South East Asia: New adventures! by Jessica Lee

Biking around Koh Chang, Thailand

Biking around Koh Chang, Thailand

They say with every closed door, a new one opens. And to be honest, I couldn't wait for this aforementioned door to shut fast enough. I've been wanting to do this South East Asia trip since 2012 and each time, something was in the way. But now it's finally happening. I've been in Thailand for the last couple of days and can't wait to see more of the world and take some photos too.

I've been updating Instagram the most often, and you can follow along on my adventures from there.

Things I learned in 2015 by Jessica Lee

San Diego, U.S.A.

San Diego, U.S.A.

I began January 2015 in San Diego, California, a place where I realized I was at the happiest in my 20’s. It was a big gamble to go to California for a month at this time because though I knew I needed a break from the Winter in Canada, I still wanted and needed to hold on to my job in Montreal and also I needed to watch my budget. However, the sunshine, break and change of lifestyle was exactly what I needed to refresh myself to get ready for the rest of 2015.

San Diego also taught me a lot about myself and my resiliency, as the second day of my stay there, my wallet mysteriously disappeared. 2015 was a year of great breakthroughs, adventure and double-takes. I got published for the first time in the Toronto Star and made it to Canadian Press’ freelance photographer’s list. I spent a grand total of 59 days this year on the road when I wasn’t in Toronto or Montreal. There were so many good times and laughter, but also a few tough moments, which is where the learning comes in.

This is what I learned in 2015:

1. How to say no to things
Learning to say ‘no’ to multiple projects or people was one of the most difficult things I learned to do this year. It felt odd and there was a tension within myself. But to make room for bigger and better things, sometimes you just have to say no to projects that don’t pay enough or people who don’t respect your time or situations that drain you emotionally. Because I said no to some projects and contracts, I was able to say yes to spontaneous road trips, shooting for McDonald's Canada and shooting for Frito-Lay.

Road trip through the States!

Road trip through the States!

2. Take things slow.
This is your life, enjoy it. As much as you’re supposed to work hard and constantly better yourself (growing up in hyper-competitive Toronto, working hard is ingrained into you), sometimes you just need to relax. After living for a year in Montreal (I moved back to Toronto this summer), I learned to adopt the carefree French attitude of enjoying life’s pleasures. Every weekend, my routine included a leisurely brunch with friends followed by tanning and reading in the park. What is the point of life if you don’t get to enjoy the beautiful moments? I once knew a guy who was hardworking and had a great job and a great salary and a great apartment, but he spent so much of his youth working, he didn't have time to develop his relationships or even go out and now in his late 20's he doesn't have anyone to enjoy his life with and even worse, his social skills are so rusty, he is having trouble finding people to spend time with him. Anyway, the point of this message is: you don't have to be working hard all the time and you should keep a balance in your life.

San Diego living :)

San Diego living :)

3. Visualize the bigger picture.
Early on in my photography/writing career I did work for free and I also devoted a large amount of time developing my own blog (which was a labour of love) but with every photo I took and every blog post I wrote, I slowly got better at what I was doing and all my work became my portfolio and ended up getting me into the door of some bigger companies. I made huge strides (Toronto Star, Canadian Press) in my freelance career this year because of all that experience. You give some away, and you get some more. Don’t get discouraged if early on in your career you have to give away some (or all) of your work for free; all of it is coming back to you in experience, just remember to look at the bigger picture.

Crete, Greece

Crete, Greece

4. How to tell the client they are wrong (respectfully and politely).
Sometimes you can do all the work the client asked for, the way they asked for it, sometimes doing it several times over and still the client isn’t happy for whatever reason. This is not your fault. Early on in our lives, we learn to make people happy, whether it is our teachers or parents; by meeting their expectations in whatever way they expect from you; or at your first job where you’re told the customer is always right. Yet as you get more life experience, you realize that some people just can't be pleased, and sometimes the customer is just an unhappy person and that has nothing to do with you. The solution to this is to surround yourself with a network of other freelancers who will give you support and encouragement. 

Tanning in Montreal with fellow photographer, Dale.

Tanning in Montreal with fellow photographer, Dale.

5. How to live with little to none (this is especially useful for a freelancer)
As I mentioned earlier, this year in January, my wallet went missing on my second day in San Diego and I had to live with no money for a whole four days before my credit card, which was express-shipped, arrived in California. Through this experience (literally one of my worst fears while travelling), I learned just how little I could live with and still survive and have fun - sort of like how Evey in V For Vendetta, toughens up at the end when V put her through all that crap. The truth is, many of us have all of these built-up fears of “what if”s, but when things actually happen, we cope better than we think we can. Through the experience, I ate a lot of bread, and grumbled about being hungry, but a lot of people live with much worse. Also, a majority of people think they need a lot of money to have a great life (according to a study, after a certain point, money won't make you happier), but really it’s all about attitude, which brings me to the next point.

Friend owned the boat, so free ride :)

Friend owned the boat, so free ride :)

6. Money is just something that can be made again (spend on people you love). Earlier this year, after making a transition from working at a full-time job to being a freelance photojournalist, I lived minimally for a while – rarely going out or having dinners at restaurants. Then in March, someone I met started taking me out a bunch, spending a lot of cash on food and drinks. When I asked him why he was doing all of this, he said "money is something you can make again", which I understand more now. At the end of your life, it's much better to have memories made with people, facilitated by money, than to die with a pile of money and no fond memories.

Sailing in the Bosphorus in Istanbul with my friend Dave!

Sailing in the Bosphorus in Istanbul with my friend Dave!

7. Be patient, and wait for your moment. Earlier this year, as a newly hired contractor for a project, things at the company shifted and suddenly there was a lot more than the team could handle. It was brought up in a team meeting that there was a need for a writer who could take on a couple more assignments each week. As the new person, I wanted to jump in and show initiative, yet somehow I knew this wasn’t the right opportunity for me as I knew I wanted to focus more on my photography. There was a tension in my chest as I held my tongue and didn't volunteer - they had to hire someone else, but in the end I was glad I didn't jump in as a few weeks later, there was a need for someone with video skills, which is much closer to photography than writing. The lesson to come away with is to wait for your moment. This is true for everything else in life, if something doesn't feel right don’t feel pressured to jump into a business opportunity, buying a property or a marriage, because if it’s truly right for you, it will come again. You just need to have faith!

Old Port Montreal office space

Old Port Montreal office space

8. You don’t get anywhere if you don’t ask. Earlier this Fall, I missed my flight home from Istanbul to Toronto because there was this thing called Passport Control where before you even enter security to board your flight, you have to get in this big line where it’s a pre-screen. In my entire life of catching planes and travelling, I’ve only ever missed one flight, so I didn’t accommodate for this extra two hours of waiting before boarding. In Toronto (and other airports around the world), if you’re about to miss your flight, there are airport employees who can push you through the lines so that you don’t miss your flight, but no such thing existed in Turkey. You are on your own in this country. Anyway, as I was about to miss my flight because I was in this line, I started asking people if I could skip ahead of them. I found that many people are surprisingly accommodating if you tell them you’re about to miss your flight and will let you go ahead of them, no questions asked. Unfortunately, I did this near the end of my wait, and still ended up missing last boarding call by 10 minutes. But now I’m less hesitant about asking for things, even from strangers.

Nashville, earlier this August.

Nashville, earlier this August.

9. Photography is not real. I knew this before, but I understand more of the depth of it now. I don't mean obvious things like photoshopping pigs in the sky, but rather things like how lighting can make a picture dramatically different. Through a lot of varied photography jobs this year, where I had to make products or people look good, I learned just how much work goes into lighting or waiting for that one key moment to get a frame. There was this local politician I saw quite often day-to-day professionally, who wasn’t the best looking guy out there in the world – but that’s okay, not everyone needs to be Brad Pitt. But in a photo I saw of him, this photographer managed to make him look attractive, even slightly appealing (with no photo alterations, just good use of lighting!). This is the power of photography. Hire the best photographers you can, it's worth it! :)

Tijuana, Mexico, in January

Tijuana, Mexico, in January

10. The gifts you receive aren’t really because you deserve them but because the people you know are AWESOME, big-hearted and generous. This year, I’ve been blessed by so many delicious treats, great meals and fantastic experiences. A lot of it was the plain luck of having the right people in my life or meeting the right people (like when I met my friend Alek who gave me an unforgettable motorcycle ride through San Francisco up to Hawk Hill, with sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge), but then there are the times when you try to give back to people who gave to you first and they end up giving you even more. And then there are things you receive which you just can't ever repay (like photography advice that ends with you getting published in Rock and Ice), so you just learn to be grateful and try to give back to the world in some other way. What I am trying to say here is that I'm really grateful for everyone who has contributed in some way to my life this year, so thank you.

Dave and I in Istanbul, Turkey

Dave and I in Istanbul, Turkey

*Bonus*: Always consider opportunity cost! This year, I found a cheap flight from Oslo, Norway to Crete, Greece. It was $53, what a steal! But what I didn't consider was that the flight time, 6 am, meant that I wouldn't sleep all night and would arrive to Greece sleep-deprived and cranky. It also cost $53 for the bus to the further airport in Oslo that this flight operated from. So if you see something that looks like a good deal, always consider the other factors.

Here's to an even more awesome 2016! Stay adventurous!

Alek and I on Hawk Hill, San Francisco

Alek and I on Hawk Hill, San Francisco

Au revoir Montreal, hello new adventures! by Jessica Lee

I recently came across a journal entry from two years ago. In 2013, I had been travelling in and out of Montreal for work when I was in public relations and communications.

During those weeklong trips, I spent time on St. Denis and St. Laurent street, and St. Catherine of course, but time seemed so fleeting. My dream back then was to live in Montreal for six months to get the "wake-up and casually walk down to the coffee shop/patisserie" experience.

I want to wake up, stroll down to a local bakery/patisserie, order a fresh, hot croissant, sip my coffee and read the news in French. Then I would call up my French boyfriend and we would have lunch together. After that, he would go back to work and I would go back to my coffee shop work. We would cook a nice meal at home over wine and call it a night.

It's done. I've been in Montreal for over a year now and I found out Montreal is more than just stereotypical French lovers and cafes. 

I am trying to synthesize my collective experience of a year and a little bit more in Montreal into a blog post, but it's difficult, so I'll just share my favourite memories.

I lived in cafes for the year, no doubt. Cafe-life is a part of me which will never change. I will continually enjoy the smell of coffee, the stillness of a relaxed work-space and the carefully curated design of cafes. Montreal did cafes well. As a freelancer, I spent a majority of my time in Montreal with the other freelancers, busily typing into a laptop and occasionally looking up at life.

But if you were to ask about Montreal outside of coffee, I would tell you about the times I biked down that big hill on rue Berri on my way to rock climbing at Allez Up in the Fall, seeing the faces of the sweating, struggling cyclists going uphill, knowing that would be me on the way back. And on that bike ride down, if I could catch all the green lights on the way, I knew it was going to be a good day. 

As I got along further, while biking on Canal Lachine in the middle of the day on Wednesday at 2 pm, there would be impeccably-dressed hipster-chic office folk, sitting with a picnic spread out on the grass facing the water like there they were done work for the day or as if there were better things to in life than to spend it all working - they were probably right.

There were the times biking to lesser-frequented parts of the city in search for new work space, and discovering gems. Verdun. St. Henri. Wellington. That time I spent a weekend on the balcony reading at a friend's apartment on a quiet residential street and listening to the sounds of a French child's birthday party down below. Little joyous moments like these characterize my stay in Montreal. The experience was much more though, these are just fragments.

I remember endless afternoons lying in the sun in Park Lafontaine or Mount Royal, sometimes with friends and sometimes with a book. Many times, with both. Afterwards, we would all cook together and enjoy each other's company.

Then there were the "barely-surviving but glad to be alive" days. Cold Winter nights shivering back to my apartment on Bishop street after a movie at the Forum. Trying to cross the street in the Winter but finding the snowbanks are too high. 3 am poutines after a night out dancing. Quiet nights in the summer on balconies with friends, pondering about our futures while sipping wine. Terribly awkward French parties when you find you're the only Anglophone there.

I never got to visit all of the breakfast restaurants I wanted to go to. There was also a 90's music dance club I never managed to drag friends too. And maybe the next time I step into Montreal, the businesses will be gone, the rising rent driving out tenants, or things would have changed so dramatically they wouldn't be the same.

But nothing ever is. The very last week of my time in Montreal, I discovered a cute, little tea shop just a five minute walk from my apartment. I met a new group of people I knew I could be close friends with, but there never was enough time to let those friendships blossom. C'est la vie. Life is full of goodbyes and hello agains. There will be other times. There will be other people. Always. But this is what I have, these are the memories of Montreal which I hold in my heart.

If you ever visit Montreal and walk down the same streets I did, frequent the same cafes and bars I did -  please know, I lived here. I had some of the best times of my life here. It was fantastic. But I had to leave because there is so much more of the world out there, more memories to make, more strangers who might become close friends. I just have to go out and open myself to the world. I know if I do, it will give back to me.

Photos of me by Dale Tidy

Photos: Climbing in Mont Orford, Magog and Sherbrooke ...and Washington D.C. by Jessica Lee

Now that it's pretty much summer, I felt it would be appropriate to finally put these photos up from last fall.

My friend Olivier who lives in Washington D.C. got a few days off work and drove home to visit his family in Magog, Quebec, for Canadian Thanksgiving. Along the way, he picked me up from Montreal.

Upon hiking into the forest, we came upon a French family with small children, pointing at a tree. They had spotted a porcupine.

I've never come across a porcupine in person before, but from this experience, I can tell you that they are very slow-moving, and relatively easy to photograph because of this. You just have to make sure to get them to face the camera.

We spent the rest of the day bouldering in the area, then packed up and headed to explore Magog.

We did a quick walk-through of Magog, then headed in for the night.

To be honest, I don't think I would ever visit Magog or Sherbrooke on my own if not for Olivier.

Both are charming little towns great for raising families, and if you'd like slower pace of life. What really struck me though, was meeting and being welcomed in by Olivier's family, and listening to their stories of living on a farm, being in the country and harvesting maple syrup (they own a few acres of sugar bushes). We ate turkey with all the trimmings, and I listened to the struggles of living on a farm from Olivier's brother and sister-in-law. This is stuff people pay for when they go on cabane a sucre tours, but here I was, getting to experience all of this just because I was a friend.

I think the most endearing thing to me was how Olivier's brother explained to his young children (under five) where the turkey came from. It was one of the turkeys on the farm and the children noticed the day before that one of the turkeys had gone missing. The children were the cutest things in the world when they played and it broke my heart that Olivier was working away in another city while his niece and nephew were growing up.

I should explain how I first met Olivier. We met when I couchsurfed in his home in Washington D.C. with another friend in the summer.

Many people are averse to welcoming strangers into their home and also staying in a stranger's house, but by being open, I got to experience this weekend in Magog and Sherbrooke; and also gained a new friend.

The next day, we woke up early to go canoeing, a popular outdoor Canadian pastime.

We spotted more wild life including a crane, which we followed around the lake while I took photos.

The weekend ended and Olivier had to go back to work in Washington. He offered to host me again in Washington D.C., and because I can't seem to turn down road trip offers, I went along for the 9 hour drive.

This brief trip gave me sunshine and the opportunity to finish browsing museums I didn't have enough time for the first time around.

Photos: Quebec City part 2 and Montmorency Falls by Jessica Lee

I will let you in on a little secret. This isn't my first time visiting Quebec City. It's actually my third time.

The first time I was here was on a school field trip in grade 8- 10 years ago. I remember little bits and pieces; but mostly, I enjoy looking back in fondness, walking the same spots I walked 10 years ago and seeing how much I've grown and changed.

My priorities as a 13-year-old and now as a 23-year-old are dramatically different. I didn't get to see most of Quebec City last time because I spent a disproportionate amount of my free time shopping in the stores. 

I still love looking at cool stuff, but these days, I've committed to minimalism (having as little stuff as possible to enjoy my day), and since I've been to so many touristy places, I don't get sucked into the traps anymore.

These days, I like to experience the vibe of a destination, enjoy the food and admire the architecture. Maybe meet a local while I'm at it. I'm all about slow travel. Sometimes, I will sit down at a beautiful view for hours, or spend my day at a cafe reading a book.

We went as slowly as we could through Quebec City, given that we didn't have a lot of time. We wandered the city, headed to the Plains of Abraham, La Citadelle, and the most photographed hotel in the world, Chateau Frontenac. We stopped for ice cream and a beavertail, which is a Canadian fried dough pastry that is absolutely delicious and one of my guilty pleasures. Later, we drove to Montmorency Falls and topped off our trip with a little shopping at Simons, a Quebec department store.

This is me trying to recreate an old photo from the top of the Plains of Abraham where Britain and France fought years ago and ended up creating Canada. Not that they had cameras in 1759, nor that many buildings in the background, or even concrete. But it's really cool to know that you're standing at a place with so much important history.

The view from the top of the hill is also easy on the eyes in an understated way.

Back in the Old City, I tried to capture scenes of the city. This is what Quebec City looks like on a summer's day in 2014. Leisurely, relaxed, but full of bustling tourist energy.

Chemin du Roy/Quebec City Part 1 by Jessica Lee

I took a little road trip from Montreal to Quebec City with Mike and Anik, two friends I met last summer in Saskatoon. Together, our stories are weaved throughout Canada. Mike is originally from Winnipeg, but now both of them live in Toronto. They drove down for a weekend to come visit me in Montreal and to tour the province. All of us would not have met if not for the fates that brought us all to Saskatoon. Mike was finishing his Masters degree at University of Saskatoon, and Anik and I were part of a Canadian Heritage program (aka government-funded French exchange), which happened to give both of us our last choice in destination. Luckily, we both still decided to do the program.

Lately, I've been thinking about how small the world seems when you know a bunch of people from different places. I found out recently that a friend from Europe whom I met in Toronto met this girl in Asia whom I was about to meet in another city in Canada. It's not like I know a large portion of the world's population- it's just likely coincidences (we're all travellers, we're all social and we're all in the same age demographic; we were bound to bump into each other on the road at some point). Anyway, I digress, back to the trip.

We drove to Quebec City from Montreal on Chemin du Roy, which is a beautiful winding country road that leads to beaches like this:

And views like this:

We arrived in Quebec City after a few hours, just before the sun set.

It gave the boys time to wander around the old Quebec City before dinner, while I enjoyed a gypsy jazz busker band we stumbled upon.

I've always loved jazz music. Every summer in Toronto, I would go to the jazz festivals, some summers, I attended every night. When I first moved to Montreal, the jazz festival was taking place and I went as often as I could. But of course, the jazz festival stopped after two weeks, so I love random treats like this!

Here is a snapshot of what the touristy part of Quebec City looks like:

The architecture and small streets are gorgeous aren't they?

It definitely takes me back to Paris or even Bruges. One day I would like to live in a city like this with a balcony overlooking one of the busy streets, but instead of clothing stores, it would be a residential neighbourhood. On the street I would live on, there would be a cheese shop, a small grocery store, cafe and also a bakery. Further along the road, there would be a cinema and some restaurants. I would own a bike with a basket, and not much else. I'm going to stop here. I'm starting to realize this city I'm describing sounds a lot like Lund, Sweden.

We had dinner at Le Lapin Sauté because rabbit is a French delicacy and you just can't eat hamburgers and salad everywhere you go. To really experience a place, you have to experience their food too, even if it sometimes makes you queasy. I ordered the rabbit with rosemary and honey sauce, which actually tasted like chicken, but at least now I know. The only other time I've had rabbit was in Indonesia two years ago, where it was grilled with satay sauce.

After dinner, it started to rain heavily, which sounds terrible, but actually, it's perfect for photography because when people leave and duck to find shelter, you end up with empty streets without anyone jumping into your shots. I stuck around and grabbed a few photos, then we turned in for the night.

Calgary is not for cowards by Jessica Lee

I met up with my friend Conrad in Calgary, Alberta, and proceeded to explore the city.

After a hearty breakfast at a local joint, our first stop was grabbing coffees from Phil & Sebastian Coffee Roasters, which is a local chain in Calgary. I had been involved in the background with the Canadian Barista Championships since 2011 and had wanted to try a cappuccino made by the the 2012 National champion, Jeremy Ho, who works there.

Unfortunately, we didn't find out which location he was working at, but the cappuccino I had that day was still pretty good.

I also really enjoyed the interior design inside. 

Sometimes, people will say that the design of a restaurant doesn't matter because the food should be the focus, but I don't think it's true. I believe that atmosphere changes your whole experience of how you perceive your coffee. Many times, I will revisit a favourite coffee shop because I enjoyed my experience sitting inside, rather than because I really liked the coffee. There's a whole science behind the marketing of coffee, which some companies such as Starbucks has managed to figure out (enough for a whole other blog post!)

After our caffeine fix, we went to Calgary's Olympic Park. I had been wanting to go to the park for some time now, after first seeing the ski jump from the highway while driving by on my trip to Banff, then hearing about the park through colleagues.

Besides being the place to go to for adrenaline-pumping activities such as bobsledding, mountain biking, luge or ziplining, Calgary's Olympic Park is also the training ground for serious Canadian Olympic athletes. The bus driver who drove us to the activity spots is actually an Olympic coach in the winter time, but passes his time during the summer by driving tourists around.

We decided to go down the zipline, which is the fastest in North America (140 km/hr), and then do a bobsled ride.

The zipline is at the top of the ski jump, which really freaked me out not because I'm scared of heights- but because I'm afraid of the feeling of falling. I definitely am not the type that does well on roller coasters.

Conrad said he doesn't like the feeling of falling either, but he says doesn't think about his fear and just does whatever he needs to do, which is how he's able to do so many things. And so, I didn't think about my fear of falling and jumped. For the first time, falling felt fantastic.

I plan to adopt Conrad's theory of "doing" rather than over thinking everything. Maybe one day I will become fearless!

We then headed up to the bobsled track. I wasn't too worried about bobsledding after having just experienced the zipline.

Since there wasn't snow, which is usually how bobsledding is done, they had wheels on the bobsled. The speeds we went were the same as if there was ice, just a little bumpier. We had a driver go down the track with us, and he was responsible for all the turns and for making sure accidents didn't happen.

The G-force on the ride down was incredible (4G forces and 100/km/hr). It didn't feel like pain, but it wasn't entirely comfortable either. I was just glad when it was over. Afterwards, I chatted with the driver and he said he wasn't able to drive bobsleds every day because of all the G-force, which is bad for one's body. It's interesting what sacrifices people will make for a fun, adrenaline-inducing job; or even for a sport. It's definitely a big commitment.

West Edmonton Mall through photos by Jessica Lee

After work on Friday, Josh and I headed to the West Edmonton Mall, a monstrosity of fun and contagious consumerism.

I'd been previously when I was young and remembered it as exhaustingly huge. It took forever to just to walk to everywhere I wanted to go.

This time though, we only did a cursory walk through the mall because we had an agenda. We planned to go to the water park. (Yes, there is a water park in the mall.)

First though, a stop at the skating rink:

I've seen skating rinks in malls throughout Asia, so this is nothing new. It's still nice to have though.

What makes West Edmonton Mall stand out is that it used to be the largest mall in the world up until 2004. It's still the largest mall in North America and here is what it has going for it:

Here's a snapshot of what a section of the mall looks like:

The above photo looks pretty normal until you factor in that there is a grocery store in the background (T&T). Still lots of malls have grocery stores attached to it.

But they probably don't have ropes courses:

Or a giant water park with a wave pool.

This was some sea world-esque amusement in the middle of the mall.

Here is a penguin show being put on.

Here is a seal. By the way, I really liked the environmentally-friendly natural lighting. Great touch by the architects.

And here is the rest of the marine park.

Next, we headed to Galaxy Land just to browse.

There was a kids section and one with bigger roller coasters. It was pretty impressive to see massive roller coasters just run around the space. It kind of reminded me of a smaller-scale version of Las Vegas, where you have roller coasters spiralling around hotels.

This is the biggest roller coaster in the joint. We watched people get on and get off the roller coaster. It sounds terrible, but their facial expressions were our entertainment.

We finally made it to the water park, which is definitely the best way to spend a Friday evening unwinding.

Here is the wave pool:

And the water slides. If you can see, there is a purple water slide which does a loop. I'd never seen anything like it before and was keen to try it.

That is, until I saw how steep the initial drop was.

Basically, they put you into this upright chamber, the door locks and the attendant presses a button which causes the floor to disappear, allowing gravity to help you gain speed. If you watch a clip of it on Youtube, the whole thing is over in a matter of 10 seconds, but I just wasn't feeling very adventurous that day I suppose. There's always next time.

Here's another photo of all the water slides. We did go on most of them.

Also really cool was the zip line that went over the water park.

And a final photo of the park.

We finished the day with a selection of the mall's finest restaurants. There was Hooters, a dueling piano bar (was really tempted to go), the Old Spaghetti Factory and your typical chain pubs. We went with Hudson's Steakhouse because they don't have that in Toronto yet.

We didn't check out the golf course or the skatepark, the bowling alley, shooting range, the cinemas or either of the hotels attached to the mall, but of course there just wasn't enough time. When doing anything, you have to set priorities.

Road trip to Banff by Jessica Lee

Like most people, I have to go to work on weekdays. Luckily for me, since I have a cool day job which involves travel, a road trip to Banff constitutes as work.

This was my Wednesday.

I went with one of my colleagues, Andrea, who lived in the area and showed me around.

The drive from Edmonton to Banff was just gorgeous. As we went along, the mountains got bigger and bigger.

Until we were right in the thick of it.

I had been to Banff previously as child but I don't particularly remember the feeling of being in the middle of the mountains.

It's absolutely overwhelming and for lack of a non-cliche term, "breath-taking".

I had been talkative during the whole car-ride up until this point when my senses started getting overwhelmed and I needed to just sit and take it all in. It's sort of like when you get tired from learning a new language, or exhausted from being in a new culture.

It was absolutely beautiful, regardless.

We eventually arrived in Canmore, where my friend Dan had worked for a summer, planting trees. Every time I was with him, inevitably, he would speak about that summer planting trees in Canmore. I suppose that was a defining summer for him to the person he is today. I had never been previously, but it was nice to put a picture to his stories finally.

Driving by Canmore was quite nice and I began to wonder what it would be like if I spent a summer living in the mountains....

We eventually arrived in the town of Banff, which was touristy, but lovely all the same. The cliffs in the background really give the town some character.

Below is Bow River.

It was really cool to finally see this river in person. I work as the social media manager for Outdoor Photography Canada, and one of my jobs includes curating good photos to feature on our social media profiles. A popular outdoor photography destination obviously is Banff, but the Bow River pops up from time to time too.

Here it is again, absolutely gorgeous.

We wandered into the town and stumbled upon the Farmer's Market.

I love farmer's markets and every time I go into a town/city, a main draw for me is if they have a market. So far, the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto is my favourite. But if you're shopping for clothes too, Glebe Market in Sydney and the Vic Market in Melbourne is great.

What was special about the Banff market wasn't the goods, but rather, the cool mountain background.

We did a quick walk around the village (very touristy, filled with boutique shops), and ended the day with a bison burger and beetroot spinach caramelized pecan salad from Saltlik Steakhouse.

On the way back, look who we encountered!

This little guy was just minding his business, eating grass.

I definitely felt like paparazzi amongst the crowd, and less like a nature photographer. It was a strange feeling.

All in all, Banff was a fantastic experience. It's a shame I didn't get to do any hikes (we were pressed for time), and that we didn't get to go camping or climbing, but regardless, I would recommend a visit to see the beautiful mountains and for the opportunity to go on a road trip.

Edmonton: Art Gallery of Alberta, aimless wandering and Muttart Conservatory by Jessica Lee

It was 7 am. I had just stumbled off of the Via Rail in Edmonton, caught a cab to my hotel and was trying to figure out what to do next.

My room wasn't ready to be checked into yet so the possibility of trying to catch some Zs was out. Luckily, I remembered my friend Josh had moved here for law school just a week ago. I pulled out my phone to see if he was up for some breakfast.

He was.

20 minutes later, we were wandering around Old Strathcona, looking for grub.

This is what the bridge from Old Strathcona to downtown looks like:

The river reminded me of Saskatoon. It is the same river after all, as Saskatchewan is right beside Alberta and the river runs through both provinces.

We arrived downtown, and Josh showed me the water fountains. Unlike most water fountains in other cities, the crowd in Edmonton likes to swim in their water fountains during the summer. It looked really fun, so we ran in too.

We were still hungry though, so we asked around for food recommendations. Note to everyone reading this. Don't go to a place called "Alberts". That is where we went and let's just say it wasn't that great.

This is cool though. I love food trucks.

We also wandered into the nearby mall

This is Edmonton's version of Toronto's "Dundas Square". Or if you're from Melbourne, "Federation Square", basically a central gathering location.

As you can see, here's another fountain.

What's really cool is that city hall is nearby too. I love the architecture and its eco-friendly design. There are public tables and I was saying to Josh how it would be a perfect study space, with its high ceilings and relatively quiet atmosphere.

Next, we ventured into another magnificently-designed building, the Alberta Art Gallery.

The insides are pretty cool too.

Here was an art installation that I found interesting. It juxtaposes a bar with a piano.

There's also a cafe on the top floor, which again would be a great study spot, or just a spot to read a book.

I'm constantly looking for places like this in Toronto, somewhere where there isn't a lot of chatter or people, but has a few souls in there to make the place alive, as quiet motivators working off to the side. For me, the perfect empty to full coffee shop patron ratio is about three to four people who are quietly working- they may occasionally start a conversation to keep things interesting.

Here is the roof of the Art Gallery of Alberta. Again, a good reading spot. Notice the patio chairs and tables in the back of this impressive art display.

They had these little ghost-shaped mirror cut-outs. Here's a photo of Josh and I.

Here's some more amazing architecture, shot from the top of the stairs at the gallery.

This is me at one of the installations. Can you spot words?

After the gallery, with no set agenda, we decided to just wander around the city on foot.

This is what the city centre/ main mall looks like. (This isn't the West Edmonton Mall, I'll show you that in a later post)

I thought the ad below looked cool, so I shot a photo of it. This is in the chinatown area.

There's also a gorgeous view of the city and river from Chinatown. This is what it looks like:

We saw a path and decided to explore. It definitely led away from the city, but I theorized that since I had walked through the prairies of Saskatoon for hours at a time earlier this summer, a walk around the neighbourhoods of Edmonton would be small potatoes. Josh was game, so onward we went.

The path led to a nice walk along the river.

You're probably looking at these photos from your computer or mobile device and thinking "oh that looks like a nice walk". Truth be told, this walk took around 2 hours. I just didn't take photos of the boring parts. It was quite nice though, and worth the while if you have a day to spend.

Here is the Saskatchewan River:

We walked by this interesting building that looked like the Louvre from the outside (with the glass pyramids) and decided to see what it was.

It was a nature conservatory.

Since it was half an hour till closing time, the nice lady at the front just let us in for free.

It was absolutely beautiful.

There were four different curations of plants with different themes.

In this particular one, the theme was around the story sword in the stone. It was so calm and peaceful, I wanted to do yoga in there. So we did (no photos, of it sorry!).

The next one was a desert-themed curation.

The below corpse flower wasn't really a flower when we arrived, because it was in its dormancy/ regrowing stage. You can view its full growth here at this link. Even though this flower was just a patch of soil when we were there, I enjoyed the story, especially when it opened on Earth Day. You can read the timeline below. Since the plant is also from Sumatra, it brought me back to my travels last year in Indonesia.

Afterwards, wandered around and stumbled upon a music festival, where we were fortunate enough to meet a lovely Albertan who drove us back near our starting point.

This is Whyte Avenue, which is the main street near University of Alberta.

We ended our day with a Southern-inspired meal at Dadeos.

I loved the retro feel of the place with its checkerboard floor and vinyl booths. They had small details on each table too:

This is what dinner looked like. Blackened catfish with jambalaya rice.

It was a wildly successful first day in Edmonton. I got back to my hotel and got ready for the next day's adventures.

She travels by train: VIA Rail, thoughts from aboard by Jessica Lee

I got on a train full of students yesterday. It’s been absolutely crazy.

I’ve been on this train for a full day and have two more days to go and I’m not quite sure I’m going to survive. The students are loud, I haven’t had much sleep and I may be catching a cold from being around so many different people. My biggest regret is not bringing a pair of pants or a thicker blanket. I always overestimate the Canadian climate and the air conditioning of trains.

We’re slowly traveling across Canada. I got on in Toronto and am going to Edmonton, Alberta where I will be following around some forest wardens for work.

I blogged about traveling through Canada by Greyhound a few months back when I went to Saskatoon, and being on this train is a reminder of how big Canada really is. We haven’t even reached Manitoba yet after a full day. This train is like being in limbo or in prison. I can’t leave because I need to get to Edmonton, but at the same time, it’s a nice escape from email and other demands of every day life.

I do hate not being able to communicate with the outside world though. There hasn’t been reception since early this morning and we haven’t had wifi since ever.

I don’t know how I feel about Edmonton. I have half a mind to get off the train in Saskatoon and finish where I left off there. But of course almost everyone I knew from there has gone back to their original homes so things would be different even if I did stop off there. The familiarity of walking across University bridge would be nice though. We used to go to movies late at night and would walk back across the Saskatchewan river in the dark and the stillness of a small town was amazing.

We’ve been passing through a lot of forest in Ontario and it’s mind-blowing to just think about all the different places I haven’t explored in my home country. It would be fun to go camping in a different spot every weekend as opposed to visiting familiar hiking trails every now and then no?

There are also a million other things I would like to do and go see, so of course this is just a dream. Life is only so short, so you have to pick and choose your experiences. And I’d rather have quality than quantity.

Can't wait to get to my destination!

Photos: Farming at University of Saskatchewan by Jessica Lee

I decided to take a walk around the university one day and discovered the farm.

Yes. University of Saskatchewan has its own farm.

You can actually smell it before you see it.

The university has an agricultural school and it's really neat because students get to experience real farming instead of just theory.

I previously studied at University of Toronto and University of Sydney, which are both schools in big metropolis areas. There were no cows on campus there.

In a way, I'm glad I ended up in Saskatoon because it's definitely a unique experience. Besides the locals, not many people can say they lived in Saskatoon. There's just no solid reason to be here. Unless you're studying mining or agriculture.

With the exciting discovery of the cows, I grabbed my friend Julia, and we decided to have a country photo shoot. I hope you enjoy the photos!

A cow licked me.

My favourite memories of Toronto by Jessica Lee

In honour of TBEX (travel blogger conference) happening this weekend (May 31st- June 2nd) in Toronto, I decided to write an entry about my hometown and my favourite memories there.

I was extremely privileged to grow up in a city where there were always big cultural events happening and lots of different niche groups where I could explore my interests with a supportive community.

My favourite things about Toronto would be:

1. We have a diverse and impressive food scene. There are literally dozens of cafes and eateries littered around the city. You can have your choice of any culture of food here.

My ideal day would consist of breakfast (caramelized banana pancakes) at Saving Grace in the west end, then a pho lunch in Chinatown, a coffee break Merchants of Green Coffee (great atmosphere) and I would finish off with either pasta at La Bruschetta near St. Clair or most of the entrees at Glow Restaurant (Don Mills) or pretty much any of the restaurants run by Mark McEwan and Oliver and Bonacini (Luma at the top of the TIFF building is fancy and great for desserts).

Here are said pancakes from Saving Grace:

The atmosphere at Merchants of Green Coffee:

Desserts at Luma:

For a comprehensive list and photographs of dining places I recommend in Toronto, follow my Twitpic account here. Or alternatively, feel free to message me at @jessicaology for specialized recommendations.

2. My second favourite thing about Toronto is its festivals.

Since I love jazz music, the Beaches Jazz Festival which takes place around July is my favourite.

It's a lovely atmosphere where bands play on the street and you go and dance with your friends. It's completely free.

This is what it looks like, but the lead photo represents the feeling.

This is Buskerfest, which happens at the end of summer.

It's a gathering of international buskers (singers, street performers, acrobats) and it's a free event.

This is Nuit Blanche, which is also free and takes place at the beginning of October. It's an all-night arts festival which aims to promote artists and to stimulate the minds of attenders. But really, it's fun to just hang out with your friends and do novel activities such as watching these performances and wandering into random buildings which are usually closed off.

One of my favourite instalments took place in the film building beside OCAD where they played an old silent Max Weber film and had a live pianist accompany it. It was like the 1930s! Isn't it strange how surround sound is supposedly an improvement to film but watching a retro film is now a treat for me?

3. Neighbourhoods

Toronto has many diverse and fun neighbourhoods to explore.

Here are my favourites:


Harbourfront is a lovely place to hang out with friends or with a date. During the summer they hold free swing dances with a live band down by the Harbourfront Centre and during winter, there is free skating. It is a great place to watch the sun set or to go for a walk.

Here is another photo:

Other neighbourhoods you should check out that I don't have photos of include:

A) Kensington Market/Chinatown
This is a hip neighbourhood with great patios for the summer. Back in high school, I used to love Kensington Market because I was going through a hippie stage and I loved the vintage t-shirts I could pick up in one of the many vintage stores there. Nowadays, I hang out in Kensington during Pedestrian Sundays, where they close off the road in the summer. It's a great place for cheap food, meeting artsy people, eating on a patio and of course, vintage shopping. Wear: a flower in your hair and dreadlocks.

B) Yorkville
Back in high school, I used to love Kensington Market because I was going through a hippie stage and I loved the vintage t-shirts I could pick up in one of the many vintage stores there. Nowadays, I hang out in Kensington during Pedestrian Sundays, where they close off the road in the summer. It's a great place for cheap food, meeting artsy people, eating on a patio and of course, vintage shopping. Wear: a flower in your hair and dreadlocks.

C) Queen Street West (for edgy shopping and fashion)

D) Distillery District
The Distillery District is a really nice, classy place, great for romantic walks at night (they have cobblestone roads), or ice cream breaks during the day.

I lied, I actually have a photo of the Distillery District. Here I am with my friend Josh and his sister during the Christmas Market festival in December.

I also feel like I should mention Roncesvalles (little Poland) and Little Italy because both of these neighbourhoods are fun to walk through and explore. There are many little cafes and eateries to discover and lots of boutiques to shop at.

While you're in town, you should also see which bands are playing shows. Since Toronto is one of the larger cities in North America, pretty much every band that makes a Canadian tour will stop in Toronto. I've been lucky to attend the shows of many of my favourite bands because of this.

Also, the MuchMusic Awards take place every year in late June, it's a riot. You should definitely check it out if you're still here by then. It's free. Teenyboppers flood the streets and there is a red carpet, paparazzi and celebrities. And free music of course. Even if Top 40 isn't your cup of tea, the whole spirit of it is fun.

There are literally lists upon lists of places to explore in Toronto.

I have decided to pick my top three tourist attractions (outside of the neighbourhoods I just described to you). I am a bit of an artsy person.

1. Royal Ontario Museum (go see the T-Rex)
2. Casa Loma (For architecture fans)
3. Art Gallery of Ontario

Also, if you have time, bring a group of friends to Snakes and Lattes, which is a board game cafe. They close at 2 am, which is ridiculous! It makes for a fun and inexpensive night of bonding with buddies. It's just $5 for admittance.

I know this list just seems to go on and on, but while you're in town, don't forget to check out some Toronto theatre. Many nights, you can get rush tickets for as littles as $5, or pay-what-you-can. Theatres that have this include Tarragon Theatre, Young Centre for the Performing Arts, Factory Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille- to name a few.

Readers: What do you think of this list? Did I miss any of your favourite places in Toronto?

Railway Bridge, Saskatoon by Jessica Lee

My buddy Jimmy asked if I wanted to "go on an adventure" one night... and that's how I found myself sitting on railway tracks watching the Saskatchewan river while the sun was setting.

The Railway Bridge is a few minutes away from the University of Saskatchewan and we quickly got there by bike.

It's an absolutely gorgeous place where pelicans cluster in the river below.

Saskatoon may not have much in terms of culture (comparatively), but it definitely has a few sights up its sleeve.

To get to the bridge, we walked passed a field full of statues.

We stopped along the way to take some photos.

Saskatoon is beautiful in a calm, peaceful, homey way.

If Sydney, with its glamorous harbour filled with the sleek design of the Opera House and soaring bridge is Audrey Hepburn all dolled up for the red carpet; then Saskatoon, with its Prairie land and un-manicured shrubbery would be Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (1964), pre-transformation; a little rough around the edges, but charming in its own way.

Saskatoon is definitely a "ripped jeans and hoodie" sort of town.

It's funny though, because everyone from around here refers to Saskatoon as a "city".

I was talking to a guy (he was wearing plaid of course!) at a bar one night and he said he was from a smaller town in Saskatchewan, but recently moved to "the city".

It is so strange for me to hear this because for me, a "city" is a metropolis like Toronto or Hong Kong or Sydney or L.A. or Chicago or New York.

It's quite barren here.

One day, I walked 7 km through fields, a highway and a reserve and discovered a Loblaws Superstore, which is a grocery chain in Canada. It was an exciting moment for me because it meant I could shop for a sweater at Joe Fresh, which is a relatively generic brand of clothing sold at the grocery store. This is sad but funny at the same time because in Toronto where there are clothing stores everywhere, I turned my nose up at Joe Fresh.

But back to the story.

We arrived at Railway bridge as the sun was setting and observed the view for a suspended period of time.

If I grew up in Saskatoon, the Railway bridge would definitely be the place I would hang out with my friends every night. We would kick back with a couple of beers and talk about life.

Of course, I'm not really a beer person. But I wonder if that fact is because I grew up in a place where beer culture was not as prominent (as it is today). Also, my family preferred wine.

We hung around for a bit, chatting with a stranger. Then it got cold so we headed back.

It's a unique experience; balancing on a bike seat, legs dangling, core muscles straining and one hand holding on for dear life while bumping along dusty, gravel roads. I wouldn't want to experience the Prairies any other way, however.

I came to Saskatoon to ride in rusty pick-up trucks and get to places in dirt bikes or by walking. I plan to attend at least one bonfire in someone's backyard and explore a barn on a farm. I've got a plaid shirt ready and some Daisy Dukes I'm ready to rock. Maybe I will even get myself out to a cowboy bar while I'm at it.

There will be other places a little more glamourous than Saskatoon that I plan to visit in the future where I can roll up in a Mercedes Benz and step out in high fashion. For the moment however, I'm going to try to forget my city preferences and live life as a girl in a small town.

Saskatoon through photos part 1 by Jessica Lee

I've been in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan for about a week. It's a nice, pleasant city but at the same time, there's not much to do here.

This is what it looked like driving in on a Greyhound from the east:

I arrived at 7 am, just in time for breakfast. For once, I was part of the early morning breakfast club.

I found my way to Poached Breakfast Bistro and was impressed by the modern furnishings. I wasn't sure what to expect from Saskatoon, but this breakfast place could have been any other lovely cafe in Toronto with its quality.

I suppose I was expecting more greasy spoon diners and a "country" feel.

I took a photo of my breakfast which included the most delicious bacon I've ever tasted. It was doused in maple syrup and garnished with pecans and spice, then baked in the oven until perfectly soft but cooked.

After breakfast, I dragged my luggage to the place I would be staying. It was over a half hour walk, but since I packed light, it was manageable and I got to see the city at a walking pace.

Here is the Saskatchewan River. It's one of the the most famous landmarks in Saskatoon.

Here is what a "normal" street looks like.

Saskatoon is more like a suburb than a city. In general, it's not extremely walkable since things are far apart from each other, but still most things are closer together than when I was Detroit.

There isn't much to do around town but there are some really cool houses painted in fun colours.

Check this out:

I like the colour scheme of this one too.

Some of the houses are extremely bold:

I tried to figure out why many of the houses are painted in such bold colours. Maybe it's a Saskatoon thing?

My theory is that people are bored here and they've taken to customizing their homes. This theory is also shaped from the fact that there are many customized vintage cars here as well, so perhaps making things look customized is a hobby in Saskatoon since there really isn't much to do in this town.

One thing Saskatoon is known for however is its berries.

We headed to the Sunday Farmer's Market to take a look:

This juice is made from Seabuckthorn berries.

I've never heard of such a thing in my entire life, but I got to taste a sample and it's extremely sour. But interesting. The berries are bright orange.

Anyway, I do hope that Saskatoon has more to offer. But in the mean time, I'll leave you with some photos:

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan by Jessica Lee

When I was in the fourth grade, we learned about Canadian geography. We were given maps of Canada we had to colour and label with the different provinces.

I learned how to spell the names of all Canada's provinces through spelling tests. Never in a million years though did I think I would be actually living in the Prairies.

I arrived in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, a couple of days ago and will be here for the next couple of weeks. I'm one of the participants of the nation's Explore Program, a five-week French immersion program partially funded by the Canadian government.

I have no clue what I am doing here. In the Prairies. Last I remembered, my first and second choices for where I wanted to go were Quebec City and Montreal, the French-speaking capital and party-city of Canada. But of course, life doesn't always go the way you want it to and one must learn to adapt. And so that's what I am doing. Adapting.

We began the program only a few days ago and everyone signed a contract where we promised to only speak in French during the time we are here and let me tell you, life has been tres difficile! (very difficult)

Last semester in University, I took a beginner's French course so I can sort of follow along, but it's frustrating as a writer with a huge vocabulary (in English) and generally very opinionated person to be reduced down to simple sentences and occasional silences. It takes much more effort to make small talk and to keep up with the conversation.

I am not sure where this adventure is going, but I will keep you updated as I go along.

Toronto Underground Market: a foodie's dream event by Jessica Lee

Have you ever had one of those moments where you regret eating so much of one thing because now you're too full to try another thing? It happened to me tonight.

I spent an evening at the Evergreen Brickworks for the Toronto Underground Market. I had been meaning to go to this recurring event for a while now, but unfortunately I always out of town.

Basically the Toronto Underground Market is a place where home cooks or people just entering the food business can get a chance to test out the waters with the Toronto foodie crowd, and the public gets to taste a little bit of everything.

The place had a great vibe to it as everyone was passionate about food (duh) and not only that, there was a community atmosphere to it. Strangers would randomly chat with me about what they were eating/what I was eating/where to get the best [insert type of cuisine here] food in Toronto. It's a great place to meet other like-minded foodies (unlike a business networking event where you're supposed to meet other people but the vibe is weird because it's way too forced!).

The list of vendors was amazing. It really highlights the diversity of Toronto as there was food from all over the world. So while you're eating an Australian meat pie for instance, though there are no Aussies talking to you in their accents while you're eating, it's close enough to bring a tear to your eye because of all the memories evoked from last year's trip to Australia.

Tonight's fare had Korean delicacies, Japanese Onigiri (or Japanese triangles as I like to call them), and food from the Caribbean, Taiwan, Indonesia, Hawaii and of course Canadian.

Here I am with a Taiwanese Rice Sausage:

It's crazy because I have never heard of rice sausage and I was in Taiwan just two years ago! By the way, if you're a foodie, please head to Taiwan, you may gain a few pounds but the happiness will be worth it. Taiwan is like the U.S. in that the food is cheap (cheaper than Canada anyway), but the amount of new things you'll try is overwhelming.

Okay, so let me explain the Taiwanese rice sausage. It is a sausage made of rice which makes up the bun, and then they paired it with an actual sausage which was pork or chicken. I had this early on during the event and it really made me full. It was delicious, but a eating strategy mistake on my part.

I should've known to eat the less filling things first so that I would have enough stomach room for everything else.

Next, I headed to Babi and Co, which is Indonesian food. This is the Mie Udang, which is shrimp and pork noodle soup with pork belly lardons, celery and fried shallots. The flavour combination was just amazing.

It was my favourite dish of the night (I'm slightly biased because I just came back from Indonesia a couple of months ago and also because there aren't many Indonesian restaurants in Toronto).

Here are a group of strangers digging in:

I loved that they just let me take a photo of them, no questions asked. Seriously the group of people at this event are some of the coolest people on this earth.

I also loved that most of the people making food were using their own recipes, or a recipe passed down to them from older generations. Here a lady is making gourmet meringue. I would also like to point out how simple her set up is, no ovens. Amazing.

Moving from a well-stocked kitchen to a warehouse-like environment probably isn't easy.

 Anyway, here are my tips for the Toronto Underground Market newbie:

1. Arrive early because stuff gets sold out and to avoid the line-ups
2. Bring tupperware
3. Bring friends (to split and share stuff)
4. Pace yourself, it's not a race. Food is supposed to be enjoyed slowly!
5. Ask questions. I learned quite a bit of food-related stuff tonight, and it's cool to know all the stories behind where the food came from and how it's made.

Here is grilled cheese:

Mystery strawberry and lime drink:

The meat pie that almost brought me to tears from missing Australia too much: Seriously, Toronto needs a meat pie shop; down the street from where I live, preferably.

George of the jungle/ things North Americans do for fun by Jessica Lee

After watching James Cameron's Avatar (2009), I had always wanted to live in a tree.

I didn't get to live in a tree this weekend, BUT I got to walk among the tops of them, which is similar. Being that it was the Canadian Thanksgiving, my family drove up north to the cottage for the long weekend. Along the way, we stopped at Tree Top Trekking near Barrie, Ontario.

Tree Top Trekking is a company that lets people conquer their fear of heights through rope courses and ziplines in the dense Canadian forest.

It was absolutely beautiful being between trees and seeing parts of the forest you wouldn't have seen if you were on the ground. I didn't bring my camera for the black course because it had started to rain and hail but it was gorgeous and reminded me of what I'd imagine Avatar to be like in real life- wood log steps and wooden stepping bridges high off of the ground.

The weather could have been improved, but not everything in life can be perfect.

I think rope courses are a North American thing (correct me if I'm wrong). If you've never seen one, I'll give you a short introduction.

High ropes courses are typically used to encourage "self-development" in an individual. Ie. They're believed to escalate your self-esteem and confidence once you complete one. They are quite popular with school groups and summer camps because many are not particularly physically challenging but they still boost morale.

The one at Tree Top Trekking required you to balance on a tight line with wires you could hold onto. Other courses included various hurdles you had to walk on or climb into/over.

It was easy stuff, but I liked being able to just focus on one thing and not think about anything in particular.

If you happen to go, there is a black course which is the most difficult course there. You have to ask for it specifically and you only get to go on it after completing the purple course.

After that, they will still discourage you somewhat because they want to weed out people who won't be able to complete the course. They will ask you to do five chin-ups on the spot. Only 10 % of people who go to Tree Top Trekking go on this course. If you think you will make it, I definitely encourage you to go because the sights are gorgeous and I wish I brought my camera there to capture it.

I went on the black course solo with the head guide because it was rainy and cold and no one else wanted to go. It was a unique experience because I got to get into his mind. I don't meet many small town boys who haven't been to the city. To me, he was a novelty.

His thinking was limited, but he was also young (20). When I talked about travel, I meant international places like Europe or South America, whereas he assumed the Canadian west coast.

He also asked me lots of questions, wanting to know more about the places I had been. Maybe he was planning to explore as well. Whenever I talked of an international experience, he related by telling me of people he knew who had travelled but I don't think he had travelled much himself.
He'd grown up in Northern Ontario and enjoyed Canadian things like snowboarding in the winter and the great outdoors in the summer.

As much as I like international travel, meeting people like him pulls me back and makes me want to live in a cabin up north and enjoy the gorgeous scenes and moments I sometimes take for granted. I think there are so many possibilities waiting for me in Northern Ontario; if only I'd give it a chance.

Montreal: food edition by Jessica Lee

I lost a bit of weight and became slimmer after being in Asia for the past couple of weeks and eating their small portioned meals, backpacking everywhere and generally being active.

Now that I'm back in Canada, things are about to change given that I just spent the last couple of days in Montreal aka the land of eating fatty foods.

The first day in Montreal, we had poutine with lots of toppings. This was supposed to be a "snack" before dinner at 5 pm but we underestimated its filling power and didn't eat anything else the rest of the night.

Here we are at La Banquise:

It was a difficult decision in choosing which poutine to get because there were so many and they all sounded so tasty. We ended up getting La Matty (mushrooms, onions, bacon and green peppers) in the end and adding sausages for an extra $1.50.

Here is the menu so you can look at it for yourself.

This place I can honestly say was the best poutine I've ever had. Or maybe I think it's the best I've ever had because I haven't had poutine in so long.

Either way, the fries were crunchy and not burnt, the gravy was plentiful and the cheese was perfect. The onions mushrooms and meat just added to the tastiness.

Afterwards we headed to the newly opened Candy Bar on Mont-Royale for drinks with my second cousin Anita and her husband Lincoln.

It was a magical place where the bar was built out of lego pieces while the bar gave off an 80's diner vibe. There were gumball machines in each booth and the decor was a fabulous pink.

We opted for the patio seating and they handed us the menu which was a giant lollipop.

Drinks all had a candy theme to it and came with candy attached as a garnish. I had a hard time choosing what to get. In the end it was a toss up between Bailey's with a shot of espresso and some other fancy thing, a lemon-lime cocktail and a blue raspberry drink.

I ended up ordering the lime/lemon concoction and it had sour gummies on the side. Anita's blue raspberry drink came with a ring pop, Lincoln's drink came with pop rocks and Marc's drink probably came with candy as well but he ate it too quickly and I never got to see what it was.

The next night, we headed to Schwartz's Bifteck for some authentic smoked Montreal meat.

The place is a cozy little deli reminds me of 80's New York sandwich shops.

See the lead photo for what the smoked meat sandwich looks like.

The meat was so tasty, it melted in your mouth!

You can choose cuts of lean, a bit of fat or fatty. We choose fatty because for me, I believe in all or nothing- and for Marc, he just likes fatty foods. This is a guy who fries his toast with all of the remaining bacon fat.

 Marc wanted to come back the next day for another sandwich. It was just that good. I will definitely miss this place in Toronto, but hopefully Caplansky's, a smoked meat deli in Toronto, will have similar quality.

For our final day in Montreal, after a day of shopping we decided to head to the Burger Bar because we originally liked its menu and patio seating.

So we sat.

And sat.

And sat...

The table next to us received their meals and one of them ordered a poutine burger, which I snapped a photo of.

Our stomaches grumbled and we salivated.

We patiently waited for close to an hour for our food. We asked the waitress to check on our food and she came back and told us that there was a "kitchen error" and that our food would be out in six minutes or so.

After ten minutes with nothing to show on our tables, we had had enough.

We didn't get to try their burgers but we were pissed off that our food never came so we left.

I think in this instance, when the restaurant messes up your order and makes the customer wait meaninglessly for an hour, they should offer the customers free appetizers or drinks. It's a part of doing business.

The waitress wasn't the greatest at doing her job because even after serving us, she spoke in French to us, when she should have remembered we were Anglophones. And most importantly she should have been checking on us and realizing that we were waiting for close to an hour for our food.

I don't think it's rude that we left.

We went to Dunn's Famous Smoked Meat where our food was delivered in fifteen minutes (possibly less).

I had the smoked meat poutine, which was amazing. The gravy is BBQ flavoured and just delicious.

Marc had the smoked meat platter. I nabbed a bit of the meat and it is soft and tasty. I could definitely eat it every day.

We ended our last meal in Montreal strong.

We didn't get to try bagels or croissants during our short stay in this fair city, but there's always next time.

A bike tour of Montreal by Jessica Lee

Marc and I took an expedition on our bicyclettes yesterday to explore the rest of downtown Montreal.

Biking along the St. Lawrence river had an old romantic feel to it, and it felt incredibly French. All we were missing was the picnic basket filled with gourmet cheeses and a baguette.

Going everywhere by bike was also very efficient as well. We saw three times as much as we would have had we walked on foot.

Here is Marc next to some pretty cool buildings.

There are actually lots of architecturally interesting buildings in downtown Montreal.

I loved how old architecture is mixed with modern styles.

We stopped by the Old Port, which reminded me of Toronto's Distillery District in the way that the floors were cobblestone and the buildings were older.

I had some maple taffy, which is really just maple syrup in thickened form thrown over ice and then rolled onto a stick. Like poutine, it is a very tasty tourist trap/one of the things you should try should you head to Quebec.

It starts out looking like this:

Then you roll it up...

And you put it in your mouth.

A magician's show was just setting up as I started my taffy so we stayed for a while and watched.

Then we headed into the artists corridor to look at some art.

The place was definitely touristy, but I loved the elegant buildings and the feeling one got when walking beside stone walls and on top of cobblestone- like you're in a classy European city.

If you popped into any of the stores you would see something like this: lovely small boutiques.

Or touristy t-shirts.

I loved the cafe scene as well. I was really tempted to stop for a cuppa or a creme de glace but we had a schedule and a lot of things to do.

Before that though, can I show you a few kitschy things that I adored?

Here ya go!

This sign:

And this fabulous t-shirt that was ridiculously priced.

Even though Old Port was incredibly consumerist and tourist-geared, I soaked up every minute of being there.

Soon it was time to head back on the bike trail.

There is this amazing trail that follows the river from Old Port to Atwater Market, which has lovely views of the city. In my mind, I was in a French movie and Le Denicheur was playing while I was biking down these gorgeous trails.

Please open that above link and listen by the way. It really sets the mood for the rest of this blog post and the photos.

We stopped over a bridge and saw these sets of buildings. I have no clue what they are but they look like apartments or dorm rooms. I wonder what the insides look like.

Here is a further away view so you can see the boats.

We took a few photos and then we were off again.

We made it to the Atwater Market, which is a farmer's market filled with yummy goods.

I bought a tin can of maple syrup for $6.50! What a deal considering fake maple syrup in grocery stores costs something like $4.50.

We wandered into a chocolate shop where I wanted to eat everything.

They had ice cream.

Lots of chocolate of course.

And truffles!

Here is a close-up of one of the truffles.

And this was the dessert I really wanted to try but it was really hot and I was thirsty and fleur de sel, which is salted caramel, would have been much too sweet.

We took the metro back downtown and walked into a student protest.

They had pots and pans and were banging away. It was quite loud.

Then a bit further down, we walked into the film festival where they were playing a silent film.

One of the things I love about Montreal is that like Toronto, there is always something happening in the city. Back when I lived in Sydney, we went to the library for entertainment.

I'm kidding obviously.

But most of the nightlife in Sydney revolved around clubs and if you didn't like clubbing, then have a nice life.

I'm not sure where this place is, but we discovered the area by biking near it then seeing it.

It was perfect. There was just the right amount of people in it so that the scene was lively but not too many so that we couldn't bike through.

Montreal is a pretty decent city to bike through.

If you have a free day, I definitely recommend exploring by bike.