right D: Going to cut my hair, trim my beard, shower, and get ready now. Might even put on some makeup, we’ll see. And I’ll finish this – writing about BUDAPEST – later on. Tomorrow. I’ve been productive enough today 😛

 

..

 

Okay, it’s two days later. I think I jet lag has affected me. I woke up yesterday at 7am, went to the bathroom, and had lots of trouble falling back to sleep. Last night, I was watching Shortbus with Rock, Simon, Colum, Adam, Moe, and two new people – and it was 11pm and I was just exhausted. Got up today at 8:30am even though it’s a Sunday, and I’m generally just feeling out of whack. Got those post-travel blues as well. Yes, it’s good to be sleeping in my own bed and seeing friends again, but I’m not happy to be back. It’s below zero right now (windchill of -8°C) with freezing rain. The sun hasn’t been out since I’ve returned, and tomorrow I have to return to the office. Ugh.

At least things are going well with the new roommate, Paul. He’s gonna play Dominion with me and Freddy tonight, so I look forward to that. And last night was pleasant too, although the movie was weird. And I was happy to see Richard, Loic, Brandon and Co. on Friday night as well. But I was in a weird headspace and didn’t have a fantastic time. People kept asking if I was okay, and I’m not really sure why it was so apparent I wasn’t enjoying myself to the fullest. It was probably a combination of the jet lag, not being thrilled about being back in Ottawa, and how Eric & Freddy didn’t come, and Rich & Lo were busy hosting, and there were two guests there who aren’t my biggest fan… Just not a good mélange. Hopefully I shake this funk soon!

 

So, Budapest. Went on that walking tour, and our tour guide was named Norbert – yes, like the dragon from Harry Potter. It started in a square where the Spring Festival was being held and proceeded to the banks of the Danube, which separates the two sections of the city: Buda and Pest. Norbert told us about Hungarian history – its part in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, being occupied by Nazi and then Soviet forces, etc. Lots of turmoil throughout its years, and it was fascinating to learn.

Hungary is very flat, so any rise in elevation they call a mountain. That’s why the other riverbank (Buda) has two “mountains” – one with a castle (which was never used as a castle, but rather a palace for Queen Maria Theresa from Vienna) and one with the Statue of Liberty, or as it’s nicknamed in the city, the “Giant Bottle Opener.” Pest is more like a pancake or pizza – just flat.

We walk through Elisabeth Square, which is named after Sissi, of Vienna, not Elisabeth, of England. It has the Budapest Eye, just like the giant Ferris wheels in London and Orlando. I particularly liked this square – lots of grass (both real and faux) to sit on, with some small fountains and a pool you can dip your feet in and food kiosks. Underneath this pool is a bar called Aquarium – and apparently the water gives it really cool atmosphere. The way/stairs down to the bar has lots of seating too, and almost every time I passed it, there was live music coming from it. The weather was truly amazing the entire time I was in Budapest – sunny and above twenty degrees – and Sissi Square was always filled with people enjoying the warmth, the music, and the general summery feeling. I loved it.

Norbert tells us that after taking damage in one of the World Wars (it suffered in both), Budapest had the opportunity to rebuild. They made the main roads fan out like a horseshoe/rainbow around the Inner City, ending on the river, and they constructed a large boulevard from Sissi Square to Heroes’ Square to evoke Champs Elysées. They were very inspired by Paris, so a lot of the architecture is Art Nouveau and Renaissance – and if these buildings were knocked down during armed conflict, they were rebuilt in the original style. So it looks more like Vienna and less like Berlin 😛

We also saw the main church in the city, St. Stephen’s. It is not a cathedral, though, it is a basilica. Apparently there are differences in style / size / something that dictate its official title, which in this case, is basilica. Before it was constructed, a much smaller church sat on the site – and when the Danube flooded really badly one time, people found refuge in it, as it was on a small hill. After the water levels receded is when they decided to erect this magnificent edifice. It is gorgeous. I never went inside – we didn’t go on the tour and I didn’t have time otherwise – which is fine, since blah blah blah, I’ve seen so many GD churches. What I am sad I didn’t get to do, though, is ascend to by the building’s dome. It gives phenomenal views of the city, and I’m disappointed I never made it. Unsurprisingly, it closed relatively early, and that’s why I couldn’t do it. My consolation is that other parts I was to – the two “mountains” in Buda – gave me great panoramas of the Pest side. So that’s fine.

Then we crossed the Chain Bridge – the first of its kind, I believe, but definitely the first permanent bridge between Buda and Pest (the previous ones were all wooden, and washed away when the Danube swelled too high) – to the other side. Then climbed “Castle Mountain,” witnessed the beautiful views from the top, walked past the government office buildings, and learned more about history of the country. My first day in Budapest was also the day of the national elections – so that was pretty interesting to hear about from a local.

We ended our tour by another important church, St Matthias’ – with an impressive colourful tiled roof, like the main cathedral in Vienna. It also has the “Fisherman’s Bastion” structure near it – a white marble wall with seven towers, representing the seven tribes that came together to incorporate the city. Yeah, it’s called bastion, but it was never used in any military conflict. And across the river is the gorgeous and intricately designed Parliament! Lots of amazing sights to be seen in Budapest.

 

After the walking tour, I meander to a restaurant that Norbert recommended, in the Jewish Quarter – which is the place to go out for food or drinks in the city. This eatery was Blue Rose and is supposed to be affordable, authentic Hungarian cuisine. I order a three-course meal because it was reasonably priced and had various things I wanted to try – and I was famished. The starter was goulash soup served with soft white bread. My entire trip, I heard so much about goulash, so I finally ordered it… And it’s just a beef stew. Nothing special at all. Whomp.

The main was grilled pork with fried potatoes/wedges and a salad of pickle, cabbage, and tomato. It was all fine, nothing extraordinary. I asked for mayo for my taters… And they served me tartar sauce. Not the same at all, so I sent it back with a “no thank you.” Felt like a jerk doing so, but if I’m not going to eat it, I don’t want them charging me for it. Dessert, however, was delicious. Yellow sponge cake with pudding and whipped cream and chocolate drizzle. Decadent and scrumptious. Yum!

Then I wander back to the riverbank to watch the sunset – and the city, illuminated during dusk, was simply breathtaking. I crossed one of the bridges to see the Pest side as well, and wow, it was picture-perfect! Especially Buda Castle and the Chain Bridge, with the darkening sky and yellow streetlamps along the river. That’s where the default photo is taken from.

Finally, back to the hostel, where I worked more on the last blog post, and then out to Coxx Bar, just to check it out. I end up talking with an Argentine, a Hungarian, and this older Irish couple, the last of which was particularly entertaining. I asked them for pointers for what to do the next day, and we had a great time conversing with each other.

(I am tiring of this entry… So I’m gonna speed up now)

 

Full Day 2 of Budapest

Wake up, get ready, pack up, and move my stuff to the new hostel, GoodMo House, just down the block. Checkout from Mandala was at 12, so I took my time sleeping in and getting up. I intended to have breakfast at GoodMo, but 8:30 rolled around and I was not feeling it. So I dozed.

Stowed my bag in luggage storage and then headed directly to a café recommended on TripAdvisor, 9BAR. Got a flat white and a little egg basket pastry. Yummy. Tried to get a langos (a local treat) from the place Norbert suggested (Retro Langos), but they didn’t take euros. I had to find somewhere that would take the currency and give me back Hungarian forints in change – but I didn’t want the exchange rate to be horrible. The California Coffee Company would have only changed it at 260 forints, which is garbage. Good ol’ Starbucks is what I used in the end, since they changed it at 295 (~300 is the actual exchange rate), had an affordable caprese baguette, and I could use their WiFi and bathroom. When you’re traveling around Europe, free public bathrooms are few and far between – so you need to be strategic about where you go. I also had to brush my teeth 😛 It was a great stop, alright?

Then I wander down the Budapest Champs Elysées – called Andrassy Ut (or Andrassy Street) – listening to the Brain Candy Podcast about Tonya Harding and how women should stop being polite. Heroes Square is large and beautiful, with cool gates, awesome surrounding architecture, and the entrance to a large city park – which also boasts some sightly ponds and another castle(-like structure). Great for photos. Importantly, this park is also the location of the most popular thermal baths of the city, Széchenyi. But I didn’t have any local currency, so I didn’t go that day.

I keep walking around the city, up to and around Margit Island, then to the Buda side, got a better look at Parliament, then back across Chain Bridge into the Inner City – where I finally got my langos. They’re kinda like a Beavertail: fried dough covered in various toppings. I got mine with sour cream, shredded cheese, red onion, and smoked Hungarian sausage. It was delicious, omigod.

Then I lie on the grass in Sissi Square – how I love it so much – reading my Kindle and enjoying the setting sun and live music. Perfect. Then to Szimpla to meet Adam and Emma, my English buddies from Vienna! Szimpla was the original ruins bar in Budapest, established in 2001, and was voted the third best bar in the world by TripAdvisor in a relatively recent poll. I didn’t know this second fact until after I experienced it – but I can understand why. It’s just such a unique experience there. Very hip and popular. Reminded me of Eva B, the thrift store in Montreal. Kitschy cool, a bit chaotic, not polished or orderly, but with its own unapologetic style. I loved it – and it’s not even like there was a queue to get in, or cover charge, or pricey drinks! What more do you want in a bar? They sometimes have live music, and film screenings, and other cool, hip stuff. Y’all really need to check it out if you find yourself in Budapest – you won’t be disappointed.

Adam, Emma, & I had a fab time at Szimpla and then at Karavan (food trucks in an empty lot right by the bar), just talking the night away, about tattoos and life and Drag Race (and I’m not going to RuPaulogize about it). The hours flew by! I loved it! ❤ So glad I got to meet them in Vienna, because they really made Budapest even more amazing.

 

Budapest, Day 3

I did not sleep well at GoodMo. Alex, the Canadian I had met who recommended the hostel, neglected to inform me that the mattresses were thin AF. Literally, it hurt laying on my side, because my hip bones felt the frame. Not cool. And these silly German girls come into the room at 2am and flip the friggen overhead light on! When we are in a room with 10 beds! How inconsiderate is that! Annoying. I had gone to bed after 1am, not really super early, and then it seemed every single person that came in the room had to ruffle through their stuff extensively to get what they needed. Lights on, lots of noise, suitcases zipping and unzipping – and I couldn’t get to sleep. And then, when the German girls finally go to sleep… The one snores like a friggen semi truck! So loud! And was sleeping in the bunk right over mine! It was not amazing. I should really put more care into choosing my hostels, on my next trip. I can afford a couple more dollars a night if it means actually being able to sleep well. UGH.

Anyway. I get up, have the hostel breakfast – disappointing – and then get a cappuccino as I’m walking right to the Terror House. Lonely Planet mentioned it on their guide, it discussed the history of the city, and even its name suggests horror. So I had to go. It’s a museum all about the various atrocities committed in the city, by the Soviets, the Nazis, the police force (like the Gestapo), etc. And it’s housed in the same building as the headquarters of this brutal police force, that was responsible for torturing and imprisoning people and using barbaric interrogation techniques, that sometimes even resulted in death! Scary!

It was a depressing, frightening museum, definitely – learning about the horrors of all these regimes and what the city and people of Budapest have suffered (and, indeed, committed) in the past century. Scary, sad stuff. But necessary to be aware of. I recommend this museum, and it was only about €10.

After I exited, I obviously wasn’t in the best mood. But as I was walking through the city, I enjoyed the warmth and the plants in bloom (since it sure as well ain’t like that here in Ottawa), and I bought a carbonara pastry from a bakery that was delectable. I was heading to the thermal baths, which were two metro stops away from where I was. The workers at the first hostel told me the people who check the tickets wear bright green vests and only really work at night – so I thought I’d be in the clear. Get on the train, ride one stop, and all is fine. After the doors shut again, I’m just standing and listening to my iPod – and the older woman in front of me turns around, puts on an armband, and asks to see my ticket. F*CK.

So I tell her I don’t have one, she gets her fellow goonie (another older woman), and we step off at the next stop. I contemplate just running, since I’m in Nikes and clearly faster than them and already outside the train… But why dig myself into a bigger hole? I broke the rules and I need to deal with the consequences. If I paid right then, the fine is 8000 HUF – or 16,000 if I pay within a month. I didn’t really think about this, but how would they have enforced this fine, if I chose the latter? I was leaving the country the next day, and the continent the following day – so are they really going to hound for what amounts to a bit more than €25? I don’t think so.

However, I didn’t consider this, so I just gave her literally all the money from my wallet, which (thankfully) was 8000 exactly. UGH SO ANNOYING, I ONLY RODE IT FOR TWO STOPS. But it’s my own damn fault. I should’ve just walked, since it was only ten minutes on foot and it’s not even like it was raining. I’m an idiot, but whatever, oh well, lesson learned.

So because I had to cough up this money, I had to go to another ATM to get cash for the rest of my stay – and had to pay more fees to do so. Irksome.

However, my mood perked up soon after that, because I entered the famous thermal baths, and oh wow, they were heavenly. The water felt amazing, the architecture was sublime, the clouds cleared up, and it was fun to people-watch. I relaxed in the outdoor pool, read my book on a lounge chair in the sun, explored the inner pools and saunas, and rinse and repeat. I forgot to bring a towel, so I had to let the sun dry me. The whole afternoon was massively enjoyable. I loved it – spent 3.5 hours there, not talking to anyone.

But it was approaching evening on my last day in Hungary, and I still had lots of things I wanted to do. I ran out of time to go up to St. Stephen’s dome, but I did manage to climb up to the Liberty Statue and the nearby Citadel. This was once again during sunset, and the views of the city, all lit up, were once again breathtaking. They were so nice that a couple was doing a wedding shoot while I was up there! Awesome!

Then, back to Szimpla (to use their WiFi and make plans), grab an absolutely delicious green Thai curry baguette panini from Bors, and meet up with Emma and Adam at their hostel. She wanted to stay in and cook dinner for herself, so Adam & I go back to Karavan. He’s vegan, so it’s difficult finding good food while he’s traveling. And I already had my phenomenal sandwich, and that was on the way back to my hostel, so what do I care? We sit and chat at the picnic tables there into the night. I had intended to get to bed early, but again, I lost track of time and that didn’t happen. Oh well. Not like I was getting supreme sleep at GoodMo anyway 😛

He had gotten a tattoo that day, and it looked great. Even the Irish couple told me that Budapest is a good place to get tattoos, since it’s so arty and affordable – and I really got that itch. However, I ran out of time and local money, and didn’t feel like using the ATM again… So I might get it here in Ottawa. I plan on “audentes Fortuna iuvat” on the inside of my right bicep. The translation of that Aeneid quote is something I’ve written several times on here, and something I like to believe in – so why not, right? Might as well get ink number eight, as it’s been a full year since my last body modification.

 

Budapest, Day 4

Get up early, another night without quality sleep, and I feel a cold coming on. Not fun, but I guess I wasn’t really taking care of myself. No big deal either, since I was at the tail end of my trip.

Make it to the Budapest airport and through security, and I spend the rest of my Hungarian currency on a chicken-parmesan baguette, a large cappuccino, and a chocolate-orange cookie at a café in the terminal. Sit down and watch the new episode of Survivor. But then I get nervous I’ll miss my flight, so I stop it before Tribal Council and walk to my gate. Good thing I did, because boarding had commenced and it took a while to get to the plane. I flew Ryanair, so of course I had to walk on the tarmac to the plane itself. And actually finding where I had to be was much more difficult than it had any business being. The gate was in this huge, like, warehouse/hangar, and I saw nobody else as I was rushing over there. Confusing and nerve-wracking. But I made it! 😀 And had an uneventful flight to Berlin.

 

Berlin, Take 2

My malaise progressed to a full-blown cold, so I was tired and not feeling great in Berlin. I had plans to do lots but didn’t manage it all. I check into my hostel, which is disgusting (there is literal graffiti on stall doors in the bathroom, and trash and dirty clothes in the shower room, ugh), but whatever, I’m just there for a night.

I go to Flamingo Fresh Food for some lunch, which is this fabulous place near Fredrichstrasse Station. Got a large cappuccino and a shrimp-avocado sandwich. So yummy. I take my time after I finish, just relaxing in the café, using their WiFi and reading my book. I really wasn’t feeling good, so what’s the rush?

Get back on the U-Bahn to go to Charlottenburg Palace, and then I realize – forget this, I don’t have the energy. So I ride back to the Check In Hostel and take a much-needed nap. Felt much better after those blissful Zs, and then I head again to Charlottenburg, listening to more Brain Candy Podcast. It was a lovely evening in Berlin, really pleasant weather. The palace itself reminds of me the Schoenbrunn in Vienna – yellow and decadent with fancy French gardens behind it. On a smaller scale, though.

I was far away from the city centre and without WiFi then, so I did not know how to navigate to my next stop or which restaurant I should go to for dinner. I ride back the way I came. Probably not the most direct route, but it worked out. I return to Flamingo to use their WiFi, but the place is closed and they apparently turned off their router too. Scheisse. So I’m wandering the streets near the station and spy this one restaurant. I go in, notice that almost all the tables are full, see a TripAdvisor sticker, and check out the menu. Looks like authentic cuisine with reasonable prices, and I’m so tired, so why not?

Sit down, order schnitzel with mushrooms in a cream sauce and potatoes, fried with onion and bacon – and unfortunately I don’t have money for beer. The meal is fantastic, though. Really hit the spot, and I just happened upon this place! It was serendipitous.

Finally, I head to Monsterkabinett, over by Museum Island, and have some trouble locating it. It’s down this alley and around the corner, in a very Halloween-y sector. It definitely appealed to me – awesome murals and interesting décor and coloured, dim lights and everything. Had to wait a full hour for the show to start, so I sit at a bar and use their WiFi but can’t afford to buy anything. It was worth the wait, though, because it was another absolutely unique and bizarre experience. The guy who led us through the dungeon is the artist that helped create the moving, animatronic, dancing and music-making, steampunk, welded-iron, fantasy, Beetlejuice-like, Tim-Burton-looking, creepy sculptures. There was a large spider that scuttled along the floor, “Four Eyes,” a mirror chamber, one that danced to heavy techno (so Berlin!), and a doll whose head exploded. It was so cool, right up my alley, pun intended. It was by this artist group called Dead Chickens, which has existed since the 1980s. Really cool, transgressive, odd stuff. A great way to spend my last night in the city.

I had planned to go lab.oratory (but it was closed) and to Tom’s Bar (but it doesn’t get popular until midnight) and to Topographie of Terror, but I was so exhausted by this cold – so, next time. I returned to my hostel, charged up my laptop and phone, then PTFO’d at 11:30.

Managed to sleep a solid nine hours (the bed was more comfortable than GoodMo) despite another person snoring at full damn volume, sounding like a MF foghorn, beside me. I don’t get it – if you snore that loud, then WHY ARE YOU STAYING IN A HOSTEL WITH SO MANY BEDS?! It’s super inconsiderate. And this dude was old, too! Get yourself to a private hotel room, dude! We don’t want to hear you, at all! UGH.

And then to Lidl, then the U-Bahn, then the S-Bahn, then the flughafen.

 

 

And that’s that! My most recent trip! And now I’m at 33 countries visited (although some of those were more thorough than others), and looking forward to the next ones! Just need to figure out when I can get time off work now.

All told, these two weeks abroad cost me…

  • $420 for the plane
  • 500 euro withdrawn at the start of my trip
  • 8000 + 12,000 Hungarian forints withdrawn on my last day in Budapest
  • 60 euro from the ATM for the last day in Berlin
  • 2 nights in Sophie’s Hostel in Prague, since they charged my credit card, for some reason
  • Bus tickets between these cities, amounting to less than 100 euro altogether

So maybe that’s $1,200? Likely less than $100 Canadian per day, for a Eurotrip. Pretty damn good, huh?

 

K, that’s it, folks. Hope you’ve enjoyed following along on this adventure with me! 😀 ‘Til next time,

 

– Jefe

 

Eastern Eurotrip 2018, Part III: Vienna & Bratislava

Hallo,

 

Like clockwork – I’m on a bus to my next destination, which is Budapest. Also my last new city on this trip. I was in Vienna this morning, spent a couple hours in Bratislava, and now I’m in Hungary for four night and three days. Then flying Ryanair back to Berlin, crossing more things off my to-do list there, then back to Montreal on Thursday morning! I toyed with the idea of staying a night there, but I’m not feeling it. However, if you’re reading this and live in MTL and want to see me, then let’s go for coffee or lunch or something! I arrive at 12:30pm. @Ndaku, @Mikey&Sarah, @Chris&Matt&Tyler, etc.

I very nearly missed this bus and that was not fun. I literally boarded and did not even get settled in my seat before we pulled away from the platform. I hustled on over, and thank goodness I did. It wouldn’t’ve been a big deal if I did miss it – another couple hours in Slovakia and many Flix buses going to Budapest. But I didn’t, so yay!

I intended to see more of Vienna this morning before heading out of town, but packing and getting ready took longer than expected. I also had breakfast at the hostel (one of the cheapest options that was still delicious, since a regular latte goes for around €3.50), so I got wrapped up chatting to travellers. I stayed at the Ruthensteiner Hostel, and it was phenomenal. I met a bunch of great people and enjoyed hanging out with them. It seemed to be much more social than other places I’ve stayed, but still not a “party hostel” so much – it was more musical/community-based. I recommend!

I picked the Mandala Hostel in Budapest, which had a rating of 8.6 on Booking.com and is centrally located and super cheap. I guess that’s just Hungary in general, but it’s only costing me €32 for four nights :O When the Vienna one was €66 for only three :O So I’m hoping it’s still amazing. I’ll know soon enough!

 

So, Bratislava. Where my pal Matus “Ma-douche” is from. I had heard from him and various others that you only need to spend an afternoon there, so that’s exactly what I did. I arrived at 1:30 and just barely caught this bus at 5:10. And I still was able to see most of everything, although I could’ve always gone inside the castle / museums / churches / etc. Don’t feel like I missed much by not doing so, though. It’s a cute town, and I’m glad I was able to check it out.

There’s quite the disparity between Old Town and the other side of the Danube, though. The historical part has typical architecture you’d expect in a major European town – Gothic, Renaissance, Art Nouveau, other styles I don’t know (maybe Rococo or Baroque?). Nice churches, narrow winding roads, all that good stuff. But then across the river – flat, featureless, concrete apartment blocks. Worse than Leacock. Oh, the vestiges of Communism there… But, it was interesting to see, at the very least.

Bratislava has a futuristic bridge with a restaurant on top of it, styled like a UFO, offering panorama views. Sounds cool, but I read it’s pricey, and I didn’t have that much time, so I snapped a photo and moved on. It was a nice Town Square, a cathedral with a crown on top of its spire – 300kg of real gold – and another noteworthy church, in all different shades of blue. There’s a castle on top of a hill that was reconstructed in the past 60-70 years, so it’s not as impressive as other ones in the region. It is square and white and not all that interesting, but at least it was free to walk around the grounds, and by virtue of its altitude, it had good views of the city.

And beyond that – not much else! So I strolled around, saw that a marathon was happening at the same time (pretty cool), took some pictures, and that kind of thing. There was this exquisitely painted large Eastern egg in one of the squares and the famous (for some reason, I don’t know which) Man at Work statue. Got a stranger to photograph me with that, and I actually love the result. It’s a bit flamboyant, but hey, that’s me.

I also stopped in the tourist information centre, a second-hand shop and a restaurant. Got this cool jacket for only €4 and a yummy meal of hot garlic soup (yes, my breath stinks) and a delicious local dish of potato dumplings mixed with sour cream, sheep’s cheese, and bacon – recommended by the infostop. Mmmm! It was so damn good, definitely hit the spot. Don’t know the name, but it’s typical Slovak cuisine, so you shouldn’t have trouble finding it.

And importantly, service was fast. That’s the reason I couldn’t go to my first two choices of eatery – Slovak Pub and another one from TripAdvisor – and thank goodness for that, because I had no time to kill. I was trying to figure out the lockers at the bus station for my bag when I first arrived, and that took a frustrating while. But maybe it was “meant to be” that way or something, because I would NOT have had time to collect my belongings if I did find an available locker. But then again, if I wasn’t weighed down with all my stuff, then I could have run. So maybe it equals itself out 😉

 

And now for Vienna. I got to the hostel pretty late, finished up my blog post, wanted to join this group playing Kings, didn’t, went out and grabbed a doner kebab, the guy at the stand called me Spiderman for some reason (I think I’d be Captain America, if anything – the blond and the nationality and all that), then ate it in my top bunk while watching the finale of The Challenge Vendettas. It showed the Prague TV Tower, which I had just seen that day, so that was a really cool experience. I realized I never sought out where they were staying when I was in Prague, but oh well, it probably would not have been that cool. Just a hotel façade. And the episode itself was eh, especially for the finale of the season. That final challenge was bullsh. Poor Nicole Z 😥

I wake up too late the next day for the hostel breakfast, so I get some recommendations for what to do and set out explorin’. I find a bakery and am trying to ask the woman what’s in this product, when she puts it in a bag for me. So I just buy it, don’t want to make a big deal out of it! It was borek, this flaky pastry filled with savoury fillings. The one I had was ground beef, which was still tasty – but I would’ve preferred a spinach and cheese version, like I saw at Naschmarkt later :/

I head for Gota, a nearby café that apparently just received an award for world’s best barista, or something. I find it, and it’s a cute place… But then I see the prices and walk right out. Wander into an Illy coffee shop next, and the air is thick with cigarette smoke and the prices are the same, so I keep on going. Eventually I pass one of those kiosks on the corner, which also has cappuccini for €3.50… So I figure out that’s the going rate 😛 Damn. That’s like $5 Canadian for a one-shot espresso drink.

The frugal in me kicks in and I decide to just wait ‘til I get back to the hostel to get some caffeine. I wander to the Schönnbrun Palace, the summer residence of the Habsburg family, the design of which was inspired by Versailles. It has extensive French gardens, a mammoth marble fountain of Neptune, yellow walls, countless windows, beautiful courtyards, an Egyptian obelisk, and even the Gloriette on top – a smaller building with the same design elements, up on a hill overlooking the Palace itself and the exquisite landscaping. The city zoo is also on the grounds, which is renowned as the oldest zoo in the world, since the 1700s.

Apparently, it’s even more gorgeous inside, but I didn’t enter. The day was cloudy and chilly, the neighbourhood between my hostel and the Schönnbrun were not photogenic at all, and I developed a headache on the walk. Maybe because I hadn’t had a coffee, maybe from not sleeping that well, who knows? But I was a bit cantankerous. Undeniably, the palace is jaw-droppingly beautiful, but I don’t think I appreciated it for what it was. Plus, I’m sure it looks ten times better in the summer / when it’s sunny, because the landscaped gardens were not in bloom at all. Rather, there was just a bunch of gnarled, leafless trunks and branches – not much greenery in sight. That probably contributed to how underwhelmed I was.

Anyhow, after that, I meander back to the hostel, drink two coffees (they just had one of those machines that makes the latte for you), and read over the map I was given. After resting for a bit, my mood significantly improves, and I set out once again in to the city. I put on an episode of the Brain Candy Podcast (discussing The Challenge!), walk along a main shopping street (Mariahilfer strasse, or something), and I’m smiling. The architecture improved, there were more people about, and things were just looking up, compared to the morning.

As it was Thursday, Drag Race night, I made a point to seek out the gay bars, inquiring if any of them would screen the show. Found several, but most were closed – and the two that weren’t had never heard of it. What!! And you call yourselves gay bars?? Frustrating. So I figured I’d just watch it on my computer some time, and I kept walking. Wandered down the Naschmarkt, witnessed a car accident, walked by the two huge museums (Fine Arts and Natural History) and Museumsquartier, saw the huge Maria Theresa statue, then strolled back down Mariahilfer to my hostel’s neighbourhood. Went straight to the restaurant they recommended me, Quell, as I was famished and wanted to get back to Ruthensteiner for happy hour. The resto seemed pretty traditional, with dark wood paneling and what looked like old world décor. I walk into the smoking section and am immediately turned off – but fortunately they had a non-smoking section too. I forgot how much I loathe cigarette smoke, and it is everywhere here. Ugh.

Anyway, the receptionist suggested a dish that he described as meatloaf. I don’t love meatloaf at all, but he felt strongly about it – so I asked the server about it. The restaurant offered it, but it wasn’t on the menu. Oooohhh, #travelhacks! The prices weren’t spectacular for schnitzel or goulash, so I decided to go for this one. And omigoodness, it was amazing. It was two large patties of pork and beef, breaded and maybe fried, served on top of a mountain of mashed potatoes, with deep-fried onions covering everything, and gravy. So delicious, so filling, and delightful in every way. And while I ate, I read this little book I had borrowed from reception, a pocket guide to Vienna. I learn about the history and the culture and what the city is known for – opera, classical music, fashion, coffee houses, and chocolate cake (Sachertorte). No wonder it wasn’t the cheapest!

And then I return to the hostel for the rest of the night. Relax and decompress, and sip on the free apple cinnamon tea while sitting in the garden and enjoying the sun that finally came out. They’re cooking a free vegan dinner for everyone at the hostel, and while I wasn’t the least bit hungry – it’d be a nice way to meet people. I listen as they’re preparing the meal and eventually ask if I can help.

Glad I decided to participate, because I met a great group of people, that I spend the rest of the night with! Adam & Emma, from England. Teal January (her actual first and middle names) from Sydney, Bryan from Colorado, Patrick from Virginia. The food is alright, but the company was superb.

This segues into us moving to the bar area and taking advantage of the happy hour. I get another lager and watch as a Swedish couple (Anton and Maddick) play chess, and then as Patrick and Bryan play chess. Eventually, another Brian joins us (from California), and Sean (from England), and Natalie (Australian but studying in Spain), and Hassan from Romania. We play Kings like we’re in high school and have a great time. It was nice to actually hang out with and get to know some people.

It’s actually something I’m missing right now, in my Budapest hostel. Yes, this place was very highly rated and is super cheap… But it is not my style. There’s no real common area, and it’s not really a hostel building, but rather a converted apartment. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still comfortable and interesting, and I slept alright. But it is a bit hippy-dippy/airy-fairy. I guess I should’ve guessed, with the name (Mandala), but I didn’t expect this. I’ve looked up other hostels and am strongly considering changing, even though I’ve paid. I mean, they have pets here, and no breakfast facilities, and the three people in my room are currently sitting inside / not doing anything. The one, an old guy, has just been lying on his bed with his tablet every time I’ve seen him, if he wasn’t sleeping. The older woman was asleep when I arrived, and all I’ve seen her do is be on Facebook on the shared computer. And finally, the last guy is Irish, has dreads, and “drank too much last night so he might just go for a walk today.” Ugh. Where are the young people who want to get out and experience the city and have fun?! What the eff!

Anyway, we’ll see. It’s already past checkout time anyway, so maybe I’ll just spend half my stay here and then find somewhere else for the last two nights. I have a slight allergy to pet hair, so that would be an understandable excuse. Dunno. I met another Canadian last night, and he recommends the GoodMo hostel. Just looked it up, and it seems to have a great common area / vibe to it. And it’s close by, so it’s also centrally located. Ugh. I don’t know how to approach this… Whatever. I’m gonna go ask.

K, just did, she’s very understanding. But I’d still need to pay for tonight, so I’ll sleep here one more night and then move tomorrow. Just booked the GoodMo. Okay, now I have something to look forward to again! Yay!

 

So, continuing Vienna. Had a great night with those folks. I wanted to go out to a bar or something, but people just wanted to hang out at the hostel bar. I wouldn’t gain anything from pressuring them, so I just went with the flow – and really enjoyed myself! And probably saved a good amount of money too, ha. There was even some entertainment involved as well, in that Brian (the Californian) did magic/card tricks for us… And had us call him Warlock. Hilarious stuff.

Next day, I go down for the hostel breakfast and run into Adam, Emma, and Bryan (the Colorado one) again. Drink three coffees, have the good Austrian bread with cheese and cold cuts, and some yogurt with banana and granola. I get caught up with talking with everybody, so I wasn’t able to make the walking tour I had reserved the night before. Not a problem at all – I enjoyed myself – and I decided I’d just go to the afternoon one, hoping it wouldn’t be an issue or filled up.

Vienna is pretty big and I didn’t want to exhaust myself walking everywhere – and since it was my last day, I wanted to see as much as possible – so I bought a 24-hour pass on the metro. I go and see the city fair and big Ferris wheel – underwhelming – and I check out Vienna’s version of the Gaudi house, designed by Hundertwasser – pretty awesome. I take the tram along the ring road, walk through the Burggarten Park, and am looking for a place for a snack and/or coffee – but then run out of time and have to rush to get to the meeting point for the walking tour, right by the Albertina.

Which also happened this morning, in Budapest. I didn’t set aside sufficient time to orienteer myself in the city, and I couldn’t find the rendezvous location by 10:30am :/ Disappointing, but I just got a sandwich and sat in the sun in the middle of the Spring Market, reading my new book (What Alice Forgot) instead. It is gorgeous weather today, 22°C and sunny, so I really can’t complain that much. I’ll just go to the afternoon tour… Which starts in a half hour. So I’m gonna head out now. TTFN!

 

Back, happy but exhausted.

Where was I? The Vienna Good Tours walking tour, with our guide, Iva, from Prague. We started at the Albertina, with a view overlooking the Sacher hotel (which was constructed with the funds made from the famous chocolate cake, invented by a baker’s apprentice in Vienna) and the City Opera House. The mayor/leader of the city hated the architecture of the latter so much that the architect killed himself 😦 He said it looked like a train station, and while it does kind of resemble Grand Central Station… It’s still grandiose and sightly. Poor guy 😦

Then we went through the Burggarten again, which is beside the Habsburg Palace, the main residence of the Habsburg family, the rulers of the Austrian Empire for many years, with an astonishing two thousand and six hundred rooms. Wtf! Who needs that much space!

We saw a statue dedicated to Mozart, which represents his unofficial grave. He was actually buried in a mass grave in a city, since so many people were dying at that time (cholera, Black Plague, etc) and wood was expensive, so not everybody got coffins. But this beautiful statue and little lawn with flowers in the shape of a treble clef are where people can come to pay their respects. It’s beautiful.

We saw other parts of the Palace too, including the balcony on which Hitler gave his Anschluss speech – so we learned some history as well. Saw the current Parliament, got a peep of the City Hall and City Theatre and Spanish Riding School, where the train horses to compete in “horse ballet.” We then go to see Stephansdom, or St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and a small chapel where Mozart used to play music – complete with wooden cobblestones for better acoustics. Iva recommended a specific schnitzelhaus to us, we saw the building where Mozart had an apartment, and we meander through the Jewish Quarter as well, also known as the “Bermuda Triangle” – since tourists get drunk in the bars and then get lost in all the winding small streets in the region.

Then that was that! And I was famished at the end of it, since I didn’t have the time to grab anything to eat before the tour began. I knew where I wanted to go for dinner too, since I had looked it up and saved it on my Google Maps when I had WiFi. But then I accidentally closed the app, didn’t have any service, and had no idea where to go 😦

So, sadly, I made my way back to the hostel for WiFi and to charge my phone. Drank some apple cinnamon tea again, talked with Emma, and eventually went to Mafiosi Pizzeria for dinner, instead of Tunnel, like I wanted. Mafiosi was only ten minutes away on foot, and I heard their pizzas were HUGE and all cost €5 or less. How can you beat that?

Well, you can, because the entire restaurant was smoky and the menu only had German, so I ended up ordering the wrong thing. The pizza was enormous, admittedly, and only cost a fiver – but mine only had meat sauce and cheese on it. I wanted some mushroom, pepperoni, ham, or something, but I picked the wrong on. Even though the server suggested it. Oh well! “They can’t all be diamonds.” It was a tonne of dough for not a lot of a dough, and their house-made beer was delicious.

Then went back to the city to stroll around more. Saw Sigmund Freud Square, some churches, and Town Hall and the City Theatre up close. There was this huge festival happening outside Rathaus (Town Hall), from the Styrian region of Austria. There were so many people there, all drinking wine out of glasses, bottles everywhere, everyone just enjoying the balmy night and each other’s company. It was remarkable. I also see a tiny bit of the Belvedere Park – this impressive fountain and gate – but since it’s nighttime, I can’t see the beautiful palace that is apparently there.

Didn’t have time though, because I had found a local bar that was screening RuPaul, and I didn’t want to be late to that! So I hurry to Felixx Bar, grab a beer, and find a seat for the show. There was absolutely no rush, though – because the episode did not start for another seventy minutes. Guh! They had the second ep cued up, not the third, so they had to deal with that technical difficulty. And the host(ess), Jacques Patriarques, loved to talk and make jokes that weren’t really that funny. And everybody was smoking cigarettes, and we were in an enclosed space, so I smelt rank by the end of it.

Finally, the episode started, and the sound is too loud and the video isn’t great. I put headphones in to temper the noise and try my best to enjoy the show. But it’s so damn smoky, and they stop for 25 minutes in the middle of the show, and Emma & Adam didn’t show up like I hoped they would – so it wasn’t wonderful. Still glad I got to experience it, instead of watching it alone at my hostel, but still. Not ideal. And they didn’t even screen Untucked! What!

But instead, we got to see two local queens “Lip Sync for Your Alcohol.” The one performed to Kate Bush’s cover of “Wuthering Heights” – a bit strange, but still compelling – and the second to Gaga’s “Scheisse” – which was amazing. She knew all the words (it helps that they are in German and English, and we were in Austria), and her dancing was ON. POINT. Her name was “Rage” and that was evident in her moves. It was fantastic to watch, wow.

And to finish off the night, I head back to the hostel, hang out with Brian “Warlock” and Sean a bit, then pack my stuff up, shower off all the smoke stench, and get into bed. I intended to be up early the next day to see more of Vienna before leaving – notably a farmers’ market and the Belvedere Palace – but I was up later than I wanted, took my time with breakfast (again hanging out with Bryan and Adam), and didn’t want to risk missing my bus by including these things, since neither were really directly on the way to the station.

 

So that’s that! Vienna wasn’t my favourite city, I didn’t absolutely adore it, but thank goodness for the hostel. If I weren’t staying there, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed myself half as much. It was a goddess-send. And Wien ended up being much better than it seemed that first morning!

 

Now, it’s 9:30 pm, I’m back in the hostel and tired and smelly – but I’m gonna post this and then go check out a ruins bar. I invited Adam & Emma, who are now here in Budapest, but they aren’t up for going out tonight. So hopefully I’ll see them tomorrow night!

 

Ciao for now, folks.

 

– Jefe

Eastern Eurotrip 2018, Part II: Prague & the Rest of Berlin

Ahoj,

 

Like promised, now I’m on a bus from Prague to Vienna. Another 4.5 hours, but fortunately, this one is much emptier! So I have no seatmate. But also, no WiFi or plugs, and it left an hour late and the platform changed several times and it was generally a mess 😦 Oh well, on doit mettre de l’eau dans le vin. I don’t particularly mind, that much. It’s a gorgeous day, sunny and above 20°C, so I just sat in the late afternoon sun and read from my Kindle. The current book is The Arrangement, about an extramarital agreement, and I am highly enjoying it! I’m about 65% of the way through, and after this, I’ll start What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty – who might be my favourite author right now. Wish Ellen Hopkins would put out a new book or two.

My time in Prague has been amazing, the past two days. I had no trouble finding my hostel, called Sophie’s Hostel, which is actually very nice. The bathroom was private, all in concrete, and had a legit waterfall shower! It was luxurious. I’m quite sure it was converted from some higher-end apartments into the inn. I stayed in a room with 10 beds and got there too late to have my choice of where to sleep, so that wasn’t ideal. I was on the top bunk, the bed wasn’t that comfortable, I was chilly, and I had several snorers in my room. Not cute. But I suppose I always have some trouble falling asleep the first time in a strange place. Last night was better, even with the snorers. So I shouldn’t complain too much. The deskpeople were very helpful; the common area was swanky and inviting; and they even had a happy hour! A half-litre of Czech beer for only 24Kc/€1! They only had dark beer when I stopped in after walking all around – not my favourite – but let me tell you, it was DELICIOUS! Hit the spot.

I thought about staying a third night there, but Prague is not the biggest city. It’s gorgeous, undoubtedly, but I have the sense – from talking to various people and reading online – that there is more to do/see in both Vienna and Budapest. Plus, if I’m in a hostel for longer than two nights, I can meet people to hang out with! I hope I like Vienna as much as Prague, but I guess there’s always other cities to visit if I’m bored. From a quick glance at the map, Zagreb is not too far from Vienna, and the same for Timisoara from Budapest. Maybe I’ll swing a sixth city and country into my trip, who knows? Then I’d be at 35 in the past 20 years 😉

We’ll see. I don’t think I want to spend an extra five hours in a bus (and then five back) just to addend another nation. Five countries in 13 days is ambitious enough. Plus, I could just chill out and take things at a slower pace, instead of walking around from 9am to 8pm, with only stopping for an hour-long lunch. Budapest has those thermal baths, which could fill up half a day and sound very relaxing. But still, it’s nice to have lunches. I’ve never heard of Timisoara (in Romania), but I believe Zagreb is nice! Even if it’s not Split or Dubrovnik.

My first night in Prague, I didn’t do much besides play on my phone, chat with the receptionist, and take a great shower. But I made up for that the following day, which was very productive. I got up at 9:15, walked to Costa Coffee, found out they don’t take euros, walked to another café, grabbed a latte and caprese baguette, then rendezvoused with others from my hostel for a free walking tour!

The guide was named Vaclav (like the famous Mr. Havel), and he was fantastic. Spent about five hours with him, walking all over the Old Town and the Jewish Quarter and having lunch with him. I got what he recommended (which mirrored Marketa’s suggestions too) – beef in sauce, served with cranberry and dumplings. It was fine, nothing spectacular, but the dumplings were noteworthy in that they were not dumplings at all! Vaclav had explained to us how there is no English word for the food, so they use “dumpling” because it is most similar to the consistency of them. But it was strange, definitely. Like slices of steamed dense bread. Not awesome, but still worth trying. Wish I could’ve had the ones made with potato as well, but alas, maybe next time.

When I was in Berlin, I of course asked various locals and those working the hostel desk for suggestions as to what to eat. And I found it so funny that not one person recommended German food. Sasha explained to me that the Berlin food scene is about take-away / food trucks / that kind of thing. Most people do not go to sit-down restaurants for German cuisine. It’s possible to do that – and get weinerschnitzel or sauerkraut or wurst or kartoffelsalat – but what the young people do is more international food, eaten on the sidewalk. So that is what I did. I had pizza al taglio, doner kebap, brie sandwiches from bakeries, food from fairs, banh mi, currywurst, a burger, etc. I made a point to check out the cheap food places recommended in various online articles as well. The only thing I didn’t like was the currywurst, ironically the only real Berliner/German dish I had (since doner has Middle Eastern influences). I went to Curry 36, a very popular place near my hostel, and they gave me two sausages, chopped up and covered with curry powder, with fries and ketchup and mayo. Except it was only a splash of the good stuff and a sea of ketchup, which I do not like. It was fatty and sweet and too much food for my appetite. Not to my liking. But it was only €5.20, so at least it was a bargain!

I continued this trend in Prague, even if it does has a more traditional culinary scene. But I only had two days, the sun was shining, and I didn’t want to be indoors. I enjoyed more stuff from boulangeries, more doner kebaps, more pizza, a mac and cheese version of the ubiquitous “chimney cakes” (not chocolate, as I don’t have a sweet tooth), some delicious gnocci with sausage while walking around Prague’s castle, and the aforementioned beef with dumplings. And iced coffee, lattes, and Czech beer, including a banana beer from a local microbrewery down the street from Sophie’s. Yummy, all of it.

And beyond that, I just wandered around the city, up and down hills, marveling at all of the gorgeous buildings and vistas. Legitimately, the city is beautiful. So many exquisite examples of different architectural styles, which escaped World War II relatively unscathed. This is the main reason Berlin is not that photogenic (but rather gritty and real) but Prague is – the latter was not damaged during the Great War. Another reason to hate WW2, since it destroyed so many beautiful buildings. Such a shame.

 

K, just took a lil snooze, ate my treats from the bakery, and watched an episode of Survivor Thailand. Have a second on now, at 1.5x speed, as I write this. The Challenge Vendettas had its final(e) last night. I already know who won – it was spoiled for me months ago, ugh, hate it, I need to be more careful with S32 – but I still don’t know how the other seven place. I’m saving it to enjoy it tonight, at the hostel, when I’m more comfortable. Maybe with a drink in hand, too! ;P

So I took this great walking tour through Prague and learned all about its history. Wenceslas Square is named after Good King Wenceslas, who was an important Christian/hero of the city that was killed by his own brother and almost immediately sainted after his death. The Powder Tower is one of the old medieval gates to the city, since there used to be a big wall around the center. It’s called that because it used to hold gunpowder, before it was restored to its original glory as part of the “Royal Way,” a stretch with many of the important historical sites. That includes Charles Bridge, of course, and several notable churches and statues.

Charles Bridge is named after Charles IV, the one responsible for funding the construction of many of Prague’s best buildings. It was believed Judgment Day was coming, so they rushed to erect all these impressive churches so God(dess) would like kindly upon them. Or something like that. I’m not religious at all, so this all seems silly to me – But whatever, people believe we they want, and that’s fine. At least it helped create the gorgeous cityscape that Prague is!

There’s a famous theatre that Mozart premiered several of his operas at; there’s a friggen castle¸ the largest ancient castle in the world – it’s like a whole town inside it! There’s this enormous cathedral in it too, but I was 20 minutes too late to see inside. Disappointing, but it’s okay – I’ve seen plenty of churches in my life, traveling through Italy / Spain / Portugal / etc. Prague has monasteries that brew their own beer, a TV tower with black baby sculptures crawling up it, the Astronomical Clock (with moving statues that actually tell a cool story: Death coming to collect its victims, but others convince him to give one more hour, so the show repeats when the next hour strikes), and other attractions. Lots of cool things to check out! Unfortunately, the baby sculptures were gone for restoration, the National Museum (on top of Wenceslas Square) is closed, and the Astronomical Clock was covered by scaffolding – so we just saw a projection of it. I’d say I picked a bad time to visit the city, but I don’t care. I loved my time there, and even if it were open, I probably would not have visited the museum anyway. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

Two stories about the Jewish Quarter. Some Christian leader blamed the Jews for crucifying Jesus, so he decided that the Jewish people were only allowed in a certain small (one square kilometer) area of the city. Because they had finite space, they didn’t have room to bury their dead. So they decided to just build up – they covered the existing graves with soil and started burying people on top of them, rinse and repeat. Because of this, the graveyard in the Jewish Quarter is over a storey tall. Pretty interesting.

And one more. In the “Old-New Synagogue” there, the legend is they created a man out of clay and breathed life into him, to do simple tasks for them. But then he turned against his creators, so they tricked him by leading him up to the second level and removing the stairs. Legend says he is still up there, sleeping, and nobody has been up there since. I doubt nobody has gone up to clean in centuries, but who knows? They called this clay man Golem, and the legend inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein and also (likely), the Pokémon of the same name. Good stuff 😛

 

Beyond wandering around and soaking in the sun, I also managed to do some thrift shopping – got a Hogwarts shirt for 99Kc and a black structured swimsuit / pair of shorts for 35Kc. Both stores had the same price for everything in it. Kinda wish I would’ve found the cheaper one first, but oh well, I like the Harry Potter shirt! Even if it an XS and might make me look like I have a pooch. It’s either that, my posture, or all the nachos I eat – who knows? Oh, and the swimsuit still has tags on it! Yay!

And significantly, I also hung out with a friend! Johnnie, who I met when I was in DC researching my Master’s thesis, was also in Prague! So I met up with him and his travel buddies, at a new gay bar whose bartender they had met through Scruff or Grindr. A Canadian meeting up with Americans, linking up with an Irishman, at a bar run by a French-Canadian, a Frenchman, and a Moroccan. Gotta love that queer community! So we had a drink, caught up, got some free shots, and were gonna have a great night out… But then two of their party snapped at each other, the partner of one of them sided with his boyf, and it was just drawma, mawma. One literally said, “Bye Felicia” during this argument, and I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. It was entertaining, but it made my night end prematurely 😦 Oh well, I was stinky and exhausted anyway. I grabbed a doner and watched the new episode of Survivor 36 back at the hostel, charged my computer (which is dying now, ugh), and booked this bus and the hostel I’m heading to tonight. Necessary things.

 

So that’s Prague! Now, back to Berlin.

After eating that potato pizza, I wandered towards the gay area of Berlin, where the Fetish Weekend events were happening. I stopped in a leather-making shop to get oriented / see what was up. One of the workers, a super nice guy, gave me the official program and some helpful recommendations – even asking the others in the store where I should go. What I didn’t expect is that the dress codes at the events would be so strict. I’m backpacking for two weeks and only brought four shirts, seven pairs of underwear, half a towel, etc. No room in my bag for leather pants or shoulder harnesses :/ So I felt underprepared.

And no, it’s not lost on me that wandering into a strange store, filled with men donned in leather, in a country where I don’t speak the language – it takes a lot of courage. I’m glad I’m able to do it. But something about traveling makes me braver. Maybe it’s because I have to be, since I’m all alone in foreign countries, only able to rely on myself. But maybe it’s because, I have nothing to lose. If I meet somebody at the hostel and we’re having a drink, then there’s no reason I should be monitoring or tailoring my behaviour or personality. I should just be my full self, because I’ll likely never see them again, so if they don’t like me, or my snarkiness, or my nail polish – who cares? I sure don’t.

Anyway, just got to the Vienna bus station. Will continue later.

 

Made it to Hostel Ruthensteiner by taking the subway! Except I only had 50 and 100 euro notes, which the ticket machines don’t take… So I was riding dirty. I was on tenterhooks the entire journey 😛 But made it here without incident. It’s a very cute hostel, very musical. Some lady is playing the piano, their WiFi password is “vivamusica,” you can borrow instruments for free, etc. Pretty cute. I got some free apple cinnamon tea, bought some lager at the bar, and am gonna finish this up. There’s a group playing King’s Cup in the common room – might go try to join them after this. The two people in my room were both just playing on their phones, so they might not be the most exciting people. The good news is that there’s only four beds in the room, so fewer chances of someone’s snoring keeping me up! Woooh!

 

That first night in Berlin, I popped in some other stores (notably Boxer Berlin), got a beer at Zsa Zsa Burger (since it looked poppin’) and read the Eastern Weekend booklet, found several of the important locations for the events, and then decided to go into this bar, teeming with Leathermen. I was just in my regular street clothes – which isn’t exactly protocol for a theme night at a leather bar – so I just stripped off my sweater and shirt and walked in there like I owned the place, bare chest, leather jacket, leather ballcap, and that’s it. Fortunately, nobody gave me trouble. People were actually friendly! Various people bought me some drinks, people were complimentary, and it was a good experience! The place was packed with people fully decked out in leather or rubber gear. Like, that would never happen in Ottawa! Maybe not even Montreal! It was definitely a novel experience, and I loved it.

The next night, I went to Mutschmanns, which was a similar bar event – except a bit turned up. It was bigger, there were more people, and I had a better time. Even ran into someone I knew, Phillip! And then the next night, I went to watch Mr. Leather Berlin – which was also phenomenal – but afterward, I was a bit clubbed out. So I just hung out with Marketa & Zachariah at the hostel instead.

But let’s talk about Mr. Leather Berlin. Had to wait 25 minutes out in the cold to get in, and everyone was smoking indoors (so it smelled disgusting), and 90% of it was in German – but I still had a great time. There were four contestants, and they had to answer one question, do a little charades show, and then do their performance. The winner was not decided based on judges, but rather based on an audience vote. So I got to cast my own ballot.

I voted for Jens, and not only because he was the youngest and cutest. I was feeling him when they were first introduced, but what really sold me was his performance! It started with this really intense church / organ music playing, as two figures were standing with black robes and hoods, holding candles, as a third person lay shirtless on the stage. The music got more intense, they stepped forward and raised the candles up, and you just expected them to pour the wax all over the third guy.

But instead, RuPaul’s voice came on, saying, “Gentlemen, start your engines, and may the best woman, win!” They take off the robes and start dancing choreography to various songs – like Toxic, Born This Way, etc. Jens puts a black and blue leather mask over his mouth, continues dancing, and then RuPaul comes on again – “This is a lip sync. What part of that don’t you understand? Take that thing off your face.” And they continue dancing. The songs were mashed up very well, and the choreo was surprisingly good! At another point, they ripped these leather pride flags out of their shirts, and rose petals flew down all around them – just like Sasha Velour!

It was so much fun, and unexpected, and amazing all around. No doubt did he deserve my vote! And it turns out, other people felt the same way, because he WON! I was so happy about it. After all the acclaim and applause, I managed to find him and speak to him in person. I told him how I had run for Mr. Leather Ottawa, and I was also the youngest and the most “fem” one (although neither of us were really super femme), and I couldn’t quite clinch the win. So I’m ecstatic he did, because we are changing the face of leather, bringing it into the new generation. He’s a great guy. We talked the next day on Instagram.

Other things I did in Berlin:

  • went to the Berghain building (legendary, next-level night club in a power station in the middle of nowhere) but didn’t go in
  • checked out the East Side Gallery (murals on the Berlin Wall, free)
  • walked through the Monument to the Murdered Jews of Europe (very solemn and somber, but interesting) – and saw the monument specifically for homosexuals, too (it’s also a big concrete block, but with a window to the inside, showing men kissing men and women kissing women)
  • saw the Brandenburg Gate, Alexanderplatz, Reichstag, TV Tower, Checkpoint Charlie, Potsdamer Platz,
  • climbed the Victory Column, in Tiergarten, for the viewz
  • patronized the Pergamon Museum – which has really awesome exhibits. The Ishtar Gate of Babylon and the Market Gate of Miletus were hugely impressive, and the Islamic Art wing was very interesting as well!

Etc. It was a great 3.5-4 days, and I can’t wait to go back next Wednesday! I want to check out Monsterkabinett and have some schnitzel and maybe even try to get in Berghain/laboratory!

 

So, that’s it for now. Loving my trip so far! And it’s already 11:11 (make a wish!) and I’m pretty beat. Might save The Challenge for tomorrow… But more likely will ask the receptionists for recommendations for where to get food, go out and grab something, then come back and watch the show. Dunno. It’s loud in this common room, but I guess with headphones, it’d be okay.

In any case – ‘til next time! ❤

 

– Jefe