Paris, pour la dernière fois

We hopped on the Eurostar bound for Paris late yesterday evening for the last time. Destination: the land of cheese, pains au chocolat, lazy afternoons laying out in parks, and…Suvit!

My childhood (adolescent-hood?) friend Suvit moved to Paris in March for work and immediately invited us to stay with him. As a testament to his coolness, his flat has a view of the Eiffel Tower.

The tip of the Eiffel tower, as seen from Suvit's kitchen window.

The tip of the Eiffel tower, as seen from Suvit’s kitchen window (check out the cloudless blue skies that are supposed to stick around for our entire visit).

I don’t have a picture of us with Suvit yet as we arrived after midnight and he left for work early this morning. He’s working the entire time we’re visiting, which works out just as well since Allan and I are still putting in long days polishing up our dissertations. I wrote my supervisor an e-mail this morning, in response to a request that I send her some work by Friday, that said (no joke), “At the risk of sounding like an undedicated student, I am in Paris right now and the weather is amazing.” We’ll see how that goes over.

A food compulsion, and cornflake marshmallow cookies

Cornflake marshmallow cookies

Cornflake marshmallow cookies

I have a wee problem with throwing out food (consider the cost! The waste, particularly when so many go without! The ecological footprint of getting food from farm to factory to store to home!), which causes me to sometimes keep food around longer than I should, and eat produce and leftovers of questionable freshness (sorry mom). It also means that I can get mildly preoccupied with making meals using up every last scrap of food in the house.

As you can imagine, this compulsion can become quite consuming when one is about to move out of a home. Our food supplies are thinning appropriately and we’ve made a conscious effort not to buy any more food than we can eat in the next two weeks, but I still take a food inventory every day, intent on using up every last can of cannellini beans and every lingering square of dark chocolate. So far, I’ve made Italian wedding soup to use up some stellete pasta, hummingbird cake to get rid of shredded coconut and a tin of pineapple slices, and raspberry crumble bars to use up a jar of fancy jam.

But my favourite, and certainly Allan’s, has been a big batch of cornflake marshmallow cookies. We’ve had a huge and neglected box of opened cornflakes occupying precious space on our pantry shelf for the better part of our year in London, and every time Allan suggested we throw it out I’d pop open the box, take a taste and declare it still fit for eating (not that I ever subsequently did). With our days in London numbered, I needed a purpose for the cornflakes, and I found it in these cookies. Never mind that if I had to throw away any food, semi-stale cornflakes would certainly be the least offensive. Never mind too that I had to buy a bag of miniature marshmallows, of which I only used half, for these cookies and which then became fodder for more recipe-searching. You should make these, skip the peanut butter chips and bake for 12 minutes.

Big scoops of dough, ready to be chilled.

Big scoops of dough lined up for a chill in the fridge.

Stacked, and ready for a picnic.

Stacked, and ready for a picnic.

Other things on the agenda for the coming week: pepita brittle with the nearly 1 kg of hulled pumpkin seeds we currently have, a midsummer cake and Irish soda bread with the self-raising wholemeal flour that the Doxsees left behind, and zucchini bread to finish off the cream cheese frosting and toasted nuts I have left over from making the hummingbird cake. You see now how this is a terrible, vicious cycle? I would dwell on this some more but there’s a bag of half-eaten pitted dates that needs my attention.

Tired of London, Tired of Life*

London's Sunday UpMarket. What's not to love about this city?

London’s Sunday UpMarket. What’s not to love about this city?

I feel like I left for our Scandinavian cruise a resident of London and now I’ve come back a tourist. It is August 1st today and there is exactly one more month left 12th(!) today; I started this post almost two weeks ago and now there is but a scant 2.5s week left to the honeyyear. We move out of our flat August 31. The next day, we celebrate our one-year anniversary.

Allan and I travelled during many weekends this year but we also spent many, many at home in London. But I don’t regret this at all. Because nothing makes you feel like you’re truly living in a city than choosing to curl up at home rather than partake in any of the awesome things the city has to offer, because those awesome things will still be there tomorrow, and the weeks and months after that.

Only in just a couple more weeks, they won’t be there anymore. In the days since our vacation, I have become increasingly more anxious about all the things I’ve yet to do in London (see the free National Gallery! Take the train to Cambridge! Climb the dome at St. Paul’s Cathedral! See more of the stunning British Museum!** Eat a real English muffin!) . Then I become wistfully resigned to the fact that some of those things just won’t get done.

It is completely mind-boggling how fast the days are whizzing by, due in no small part to the number of hours each day we’re devoting to a pair of pesky dissertations that we’re scrambling to finish (and by “we” I mean “me”; in typical Allan form, he is almost done). It is consuming 90% of my waking (and sometimes sleeping) energy, which is probably a good thing as it’s keeping me from feeling even more obnoxiously sorry for myself that I’m soon leaving this city that’s been so good to us.

This past weekend we started saying good-bye to friends in our building and at church. On Saturday night a group of us were trying to decide over a fancy dinner overlooking the Thames in the restaurant at the top of Tate Modern, or a potluck barbecue in our building’s garden. We chose the barbecue. I invited my friend Erin, who was visiting from Toronto, to come along, and was worried that I wasn’t showing her a proper London experience. But she had a great time, and remarked that it was wonderful to be able to get a glimpse of our lives in London: our home, our friends, our food, our rituals. And as we sat around in that garden, wrapped up in thick blankets and hoodies at midnight, roasting mini marshmallows in the glowing charcoal embers and making detailed plans for cross-city and cross-continent trips to visit each other, I knew she was right.

So as I head into these final weeks of our time in London, I’m going to try my hardest to write a fabulous dissertation, and to cross as many things off my bucket list as possible, but most importantly for me, to create some time to think and reflect on how grateful I am to have had this year at all.

*The title of this post was lifted from a book on things to do in London; I am not so clever as to have come up with this.

**This offence is particularly egregious, as I can literally throw a stone from my school to the British Museum’s back entrance. Perhaps it is because it was always so close by that I never thought to make time specifically to see it.

In Defense of the Cruise

It wasn’t so long ago that I turned my nose up at cruises and people who liked them, haughtily declaring obnoxious things like, “I’ll take a cruise when I can’t walk anymore!” and “Cruises are for tourists; I’m not a tourist I’m a traveller.” Clearly, I’ve reformed my views, as three weeks ago I boarded an ocean liner with Allan and my parents to sail the North and Baltic Seas.

A not-too-shabby place to eat our breakfasts.

A not-too-shabby place to eat our breakfasts.

Sunset through a porthole.

Sunset through a porthole.

Here’s what you won’t get from a cruise: You will not come away with a deep and personal understanding of a place’s culture or history. You will not have much time to interact with locals, or figure what day-to-day life is in this foreign place. At the end of it, you will not be able to regale your wide-eyed friends with stories of how you were mugged at knife-point, scaled the continent’s highest peak or stayed in the filthiest hostel imaginable (all of which have happened, at one point or another, to Allan or me). You will not feel a great sense of accomplishment at how far you pushed yourself beyond your physical or cultural comfort zone.

Towel animals: super kitsch, but somehow so delightful.

Towel animals: super kitsch, but somehow so delightful.

But if you can resist succumbing (much) to the overpriced booze, cruise-organized tours (I’ll sign up for one of those when I can’t walk anymore) and gambling opportunities, and if you can be courteous and kind and genuinely friendly to the ship staff who – though grateful for their jobs – work long hours with low pay and wait on you hand and foot, and if you can recognize the privilege of such luxurious travel then you might just find, as we did, that a cruise can be a surprisingly cost-effective way to see seven new cities in six new countries, albeit in a whistle-stop way.

One of many mahjong tournaments

One of many mahjong tournaments

There were obvious benefits to the cruise like the ship travelling while you slept (no pesky commutes to and from city centers to airports, nor long lines to stand in, nor hours to kill before boarding), not needing to lug your bags around or pack and unpack at each new city, the calming effect of watching endless miles of ocean roll by, and eating remarkably well. But those aside, our cruise was formidable for one reason: the itinerary was phenomenal. By this I mean that I would have independently chosen to travel to every city that we visited, even if it wasn’t part of a package deal on the cruise. Most of the cities were also only a 10-30 minute walk from where the ship docked, which is not normal for ports in Europe.

Anyway, if it sounds like I’m being a bit defensive, it’s probably because I am; I still feel a little abashed telling you I went on (and thoroughly enjoyed) a cruise. Once off the boat at each new city, Allan and I quickly shed our cruise-passenger identities and set about exploring far and wide by foot, armed with pages torn out of The Rough Guide to Europe on a Budget, which helped us ease our traveler consciences.  Some highlights:

We did some research beforehand and found a local free walking tour in Copenhagen.

We did some research beforehand and found a local free walking tour in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The Sydney Opera House was designed by a man from Copenhagen. Copenhagen instead ended up with...this (woh-wah).

The Sydney Opera House was designed by a man from Copenhagen. Copenhagen instead ended up with…this (woh-wah).

We had no expectations for Helsinki, Finland but were pleasantly surprised. I'm standing in front of the massive Helsinki Cathedral (armed with a self-guided walking tour I printed off from the Internet).

We had no expectations for Helsinki, Finland but were pleasantly surprised. I’m standing in front of the massive Helsinki Cathedral (armed with a self-guided walking tour I printed off from the Internet).

Another beautiful cathedral in Helsinki.

A second beautiful cathedral in Helsinki.

We joined another guided free walking tour in Stockholm, Sweden.

We joined another guided free walking tour in Stockholm, Sweden.

Allan in a food market, which normally we would have gone nuts for, except we had already raided the breakfast buffet for items we could pack for lunch. This turned out to be a very successful strategy for saving money while travelling in pricey Scandinavia.

Allan in a food market, which normally we would have gone nuts for, except we had already raided the cruise ship’s breakfast buffet for items we could pack for lunch. This turned out to be a very successful strategy for saving money while travelling in pricey Scandinavia.

We spent two days in our favourite city, St. Petersburg. I can't believe we went to Russia!.

We spent two days in our favourite city of the trip, St. Petersburg. I can’t believe we went to Russia!.

By the Neva River in St. Petersburg

By the Neva River in St. Petersburg.

At the Peterhof fountains in St. Petersburg.

At the Peterhof fountains in St. Petersburg.

A lookout at the Peter and Paul Fortress.

A lookout at St. Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Fortress.

Tallinn, Estonia is a very lovely and we-preserved Medieval walled city. It reminded us a bit of Tuscany. Its also the birthplace of Skype! We had another free walking tour here, naturally.

Tallinn, Estonia is a very lovely and well-preserved Medieval walled city. It reminded us a bit of Tuscany. Its also the birthplace of Skype! We had another free walking tour here, naturally.

We wandered onto a bustling cobblestoned street lined with cute cafes and shops in Gothenburg, Sweden. Allan is happy anytime there is a pedestrian-only path to walk along.

We wandered onto a bustling cobblestoned street lined with cute cafes and shops in Gothenburg, Sweden. Allan is happy anytime there is a pedestrian-only path to walk along.

We had fun climbing (literally) all over the opera house in Oslo, Norway.

We had fun climbing (literally) all over the opera house in Oslo, Norway.

Another view of Oslo's Opera House. What an ingenious way to create more public space.

Another view of Oslo’s Opera House. What an ingenious way to create more public space.

Colourful cottages dot the Norwegian archipelagos, seen as we sailed away from our last port and headed home to London.

Colourful cottages dot the Norwegian archipelagos, seen as we sailed away from our last port and headed home to London.

Mom & Dad Siu in London

Friends, your heartfelt sympathies and understanding after Mango died have been incredible. We miss our furry friend and it still seems like an impossibility that she’s gone! But your kind words and thoughts have helped immensely – thank you.

*****

My parents arrived in London on Thursday for a visit that’s been planned for months. I met them at Heathrow and there were a few tears but many more smiles. Mostly, I was overwhelmed with how much I’ve missed them. The night they arrived I laid on the sofa-bed while my mom rubbed my feet for a long time, and it felt like everything (except maybe one) was right with the world.

The weather has been perfect for them. Other than a one hour outing at the British Museum though, they haven’t done anything touristy. They’ve just been relaxing, catching up on sleep, and eating.

We took a detour on the way to the British Museum so my parents could see Allan's school...

We took a detour on the way to the British Museum so my parents could see Allan’s school…

…and my school!

There’s more to come in the relaxing/sleeping/eating department as we hop a cruise to Scandinavia tomorrow! I know we should have more refined or adventurous travel tastes, and believe me I’m aptly embarrassed about my fondness for cruises, but I can’t help it: I still love ‘em and it makes me a bit giddy to think about it (soon to be replaced, unfortunately, with motion sickness). Hope to update from a Nordic city!