New York City round two! by Jessica Lee

This story starts way back in May of this year. Or if you want to be even more specific, it starts in the year 2007, when I was in high school and had just discovered one of my favourite musicians of all time, Butch Walker. You may know his name from his production work with some of the biggest pop musicians of today such as Pink, Taylor Swift, Avril Lavigne, Fall Out Boy, etc.

Anyway, he had a few shows with Ryan Adams in New York City and I was thinking of going.

I had never been the type to travel from city to city just to catch my favourite musicians - the furthest I had travelled for music was from Toronto to London, Ontario. But alas, they weren't playing a show in Montreal and so it was between Toronto (my hometown, at Massey Hall, a venue I had been to countless times) or the more exciting option, New York City.

Sometime between late Summer and Fall, I must have have mentioned to my friend Olivier that I wanted to go to New York City for the concert because he booked a hotel for the weekend and suddenly it was set.

New York City was kind to me this time around. I spent the weekend walking around Manhattan, jetting around the city in taxis (the way locals do it), taking in the Christmas spirit and eating a lot of gourmet food. I recently moved in with two serious rock climbers and everyone's always watching what they're eating, so I decided to take a break weekend in New York.

Our first day in New York, we walked around Lower Manhattan, visiting neighbourhoods the neighbourhoods of Little Italy, Chinatown and NoHo.

We stumbled into a New York rollerblading group called I Roll NY and watched a competition for a while.

Then, we found a Christmas Market and all these European Christmas Market memories came flooding back.

Of course, there were key differences between the New York City Christmas market and the European Christmas markets - the main one being the food focus of European markets and the artisan focus of this one.

We ended our first night at the Village Vanguard, enjoying jazz music in a basement and knocking back some brandy. It seemed like the appropriate thing to do in New York.

The next morning, we started our hunt for breakfast and by chance came upon Eataly, a gourmet Italian food market by Madison Square Park.

I first heard about this market by its recent cookbook being featured in all the bookstores in Canada. To all the marketers out there: writing a book with beautiful pictures is an awesome way for self-promotion.

We consumed all the pastries with our eyes, but eventually settled for a sit-down meal of fresh pasta.

I enjoyed my meal of tagliatelle with short rib ragout very much.

Next, we headed to Chelsea Market, which might be my favourite place in New York City.

There's an incredible contemporary artisan vibe at Chelsea Market. The place is made up of exposed brick walls and beams, but finished with crisp glass windows and design-driven typography. It seems like an ideal place to spend a morning with friends, eating your way around the different stalls and restaurants.

After a quick tour around the market, we made our way to the High Line, a pedestrian-only structure above the city that allows visitors to view the city without traffic or bike interruption.

The High Line used to be a means of transport for goods throughout New York, but when the trucking industry gained popularity in 1980, they shut it down and turned it into a walking path instead. While they were redeveloping the neighbourhood, it became trendy and new apartments were built along the way.

There are park benches, picnic tables and a million different places to view the sunset - which is exactly what we did.

As night settled in, we rushed to Hammerstein Ballroom to see the concert which had brought us to New York. If you squint, you can see me in the second row of the floor on the left side of this photo taken from Ryan Adams' twitter.

It was a good concert, but both Butch and Ryan didn't play my favourite songs! I suppose it doesn't matter too much. The concert was a fantastic and fairly legitimate reason to visit New York and I'm glad I finally caved.

Off a post-concert high, we went to Shake Shack and had our first Shack burgers, then disappeared into the night in the city that never sleeps.

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.

Camping and climbing in Val David, Quebec by Jessica Lee

I have a feeling this summer's going to rock. On the Canada day weekend, the six of us, packed into a van and drove up to Val David, Quebec, an hour's drive away from Montreal. We kicked off the start of my new life in Montreal with an epic camping and climbing trip.

The camping wasn't too extreme, but it allowed us to fiddle with our tents and fire strikers.

We eventually used a lighter to get the fire started (but you're not supposed to know about that!).

After a night of roasting wieners and marshmallows, we woke up the next day and proceeded to climb.

We headed for a hike afterwards. Here is a photo of the boys looking lost.

And here is the breath-taking view of the top of Val David. We must have sat there for hours.

Afterwards, we grabbed some iced snacks. You will never guess what the dessert below is made out of. Okay, I will tell you, below we have tofu ice cream infused with blueberries and raspberries.

It tasted alright.

We did it all again the next day, then drove off to Montreal for some breakfast. In between all that, we found time to gaze up at the stars until early morning, swim in a gorgeous blue lake and watch dogs shake off water from their fur from a beach.

I would do it all again in a second.

Photos: Tangier, Morocco by Jessica Lee

I spent the morning wandering around Tangier, Morocco, with my new friend from the hostel.

Here are a few photographs:

Below is the terrace of the hostel, which was a stunning view. We were in the old part of town, which gave the hostel some character.

As we walked along, there was some construction. I really like this photo because you can sense the man in the tan shirt is deciding what he's going to do about me, the photographer, taking a photo of him.

Street life in Tangier

The bird this man was carrying around was still alive while the photo was taken

We stopped off at the market at this point and got strawberries to eat while sitting at the fountain in the square. We were still hungry afterwards, so here we are going to vendors. As you can see, the vendors are all really aggressive in fighting for the client (us). In this manner, my friend, Joo, was able to bargain with the vendor and ask for a lower price for the food than indicated on the menu (which was genius, I didn't know you could do that).

As we were waiting for our meal, we saw the delivery of bread from this truck.

This is what we had. It was delicious, for 20 dirhams each! That's around $3.

After our meal, we decided to wander a bit more before splitting ways. Him going to Asilah, and me going to Chefchaouen.

More photos:

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?

Beer-tasting the Toronto pub scene! by Jessica Lee

I handed in my last university paper last week so during the weekend, I went to my first official beer-tasting. It was a pub crawl organized by DishcrawlTO. Basically you go to different pubs (there were six on this list) and sample different local Ontario craft beers, which is beer made from smaller companies.

I'm not much of a beer drinker (prefer wine) and thus not very knowledgeable about beer. But I did learn a few things on this trip.
1. I enjoy lighter beers
2. Toronto has a diverse pub scene
3. Some beer (and food) is really really gross

Below is a photo of us starting out at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club (look how confident we are, we thought we were going to down all 12 5-ounce beer samples). Love the decor in there by the way! We sampled Amsterdam Brewery's Big Wheel and Boneshaker. Big Wheel was mild, malty and smooth, while Boneshaker was strong, dark and had a "grassy taste", according to my friend Yamri.

One thing I've discovered about beer-tasting is that it's vastly different from wine-tasting. Sure both are sampling an alcoholic beverage but the crowd here was much different. There weren't any old ladies unlike when I did a wine-tasting in Australia. Also, there was no spitting bucket. And there was less knowledge about the beer from the person serving it to you.

At the wine-tastings I've been to, the sommeliers told you all the tasting notes that were going to be present and generally knew the alcohol levels, etc. At the beer-tasting, perhaps the servers knew the product, but they didn't bother telling us more things about it (possibly because they assumed the crowd wouldn't care, ie. they were just there to get drunk).

Luckily, some of the brewery owners were personally there at the pubs to tell us about their beers.

Here we are at Bier Markt; my favourite out of all six pubs because we got to sit on their patio. And because we got to eat their delicious food.

The owner of Spearhead Brewery was there to let us know that the lighter one, the Hawaiian-style pale ale needed to be kept away from heat otherwise there would be lots of "hops". "Hops" is a beer term which means bitterness.

He also told us about which tasting notes to expect, which made it easier for us to perceive the taste. The light one had a tinge of pineapple aftertaste and the dark one, the Belgian stout was creamy and had chocolate notes.

We also had the bar food, which was slow-cooked beef brisket. Amazing.

While we were there, we also ordered the beer-battered fried chicken and waffles, which were delicious!

Here is a photo of the patio crowd- the weather was amazing for April in Toronto.

Next, we moved on to Scotland Yard. I absolutely loved the vibe of the place. There were older people in there (in their 50s and 60s) so I felt like I was connecting with old souls. The place had a "whisky and cigarettes" and "back in my day" feel. Also, the bar was constructed of solid wood and had that "traditional"pub look. Scotland Yard is a pub I would imagine meeting one of my distinguished professors at and having intelligent debates (while we drink whisky on the rocks of course)- very "Yale" and "Harvard".

We had Mill Street Brewery's Vanilla Porter which was my favourite so far.

Here is the food we also ate/ didn't finish. Nachos and poutine.

Next we headed to Fionn MacCools, another Irish Pub. We were here on St. Patty's weekend and got to experience river dancing. The atmosphere was much more relaxed for our afternoon beer-tasting though. We tried Duggans Brewery's No. 9 (malty, disgusting, bitter) and No.5 (light, good, Sapporo style).

We swiftly headed to Great Burger Kitchen afterwards for Beau's Lug Tread Lagered Ale and Beaver River I. P. Eh (some Canadian there for you). I don't remember if we liked it or not because we stopped taking notes. Isn't it cute that you can have beer in a 70's style diner?

Our last stop was Berber Social and they definitely did not give us 5 ounce samples, but whole pints of beer. Needless to say we did not finish the entire glass, but we had fun tasting everything. This is the Orange Peel Ale from Great Lakes Brewery.

And thus, that concluded our beer-tasting tour. It was interesting to see all interiors of the different pubs along the Esplanade and to sample the different Ontario breweries. I hope to one day head to Ireland and England and compare the pub scene over there to our Canadian pub scene.

Thank you to DishcrawlTO for this experience.

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.

Eating my way through Melbourne: food photography of my time in the city's cafes by Jessica Lee

Somewhere in my heart, I've already decided I'm going to move to Melbourne someday, find a nice Australian man, settle down and eat all their food. With emphasis on the last part.

Since the last time (and first time) I had been to Melbourne, my taste had been whetted for their coffee scene. But this time, the food made me seriously consider either A) becoming a food critic or B) marrying a chef who would be able to make these beautiful creations of food I had come to enjoy during my time in Melbourne.

First, a little background about me. I LOVE food. Breakfast food in particular. Melbourne and I, we are a good fit because Melbourne happens to have lots of little breakfast cafes which I adore.

They have a place in the city called Hardware Lane, which is like a little village with lots of small cafes and restaurants.

It looks like this:

For my food journey though, I ate all over town.

We arrived in Melbourne late in the night by car and headed to Laksa King in Flemingdon, which did not disappoint.

My story with laksa is that I didn't know it existed until I had arrived in Sydney where my roommate Hannah proceeded to make it and change my life forever. It must have been fate that we were to meet and that I was to stay in the same house as her. In Toronto, laksa just isn't a big thing. Currently, as of fall 2012, we have a huge ramen scene going on, and before that, pho was extremely popular, and we also had a wave of poutine and food trucks. I'm guessing that laksa is more popular in Australia based on its proximity to Malaysia, where the food is originally from.

After a rest near Luna Park, the next day, we were up and at 'em. We headed to The Galleon.

I had the most delicious start to my day in a while. Below is french toast topped with maple syrup, free range bacon, a banana, pistachio praline and vanilla bean ricotta.

The praline was the best thing in the world. I love when chefs disguise candy in the middle of breakfast. I felt like I was eating a healthy breakfast (bananas) but at the same time, cheating a little.

This was the general "feel" of the restaurant, incredibly low-key and honest.

We then headed to Hardware Lane to look around a bit.

By the way, here is a random photo I snapped that had a cool fungal growth on the top of it.

For lunch, we stumbled across a gourmet hot dog stand.

Here is the Wagyu beef hot dog with mashed potatoes and Spicy Spanish Chorizo with Spanish goats cheese. 

We had breakfast for dinner at the Pancake parlour, then Bon had to dip out and head back to Sydney.

(What I left out in between him going back home is that we spent 2 am at a park feeding the wildlife, aka the birds and raccoons. And we also saw the 3 am premiere of The Dark Knight Rises- all in all, a pretty solid combination to say goodbye to at 6 am in the morning)

I headed back to the hostel, slept for a bit, then headed back out into the world and continued the food tour.

I was extremely excited to go to The Hardware Society since it had a good rep in Melbourne's food blogs. The atmosphere was great as it had a lot of communal tables. There were also lots of random jams and spreads.

It's gorgeously furnished in a sort of rustic, home-y way.

Despite that, I think I ordered the wrong thing.

Above is what I had, the Charcuterie Coddled Eggs. "Coddled eggs" sounds really cute, and I had no idea what it was. But I was feeling adventurous so that's why I chose it, even though it would have been smart to stick to something I knew, like French Toast. You're probably thinking, why didn't I "google it" with my smart phone? Well at this time, my smart phone had run out of data, so I couldn't.

Anyway, the coddled eggs weren't terrible- they just weren't what I was expecting. I was expecting something like a runny-eggs thing in a pan with the salmon rillettes (again, didn't know what this was), pork terrine (this is a spread) and cured meats. The coddled eggs are the eggs in the cups above. It was delicious, but not really my thing.

Instead, I spied across from me someone eating this amazing spread of croissant, granola and preserves. I asked if I could photograph it and this is how I met Trang.

It was actually a pretty good day to meet her because at first, she looked really depressed but then, she got a phone call and was really really excited.

Turns out I was with her the moment she got the call that she was hired at a new company. Pretty exciting. Turns out she really likes food too and she gave me a lot of tips of where to eat in the city.

Below: the mocha I ordered.

Someone's hot chocolate.

And I took a photo of these cups because I loved the colours.

Full from a lovely breakfast, I began to start my day of exploring Melbourne.

I love that everywhere you walk, there are scrumptious-looking things to tempt you.

And here:

These pictures were taken in June, right before the London Olympics, which explains the colours.

At night, I walked by this cute cafe called the Giraffe Cafe and I had to drop in.

Check out all of that giraffe decor!

I'm definitely a coffee shop type of gal and ambiance is usually what I look for. This coffee shop definitely achieved high marks. ...the coffee itself was alright.

Look at this tree in the middle of the room!

 The next day, I ate a small breakfast at the pub downstairs, then went out on a field trip away from the city.

Olympic Doughnuts is a little stand near the Footscray station which has been in operation for 33 years.   Needless to say, they have definitely perfected the art of making a donut in that time.

I actually went back for seconds. At 80 cents a pop, why not?

I came back into the city after a day in Footscray (I visited the Lonely Planet headquarters and the receptionist gave me a Lonely Planet cookbook! I can't wait to try out the recipes!).

My first thought was to settle down and have a coffee. But I was also feeling hungry, so I had a meat pie. These little savoury delights are definitely something I miss in Canada.

Here is a snapshot of the interior.

Speaking of cool spaces for coffee, this outdoor patio with heat lamps under these arches was pretty awesome. This is the Federal Coffee Palace.

I ordered a mocha and pretended I was writing the next great travel novel. You can't sit there and not feel like you're sitting on a movie set.

The next day, I invited my Canadian friend Al who was also in Melbourne for some brunch at Three Bags Full in Abbotsford. We had to hike through several neighbourhoods for about an hour or so to get here, but I'm glad it was worth it. This was my absolute favourite place in Melbourne. Period.

First of all, the interior design is gorgeous.

Here is a shot of the second room.

This is a communal table in the middle of the room.

I also liked the fact that even though they are a breakfast place, their coffee offerings aren't just limited to one blend. They had several, with a couple of brewing options.

They also had too many treats. If I lived close to Three Bags Full, this would be my regular spot.

I ordered a mocha of course.

Then came the food. As usual, I had trouble deciding what to get. This is the twice-baked french toast with creme patisserie, rhubarb and almonds. The execution and presentation are just marvelous, don't you think? I liked that it wasn't too sweet and they had a generous helping of the creme.

However, what Al got wins hands down.

This was the most delicious thing I've ever tasted. It is a roasted pumpkin and sage fritter with grilled haloumi cheese with a parsley, pine nuts and pomegranate salad. The combination of the ingredients was absolute perfection. It wasn't too salty and all the flavours came out wonderfully. Looking at this photo, I can still taste the aromas and my mouth waters.

Al had to leave and go back to Sydney so I spent the next day trying out my last cafe in Melbourne.

I ended up at Ray's Cafe and secured a great people-watching spot (see lead photo).

The interior of this place is pretty cool too. Check out this huge coffee drip that also functions as a centrepiece.

Below is the baked free-range eggs with lebanese sausage, napoli sauce, spinach, feta and toasted pide bread.

And thus concludes my eating tour through Melbourne. I realize I've only tried a limited amount of restaurants here but the quality of standards seem pretty high. I can't wait to come back.

Foodies: which other cities must I eat through?

Impromptu road trip to New York by Jessica Lee

When I woke up this morning in Toronto, I didn't know I would be going to bed tonight in New York.

I started my day the way I usually do except around noon, I got a message from Sarah, the University of Toronto sailing team coordinator, saying someone had dropped out for the weekend regatta in Hobart and would I like to go?

Umm... YES!

And so, I hurried to the university, finished my midterm, rushed back home, packed, ate and registered in a matter of 30 minutes (a new record) and met with the team downtown.

Five hours of driving later, we are settled in a little motel on the outskirts of Geneva, New York.

Here are some things I have learned about Geneva so far:

1. The food is cheap

Check out how much it is to buy Ben and Jerry's ice cream here, which is a staggering $16 in Australia, and $8 in Canada.

I know, crazy right? Guess who has a pint of Ben and Jerry's Pistachio ice cream in the motel fridge right now.

2. You don't actually need a physical passport to cross the Canadian border to the U.S.

One of the girls on the team forgot her passport, but had a photocopy of it. The guard let her through and we breathed a sigh of relief.

I'll leave you to this practical fact for now. I need to get to sleep. There is lots of sailing to be done tomorrow.

What are some cool things about the U.S. that I should check out?

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.

Exploring a Newtown cafe in Sydney by Jessica Lee

I took a break from studying today to hang out with and say goodbye to my friend Matt in Newtown.

What's crazy is that I may never see him ever again. I've never had this problem before. Most of my friends live in the general Ontario area so I've always assumed we would eventually bump into each other at some point in time. I've met people in my travels before but our interactions would be small and it wouldn't matter much anyway if I never see them again.

In movies or novels when people are parting, the narrator will sometimes say something along the lines of "that was the last time we saw each other again. He moved on Arizona, made it rich, then died of a cocaine overdose." In the story, the circumstances will be quite dramatic, but the narrator usually passes this information off nonchalantly. I however, am pretty sure I will be heartbroken if I never see some of my Australian friends again.

I met Matt at the Pastizzi Cafe on King street. I had walked by there plenty of times on my way home from the rock climbing gym and I liked the menu on the door.

We decided to order a pastizzi for an appetizer because the place was called the Pastizzi cafe after all.

This is what a pastizzi looks like: 

It is a tasty savoury pastry. The one we had was chicken and mushroom, however there was also a spinach and feta one and a chilli con carne one as well.

This is the mocha I had. So far in Australia, I haven't had a single bad coffee. It's been a great experience. However, is consistently good coffee a worthwhile tradeoff to the crappy internet and rampant cockroach problem here? I am not so sure about that, Australia! (These are just the facts, don't get mad Aussies!)

Usually at Italian places, I have a routine established where I order either the seafood pasta, carbonara or spaghetti bolognese. This is because it is extremely difficult to screw up any of these dishes and I love eating these dishes anyway.

Needless to say I am not a big risk-taker when it comes to eating out since I like to repeat things that work for me. In psychology, this is called the Law of Effect, according the father of cognitive psychology, Ed Thorndike. He discovered this while playing with cats and decided it could apply to humans. It's silly how he didn't study humans right from the start. I'm sure he could have found lots of people with similar eating strategies to mine. Maybe he just liked playing with cats.

I think animals are different from humans though. For my main, Matt convinced me to try something new, so I ordered the cannanoli, which is pasta sheets filled with minced meat in between.

Picking something new on the menu was a pretty big move for me but I'm glad I did it. The cannanoli was really delicious and seemed authentic (unlike that chain-restaurant pasta crap you can order in North America). If I stayed in Sydney longer, I could definitely see myself coming back to the Pastizzi Cafe often and trying out all their dishes.

We followed up our meal with a tiramisu. Just lovely.

If you look at the photo below, you can make out Matt's face in the reflection of the spoon (how mysterious!).

I haven't had the opportunity to fully explore (read: shop) Newtown yet, but walking by the shops cursorily, I get a sense that I am going to regret not browsing this area when I leave Sydney. Newtown is like the Queen Street West of Toronto- a really fashion forward, hipster-y place filled with bookstores, skate shops, clothing stores, thai food and cafes.

There are so many thai places that I would like to try, but sadly not enough time.

The joys of shopping for food by Jessica Lee

Some people like to clean their room to procrastinate from studying. I like to go grocery shopping.

It's not normal, I know. But going grocery shopping makes me feel: 1. productive 2. calm and 3. excited.

I have been to the grocery store five times in seven days this week. I usually go when I have long 2 or 3 hour breaks from class or right after class.

Whenever I return home with food, I feel accomplished because I have done something important- which is keep myself from starving for another couple of days/ hours.

The grocery store is about a 10 minute walk from my house and I try not to take the bus to save money so I usually only buy what I can carry home, which explains the frequent trips.

Buying food is also less stressful than shopping for clothes or any other "things" because I get stressed out if I buy too many things since I know that there is no way I can fit everything I bought so far into my luggage when I leave Sydney later. But food can be consumed and therefore doesn't add to my stress of not having enough luggage space. Food is also definitely a "necessity" compared to shopping for new clothes, which most of the time I don't actually need.

It's also exciting picking up deals and planning meals.

I replenished my cookie stash the other day with three packages of Oreos!

It's interesting to see how different the packaging is in Australia compared to North America. They don't sell Oreos in such small packs in N.A. It's usually three times the size in Canada. I guess this is why North American people are fatter generally? Whatever- we get better value (more cookies) for our money over in Canada/ the U.S!

This purchase was also quite exciting for me because they don't sell Vanilla ice cream flavour/strawberry flavoured Oreos (last time I checked) back home. I have a jug of milk (yeah they don't sell milk in bags here) waiting in the fridge for when the time comes to eat these beauties...

For all the health nuts out there, don't worry! I am keeping healthy and not just munching on cookies and sweets (though you should see my ice cream collection in the freezer, and my chocolate stash- both are impressive). I have stocked up on carbs, protein and fresh fruit as well.

I'm getting pretty into rock climbing now, and you need a lot of energy to build muscle and get to the top of some of the harder climbs. Previously back in Toronto when I was really into sailing (still am into sailing in Sydney- don't worry) it wouldn't matter so much what I ate because in sailing, most of the time, the boat does the grunt work for you. You just have to know where to set the sails and hike outwards to balance the boat. Sailing is not really a sport that requires a lot of physical ability compared to lets say when I did water polo from my high school days. Boy did I get fit fast during those intense mornings of training.

Readers: what are your favourite healthy meals to make at home? Share with me some of your recipes!

Eating cheap in Sydney by Jessica Lee

Let's be honest. My plans of meeting a nice, wealthy gentleman to take me around town aren't going so well currently.

This is where this book comes in:

We've done a few "free" things so far, such as going to Paddy's Market, where we bought really cheap groceries. We are planning to do a lot more. Paddy's Market is like a farmer's market where there are lots of stands.

So that we are not confused and because we like to make lists, my housemates and I have made a list of things we want to do in Sydney.

This is the side of our fridge: (If you click on the picture, it will get bigger)

We've separated a list of things to do and places to eat. There are about 30 places to eat and 30 things to do. We've crossed out about one thing so far.

I also wanted to show you the front of the fridge:

It's got our names on it so there's never a chance of anyone forgetting each other's names. Tara also drew pictures that sort of describe us to help us remember who each person is.

Hannah likes tea, Myra likes make-up and apples, Tara likes music and cats, and I like to read, and am Canadian so she drew a hockey stick and puck and what is supposed to be a maple leaf but really looks like a marijuana leaf so now it looks like I'm really chill and somewhat of a stoner.

Anyway, I wanted to show you how to eat cheap around Sydney.

Basically, what you do is buy food from the grocery (Paddy's Market has the cheapest veggies and fruit), and cook for yourself at home.

In the process, I've gotten quite confident at making stuff.

This is the first successful time I've made French toast. It has Nutella on it and a side of strawberries and bananas.

 This is oats with cinnamon and fruit: tasted better than it looks.

Australian rose, basa filets garnished with lemon and herbs + veggies

My housemate Hannah made this for us, vegetarian Laksa, which is a Vietnamese noodle dish. I was super impressed. I wish you could smell this through the internet.

Yesterday, we made pork meatballs with bacon from scratch.

This is what it looked like when it was done:

This is the full meal with steamed broccoli and mash:

And this is what I made this afternoon for lunch: Honey BBQ chicken.

And last night, I made banana bread for everyone because I bought 19 bananas at Paddy's Market for only $1. (We still have about 15 bananas in total, so we're making milkshakes and eating bananas with almost every meal. It's kind of crazy, but at least we're getting our potassium.)

Here is a picture of our banana bread (it's got chocolate chips in it!).

Eating in and making your own meals isn't the exact same as going out and eating, but it's saving money and making me a better cook.

So there you have it: how to eat cheap in Sydney. There is no other way. Even fast food is a couple of dollars more than in North America.

For me, tomorrow's breakfast is banana bread French toast with Nutella! Bon Appetit!

More Aussie adventures! by Jessica Lee

New house, new house mates and new adventures!

That pretty much sums up the last few days for me.

Here is a picture of my new room:

It's the smallest room in the house, but I don't really mind since I'm only going to be there for five months or so. The rooms were randomly assigned. I will show you a picture of my housemates rooms in a later post so you can compare (I'm sure they won't mind). One of their rooms is literally double the size of mine and they are paying the same amount of rent as I am!

It is university accommodation and extremely convenient as now all I have to do to get to school is roll out of bed, put on some clothes and walk across a bridge.

This is my closet. I'm quite proud of it because it's the only part of my room that is relatively organized at the moment.

It's not really filled with clothes, I might have went a little crazy shopping for shower gels and body butters in Hong Kong...

But really, it evens out, as I haven't really done much shopping here in Aussie.

Things are crazy expensive!

One of my housemates jokes that when I get back to Canada, I should post send her make-up since the same brands are much cheaper back at home. Cover Girl, Maybelline, Revlon are all double the price here! It doesn't make sense to me... except maybe because of shipping costs? But then again, that shouldn't double the price.

Since it's a Saturday, we went to the Glebe markets today. It's walking distance from our house, and they sell vintage clothing, jewelry and food.

Here are a few photos I took:

This is what it generally looked like.

There are lots of really nice knick knacks there.

I honestly wanted to buy everything they had there. It wouldn't be practical of course, I'd run out of money very quickly.

We had a Turkish food there called Gozleme. Flatbread and feta cheese with spinach. Two of my housemates are vegetarian by the way, it's been a delightful learning experience so far- like today, I ate nutmeat (and heard of it) for the first time.

This is us with our food.

Here is a photo taken this afternoon of me and all of my housemates. We made lemonade since it was so hot.

My housemates are adorable! They are all Australian, but from different parts of Australia like Victoria or Botany Bay. One of them refers to my "accent" as "american". She's so endearing!

But then again, I think I fascinate them as well. Today I asked if there was a pitcher to put the lemonade in and they got confused because a pitcher for them is only someone who throws balls in baseball. They were like "Do you mean a jug?" (please read that in an Australian accent, haha)
I still don't understand some of the locals sometimes when they speak in their accents. Usually I just smile and nod. Or laugh. It's worked out so far.

An interesting tidbit about Australia: they sell kangaroo meat at the supermarket!

My non-vegetarian housemate says she's going to take me to try some as it is apparently much tastier than beef. I'm excited about that and frankly slightly scared. (I'm usually not too daring with my food choices) But I figure that I should push myself to eat new things more often.

Hanging out at the Peak by Jessica Lee

I did a pretty tourist-y thing today.

I went to the ultimate tourist destination in Hong Kong: The Victoria Peak- basically a mountain in Hong Kong.

The plateau part where I was at is around 400 m above sea level.

Here are the crowds waiting for the tram to get to the top:

And here is a picture of the tram:

Pictures from the top: There is a harbour side and a city side.

The city side has a pretty crazy lot of buildings!

After taking photos for a while and marvelling at the view, I started to get hungry.

There were a couple of really nice (and pricey) options, but I settled for Delifrance in the end.

Delifrance is a little cafe which serves pasta, pastries, coffees and soups.

I ordered a mushroom sauce pasta with a side of potato au gratin (I wanted to see what it was), an iced peach green tea and a croissant to top it off. It was absolutely delicious!

To top it off, I ate it on their patio and had the pleasure of people-watching while I ate. Here is a picture so you sort of get the view I had.

Here is their croissant. It was perfect. All warm and crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

Afterwards, I went exploring in the mall at the Peak. Here are some pictures of the insides. The architecture is quite amazing. I'm impressed at all the escalators they've managed to fit inside this small space.

The sun started to set at this point, and I wanted to get night shots of the Peak, so I found a cozy spot at the Pacific Coffee Company and read my Murakami book. Here, I was trying to not be so tourist-y.

Usually, tourists will go to tourist points, take their pictures, and then jet off to the next tourist point. In contrast, I actually tried to take my time and let the atmosphere sink in (all the sounds, smells, tastes and feels). I took my sweet time doing enjoying myself.

The view from this coffee shop was absolutely amazing. I can't believe I was allowed to stay there for such a long time having only spent $3.50 on a hot chocolate. Here is a picture of the outside plus a glass reflection of the inside. You can see the whole skyline of the city.

This is a better photo.

And here is the hot chocolate. It had a rich, chocolate-y taste!

A tourist-y photo of me: (sorry about the hair, it was windy up there!)

And the best for last: the Hong Kong skyline! This was taken during their nightly 8pm light show (see the sky lights?). They have a 15 minute show every night using sky lights and building lights. It's choreographed to music and all. Pretty flashy.

McLovin' by Jessica Lee

How does the Hong Kong McD's stack up to what is back home?

I decided to investigate that question today.

Here are a few things I discovered:
1. There are no salad items on the menu! (I guess the "healthy" salad trend is more North American)
2. There is less choice. There was about 10 meals you could order and that was it. No McFlurries here either!
3. However, they have something here called the McCafe, which is amazing. (More on that later)

I had something called the McWing, which looks like this on the outside:

And like this on the inside.

Basically it's fried chicken wings.

McDonalds is more common than KFC here, which is why they are able to release fried chicken wings and still have the product be a success.

The wings were great! A little spicy, but I guess that makes it even better for some people.

Next, I went to the McCafe and I ordered the Cookies and Cream Cheesecake. It was delicious!

Here is a selection of what you can get there. It's like cakes you can get at a coffee shop.

And this is what I ordered. In Canadian dollars, it is around $3.42, which isn't bad. And it came with a free Fererro Rocher.

I also noticed the small size cups in HK are actually smaller than the small size in Toronto. They are smaller than the red Dixie cups (like the ones you would use for house parties).

It's interesting what you see at different McDonalds around the world. For instance, in P.E.I years ago, I ordered a McLobster, which was a sandwich with real lobster in it. In Rome, they had the classiest McDonalds I had ever seen, the restaurant was built into a rock cave but it had Roman furnishings. In Japan, they had wasabi dip for the fries.

Dear readers, I'm curious: what are some interesting McDonalds items you've seen around the world?

Shopping demons and things that make my heart flutter by Jessica Lee

You know it's time to go home from the mall when you feel guilty after making a purchase.

The day started innocently enough. I woke up around 8 am and went for breakfast at TOASTBOX, a cha chaan teng at Olympian City.

I ordered instant noodles with spicy pork and an egg, a cold Horlick drink, which tastes sort of like malt and milk for those of you who haven't had it before, and a Pandan cake- which as I'm learning now from Wikipedia, has Malaysian origins and is made with Pandanus amarylifolius (a tropical plant) leaves. It is a green cake which gets its colour from the chlorophyll in the leaf juice. The cake was okay- tasted just like regular sponge cake.

After breakfast, I headed over to the International Finance Centre, which thankfully is more interesting than the name suggests. The IFC is a HUGE mall with brand names like Burberry, Coach and the like. It also has non-designer brands like Club Monaco and Zara.

I didn't really shop much, instead, I went around and explored. The architecture of the building is incredible. Here are some photos taken by yours truly that showcase its spectacular structure:

Here is the entrance
This here is one of the shopping levels


More levels

This is the roof top. It is so pretty! The business people eat their lunches here. I hope they know how lucky they are. I would LOVE to have lunch here every day. It would make me feel like a million bucks. It's such a nice environment. There are free-for-all tables (they are nice tables) where you can bring your own food or buy something like McDonalds and just eat and have a good time with your co-workers.

And last but not least, fancy restaurant on the roof top!

I also found a really nice grocery store in this mall and almost bought a $3 CAD Kit Kat Cookies and Cream chocolate bar. It was my first time seeing such a bar and I was fascinated. Except $3 is a bit steep for a Kit Kat, which is why I didn't get it.

I also went to a bookstore in the mall and found a paperback copy of Timothy Ferriss' 4-Hour Work Week! I almost bought this too, except I did calculations and the paperback copy is almost as expensive as the hard cover copy. It's weird how in HK, you can find paperback releases of books that they are still selling hardcovers in North America. I had been waiting for a paperback version of Timothy Ferriss' books back in Toronto. (For anyone who doesn't know, Tim Ferriss is a genius, and you should read his books!)

For the Hunger Games fans, I also found paperback versions of all three books here. In Toronto, only the first book is in paperback right now!

I'm sure there's some method to this madness. I think publishers keep popular books in hardcover because then they can charge more to readers who can't wait until the softcover version comes out. But if this is the case, why does HK get a break? If anyone can explain this to me, please let me know!

After the mall, I went exploring in the Central region and I got hungry so I walked into Cafe de Coral, which is a fast food place that serves cha chaan teng dishes.

I had a mashed potato and chicken wing combo. It cost $3 CAD, and was delicious-though a bit cold when I got the food, and it didn't fill me up.

So I pulled out my handy dandy guide book and it led me to Lan Fong Yuen, which is a cha chaan teng that claims they invented the first milk tea! This is probably as authentic as it gets. It is a hole in the wall where the locals eat and share tables together.

I ordered the french toast (which translates loosely in English to "western toast") and a lai cha (milk tea). I don't usually drink milk tea, but I figured I might as well have it if I was at the place that invented it. It was good, but it hasn't converted me into someone who has to have one every time at a cha chaan teng. The french toast was amazing though.

I then wandered to Tai Cheong Bakery for egg tarts.

I am in love with egg tarts. When I bought my egg tarts, they were still hot from the oven. In Toronto, whenever I'm near Chinatown, I make it a point to go buy egg tarts. Usually, they are sold out unless you go really early (before noon).

I then made a trip to Causeway Bay and shopped at SOGO, which is a huge department store (think Sears, but with 16 floors). I went up to the 11th floor and then I couldn't go further because the 12th floor is wedding dresses and it felt awkward going to that floor since I'm not getting married anytime soon- at least not that I'm aware of. The floors after that were cooking classes and a spa and some other things that had no relevance to my life, so there weren't any excuses for me to go poking around up there.

However, I am pleased to report that I bought a hair straightener!

I wasn't actively looking for one, but it caught my eye and now we are happily together. It's one of those fancy little Asian technology jobs and it cost only $20 CAD. The only issue with it is that the plug is Asian and I have to find a travel adapter for it to use it in Canada. Oh yeah, and it's pink!

This is how small it is. I put a camera lens lid in the picture for comparison purposes. Asian technology is crazy! I've never seen such a small straightener before. I plan to use it on my (relatively) new bangs.

And then I wandered around and saw MUJI!!!

I nearly had an orgasm.

This store is pretty much my favourite store in any Asian country (and the sad part is they only exist in Asian countries as far as I know).

Here is a little context for those of you who don't know: Muji is a Japanese lifestyle store. They sell clothing, shoes, food, stationary, beauty products, bath products, beds, luggage, storage items, and other random things you didn't think you needed but realized you desperately did after seeing how cool they are.

Their "brand" is minimalist design.

About two years ago when I was visiting Taiwan, I bought flats at Muji for about $56 CAD and they have lasted me up until now. And this is with regular wearing!

I also buy a lot of notebooks and pens whenever I'm at Muji. Their stuff is simple and the paper is good quality.

Here is a picture of inside the store so you can see the wide range of its products: (see the stationary on the left, the scarves in the middle, the storage section in the back...)

Today I bought lounge pants (because it's much colder in HK than it appears to be- they are lying when they say 20 degrees, it feels more like 15), a cute backpack (not that I needed any more, but I really do have an obsession with buying backpacks and I think this is an okay obsession to have because it's not like I have an obsession with buying $60,000 designer purses- that would be bad for my financial health- and backpacks usually don't go over $100 so it's fine to indulge once in a while), some notebooks and a bag of chocolate cream-filled strawberry marshmallows.

I was happy with these purchases. Everything was sunshine and rainbows. Everything was lovely.

And then this is the part where it gets murky.

I went to Times Square (because the guidebook told me to, since it was in the area anyway). And I happened to walk INTO the Times Square mall. Curiosity always kills the cat.

And then I saw this store I absolutely adore. And it was downhill from there.

I won't reveal anymore, except that I look hot in this hoodie, it's keeping me warm and that I needed it anyway since I am running out of fresh laundry. So pretty much it's a matter of life or death. I would clearly freeze to death if I weren't wearing this hoodie right now. And who cares if they are now selling it for almost half the price at The Bay this week since I won't be back in Canada for the next six months?

If anything, this guilty feeling is coming from the fact that I charged my credit card (because I didn't have enough cash at that point in the day), which means that the purchase will have conversion rates added on to the already high price. Also, I just read from the receipt that they don't do refunds. Bummer.

Oh well. I am reading The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari by Robin Sharma and he says "there are no mistakes in life, only lessons". So this must be my lesson: always bring more cash. And no more impulse purchases! Except when the deal is too good to pass up.

Tomorrow, I am staying away from the shopping malls. It's museum day for me. Until then, readers!