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)!

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.

Genghis Khan’s greatest weapon

The Mongolian Horse
23770886841_77d0d9e4cd_bA Mongol without a horse is like a bird without its wings.

Riding horses to Mongolians is like breathing, they are said to be born in the saddle and raised on horseback. They are taught to ride from the tender age of two, by being literally tied into the saddle.
The Mongolian horse is just as important to the country today, as they were generations ago during the times of Genghis Khan. They have been described as largely unchanged since these times and are sometimes mistaken for a pony due to their small size. Their size however, didn’t stop them from carrying Mongol warriors across half of the world. They were paramount in making it possible for Genghis Khan and his soldiers to create an empire that stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the centre of Europe. This could be one of the reasons why they have been referred to as Genghis Khan’s greatest weapon.
In western society, Genghis Khan is remembered as being a ruthless barbarian but in Mongolia he is a national hero, with a 131ft 2in tall statue of him seated in the saddle of a horse just 54km east from the capital city of Ulaanbaatar.
The Mongol Derby recreates the trail taken by Genghis Khan and takes place every year, with around forty competitors all trying to win the Derby crown. The race is undertaken by professionals, semi professionals and enthusiastic amateurs. It has been regarded, as being the toughest and longest horse race in the world. The race requires riders to weigh no more than 85kgs which includes the weight of their clothes due to the small size of the horses. They are even encouraged to travel light with just 5kg of essential survival equipment. The horses which are used for the race belong to local nomadic herding families and breeders. Fourteen hundred of them are selected in the months prior to the race and they are then put through training to prepare them for the derby.
As well as the famous derby, Mongolians compete in family horse races which are considered to be a big deal amongst the Mongols’, attracting people from miles away who arrive with their families and ‘best horse’. These race meetings can happen up to four or five times over the summer. Children are the ones who ride the horses in these races as the Mongol’s believe that the smaller the jockey the faster the horse. Before the race, each horse has to be blessed with milk taken from the mares known as Irag which is stroked onto them by women using spoons. It is believed that singing Buddhist Mantra helps give the horses speed. The family of the winner is rewarded with a valuable horse, while the runner up is given a sheep and although the other participants are given smaller gifts, everybody gets something.

Mongolians have kept in tradition since the times of Genghis Khan, where the horses are concerned, as they still use metal studs that are located on the wooden saddles which sit on the horse’s backs. These metal studs were originally put on the saddles all of those centuries ago, to encourage men to stand up whilst riding.
The journey that these horses went on to reach Europe shows just how tough they really are and this toughness has not worn down over the years. The native horses survive extreme temperatures of minus forty degrees in the winter and over thirty degrees in the summer with little interference from humans. They survive on the natural sources around them, eating hardly anything but grass and drinking water wherever they find it. The natives around them rarely provide extra food for the animals. They are also seldom shod due to the fact that they naturally have very tough feet. Mongols’ only seek veterinary care for their prized horse, with the outlook of ‘survival of the fittest.’
The male horses are used for transportation and racing while the females (mares) are rarely ridden as they are used for milk and breeding.
Although it is said that Mongolians see horses the same way that people in other societies see cars, these horses are more than just transportation for Mongolians. They are also used for their resources, such as their milk which is used to make a drink called ‘Irag.’ The milk is also used in traditional Mongolian dishes. It is difficult for them to grow fruit and vegetables so the milk is their only source of Vitamin C. In the summer, the horses are milked every two hours (up to six times a day) and this is only done by the women.
In the western society horses are taken care of and kept secure in fenced fields and stables, but in Mongolia they are merely left to leave if they wish to. They are treated with such respect by the Mongol’s, it is said, that they choose to stay.

Having a large number of horses is seen as a symbol of wealth and status amongst Mongol families. The older and quieter horses are usually ridden by the children and women. Children are also put on the backs of foals and weanlings to help break them in for work. Some Mongol’s tie the foals to a line where their toddlers can help ready them for human interaction. Many of them are herded from birth so that when it comes to riding them, the process is sped up. Despite this, they are still considered to be free and wild animals which could be why the riding style varies greatly from western horses. Mongolians do not expect to have complete control over the animals, and put their trust in them to complete tasks themselves. This is why westerners who ride Mongolian horses are advised beforehand to not expect full control over them as this will result in the horses rebelling.

The worst of its kind

As Zika virus continues to spread on a global scale, more is revealed about the insect responsible.
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Meet Aedus.
It is the mosquito responsible for spreading the latest outbreak, known as Zika virus. It was named by German entomologist Johann Wilhelm Meigen after the Greek word meaning ‘odius’ or ‘unpleasant,’ a fitting name given to the breed of mosquito known for its spreading of disease. They used to only be found in hot climate continents such as Africa and Asia but they are now found in all continents around the world apart from the Antarctica, due to its freezing conditions.
It has been said that the mosquito was originally a forest specimen that had over time, adapted itself to rural and suburban, human environments.

They have recently come to attention since the outbreak of Zika virus in 2015. The virus was first discovered in Africa in 1947 and has since spread on a global scale because of Aedus mosquitoes. It was thought that the increase of the species in different parts of the world was aided through the fault of human activity in the international trade of used tyres. The mosquitoes lay their eggs on objects such as these and the eggs are then able to withstand very dry conditions, without water. Aedus can also undergo a period of delayed development known as diapause during the winter time ensuring their chances of survival.

They are distinguishable from other breeds of mosquito on sight due to their black and white markings which cover their body and legs. Another difference between them and other strands of the insect is that they are only active during the day time, unlike other mosquitoes which are mainly found at night. They are thought to be most active during the morning and evening just before it starts to get dark.
This genus of mosquito does not just consist of only one kind however; there are over 700 hundred different types of Aedus that carry a variety of diseases. Two of the most well known species of this kind are Aedus Aegypti and Aeudus Albopictus. They are responsible for carrying viruses that can cause dengue fever, yellow fever, West Nile fever, chikungunya, eastern equine encephalitis, Zika virus and various others which are less notable.

These types of mosquitoes can be monitored through the use of ovitraps which is a device that was originally invented to monitor the Aedus, in order to get an insight into their breeding patterns and to study their eggs. They are now also used to detect early signs of diseases, in hope of preventing further outbreaks. They also give an insight into the hotspots of the Aedus breeding locations allowing people to know where they are in danger of high infestation of the species. Since the creation of the invention there are now lethal ovitraps which are used to kill the larvae and adult mosquitoes that enter.

To prevent catching any diseases which are spread by the Aedus mosquito, people are being advised to use insect repellent containing DEET, to wear loose fitted clothing that covers the arms and legs and to sleep under a mosquito net when travelling to high risk areas.