(Easy!) Winter Hikes around Banff and Kananaskis

Winter certainly isn’t my favourite season, but being living near the Rocky Mountains, it’d be a waste not to enjoy the beauty of winter. It was possible for a cold fearing*, novice hiker like me when armed with proper winter gear** to brave the snow on some short trips that had big rewards. I wanted to share these three easy hikes done in winter 2017!

Johnston Canyon, Banff

Grotto Canyon, Exshaw

Troll Falls, Kananaskis

*Cold fearing – trust me when I say cold fearing. I don’t even like the coldness after getting out a shower, preferring to step into an all enclosing bathrobe vs a towel. I’m that person that apologizes for their cold hands when shaking hands.

**SO in order for me to not complain about numb toes (the first to get cold for me), in addition to a warm ski jacket/ snowpants/boots, I was equipped with thermal wear, merino wool socks, heat packs and when necessary, ice cleats. And carry a thermos of hot chocolate and lots of snacks. Cause it’s at least -10’C and colder Canadian weather (not counting wind chill), might as well make it comfortable as can be.

Advertisements

17 Things On the List for 2017!

Hello dear readers, it’s certainly been awhile!                                                                                                   Ohhodgepodge has been on an over a year hiatus during an eventful 2016, but I’m back with lots of things in store for 2017 – hope you enjoy my lists below for now, and I promise I’ll be back soon.

17 Things On the List for 2017!

  1. Blog more!
  2. Take advantage of free 2017 Parks Canada Discovery Pass and the fact that I’m near the beautiful Rockies to get outside and go hiking, canoeing, kayaking as much as possible
  3. Visit the Canadian West Coast- Vancouver
  4. Visit a Canadian Territory- NWT, Whitehorse
  5. See the Northern Lights
  6. Visit an Ice Castle
  7. Volunteer at a yoga studio
  8. Foster a pregnant cat and her kittens!
  9. Complete some of my art projects around the house
  10. Obtain my CAPM Certification
  11. Get my cardio up so I don’t hyperventilate as much climbing up mountains
  12. Keep in touch with long distance friends and family
  13. Donate at least 10 inches of hair in the fall
  14. Take more time to reflect and meditate
  15. Flex my video editing skills and put my Go Pro videos together
  16. Get more involved in my community
  17. Cross more items off lists 🙂

————————————————————————–

16 Things That Happened in 2016

  1. Took a hiatus from blogging, deactivated facebook, got on twitter
  2. Graduated university!
  3. Trip to New York City for the first time
  4. Volunteered at an awesome yoga studio
  5. Got my first work contact outside of co-op
  6. Ended my first work contract early
  7. Saw whales and walked on the ocean floor during my trip out east to NB, NS and PEI
  8. Moved out west across the country to Calgary, Alberta
  9. Got my first full-time job post-uni
  10. Moved in with my best friend/ le bf
  11. Bought my first car
  12. Paid off the student loans
  13. Climbed my first summit and had a mini meltdown on the way down
  14. Got into home decor/ thrifting
  15. Drove myself to urgent care and got my first stitches (don’t mess with carrots and big knives!)
  16. Became much more appreciative of my family and parents as I’m on this adventure of “adulthood”

————————————————————————–

15 Cities  I Traveled to in 2015

  1. Paris, France
  2. Giverny, France
  3. St Malo, France
  4. Versailles, France
  5. Grenoble, France
  6. Bordeaux, France
  7. Biganos,  France
  8. Saint Astier,  France
  9. Amsterdam, Netherlands
  10. London, England
  11. Bruges, Belgium
  12. Geneva, Switzerland
  13. Cologne, Germany
  14. Barcelona, Spain
  15. Havana, Cuba

La Petite Ceinture awaits- exploring part of the abandoned railway track in Paris

20150717_211140_Fotor
There’s something awfully alluring about an old abandoned railway with some sections still intact, just lying around the perimeter of Paris. La Petite Ceinture (little belt) was a railway that hosted passenger and freight steam trains until 1934 when the development of the metro and cars made it a thing of the past.1
I first heard of it in a video called “Top secret places in Paris” video, but unlike the video’s other listed locations, there was no map because apparently access is forbidden. But really, it’s not too much of a secret when there’s a small area that opened in 2013 along with a restaurant in one of the train stations.
If you’re like me and my friends and have an urge to explore the quieter areas, bring good running shoes! (Perhaps it’s already obvious, but something I learned the hard way). Also useful- long pants, some willingness to get your hands dirty and of course luck to not get in trouble.

20150717_210832_Fotor

We started somewhere along the perimeter of the 13ieme arrondissement with a bridge overlooking the railroad about two stories below. There were already some other urban explorers down there and they appeared to be much more prepared than my newbish friends and I. While we were simply wearing t-shirts and shorts (me unwisely in sandals), they wore cargo pants, hats and hiking backpacks.
Trying to figure out a way to get down, we debated whether we should shout out and ask how they entered. It looked like embarrassing ourselves wasn’t an option when they disappeared from our view, going under the other bridge tunnel. So, we decided to hoist ourselves over the small bridge parapet onto the hill that slopes down to the tracks and figure things out from there.
Slowly walking along the top of the hill using one side of the building wall as support, we tiptoed through the plants and weeds, careful to avoid thorny branches, garbage and broken glass. In the bushes there was an opening to a ledge-like portion of the hill that made for an easier way to scramble down.
Finally we had a small leap to get off the ledge to the tracks where we could safely take a look around. There wasn’t green moss growth everywhere between the tracks and on the walls like I’ve seen in some photos, the graffiti was still pretty cool.
20150717_211434My friends and I continued walking until we reached a graffitied drywall with a small hole

20150717_211621

where beside it were marked “La Petite Ceinture Survivra” (The little belt survives/remains)
20150717_211751On the other side wasn’t some epic magical place but just an empty construction site.
20150717_211858
But I did find a old French copy of John Milton’s “Areopagitica; A speech of Mr. John Milton for the Liberty of Unlicenc’d Printing”
20150717_212120
The sky was beginning to darken and we were overall satisfied with our adventure, and ready to look for an exit. Exploring an abandoned train track is one thing, but we probably shouldn’t be in a construction site with working equipment and tools, Walking to the end of the site seemed like a safer option than climbing the scaffolding. Under another bridge we went, clambering over wooden planks and foam boards eventually led to deteriorating stone steps up a boarded up building that once had an impressive balcony.

20150717_212645

There was no obvious exit. A space under the fence was just too small to slip through so our only choice was climbing over the fence. We hoped that none of the occasionally passing cars or pedestrians would report three twenty-something people climbing over the fence from a construction site. Luckily even if they did, a metro stop was close by so we were quickly gone and on our way without any incidents except for the dust on our hands and shoes.
Being able to visit a green space that provides a quiet reserve in the busy city of Paris as my first urban exploration was a great experience, it’d be interesting to see what they do with the space in the future.

20150717_211512

Versailles- OK Visit to Magical Evening with Fireworks and a Masked Ball

Photo credit to my friend Juliana R.
Photo credit to my friend Juliana R.
Sunsets, fireworks and costume masked balls make everything better
Admittedly the first time I visited la Chateau de Versailles, it felt like an overly extravagant grounds commissioned by a long dead king now a tourist destination. Learning about the labour that went into the making of the lavish place along with some of its scandalous history  during my tour only contributed to my distaste of King Louis the XIV. I just couldn’t relate to the royalty who used one third of the city’s water supply just to run the fountains! Instead I empathized for the common people who toiled away to make his vision happen and could see why they stormed Versailles during the French revolution. The cold, gloomy and sporadically rainy weather that day and the fact that I also wasn’t feeling too well probably didn’t help.
However I’m glad I gave Versailles another try with my friends, this time without judgement of its past but to simply enjoy its immaculate grounds. If there’s ever a best time to visit its gardens, I have to say it’s during Les Grandes Eaux Nocturnes- The Fountains Night Show. The event happens each Saturday evening in the summer and ends with spectacular fireworks.

IMG_1479

The evening my friends and I chose to visit also coincided with their Grand Masked ball- which we would have loved to attend if we could afford the tickets and then more for the costumes. However it was fun to see people dressed up and enjoying themselves in baroque costumes with the backdrop of a huge palace and garden. Girls were literally prancing around in their long elaborate dresses, conducting mini-photo shoots. The guys were equally as dressed up- with wigs, makeup, trousers, and even bowties on their socks. It was amusing to see the clash of modernity, girls who smoking cigarettes or sporting running shoes underneath their full gowns.
Credit Juliana R.
Credit Juliana R.
Juliana R.
Credit Juliana R
As for the gardens, unlike the regular program where many of the fountains were not running, this time they pulled out all the stops. With water jetting and cascading, the fountains looked alive. There were bubbles in the air, fire shows, laser projectors, fog machines, all with classical French baroque music playing in the background. The fragrant smell of oranges from the freshly pressed citrus stands was a lovely touch as it matched well with the “Orangerie”.

IMG_1477

As the sun was setting, walking in the darkening hedges I felt like it could be the maze in the fourth Harry Potter book, minus the magical creatures of course. The lights came on illuminating the jetting fountains, it was probably even better than Louis the XIV could have imagined it.

IMG_1513

At 10:50pm  everyone headed for the finale. The faint pinks and purples streaks of the last light and this added to the surrealism as the fireworks came on synchronized to music, sparkling in the air.

IMG_1516

After the show, while my friends and I along with most other people were rushing to catch the train back to Paris, this was only the start of the Ball for the costumed party goers, which would go on to dawn! For fanciful wishing, here’s to meeting my friends again one day in full costume at the ball!

IMG_1512

59 Rue Rivoli- The coolest place in Paris

IMG_1319_Fotor
Tucked in the middle of a busy commercial area between retail stores on rue Rivoli is not where you’d expect to find a former squat building housing over 30 artist studios! A sign hanging on its colourful front facade advertises itself as being the “coolest place in Paris”. After climbing up the winding graffitied stairs, visiting each of the 6 floors and feeling the general creative energy of the place, I kind of have to agree.
If you’re craving a bit of colourful chaos, with a plethora of things from dissected plush animals, vibrant cartoons, magazine collage paintings, funky sculptures, etc, then this is the place for you. Connecting 59 Rue Rivoli to the name of this blog, I think the place screamed “hodgepodge” since there was a little bit of everything. I was glad I stumbled on it through a reddit conversation where a person asked where to find artists at work in Paris.
I was able to meet a most eclectic artist, Francesco, who has been there for 15 years and is actually one of the original squatters! Admiring the umbrellas hanging upside down in his studio, I  asked him “Bonjour, puis je prend un photo?”. Instead he reached for my camera and ended up taking a photo of my friend Hawaiki and I. He smiled and asked where my friend and I were from, and started pointing out some of his work, the strokes of paint, the texture. One feline-like shape on a paper caught my eye, so I asked him if it was a cat, but he replied “oui mais non”, it was “a metamorphosis of animals”.
He then grabbed a pen from out of nowhere and started drawing on a corner what I realized was a cat-like version of myself, then proceeded to also draw my friend with emphasis on his spiky hair. I’m not sure if it was pressure for me to purchase the piece since it now sported a personalized piece of me on it, but I was so amused at this enthusiastic artist and I went ahead and bought it.  I thought I immediately could pick the piece up, but Francesca whisked it away to a drying machine, where he mentioned something about it “taking away the last bits humanity”. Absolutely no idea what he was talking about, but nice guy. There’s actually saying on the wall stating that “the artists are a little bit crazy but nice”, and it’s true!
Looking out the front windows at brand name stores across the street I made another comment aloud to my friend about how I was so surprised that this space was here. A floating female voice responded – “Oui, l’espace commercial, je ne sais pas combien de temps il va rester ici…” She was talking to me! My friend and I grinned at each other since we thought we were alone, but apparently not! Intrigued I followed the direction of her voice behind an opening between a screen and some boxes.  Behind it sat a thin woman with her back to me working at her pile of magnets.
I let her know I was there with a polite “Bonjour” and continued to look at her art. She said something in French and she saw my confused look and I explained that I was an Anglophone. To which she continued on in English and chatted some more, learning her name, Anita gave my friend and I an address to La Petite Maison, a more underground art place where we should seek out her friend Sandy.
The place is free, where you can wander around looking at artists’ work and if you’re lucky talk to them. If you’re like me, then you probably can’t help but purchase some of their work to support the art community. It certainly helps when they had the most creative donation boxes that I have ever seen. Some include an amusing one that said  “A solution if you have too much money” and a racy one with a slot between the legs of a mannequin. My favourite was “Are you saved by a dong?” Curious, I decided to drop in a coin, and there was a satisfying Dong! sound. This year is 59 Rue Rivoli’s 15th anniversary, I’m hoping that the space continues to exist and that artists are successful in their creative endeavors. I also can’t wait to explore the other address, La Petite Maison!

Wine-ing in Paris with the Asian Glow

Wine shop steps away from my apartment, taken from La Vigne au Verre's facbeook page

France is well known for its wine, and from my time here these past few months, I’m finding that Parisians casually meet for “une verre de vin” like how people in other countries go grab a cup of coffee or tea.
I posted in a Facebook French-English conversation group in search of a tandem conversation partner, and was surprised that four people messaged me with an invitation to meet “pour un verre”. I wasn’t sure if alcohol in my system would be a good idea when trying to focus on correct conjugations and feminine and masculine forms that don’t exist in English… However I guess it’s just a way of life for them and something they’re used to. Price wise it’s super cheap, and on a restaurant set menu it often costs the same as soda! Decent ones can even be found at the grocery store for 6€ or at one of the many neighbourhood wine shops.
But wine accessibility aside, as preluded in my post title, how do you handle this abundance of wine when you have the Alcohol Flush Reaction, also known as the Asian glow? If you don’t know what this phenomenon is, I’ll let this buzzfeed video explain it to you.
For others, wine produces pleasant reactions… but for me it’s not fun when my body is having a slight allergic reaction with symptoms of a flushed red face, quickened heart rate and growing headache. Yet I want to immerse myself in the culture, be polite and join in social activities. It’s hard to say no especially when the wine offered is a regional speciality that the host is proud of and insistent that you at least give it a try.
Below are three scenarios and some solutions that I’ve experienced and proposed for any others who can not partake in wine, or you can view for your entertainment:
20150409_1859551. You’re at the office or a party, and wine is offered. Everyone is drinking to socialize and celebrate, and you don’t want to ruin the mood by saying “non, merci” or explaining the science behind the Asian glow.                                                                                                                                            => Go ahead, enjoy some wine but know your alcohol limit (for me that’s one glass). Make sure to do so with equal amounts of water and food (if not more!). It’s a great excuse to eat more food (yes, it does pair well with cheese) in order to lessen my blood alcohol content. Maybe if you’re lucky, people will think you have a nice healthy rouge, or a cute blush.
=> OR attempt to look classy and drink, take some sips, maybe a few Instagram photos, but don’t drink all of it! (Sorry co-workers, I’ve snuck into the kitchen not only for more food, but also to dump the rest of my glass down the sink. Good thing it was cheap anyways.
20150513_190442-22. You’re invited to a party or picnic where you can drink or bring along some wine:                                                                                                                                                                                     =>Substitute – explore the non-alcoholic section of the grocery store, there’s a lot of sparkling juice in pretty bottles if you want the look of a fancy wine bottle. As long as you have something in your hand, often people won’t know that it’s not alcohol.  Psstt- the picture on the left has the celebratory feel of champagne, but is really just apple juice.
2015-05-03 17.36.04 3. Someone proposed you go out for un verre de vin with them                                                                                                                                                                                                                                =>It’s their way of going out. You can propose an alternative and explain the phenomenon for their amusement. It could go well, or they want to see you drink to see you turn red.
What matters is that you’re socializing and having a good time, and this is possible without alcohol. Remember that you’re not alone, there’s also people in France who also choose to not drink alcohol for personal or religious reasons. I was able to find a conversation partner as displayed in the photo above we’ve gone out for tea, coffee and oh course, french macarons- thank goodness I’m not allergic to macarons!

Let’s go miaou- Pop-up cat café in Paris

I’ve been meaning to visit one of the cat cafés in Paris but just haven’t gone around to organise a time with friends and make a reservation. However, the other week a friend who knows my enthusiasm for cats sent me a link that a free temporary one was in town! Organized by Purina one, it looks like they’re participating in the cat café trend that’s  growing in many cities all over the world.
Their venue was a chance to enjoy a complimentary cafe while talking to cat experts, receive their cat food sample and of course, interact with the feline superstars. A google search on the Purina one cafe came up with findings that they successful conducted the same event last year in Manhattan New York, with people waiting 3 hours in line!
I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of waiting time when I dragged my friend to accompany me on the last day of their week long event on a Saturday morning. I figured if it was too busy, my back up plan was shopping and visiting an art studio nearby. Fortunately there was no line to be found, as the novelty is probably less when there’s already two permanent cat cafes in town.
Upon entering the space on rue Turbigo, we were briefed on the rules of the café (don’t wake up the sleeping cats), sanitized our hands  given a survey for a cat food sample and then welcomed to enjoy a hot drink along with some chocolate.
There were six cats who lounged in little wall lofts. Unfortunately unlike the New York Purina One event, the cats were not from local shelters but from breeders. At least there were certified breeders who provided information about each type of cat. Most were lazily peering down at their enthusiastic viewers or simply sleeping, not responding much to my attempts at sparking their interest by waving a toy. Except for the one hairless sphynx cat. He or she was clearly a superstar (I typed the word into search box to make sure it was the right spelling and found a fun fact, did you know the hairless sphynx cat originated in Toronto, Canada?!) This cat confidently strided around the room while people looked at the curious sight. Not shy, the sphynx nimbly hopped right onto my friend’s lap!
Though I don’t have a cat in Paris, I filled out the little survey to recieve a goody bag of cat food samples for a work collegue who just adopted a cat. As we were headed for the exit which was supervised by a Purina representive, she warmly asked if we had any questions, and made sure that we had the chance to enjoy their refreshments. Purina, you definitely know how to do some paw-sitive public relations and marketing.