5 days in Toronto

In this blog I’m going to talk about what we’ve experienced and some things I’ve learned from being out here in Toronto.

We visited the Eaton centre which is a gigantic shopping mall with pretty much everything you can think of. It reminded me of New York City with the types of shops they have in there. It’s a must for shopping lovers.

A little tip for you foodies, a traditional dish out here is called Poutine which tastes so good. You can get it with all kinds of toppings. A must while your in Canada. Also try Canada Dry it’s better than 7’Up or Sprite, we’re hooked.

On one of the days we went to the Distillery District where they had the Toronto Christmas Market on, which was so cosy. If you visit around Christmas time definitely come here but don’t waste your money on a drink like we did, (we got a hot chocolate with Bailey’s that cost $9 and it was a small cup).

On route there, I noticed something, in Toronto you could be walking down a nice neighbourhood, then five minutes later you could find yourself in a rough one without even turning a corner.

On another day we went to High Park which has the big maple leaf on the grass and it was beautiful. I learned that they have black squirrels in Canada (which are adorable by the way, and seem to like to pose for my camera) as well as the one’s I’m used to seeing in England. I’ve been to some beautiful parks in England but they never have warning signs up for coyotes and poison ivy so that was a first but don’t be scared off, there’s plenty of people around, just make sure you like dogs because you’ll see a lot of them there which reminds me, (poodles seem to be the dog of choice here). I definitely recommend going to High Park if your visiting Toronto as it gets you out of the city for a bit and into nature. Across the road from a section of the park is a sea front which is also lovely to take a stroll along.

We visited Nathan Phillips Square with the big Toronto sign, and it was so Christmasy this time of year with a big Christmas tree up and all of the lights. They have an ice rink in front of the sign which was packed, but we didn’t skate on it. While we were there we tried another traditional Canadian treat called Beavers Tail, (no it’s not an actual tail of a beaver) it’s a desert which again you can get with all kinds of toppings. It’s delicious and perfect on a cold winters night.

We went to the movies out here too which was different to the UK. Behind the counter they only served salted popcorn which you could pour butter over using the dispensers. They had other flavours in packets too obviously but cheese flavour was not one I was expecting to see. The auditorium as they call it was smaller than what we’re used to and you don’t have assigned seats. It was also a lot busier than back home, all the seats were virtually gone and at the end of the movie everyone clapped, now I don’t know if that’s a thing out here or it was just because the film (CoCo) was great but I thought it was cute.

We ended our last day here with Niagara Falls. Wow. It’s the most incredible waterfall I’ve seen in my life. The falling water is mesmerising. You have to go to Niagara Falls.

Overall my impression of Toronto was great, for a city the people are very polite I say that because usually in cities you’ll find people are a bit more rude than outside because everyone’s always rushing but you could get on a bus and the driver will ask how you are in Toronto but in England sometimes they don’t even acknowledge you. Canadians also seem very grateful towards common curtesy, if you hold a door open for someone they will really thank you for it!

This has just been my experience anyone reading this might have had a different story to tell. Let me know in the comments if you do, I’d love to hear about it or if you have any questions or need tips I’d also love to help!

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Day 3: Iceland

We finished Iceland with a “free” walking tour of Reykjavík booked through City Walk. I say free with quotation marks just as they advertise it because you are actually supposed to give some money at the end. There is no set price for the tour you pay only what you think it’s worth and trust me it’s worth it.

We walked on a frozen lake afterwards which was really weird because part of it was water where geese and swans swam and the rest was ice where people walked and slid around. Our tour guide Tomas told us people ice skate and even play football on the frozen lake.

Something I seem to do in most countries I go to is visit the locals places of worship, so we went to a church which was as beautifully white on the inside as the snow on the outside.

I didn’t know Iceland was known for its hotdogs until I got here so we decided to see what all the fuss was about and went to Reykjavík’s most famous hotdog stand (thanks to Bill Clinton) and I can say that it really is nothing special the best bit about it for me was the crunchy onion but that’s about it.

All in all Iceland has been amazing and I definitely plan to come back here in the future.

(More photos to come)!

Day 2: Iceland

I experienced the coldest weather I’ve ever endured on my second day in Iceland. It was -8 degrees, so cold that our iPhones were malfunctioning.

We did the Golden Circle excursion which was incredible. We started at 8:30am and the sun hadn’t yet risen. It didn’t rise in fact until around 10am.

The whole journey to the sights consisted of 360 degree views of snow and mountains. It was beautifully white all around.

Our first stop was the Gullfoss waterfall, if you go there in the winter be sure to take a leaf out of our book and get a hot drink from the little shop there before you actually go near the waterfall itself as being closer to water you feel the cold more so in temperatures that low it was definitely a good idea. It’s also a good idea to buy some cookies from the local supermarket beforehand like we did and enjoy some biscuits and tea with a stunning view. Be sure to drink it fast though, it didn’t take long to get cold.

We headed to the Geysers after this, the lake-like water running through was 80-100 degrees and you could see the steam ghosting over it. One of the Geysers went off every few minuets which was amazing, and allowed for plenty of opportunities to capture a shot or video as well as the chance to more importantly enjoy it through my eyes rather than through the lens of a camera.

We finished by going to Thingvellir National Park, which has made it onto my list of one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. The water was part frozen and crystal blue, an hour was not long enough for me here.

I’d recommend doing the Golden Circle if your time here in Iceland is limited because you get to see so much in one day.

(More photos to come)!

Day 1: Iceland

We arrived in Iceland on little to no sleep due to the time of our flight which made the start of our journey a bit of a haze.

It didn’t take long to snap out of this though, when we reached Keflavik airport we were waiting for our driver near the automatic doors which opened anytime anyone went near them. This meant that the snow which was falling down was being blown at us every time the door opened by the wind that came with it.

Our journey to the hotel was an experience in itself, due to the snow the roads were a bit icy, which meant our shuttle bus swerved a little here and there but the driver was so relaxed about it, it didn’t unnerve us. After all, as he said himself they are used to these kinds of conditions.

One of my favourite things about travelling is being able to learn things you wouldn’t know unless you actually went out there and there not always things anyone else knows just because they’ve been to the same place because everyone has their very own experiences.

Here’s some things I learned on my first day in Iceland:

-Walking in the snow is like walking in water just with less resistance.

-Iceland is VERY expensive.

-You CAN budget out here if you are willing to do some walking and make your own food bought from cheap supermarkets (Bonus is the one we went to).

-If you aren’t use to the snow, what you consider layers, double it.

-Icelandic people are pleasant and polite.

-There are Subway restaurants everywhere.

We spent most of our first day relaxing and exploring our surroundings so there’s not much else I can say but tune in tomorrow for day 2!

Rome in 3 days

Last week I spent three amazing days in Rome. If I could have had a couple of extra days however, I would have, to spread out the sightseeing as covering them all in pretty much 48 hours was exhausting.

I say 48 hours because the first day we didn’t do a lot of sightseeing we mainly just walked around Rome. That’s an experience in itself. I noticed everyone seems to smoke there and your lucky to get a seat on a bus. There are also striking statues dotted around such as that of Pope John Paul II, so your eyes are always busy even just walking around the romantic city.

For a matter of two days we did an impressive amount which included the Colosseum, Spanish Steps, the Vatican, St. Peters Basilica, the Pantheon, the Garden Of Villa Borghese and my favourite the Trevi Fountain (at night). We also managed to eat some incredible pizza which has now made me not want to eat pizza in England anymore because it was just so good and some delicious gelato which had somewhat of the same effect.

I’d say that overall three days in Rome is not enough but if you don’t have a choice for whatever reason that may be, don’t fret, you’ll definitely be able to see a lot and you can use this blog post as proof and motivation. Just make sure that you wake up early, that you’re well rested and to drink plenty of water because Rome is one of the most tiring cities I’ve visited not just because of our time constraint but because of all the walking!

To see some of my photographs from Rome please click here: https://mehrnazkarimi.wordpress.com/photography/

Chicken Reza

The first time I ever boarded a plane was when I was nine years old. It wasn’t to go to Disneyland or Spain or anywhere else you’d typically expect a first holiday to be; it was to go to my father’s motherland, Iran.
It was unforgettably hot when we stepped out of the airport and were greeted by a cousin, I’d not met. He drove us from the airport to an area in the South of Iran called Ahvaz, where my father had grown up. At first, I was overwhelmed by the amount of family members who were there to greet us on our arrival. I thought that they had all come together just to welcome us, as it was the first time that my dad had been back in years but I later found out that they were always together like this, every day. That wasn’t the strange part though, the weirdest thing about it for me, was that nobody seemed to have any pets. In fact, I think that I was the only person there to have ever owned a pet during my one month stay. It wasn’t the most usual of pets either for a nine year old girl; it was a cockerel I had named ‘Chicken Reza’ after my cousin Reza; who was not in the slightest bit flattered by this gesture.
I hadn’t gone out with the intention of bringing a pet chicken back to my grandmother’s house, it just happened.
My father and I were out shopping one day for some chicken to have for dinner, and I was half expecting there to be a supermarket with already dead chickens in ready for us to buy, but where we went, looked more like a pet shop to me. There were loads of these chickens cooped up in cages outside of this store, and how it worked was, you picked one out alive, they chopped its head off in front of you, and then they would put it into a machine which removed all of its feathers. I had another idea however; I saw this one cockerel, pure white with the reddest comb of the bunch, and instead of looking at him and seeing food I looked at him and saw life. I decided to save him, which my grandmother was not happy about to say the least when we had returned with this chicken who walked freely around her home like a dog.
Unfortunately her mentality was not the same as mine when it came to seeing him as more than just something to eat, because after a couple of weeks of having him, he mysteriously vanished. My dad told me that Chicken Reza had flown away but it wasn’t until years later when I learned that chickens don’t actually fly, that I questioned him and got the truth. My grandmother had cooked Chicken Reza for dinner.

Why you should stop throwing your cigarette butts on the floor immediately

Cigarette butts are one of the highest forms of litter found in cities and urban areas, so it is not surprising to learn that animals, particularly smaller ones such as squirrels and puppies mistake them for food.
Many people don’t think about the harm they are doing when they carelessly drop their butts after smoking but it can take anything from eighteen months to ten years for a filter to degrade. This part of the cigarette is there for the purpose of containing toxins such as ammonia, arsenic, benzene, turpentine as well as tar and particles. When consumed by an animal this can cause a number of health problems including vomiting, tremors and hypersalivation.

Marine life is also affected my littered cigarette butts as research suggests that just one filter soaking in water for a day can be hazardous enough to kill 50% of fish in a litre of water. Dolphins specifically have been highlighted as one of the most affected by the toxins as they contain the most blubber which is where the contamination concentrates.

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There are now bins containing ash trays specifically for the disposal of cigarette butts, so the next time you finish a cigarette make sure that you don’t just throw it on the floor but dispose of it properly for the sake of wildlife and the environment.

The therapeutic side of cooking

Being a chef is said to be one of the most stressful jobs out there and in a working environment it undoubtedly is, but what about when you’re just cooking at home?

Strictly speaking in a non professional sense, some people love it and some hate it but when you’re not in a rush, cooking can actually be quite therapeutic.

Say your feeling quite angry for instance, cooking can help, because it will take you’re mind off of whatever has upset you and release it through the physical activity of cooking itself.
The physical side of it is therapeutic itself because it is a strenuous activity, so you’ll probably feel too tired afterwards anyway (depending on what you’re cooking) to even think about any other stresses of the day.
For those who strive for the feeling of accomplishment, cooking is for you. It is very satisfying to know you have created something that you and others can enjoy. Whip up something exceptional and it can have people talking for weeks even months. In fact I remember eating a particular person’s cooking as a child and years later I still remember it well.

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It is an activity you can never totally master, meaning you can continuously keep learning and progressing because there are so many recipes all over the world, to learn and attempt, the list is endless, you’d never get bored.
So next time your feeling negative, give cooking a go, you may walk away feeling a sense of achievement.