I heart NYC

Just got back from NYC and it was great! Having said that, I hope my NY friends will forgive me but I have to say the city didn’t wow me as much as Chicago did. Perhaps I expected less from Chicago…

What exceeded my expectations: the food and the people

What failed to live up to expectations: the Rockefeller Center, particular the Christmas tree, which I had always wanted to see

I’ll write more about the trip later but for now I’ll leave you with a few pictures. I’ll add some caption to the pictures later… Click on the picture to view the slideshow. Déa e Ana: podem baixar as nossas fotos do flickr

Busy day in Madrid

After four weeks in Spain, we began our journey home early wednesday morning (June 18th) when we left the house at 7 AM to catch the 8:30 AVE to Madrid. The plan was to stay overnight in Madrid and catch the new Air Canada flight to Toronto. Although we don’t know Madrid very well – the weather prevented us from really enjoying the place last time we were there – we had quite the day meeting friends.
We arrived at 11:15 in Madrid and after checking in at our hotel, we went off exploring. The weather was much nicer than in our previous visit (a sunny 20 C) and we wandered the narrow streets of the Huertas (aka Barrio de las Letras) and the Plaza Mayor. For lunch, we took advantage of the tradition in this part of Spain of the tapeo – which basically consists of ordering a drink to get a free tapa at local bars and cervecerias. Luckily, in Madrid one can get a free tapa by ordering a very small glass of beer (a caña), smaller than a half pint. Here are some random pictures of our wanderings:

Click here for slideshow

After a short nap, we went off to Atocha station to meet a friend from the blogosphere – Erin, the wandering woman. I was so happy to be able to meet her in Spain, a place we both like so much. Erin is a true free spirit and it was so easy to wile away the afternoon in a shady spot of Plaza Santa Ana, hearing about her exciting plans for the future and her experiences on the camino de Santiago.

After accompanying Erin back to the train station, we visited the memorial for the victims of the 2004 Madrid bombings. Hundreds died when bombs were simultaneously detonated in commuter trains arriving at Atocha station and last year a memorial was inaugurated to remember the victims. It is quite a moving site. You can see a picture of it in the slideshow above.

After resting a bit at the hotel, we met Mireia, a friend from Barcelona who is in Madrid on business, her colleague Lydia, and Yaniré, a Chilean we met in Barcelona who has since moved to Madrid after marrying her long-time madrileño boyfriend. It was great seeing Yaniré again after over a year. We had tapas and beer at a local bar until past 1 AM and it was a great end to our month in Spain. We have no idea when we will be back since I have decided not to make any travel plans until I’m finished my dissertation. But I’m finally mentally ready to get it over with so hopefully I can finish within the next 12 months.

Butte aux Cailles

Butte aux caillesThe Butte aux Cailles started out as a working-class village that sprang to house the workers of the factories that used to dot the 13th arrondissement. It was one of the last strongholds of the Paris Commune revolt in 1871 and was largely untouched by the Haussmanian remake of Paris into the city we know today. Today, the neighbourhood has both a Bohemian flair, with its neat boutiques and bars – with nary a chain store in sight – and a small village feel, with its narrow streets dotted with children playing. Best of all, the crowds of tourists and the multilingual menus advertising steak frites and onion soup seem to have stayed in the Quartier Latin.
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One day in Paris

We arrived last night in Barcelona and I have a lot to say about the trip in general, but for now, I’ll leave you with the pictures of our lovely spring day in Paris. After a nice lunch at Chez Janou, near Place des Vosges, we spent the afternoon and evening exploring the lovely neighbouhood of Buttes aux Cailles. It reminded me a lot of Gracia, our favourite spot in Barcelona. A village within a city… Just click on the picture below for the slideshow:

slideshow here

At the airport…

Alan and I usually joke that whenever we try to be late, we get there even earlier. This morning we lingered in bed listening to the radio. I finally got up around 8:30, had a shower, had breakfast and then looked for something to do to fill in the time. The bags had been packed the day before so there wasn’t really much to do about that. So I decided to tackle my desk. Every inch of the desk was covered with foot-high piles of paper; it sounded like something that could keep me entertained a good chuck of the morning. I was right. It took me a good hour and a half to re-organize the desk. We then went out for coffee and lingered reading the papers. We came back home, I cleaned the fridge of anything that wouldn’t last a month, we threw out the garbage and then we sort of sat around killing time. Finally, Alan turned to me and said “What do you want to do? Should we go?” I said, “sure” and we got ready and left. At 3:30 PM we were sitting by our departure gate and our flight is not till 8 pm (!). But that’s ok, we have wireless internet and a good people-watching spot. We both love to watch people at the airport and would rather wait by the gate than at home… Next stop: Paris!

PS: why is it that when you have all the time in the world to get somewhere, you make all your connection flawlessly? We got to the wellesley subway station  and the train pulled in immediately. The same happened when we connected to the Bloor line. At Kipling station, where the bus can take at least 20 mins to show up, it pulled in as soon as we hit the stop… sigh…

Packing the Aeronaut

As promised, here are some shots of how I packed my Tom Bihn Aeronaut for my one-month trip to Europe (1 night in Paris, about 25 days in Barcelona, 3 nights in Segovia, 1 night in Madrid). Before you all commend me for doing what seems impossible, let me just say that I’m not following the rules for traveling light as closely as I probably should. Most packing lists for clothes list about 4 bottoms and about 5-8 tops. I have way more, here’s a list of the clothes I’m bringing:Aeronaut

  • 2 skirts (I intend to buy another one there)
  • 1 dress
  • 2 pairs cropped pants
  • 1 pair casual pants
  • cropped yoga pants
  • about 14 tops (!) which includes 2 long-sleeves t-shirts, 2 short-sleeves shirts, 2 polo shirts, 3 t-shirts, 4 sleeveless tops, 1 sweater.
  • 1 bikini
  • assorted underwear and socks
  • 4 pairs of shoes (that breaks all the rules of traveling light) – 1 pair of Teva sandals, 1 pair of sporty Keen hiking sandals, 1 pair flip flops, 1 pair converse shoes

All of that fit very loosely in my Aeronaut. I used two large packing cubes and put all the tops in one and all the bottoms (except bulkier pants) plus underwear in the other. This is how I packed:

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Carry-on travel

I was asked on the post below to share how I manage to travel without checking any bags. I thought it might be useful to share what I have done to date and what are some of the things I’ll be doing differently in the future. So I boiled it down to a few points:

1. Make a list of the clothes and shoes you want to bring. When I don’t make a list, I tend to bring more. I think the list makes you a bit more aware of the sheer quantity of things (will you really need four different bathing suits or three pairs of jeans?)

2. Make sure every piece of clothing go with every other piece. That’s a basic rule for traveling light. It allows you to maximize the number of outfit combinations you can make.

3. Don’t bring things you might use. We are not talking about trips to the middle of the jungle here. If you think there might be a chance that perhaps an extra party dress could possibly come in handy, maybe, then don’t bring it. Chances are you won’t need it and if you really do, you have an excuse to buy something new.

4. Think in terms of volume. I often don’t bring a particular piece of clothing or a pair of shoes if it is too bulky and would take too much space. If you really must bring your hiking boots, then wear it on your way down. And consider yourself lucky that you have that option because when Alan and I travel, we have to wear business casual clothes and shoes that we know will be useless where we are going, and have to stuff our hiking shoes, which take a lot of room, into our suitcases. The joys of traveling as an employee.

5. Choose a good carry on set of luggage. We did zero research on this. We simply bought a set of Air Canada carry-on suitcase with the matching bag that goes on top. Something like this:

suitcasetote

6. Pack it systematically. My basic system is simple: since the bottom of the suitcase is sort of uneven because of the pull out handle, I stuff socks, underwear, bathing suits, anything that fits between the ridges. I then put any pants with their ends (the waist part) lined up against the top of the suitcase and the legs hanging out the other end. I put the next pair of pants on the opposite direction. Once that is done, I roll each tshirt or top in very tight rolls, which I line up on top of the pants. I usually have one or two layers of these (which is a LOT of tops – I can often have way more than 10 tops in my suitcase). People who swear that rolling method keeps their clothes wrinkle-free say you should rolls more than one piece together; I don’t really do that. I basically do it so I can fit more clothes; it works well. But I tend to roll only lighter clothes. Once I have my layer of rolled clothes, I fold the legs of the pants on top of them and I add any other bottom or thicker clothes on top (like a pair of shorts, a sweater, etc) and then I fastened the straps inside the suitcase and pull them tight. I can usually fit one or two pairs of shoes on the space at the corners. I then use the other bag to bring gifts, any shoes that didn’t fit on the first bag, toiletries, hair drier, etc.

I think the longest trip I took with this system was about three and a half weeks but could easily have spent a couple of months since I didn’t wear half of what I brought with me. Honestly, I do think I carry a LOT of stuff on those two bags. You would be surprised.

So, as I mentioned below, my goal is to trim down from that system to one in which I can only use one bag. I’m hopeful that it will be possible after I found out that hard suitcases with wheels have half the volume and twice the weight of soft bags like the one I ordered below. So it might be possible to trim down without giving up on too much. We’ll see. But here’s how a family was able to go around the world on 7 kg of carry-on luggage each. Courtesy of One Bag One World blog.

Aeronaut on its way…

AeronautRemember what I said about one-bag travel? Well, I’m determined to use only one carry on bag on my trip to Europe next month, and to make that possible, I’ve taken the first step: I’ve ordered a soft bag to replace my roller. After months of research, I’ve settled on the Tom Bihn Aeronaut. From everything I read, the bag looks well designed, made of the best material, and is light and well balanced. I’ve also picked up a few packing cubes and the much-praised Absolute Strap. For those of you who have had your luggage misplaced by an airline way too many times, I shall be documenting my packing techniques and how one-bag traveling worked for me. Trust me, once you go carry on, you can never go back to checked luggage.

Update:

I got my Aeronaut today! It’s Friday, April 25th and I’m really impressed with how fast the Tom Bihn folks ship things. The store is in Seattle and depending on when I place my order, I have it on the next day or the day after. Pretty impressive. I really liked the bag. It looks very well made, the parts are really high quality. I’ll place some pictures up when I start packing it.

Back from Montreal

Things I love about Montreal:

  1. The endless number of independent cafés where I can have a decent espresso-based coffee that doesn’t come in half-litre sizes
  2. The food, ah the food… it is hard to explain. Toronto has countless restaurants, many of which are very good. But in Montreal food just seem to taste better, have a certain je-ne-sais-quois… It’s all in the little details – they add herbs to home fries, breakfast plates often come with copious amounts of fresh fruit, and presentation is rarely neglected…
  3. Speaking French. I first took French lessons when I was 15 years old and fell in love with the language. Even though I lived my life mostly in English when I lived in Montreal, I enjoyed hearing French on a daily basis…
  4. The weather – it was colder but whiter and brighter. I love it.
  5. The shopping – sooo many affordable independent boutiques!

The weekend felt rushed; there was much to see and many people to visit! We took our friend Janine so some of the time was spent taking her to different parts of the city. I also took the opportunity to meet some online friends for the first time (Stella and Pancha, I had an AMAZING time!) and reconnect with another online friend, who took us to sample one of the best poutines in the province (thank you, Fachin!).

I promise I’ll upload some pictures soon enough although I have to warn you that this time I didn’t really take that many pictures…

Here are some of the pictures:

Montreal December