5 Things I Love About Traveling Solo

I like a lot of things. I like to cook. I like to create things. I like puppy kisses and rolling in the snow. I like lightning storms. I really like stomping in puddles and stepping on exceptionally crunchy looking leaves, but traveling is, by far, my favorite thing. If I won the lottery and had a gazillion dollars, I would spend my life (for a few years, at least) on the move, staying in cheap hostels, eating questionable street food, hoarding hand sanitizer and Pepto Bismol and living life in the company of the coolest strangers. That previous statement is the living nightmare of most people, my family included.

The overall experience of going to a strange place alone and exploring is a mass of juxtaposing pieces. It makes you be brave and cautious, curious and knowledgeable, independent and unafraid to ask for help, aware of what you know and what you don’t.

People, especially Americans, don’t like the idea of a young woman traveling alone. We’re fragile, with our doubling of X chromosomes. We should always travel in pairs… if not in a group escorted by at least one sturdy, capable man. If we must leave the borders of the ole U S of A, can’t we just go on a cruise?? That is, if we can’t just go to some walled-in resort where there is no chance of us interacting with an actual local.

There are just scores of people lining up outside the frame waiting to harm her.

There are just scores of people lining up outside the frame waiting to harm her.

Traveling alone isn’t for everyone, but (if you asked me) it is something everyone should do at least once. I’d like to tell you what my 5 favorite things about traveling solo are and why they completely changed my life.

  1. I learned just how much I was capable of as an INDIVIDUAL.
    -It is an amazing experience to show up in a new country and go on an organized tour. You don’t have to think, plan or organize… You just get to show up and have your mind blown by stuff. It’s really well worth the experience if that is the only way you will explore. Three years ago, when I took my first trip out of the country that’s exactly what I did, and with my best friend too.  If you had asked me then, “Why don’t you just do it yourself?”, I would have laughed at you. I wouldn’t have even known where to start. Being able to pick flights, the best hostels, research and read the history of places and then show up and navigate a foreign place… that’s pretty cool.
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  2. Though there were times that I am lonely, I meet exponentially more people than I do when I travel with a companion.
    -I am an incredibly social person. Hands down. I don’t even like to go to the grocery solo. If having someone to talk to whilst I find the firmest apples is an option, that is what I’m going to pick. Problem is: if you go on a trip with someone, human nature is not to step out of your comfort zone and meet people until you really feel at ease. When Ash (my aforementioned bestie) and I went to tour Great Britain and Ireland, it took us almost half of our trip to start making friends with the other young women on our trip. Once we did, we were thick as thieves and the fun increased EXPONENTIALLY. If we had jumped right in the first night, we wouldn’t have missed so many possible memories. I’ve gotten pretty good at walking into a place and meeting EVERYONE.
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  3. I did more.
    -I don’t generally make precise plans when I go somewhere. I make sure I have enough things to do each day to stay pretty busy. If I get hungry, I eat. If I get tired, I rest. If I am on my way to a museum and find a network of alleys with amazing graffiti, I get to do whatever I want and not worry about ‘the plan’. I don’t have to wait for everyone else to get back to the coach, or finish their dinner. I don’t have to leave a city because only one day is allotted on the dossier. I can do whatever I want!
  4. I got lost.
    -So so so so lost. I’ve gotten lost in 4 different countries in the past 12 months and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Lost in Berlin, I made two new friends looking for a night club, that turned out to be closed for a private event. Lost in Prague, I found some kind of pecan pastry and an amazing pair of earrings in a boutique off the beaten path… way better than the stuff in the tourist areas. Lost in Toronto, I found a pretty cool person to spend an evening with. Lost in Philadelphia, I found an alley full of mosaics, an amazing vintage reclamation shop and the best cheese steak I’ve ever tasted.
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  5. I faced my fears, and walked away more experienced, confident and ready for the next challenge.
    -I am from a relatively small city. No real mass transit to speak of. Taking the tube literally froze me in my tracks in London. Ash and I walked somewhere between 20 and 150 miles the day we had free to explore the city. Why? Because yours truly was too scared to risk getting lost on the subway. When you’re alone, you’ve just got to suck it up. Cabs can be insanely expensive and 10 mile walks are not nearly as pleasant alone.
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    I enjoy traveling, especially solo, because every time I get to know myself a little bit better. I actually like new foods… which surprised me. I cry in museums sometimes. I am particularly susceptible to gypsies and pick pockets. I enjoy eating alone and observing other people. Old ladies touch my hair, no matter which country I’m in. I get jittery and nervous every single time I have to take public transit. I have a tendency to adopt this weird, semi-neutral chameleon accent so that people don’t associate me with Honey BooBoo.
    .Traveling solo is not always a bed of roses. Save your worries! I’m going to write out my least favorite things about traveling solo, because sometimes its nice to have someone by your side. Either way, traveling is so much more worth your money than laser hair removal, new furniture or a shiny new car. I don’t think I’m something so cool because I spend every penny of available income on something that is intangible in the long term. Whether or not you have someone to go with you, pack up and go to ONE PLACE. One place you’ve dreamed of. One place where a movie was set, that you couldn’t stop imaging. One place that you may never have the chance to see again. Just go!What are your favorite things about traveling? Do you like to strike out on your own or do you prefer having someone attached to your hip?
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Of Brotherly Love: A Weekend in Philadelphia

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

I was fortunate enough to be able to spend last weekend in Philadelphia following the completion of my second half marathon in 2 weeks. I’ve been on the hunt for bigger cities to which I might have the interest of moving in the next few years. The reason? My sister has fled the Ohio valley for the lovely plains of Dallas. My parents are retiring to Florida in a few years and have already purchased their retirement property. So where does that leave me? It leaves me hating the heat of Texas and ill-equipped (being a ginger) for the beaches of Florida. I’ve been looking for cities with good public transit, temperate climates and bustling city centers. Enter Philadelphia.

Philadelphia is one of the oldest cities in the states, and boasts subway/local train system that is simple enough that even I can navigate it. With a population of just over 1.5 million people, it’s a big city without being over whelming. The City of Brotherly Love holds a never-ending flow of things to do: the trifecta of professional sports teams (76ers, Phillies, Eagles), also other professional sports teams (MLS:Union and NHL:Flyers), a steady stream of major concerts as well as more independent acts, and loads of history to learn in the many museums and galleries. Philadelphia is also easy to travel to and from: major international airport, Amtrak and Greyhound (bleh, I know). Enough knowledge! Let me tell you what I did while I was there!

See? I'm a big girl!

See? I’m a big girl!

I got in on Thursday afternoon and took the train into the city. Coming from a girl who has grown up in a city without actual public transit: I killed it. Yep, didn’t even get turned around! I must confess, not having Martha around to steer me intimidated me to death, but we kids have to grow up eventually. I arrived at the Apple Hostel on Bank St. in Old Town to be checked in by the receptionist. This guy was super cool in a beard growing, music following hipster kind of way. I actually felt that way about all of the staff that I encountered, right up to the owner. (As an aside: if you are in Philadelphia, you NEED to spend at least one night here. The place is swell and the staff know all sorts of cool places for you to go explore!)

Yep. Stole this image from the website.

Yep. Stole this image from the website.

The hostel was hosting a pub crawl that night, so we all met in the lobby at 8 for drinks and to get to know each other. Our group was filled with Brits, Aussies, Germans and a few Yanks (such as myself). We headed out to the standard pub crawl shenanigans, and danced well into the night. I camped out in the alley where the hostel is located, eating from the food services table of the movie set next door, and waited for Richard Gere to walk past. Which he did. And he waved. I was forbidden to take any photos, but I was pleased as punch, regardless.

This photo pretty much sums up the evening.

This photo pretty much sums up the evening.

I forgot to pack any kind of sleepwear, so I was reduced to walking around in my unders in a dorm room with about a million other girls. God bless them all for  tolerating my frighteningly white tush parading around like it was my house.

Friday, November 15, 2013

After a bit of a slow morning, I headed out solo to the Mütter Museum. This establishment is associated with the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and is quite the educational (if a bit shock and awe) experience if you aren’t squeamish. I’d share my photos with you, but photography was not permitted in the museum. When I was leaving the museum I got a text from Greg, whom I had met while on Contiki in the summer, saying that he had arrived at the hostel. Greg is from Boston and happened to be free for the weekend, so he ventured down for a reunion. I walked back to the hostel (a quick 20 blocks) to meet him and do a bit of exploring. I did sneak a peek at town hall and Independence Hall on the way back:

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Feeling independent?

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The biggest city hall in the country!

 I dropped off my coat in my dorm and Greg and I took off to see some stuff: Washington Square, Franklin Square, the Federal Reserve, Liberty Bell, Independence Hall 2.0, Friendship Gate at Chinatown, the statues outside the municipal building, and the Love Statue at JFK Plaza. Street falafel topped off the evening of exploring followed by wine and a movie (where we both couldn’t stay awake) at the hostel.

My favorite shot from that afternoon.

My favorite shot from that afternoon.

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Saturday, November 16, 2013

Since we both passed out pretty early during movie night, we got a pretty good start to the morning. We headed out to the museum area that is centered around the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Greg and I headed to the Please Touch Museum to start. I was thinking it would be more like an interactive science museum. In actuality, it’s a super cool children’s museum, intended for people with families. Didn’t stop us from being children!

The piano is regular sized... Greg is just exceptionally tall.

The piano is regular sized… Greg is just exceptionally tall.

I am also exceptionally tall.

I am also exceptionally tall.

Next stop, some picture time at the Rocky steps and checking out the start and finish setup for the 20th anniversary Philadelphia Marathon, set to take place the next day. I think it made Greg uncomfortable that I was walking around in an area where we most likely weren’t supposed to be, and touching all of the metals… doing the sorts of things that I do. I won’t call it YOLO, because I think that is stupid. I prefer to think that the amount of confidence you exude when doing things, even if you’re not supposed to be doing them, greatly reduces the amount of people who question your actions. Also, clipboards and glasses convince everyone that you’re important.

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WInners! (Read: participants)

WInners! (Read: participants)

We went to the Franklin Institute when we left the marathon start. The museum itself is really cool and had a lot of opportunities to interact with stuff but we were a bit limited on time. If I went back to Philadelphia anytime soon, I would definitely go back and spend more time there. I got electrocuted by everything that I touched and used my body to conduct a current and operate machines. We walked through a giant heart and lung and even did some mildly interesting physiological testing. Annnnd: there was a photo booth.  >.<

That last one is for contiki... Hashtag: No Regrets!

That last one is for contiki… Hashtag: No Regrets!

When we left the Franklin Museum, we went straight back to the hostel, since Greg had to drive all the way back to Boston to work… bummer, right? I won’t complain because it was not only great to have a friend to explore with for a day, but also to have another Contiki reunion. It was sad to see him go, but it was great while it lasted!

I decided to have a poke around the city and visit some of the neighborhoods around the hostel. Found some really lovely homes in Society Hill also the historical street Elfreth’s Alley. Elfreth’s Alley is the street in the city that has been continuously inhabited  for the most years and the brownstones there are so charming, you want to sit and eat a picnic there. I did a bit of shopping in some thrift stores and then headed back to the hostel for a slice of pizza and movie night. Hostels are always reliable for meeting the coolest people.

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The top floor of one of the homes was for lease and I came home ready to pack up and move there!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

On Sunday, my plan was to go out to the South St neighborhood to see Philadephia’s Magic Garden. PMG is a massive mosaic art work of Isaiah Zagar. The inside of the building (which is COMPLETELY mosaic-ed, floor to ceiling) serves as a sort of museum and gallery for upcoming local artists with no formal training. I loved PMG, which I can only describe as a pottery store, a glass factory, a cement truck and a book of poetry vomiting onto a vacant lot, but my favorite part of the morning was the walk to South St. The thing is, it took Isaiah 14 years to complete PMG, which means that he lived in the area for a good bit of time. The result is  random mosaics that are just littered around the entire area, waiting to pop out of some random alley and make your day. If I were to move to Philly, this is the neighborhood I would be likely to choose.

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1470314_10100645457227447_1501524891_nThe rest of my day was spent wandering around this incredible area: picking through thrift stores, checking out boutiques, getting some fresh breakfast from the farmer’s market.

If you find yourself in Philadelphia and love cool stuff, awesome people and not wasting your money, check out Scout Salvage and Vintage Rescue on N 3rd. Amazing finds for 1/3 of the price you would pay anywhere else. I rented a moving truck and cleaned them out(I also may be exaggerating. I bought one bag, but I was limited on room to bring stuff back), but I’m sure they’ve restocked by now!

Next Trip? Austin in January! Adios!

Labor Day Weekend in Toronto (part 2)

Saturday, August 31, 2013

We started off our Saturday with a walk to the St Lawrence Market to grab some breakfast. The market was actually named World’s Best Food Market by National Geographic last year. It was a quick block from the hostel and Martha had her heart set on feeding pierogi to my face (and I am not one to object). Pierogi are a sort of dumpling (of Polish origin I think), and the ones we got were potato and cheddar I think. Holy Moses. They weren’t much to look at, or smell for that matter, but they were indulgent! The market was so charming… Next time I am in Toronto, and believe me: there will be a next time, I am determined to spend more time there.

st-lawrence-market

When we left the market, we headed north to visit Casa Loma. Casa Loma was built by financier Henry Pellatt and was the largest private residence in Canada. It has since been converted into a museum. The house is incredible and we spent most of the morning there, wandering and listening to out audio sets. Once I finished, I wasn’t sure where anyone else was so I stepped out to the terrace to have a water, as no food or drink was permitted inside the house.

Not my picture, but this grant some sense of the scale of the place.

Not my picture, but this grants some sense of the scale of the place.

There was a wedding happening as well! and I drooled over the thought of having a library like this in my home... of of being able to fit my home in this library.

There was a wedding happening as well! and I drooled over the thought of having a library like this in my home… or of being able to fit my home in this library.

When we left Casa Loma, we walked to this really cool board game cafe off of Bloor St. The 4 of us put in our names for a table and were told that we had to wait for 2 hours. The cafe will text you 15 minutes in advance so that you can come back and be seated. So we took off to explore Koreatown. We started by going to this tree-shaded street with lots of pubs and boutiques to piddle around shopping. I tried on a few dresses, but as always, my boobs are life ruiners and refused to fit into anything.

We also spent some time exploring the hot mess of a historical discount store, known as Honest Ed’s. This place is so delightfully tacky that I think it should be picked up and relocated to Dollywood or Gatlinburg. It’s huge, the size of a city block, and three levels on the inside. The inside will provide you with varying sizes and colors of  every knock off you could ever hope to find, stacked from floor to ceiling. It has a lighted sign, similar to a theatre marquis, that is comprised of 23,000 bulbs. I don’t know how long we spent in there, but it was hilarious! Imagine a Goodwill the size of Dillard’s.

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Okay, so a bit more about this cafe: It is called Snakes and Lattes and it is AMAZING. The place has a limited menu of sandwiches, muffins, cake and cookies, along with standard coffee drinks, sodas, water and some craft beer. You’re not required to eat or drink, but each person at a table must pay a $5 sit fee and you can play any of the cafe’s 2500+ board games (or bring your own) for as long as you please. They even have a lot of games for sale.

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We played Ticket to Ride (Europe), which, for the record, is the most frustrating, relationship destroyer ever invented. I will be purchasing my own though, because it is the most challenging, engaging board game I’ve ever played.

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We parted ways after leaving the cafe. Martha and I headed back to city center to meet up with George. Once we found him, we headed to a pool hall for a pub food dinner and several HILARIOUSLY BAD rounds of pool. On our way we found out what the small school children of Toronto think of our President:

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At the pool hall, there were general shenanigans, but on George and Martha’s insistence, I was introduced to poutine. Poutine, which originated in Quebec in the 1950’s, is one of the best known Canada-specific foods. It consists of french fries covered in cheese curds (or shredded cheese in our case) and then topped with a brown gravy. I know, it sounds awful, right? Honestly though, it was actually pretty decent. I kept eating it after the first bite, at least!

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We talked a lot about the trip while we played and about life post-homecoming. I WON A ROUND OF POOL. Did you hear me?! I did! George decided that his shoes were messing with his pool mojo and remedied that:

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All in all, it was a fantastic night! These are two of the most intelligent, engaging, hilarious people on the planet and the rest of Canada is lucky to have them. I feel like my life would be well spent, traveling around and visiting all of the people who I know, and doing silly things like playing barefoot pool.

George walked us to the hostel and told us that he hated us so much that he could not possible stomach seeing us again the next day… or it may have been that he had other plans, but I think they are both about the same.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Sunday, we decided to grab coffee shop breakfast on our way to Queen West to do a bit of  shopping. Once we got down to business, I fully committed to being white and never shaving my underarm hair when I bought a pair of Birkenstocks. We spent the day shopping in this general area, which for my Louisville natives: is similar to the Highlands or Frankfort Ave areas… but bigger and with cooler hipsters.

Due to the flourishing indie culture of this area, it is awash with great and unique art. There are lovely musicians around, the shops are passions of their owners put into action and there is an incredible street art culture. You don’t see so many of those stupid, write-my-name-on-this-real-quick-just-so-it-has-my-name-on-it type tags… but rather, full-blown, time-consuming pieces… They are EVERYWHERE. Most of my readers are also my friends on Facebook, so you’ve seen (or have the capability of seeing) my Canada photo album. If you chose to flip through it, you’ll see dozens of pictures of this graffiti and I barely even scratched the surface. I really loved a couple of pieces that were done of women rather than words:

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This girl reminds me of Maroon 5's first album, SongsAbout Jane

This girl reminds me of Maroon 5’s first album, SongsAbout Jane

We headed back to the hostel so that I could grab a shower… we were going to be fairly busy for the rest of the night and my flight was leaving early, so I just wanted it taken care of. When I came back to our dorm, all of my stuff had been moved off of the bed and the linens replaced. I was a little worried at first that someone had taken my things, which I found very confusing. It turns out there had been a booking error(of mine) and I was going to be switching to a 6 bed co-ed dorm for my last night. Awesome. Except for the part where the only people in co-ed dorms are dudes. Congrats, Sara, due to your mistake, you now get to sleep in a room with 5 random men. Awesome x 2.

On our way to meet Mia!

On our way to meet Mia!

After Hogwarts sorted me into a new house (who wants to be in Hufflepuff, anyway), Martha and I left for dinner with her LOVELY cousin Mia. We went to some Indian place where we split 3 dishes and all left feeling round and roll-able. That’s how I felt. I can’t speak for those two! The food was sneaky-spicy and I distinctly remember feeling my cheeks burn while I was eating, but so YUMMY! We took the bus back downtown and the girls got off a few stops before me, but Martha was very clear on where I was to exit the bus. So I’m not totally sure how I got lost, but I did. A 5 minute walk back to the hostel took me 20. That put me right on time to attend a pub crawl with some lovely hostel mates. I spent most of the evening talking to Alia (from Brisbane) and Trevor(NYC by way of Perth).

Alia, Sheldon(our HI Toronto guide), Trevor and yours truly!

Alia, Sheldon(our HI Toronto guide), Trevor and yours truly!

 

We shared a few beers and talked well into the night. It was really the perfect cherry on top of a great long weekend. I cannot wait to return to Toronto for more time!

Mia

Pub Crawl

Labor Day Weekend in Toronto (part 1)

Let me tell you: on my travels this summer I met some of the loveliest people! After we had been back for a couple of weeks, Martha from Vancouver asked me if I was planning on visiting Toronto to meet up with some of our Contiki loves. I responded with my ever-vague, “Yes, I plan to eventually, but I haven’t actually started thinking about when.” Her response? “How about August 28?”

Now, if you know me, you know that I am quite impulsive and doing things without much planning is one of my favorite things. So my reply was, without hesitation, “Well. I don’t see why not!” I was already planning on being in Florida for Howard’s birthday the week after so I checked the prices for flights from Louisville to Toronto and then for Toronto to Jacksonville. Can I please just say, CHEAP!? It was! So I booked my tickets and hostel that night, before I actually asked my boss.

You might think that this ends badly, but my boss, Kary is awesome. She has pretty hair, and she’s smart and nice and…. Kary, are you reading this?! Oh, and she makes my birthday cake every year and it is worthy of one of those bake-off shows on TLC. Anyway, she let me off for it. (because she’s awesome) I was so pumped!

The flights to Canada went pretty smoothly and I touched down at Pearson on 8/29. Now, here is some sweet info for any of you planning on visiting this FABULOUS city: standard cabs aren’t allowed to park and wait for fares at the airport, only luxury car services. I didn’t know about the Airport Rocket bus/subway combo that would have cost me less than $10, so I got a car to take me into the city. $60. A mistake I will not make again.

and easy to spot!

and easy to spot!

The hostel, HI Toronto, was at such a perfect location. Right in the middle of downtown, it was perfect for wandering around the city and discovering cool stuff. It was also really eclectic and had an open vibe for meeting your fellow travelers. First thing I did? Walked to a Tim Horton’s for a much discussed Ice Cap and a bagel, for Tiana who affectionately terms the eatery: Timmy Ho’s. The Ice Cap was a bit sweet for my taste, but still yummy. My sun-dried tomato bagel was sooooo good. Why wouldn’t it be? It is carbs. I LOVE carbs.

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When I got in to my 10 bed dorm room, right around the time that Martha came back from hanging with a friend of hers, we met a couple of super cool German sisters. I can’t remember their names, but the older sister was in Toronto to move into her dorm and the younger was there for support and a bit of travel.

Martha and I headed out to the Yorkdale Shopping Centre for some shower shoes (which I forgot to pack), some dress shopping at Ted Baker, and some delicious chocolate. On the walk back to the hostel from the subway station, Martha introduced me to Shawarma. I don’t even have words to express the way I felt about that sandwich, other than to say that it was one of the first things I went in search of when I came back home. Unnaturally delicious.

Friday, August 30, 2013

We booked a tour to Niagara through the hostel (at a SWEET discount) for the next morning. It was really neat, because it wasn’t just a ride to the falls, though that would have been worth what we paid for the tour alone. It also included a trip to Niagara on the Lake, this precious little town with all kinds of homemade stuff (much like the Historic area in Bardstown, KY), and an ice wine tasting at Dan Aykroyd’s winery.

Niagara was beautiful, and we forewent the ride on the Maid of the Mist to take a walk though a tunnel that actually goes behind the falls and keeps you a LITTLE drier.

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I bought some adorable sleep shorts and matching socks to revel in the Canadianess of the trip in Niagara on the lake.

And Ice Wine is the most obnoxiously sweet wine I’ve ever tried. It was supposed to be paired with a dessert that is ‘light’ and ‘not very sweet’ to balance it out, as the wine tasting lady told us… ‘like cheesecake’. Swear. She said it. Is it just me or is cheesecake not light at all… and also quite sweet? I might recommend a nice piece of dark chocolate.

Vineyard Selfie.

Vineyard Selfie.

The day song came on my shuffle while we were on the coach and it felt so great to hear it with someone who understood the significance of it… but sad that it was just the two of us there.

We chit chatted with a guy who was also staying in our hostel on the way back to the city, made plans to meet for dinner and went up stairs to attempt to freshen up a bit. When we met for dinner, Michael brought Justin, another Aussie who had just checked in, and we headed off to find something. We settled on Salad King, this awesome Thai place on Yonge St. All of our entrees were just massive and neither Martha nor I even came close to finishing.

We had made plans to meet up with my LOVELY roomie, Emily, so we headed ‘just a few blocks away’ to Einstein’s pub. By just a few blocks, I mean at least 40…. which may be a slight exaggeration.

Emily, Michael, Me and Martha

Emily, Michael, Me and Martha

It was SOOO good to see Emily again too! It just kind of brought up all of the good memories from the trip. We spent a few hours there and even ran into our lovely German roommate.  The walk back to the hostel was about 20 minutes, which is always nice, when it’s on Yonge St.

(The guy who I asked to take the above photo was actually so blitzed that he almost blew an aneurysm from concentrating so hard on the camera.)