Tag Archive: Christmas

Lois’ Grand Adventure – Day 37 (Paris, London, Vancouver, Victoria)

I’ve been awake for 21 hours now, and travelling for 19 of them. Yes, it has been a long day. On the 10 hour flight from London to Vancouver I watched five movies: Hugo, Little Women, Arthur Christmas, White Christmas,  and  The Grinch.

In the course of my travel only two things broke and both of them were things I bought for myself, not gifts for other people. So yay I guess?

Honestly, I am so tired that the world is spinning right now, so I’m going to go to sleep and we can catch up on the end of the trip when I’m more awake. Deal?

Lois’ Grand Adventure – Day 36 (Paris)

At the Moulin Rouge

At the Moulin Rouge

This morning I left the hotel with a plan: head to the Eiffel Tower early to go up it before the line got too long. When I was about halfway there I realized that I’d forgotten my camera on my bed, so I turned around and headed back, stopping at the mall across from the hotel for one final dress shop. And behold, I found a dress! It’s not what I thought that I would buy, but I like it and it will be great for all the upcoming openings.

After dropping my new dress off in my room and freshly armed with my camera I decided to take a new approach to the day and jumped on the metro to Montmartre. I explored Sacré-Cœur and happened to be in the basilica during a service, so the nuns were all up there singing in some combination of Latin and French. It was beautiful. But of course it was another “no photos” zone, so alas I have no photos from it. I walked through the Montmartre district, past all the artists selling their work in the square, and down the street to the Moulin Rouge. I didn’t go inside, mostly because the cost of lunch and a show is WAY out of my price range, but it’s good to be able to say that I’ve been there. Adventure on!

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Looking down the Eiffel Tower

When I arrived at the Eiffel Tower (after finally circling back to that part of the to-do list), the line up was huge. And there was a big sign saying the top – the summit – was closed. Was it worth going up if I couldn’t go to the top? Who knows, but I knew if I didn’t go up at all I’d be kicking myself (once everyone else finished kicking me). So I joined the long line and enjoyed my time watching the people around me. The two little boys in line with their parents in front of me were very VERY excited and that was a joy to watch. Finally (after about 40 minutes) I got up to the ticket booth. To my surprise and delight the top was open again. I could choose to go all the way up. Which of course I did. I immediately went all the way to the top where you could feel the tower moving the wind – no wonder it had been closed before. Surprisingly I did not witness any proposals. I kind of expected I would because it’s Christmas Eve at the Eiffel Tower, but maybe that’s more of an after dark activity.

I adventured around all three levels of the tower, popping into every little shop and restaurant just to see what you can see up there. It’s a total tourist trap, but it is a cool piece of architecture. I can’t imagine when it opened in the 1860′s having to climb stairs all the way to the top. Or being like Mr. Eiffel and having an apartment up there. It would freak me out in the wind! I only climbed from the second floor down to the first and that was more than enough. By the time I came back down to the bottom (via elevator), the summit was closed again – I can only assume it was once more due to the wind. I kind of lucked out there and snuck in just at the right time.

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Paris Santa

Then it was back to the hotel again to deposit the treasures I had accumulated throughout the day. But the way back to the hotel was lined with many Christmas markets, and I couldn’t resist taking my picture with Santa. It was the sunniest of all the days I’ve had in Paris and it was beautiful.

And off to the area around Notre Dame where I had dinner at a little cafe, sitting on the patio listening to the church bells ring as I wrote post cards, drank hot cocoa, and ate my supper. I felt like I was living in a movie set.

The big TVs outside the cathedral while the police control the line up to enter the building.

The big TVs outside the cathedral while the police control the line up to enter the building.

As 8pm rolled around, I walked across the street to the Cathedral to try to get inside for the International Mass. Although various Christmas Eve Masses were happening all night, I wanted to catch part of the one that I might actually understand. I was able to get inside the building, but I watched the last seats get filled by those who entered with me. I waited inside until the clergy made their grand entrance and then I took my program and ventured back outside to the large grandstand that had been set up where I could watch on the big TV screen.  I lasted about 40 minutes until the wind was too cold to sit outside any longer.

Back at the hotel I was able to Skype with the family in Edmonton for about 45 minutes. I won’t get a chance to talk to them tomorrow because I’ll be on the airplane all day.

And now? Now I’m re-packing my suitcase, trying to get it under the weight limits, trying to protect my purchases, and listening to Christmas carols.

Lois’ Grand Adventure – Day 35 (Paris)

I’m too tired to write much tonight, but here are some photos of what I did today. And before you get upset about the photo of the curtain call, at least I didn’t use a flash like at least 300 other people in the audience. Also, any Christmas music CD that follows “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” with “YMCA” is bizarre. Also, dress shopping is difficult in every country. Also, The Palais Garnier has a Chagall ceiling and La Cenerentola had one of the best set designs I’ve ever seen.

Cue at the Palais Garnier

Cue at the Palais Garnier

At the Palais Garnier

At the Palais Garnier

On a Christmas lights tour of Paris!

On a Christmas lights tour of Paris!

Eiffel Tower at Night

Eiffel Tower at Night

Curtain Call

Curtain Call

Side note: I’ve officially been gone for five weeks now.

Now listening to: Me Party – Miss Piggy & Amy Adams

Lois’ Grand Adventure – Day 33 (Paris)

In front of the Pantheon (and it's Christmas trees)

In front of the Pantheon (and it’s Christmas trees)

I didn’t have a specific plan in mind when I left the hotel this morning. I figured I’d go for a walk and see where it took me. Which is a great way to start an adventure.

I walked all over central Paris until I found myself in front of a great big building with a lot of Christmas trees. Turns out it was the Pantheon, so I figured I might as well go in. And then they were selling the Paris Museum Pass, so I picked up one that is good for a couple of days so that I could just go into any of the cool places I came across as I adventured. I wandered through the Pantheon for a bit, mostly down in the crypts where I found the burial places of Marie Curie and Victor Hugo. I also found the vault for Voltair which had extra fancy sculptures. I didn’t stay very long, but I’m glad I went in.

Clown vandals

Clown vandals

As I walked I found a park where someone had “vandalized” a bunch of the statues by adding clown noses to them. It was one of my favourite things I saw today! Sadly what I didn’t do as I walked was stop somewhere to get a croissant. I will remedy that tomorrow.

Next I found myself at Notre Dame Cathedral.I plan to go back for mass on Christmas Eve, but I was delighted to have time to walk through the building as a tourist as well. The stained glass windows are stunning and they had one of the most elaborate nativity scenes I have ever seen before. As I was browsing the gift shop I saw a sign that said, “How do I get up the tours? Get outside and around the corner.” This piqued my interest so I made my way outside and joined the line. The line was long but it moved quickly and soon I found myself climbing the nearly 400 steps to the top of the bell tower. There were a handful of stops on the way up, and I think if there hadn’t been I might have had an asthma attack. That is a lot of steps to climb! But I’m so glad I did it. I didn’t get to see the bells because they are doing some repairs and the bells can’t be seen again until March, but I did see gargoyles and the entire city of Paris stretched out in every direction, and the spire on the lower level of the Cathedral.

Gargoyles watching over Paris

Gargoyles watching over Paris

I did get some people to take photos of me, but with the screen on my camera not working none of them turned out. This means there aren’t many that I’m actually in, but I did take some decent ones of what I could see. The climb down the tower was easier than the climb up. I counted 389 steps on the way down (200 more than GrossMunster in Zurich), but the brochure says there are 400. I may have to go back there tomorrow in order to buy one of the Christmas ornaments from the giftshop in the main part of the Cathedral. I didn’t buy one today and I’m kicking myself about it now.

At the Louvre

At the Louvre

I continued my adventure past more fountains and statues than I could count and realized just how pathetic our North American cities must seem to folks from Europe. These cities are built around art with fountains and statues and parks and beautiful buildings and the glass of Vancouver’s skyscrapers seem somehow less. They’re still pretty, but they’re not…rich in the same way that these cities are. There is more history in one brick of the sidewalk here than in blocks of Vancouver.

I found myself next at the Louvre. Now there’s a beautiful building that is overwhelming by sheer scale. I’d say that it is larger than all the buildings at my university put together.

Obligatory Mona Lisa photo.

Obligatory Mona Lisa photo.

I walked through a lot of the building at an alarming pace. It is hard to take in that much art in a short period of time. I made my way to the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo and took my obligatory photos with them. It was interesting to me because those two rooms – room 6 of the Italian paintings and the second room of the roman sculpture collection were by far the busiest rooms in the museum. I think that many people, like myself, feel a sense of obligation in a building with such masterpieces. When there is so much and you don’t know much about it, it is easy to gravitate to the masterpieces that you know of – the pieces that have arrows directing you through the building to find them. But at the same time it makes me sad that people (myself included) don’t spend the time to find the pieces instead that speak to them. I think my two favourite parts of the Louvre were the medieval ruins in the basement from the original Louvre and the courtyard of French sculpture. The courtyard almost had me in tears as I looked around, overwhelmed by the fact that this is my life and this was how I was spending my afternoon.

When my brain could no longer handle being in halls with hundreds of paintings, I left the Louvre and decided to venture in the direction of the Eiffel Tower. After all, this is Paris and that is what you’re supposed to do here, right? But I came across an interesting looking building and discovered that it was included on my museum pass so I decided to go in. I had no idea what I was going in to see. The building was the Musee de l’Orangerie and I walked into the Les Nymphéas room with no idea what I was about to see. I had to sit down. At the Tate Modern I saw one of Monet’s Water Lillies paintings and thought it was beautiful. There was another at the Hermitage Amsterdam. But seeing both of those did not prepare me for the rooms. The eight paintings from Monet’s Water Lillies series that are on display at the Musee de l’Orangerie are approximately 6 feet high by 40 feet long. They completely took my breath away. They are displayed on curved walls, one per wall, surrounding the viewer. Absolutely amazing. After spending time in those two rooms, I made my way downstairs to see the works of Picasso, Renoir, Cezanne, Gauguin, Rousseu, Derain, and Matisse. I got more out of the four or five rooms in the Musee de l’Orangerie than I did in the grand halls of the Louvre. These paintings spoke.

I found it! One of the most recognizable landmarks in the world.

I found it! One of the most recognizable landmarks in the world.

From there I really did make my way to the Eiffel Tower, stopping only long enough to buy a passionfruit macaron as big as my hand. As I stood at the Eiffel Tower eating my macaron I had another one of those moments of awe at how amazing my life is and how it is nothing like I imagined it would be and that I can’t wait to see what will come next.

My final destination before returning to the hotel was back on the other side of town – closer to Notre Dame than the Eiffel Tower and by this point – having walked more than 10km – my legs were starting to feel like jelly. With all of those factors, I decided it was time to figure out the Paris Metro system. I made my way to a station, purchased a book of 10 tickets, and found my way by train across town. Not so difficult! My destination was the Opera National de Paris’ Bastille location for an evening performance of Don Quixote by their resident ballet company. I had supper at a little cafe across the intersection from the theatre and then headed inside. I didn’t take any photos of the building because its not that interesting. It has fantastic acoustics (based on how well I could hear the dancers breathing) but it is a modern opera hall without much decoration. The ballet itself was quite good, though unfortunately I fell asleep for part of the first act. All of my walking had caught up to me and I was in a comfortable seat in a dark room with beautiful music. I just couldn’t stop myself! But I was awake for all of acts two and three and enjoyed them very much.

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With a Parisian Christmas tree, all decorated with brightly colored bows.

After the show I took the Metro again back to my hotel. The Metro system is easy to figure out with a map, but I need to figure out which exit I should use at the nearby station because I ended up not at all close to my hotel, where there is one exit that comes out within a block!

And now it is two in the morning and my jelly legs need to sleep before the adventure continues!

Lois’ Grand Adventure – Day 30 (Gothenburg)

IMG_3768When I woke up this morning it took me a few minutes to remember where I was. The walls weren’t  green, there was no light outside, and there were actual rooms. Oh right! I was in a real apartment and not a hotel room. And I could do laundry! I lazed around for the morning, doing laundry (YAY), catching up on emails, watching bad tv, and just relaxing. It felt good. Right up until I jammed my toe in the bathroom and thought I’d broken it. Yes, I stubbed it that hard. It was bleeding, and it still hurts 12 hours later, but I’m pretty sure it’s not broken. With the laundry complete, I was off on my first adventure of the day.

I made my way to the Natural History Museum because it was included with my Go Card (Gothenburg City Card for tourists) and because their website made it sound pretty great. However, my experience of it was less exciting. First of all, in an effort to save electricity the lights for the museum are on motion sensors and today was a quiet day at the museum (go figure) so all of the rooms were dark when I walked into them. But the motion sensors weren’t focused well and the rooms would often stay dark for a while, so all you could see were the shapes of taxidermied animals with little tiny bits of light in the background which was FREAKY. Also, the exhibits were poorly laid out, but it looks like they are doing some renovations so maybe they are fixing up the exhibits. Among the funnier things I have seen on my trip was the Rhino in the museum missing its horn. There was a sign up in the display case in Swedish, but I think it said something about repair. Either way, it was very odd.

IMG_0068From there I ventured to the Museum of World Culture (also included with my Go Card) and was much more interested in what I found there. It’s kind of a combination art installation/museum space. I started my exploration on the lowest floor with an exhibition called Destination X that focused on travel as entertainment as compared to travel out of necessity (ie – refugees). It was really interesting in the context of my current adventuring. One of my favourite parts was when you had to spin a wheel and it would tell you where to travel next. I got  “Gold digging in Karelen” and didn’t even know what it meant. I had to wikipedia it to discover that Karelen is a province in Finland that borders on Russia. I don’t think I’ll be heading there any time soon, but it’s fun to know that it exists. There was also a giant globe made out of suitcases and some sound tunnels that gave travel sounds a whole new meaning.

From there I went up to the top floor where there were a series of exhibits. The first one looked at the way museum cataloguing has changed in the past forty years as we learn about other cultures, and items that were once catalogued as “bag of yarn” are now known to be priceless 1000 year old flags calling for peace. The second exhibit on that floor was about the role of the bystander in times of violence and focused on nazi occupied Vienna, the lynchmobs of the American south, and a couple of other eras that I have forgotten. The third exhibit on the floor was all about the way that items are exhibited and how interaction changes our experience of the objects. There were places set up to handle things, leave notes, select favourites, see only portions of objects, etc. It was interesting to see that as a museum they are looking to update the way in which the public interacts with and sees the objects. Then down a floor to the “A Day in the Life” exhibit. For this exhibit people all over the world took photos and submitted them from the same day. There were photos from space, photos from Fort Langley, photos from Gothenburg, photos from all over spanning all sorts of subjects. As near as I could figure out there was also a book of the photos submitted, but it was fascinating to look at all the different lives that people live over the course of the same day. Also on that floor was a kids exhibit designed as if it were introducing aliens to the beings who call earth home. Very cute and it had a black light tunnel which is always fun.

Hotel wrapped with a bow of light

Hotel wrapped with a bow of light

I walked from the museum back up to the central station. It took about 45 minutes to an hour and took me up the main drag of Gothenburg. I didn’t really consider how little daylight there is here right now. It is nearly the shortest day of the year, and in Gothenburg that means just over six and a half hours of daylight. The sun sets before 3pm these days. So I walked in the dark up to the station, taking in all the Christmas lights. There are a lot of decorative lights in this city. Of course it is also less than a week until Christmas! I met Peter at the central station and we found our way to a Malaysian restaurant for dinner where we ate delicious curry. However, I felt the need for dessert so Peter took me to a local coffee chain because he said I had to try the local Christmas cupcake. And who am I to say no to a cupcake?! It was delicious. It was a spice cake with cream cheese frosting and dried cranberries on top. Apparently they are a traditional Christmas dessert. I might have to find a recipe for it because it was TASTY.

Delicious cupcake

Delicious cupcake

We then made our way over to the Gothenburg Opera House for Julitrad-i-tion, a family Christmas concert featuring the opera orchestra, chorus, and a handfull of solists. It was a lot of fun, despite the fact that it was all in Swedish (except for a rendition of “All I want for Christmas is You” which is surprisingly popular here). One of the most random moments was when two women were singing “I need a Hero” in Swedish while Santa came down from the ceiling on wires. Of course, the lighting designer missed his big moment as there wasn’t even a followspot on Santa to herald his arrival. There also was a sing-a-long portion that they gave us lyric sheets to, so when we got home we ran google translate over Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and found such gems as, “But a dark Christmas Eve Santa’s father, he said: Do not want to say Rudolph,With your mule illuminate me.”

The show ended around 8:30 and since it was still early we decided to go walk through the grocery store to make fun of the weird food names. Sadly we did not find any weird food names, but we did find a bag of chocolate covered marshmallows which are apparently one of the traditional Christmas candies here. So of course we had to have some.

It was another grand adventure, but now I’m tired and there’s still so much more to see and do tomorrow!

Lois’ Grand Adventure – Day 29 (Zurich, Stockholm, Gothenburg)

Sunset from the airplane between Stockholm and Gothenburg.

Sunset from the airplane between Stockholm and Gothenburg.

When I left Zurich this morning it was dark and pouring rain. Hearing my alarm go off at 6:30 was painful, but I was grateful that I had packed last night and I knew that if I dragged myself downstairs there would be one last breakfast buffet. Now I can admit how sick to death I am of salty scrambled eggs, undercooked bacon, croissants (no matter how delicious), muesli, and yogurt. Some days the food was better than others, but it was just the fact that it was the same food for more than 3 weeks straight that made it so tiresome. After breakfast it was into the cab and off to the airport. I feel that I am becoming a very good traveller now. By the time I reach security my belt is off, electronics are out, and I always have my liquids and gels in a plastic bag. I fell asleep on the plane before it even took off and have no recollection of take off. But I’m glad I slept then so that I could enjoy the rest of the day without being too tired.

I had a couple of hours to kill at the Stockholm airport, which I mostly spent checking emails and chatting online. I thought about shopping but decided against it because, well airports are pricey and what’s the point of buying souvenirs from a city you didn’t really visit?

Then it was off to Gothenburg. One thing you need to know about Gothenburg is that it doesn’t know how to spell its own name, and neither does anyone else. In various places it is Gothenburg, Gotenburg, or GÖTEBORG. So many options!  I took the bus from the airport to the main train/bus station in the city where I met Peter at the only Starbucks in town. He says its the best place to meet someone because if  they get lost its not like there’s one on every corner and everyone knows where it is.

Isn't it Christmasy!?

Isn’t it Christmasy!?

We ventured back to his apartment long enough to drop things off and then made our way to Liseberg. Liseberg is basically the Playland of Gothenburg, but in December it re-opens (with only some of the rides operational) and hosts a Christmas market, skating rink and ice show, and other Christmasy things like oodles of Christmas lights. Very very cool. We spent the evening walking through the shops, having some food, watching the world’s most ridiculous ice skating show which featured green rabbits in Santa suits dancing to a bad remix of “When you Wish Upon a Star.” It was kind of amazingly cheesy actually. Cheesy enough that I bought a green rabbit in a sant suit Christmas ornament. I had my first cup of grog, complete with raisins and almonds, tested many flavours of fudge, and attempted to win a 2kg toblerone.

Ferris Wheel!

Ferris Wheel!

We only went on two rides. First was the big ferris wheel type thing. Giant and blue you can see it for miles around the park and from up top of it you can see for miles around the park. It was really lovely. Of course, our mistake was accidentally buying too many coupons for the ferris wheel, so we went on a ride that was like of Peter Pan’s Flight, It’s a Small World, and Swedish Fairy Tales all fell in a blender. We rode in flying pirate ships through a world of Swedish interpretations of Fairy tales while small robotic dolls shouted things in Swedish. It was totally bizzarre, but also kind of perfect.

Tomorrow I continue the adventure, using my handy Gothenburg City Card – a pre-purchased tourist card that gets me free public transit and free admission to most museums, attractions, etc in town. Amazing.

Lois’ Grand Adventure – Day 13 (Zurich)

Cue needed a new headshot with the score.

Today I am 1/3 of the way through my adventure (25 days left)! It is also the end of the first week of rehearsal. We have now completed the staging for the two big scenes with the actors, as well as sketching in their entrances and exits for other appearances. This afternoon we walked & talked through the entire show with the actors and things appear to be in great shape. I also finally feel like my music reading skills are back. When we talked through the show this afternoon we played bits of the score to the scenes we hadn’t worked yet and I was able to follow them easily – something I was nervous about. In fact, things went so well today that we ended rehearsal an hour early and came back to Zurich.

The Zurich Soul & Gospel Choir in the singing Christmas tree.

Originally my plan for tonight was to just stay in, but since there was an extra hour I decided to go do some exploring and jumped on the tram to the Bahnhofstrasse. Now the Bahnhofstrasse is the most expensive and exclusive shopping street in Zurich, but I figured I should walk up it at least once, right? It looks like there are a couple of fancy chocolate stores along there that I need to go back to when they are open. One of my favourite things about the Christmas season in Zurich is that almost every business has lights up and in every public square there is a tall, real tree, covered in lights and sometimes baubles. I’ll be walking down a narrow cobblestone street and all of a sudden it’ll open up into a square and there’ll be a gorgeous tree. But along the Bahnhofstrasse, I looked to my right and there was a giant tree filled with a choir about to do a free outdoor concert.  The choir was the Zurich Soul & Gospel Choir and it made me think of Alison and the Vancouver VOC Sweet Soul Gospel Choir. I’m pretty sure that this choir was the Zurich version of them – complete with choreographed snapping and clapping. I stopped and watched for almost half an hour, as a crowd of close to 1000 gathered for this singing Christmas Tree. Turns out that during December there will be concerts 4+ times a day out there.

After making my way back to the hotel, I cracked open the bottle of wine I bought last night at the grocery store and found a place to stream The Muppet’s Christmas Carol online. Traditionally I watch the Muppet Christmas Carol on December 1st while decorating my home. I never do any decorating until it is December and this is how I usually kick it off.  Now this year I don’t have an apartment to decorate, but I figured I could keep at least part of the tradition.

This picture of me riding the tram was taken for Nathan. Because I figured he needed a photo of public transit here. Also, I was really cold.

Tomorrow I plan to venture back into downtown by daylight. I know that most of the shops will be closed, but someone suggested that starting tomorrow they are open in the afternoon for Christmas shopping, so I’m going to give it a shot anyways. Plus I need to pick up more postcards, since the ones from Amsterdam have already begun arriving at their destinations.

Lois’ Grand Adventure – Day 7 (Amsterdam & Copenhagen & Zurich)

Kaari and I outside the Anne Frank House

What a whirlwind.  When the alarm went off at 7:15am I think all three of us started scowling.  But by 8:15 I was downstairs and eating breakfast and by 9am we had checked out of our hotel and made our way to the Anne Frank House. The wind outside was absolutely howling – we watched it blow over bicycles and scooters and could feel that it was harder to walk because of how strong the wind was.

As I walked through the open bookcase’s door and into their secret annex it made everything that much more real. When the business was converted into a museum, Otto Frank requested that the rooms always have no furniture in them (as the furniture had all been removed shortly after the family was captured and taken to the concentration camps), but in those empty rooms there is still so much feeling – evidence of lives left half lived.  I first read the Diary of Anne Frank when I was about 10 as a part of a bonus assignment for school (I also had to read the published diary of a girl who survived one of the wars in Lebanon or Croatia or somewhere and compare them), but my familiarity with it made it a deeper experience. Looking (via mirrors) up into the attic or seeing all the photos that she pasted up on the bedroom wall meant that by the time we reached the room the housed the actual diary & sheets of notepaper I was definitely sniffling. I’m so glad we went, but it was a very emotional way to start the day.

The display outside the Amsterdam Christmas Palace

From there we made our way to a store that had been closed last night when we walked by: the Amsterdam Christmas Palace. My souvenirs for this trip are primarily Christmas ornaments, so I couldn’t pass up a chance to pop into a store like this.I didn’t end up buying anything there, but was delighted to see some of the Christmas traditions from my childhood like Advent Candles where you burn down a day at a time are still available in some parts of the world. They had some really cool ornaments in there, but nothing that jumped out and said “YOU MUST BUY ME!” I ended up buying an ornament up the street at the Royal Delft Museum gift shop – it’s the traditional Royal Delft Blue style of hand painted blue and white with windmills on it.

When we started to plan the trip, the only thing I said that I really wanted to do was go to the Van Gogh museum. Unfortunately the Van Gogh museum is under renovation, but for the duration of the renovations the artwork is on exhibit at the Hermitage Amsterdam. I think I spent about an hour and ten minutes in the Van Gogh exhibit alone.  I know he was probably manic depressive and his paintings do seem to alternate between dark and light subject. But the thing about all of his paintings that I love and that always stands out to me even in reproductions but was more pronounced on the real things are how much life is in every brush stroke. Sometimes they are full of joy, sometimes it’s anger, but they are always vibrantly alive – even when he is trying to copy other people’s work.

Outside the Hermitage with the Van Gogh Exhibit poster. There were no photos allowed inside.

The other thing that really struck me about Van Gogh was how hard he worked to be the artist he was. He didn’t decide to be an artist until he was 27 and even then he didn’t really go to school for it – he just studied by doing and practicing. He frequently used both sides of a piece of paper or a canvas because he was so poor. But he would sketch and paint parts of what became his big paintings for years before putting them into the final version. He’d find an artist whose work he respected and try to copy the work in his own style. Eventually he got to the point where he could do a painting a day, but it wasn’t always like that.  In one of his letters to his brother Theo (displayed on the wall of the Hermitage), Van Gogh wrote, “As practice makes perfect, I cannot but make progress; each drawing one makes, each study one paints, is a step forward.”

Once we re-grouped, we made our way to a little cafe just off a canal for lunch.  It was delightful. And after lunch we parted ways – I needed to head back to the hotel to catch my shuttle to the airport and Kaari and Erin were off to continue their adventure for a couple of hours. My flight from Amsterdam to Copenhagen was uneventful, though slightly delayed, so when I arrived in Copenhagen I decided to head straight to my gate rather than meander through any of the shops. Besides, I don’t think that spending an hour in a country (and half of that sitting on planes that are taxiing or boarding!) counts as having really been there. I just need to put it on the list for next time (which is getting quite long already!). But yes, less than an hour after landing in Copenhagen I was back in the air on my way to Zurich – another uneventful flight. However, they did give us Swiss chocolate on the plane which was just cool. It was also my first flight that wasn’t full, so there wasn’t anyone in the middle seat which was a nice change.

Upon arrival in Zurich I didn’t even have to go through customs because I was travelling within Europe. I’m a little sad that I don’t get that stamp on my passport! It took less than 10 minutes to get from the airport to the hotel, though I was amazed at how fast the taxi drove. And within minutes of arriving at the hotel I heard my name being called out. I turned around and there was Susan, the woman who hired me to come over here. It was lovely to hear a familiar voice and see a friend. I was then quickly introduced to our stage manager, Mary, and her husband, and informed that we have a breakfast meeting at 9am. But for now – up to my room to settle in.

My Zurich desk. I’m all ready to get to work.

I’m quite delighted with my room. I have a desk that I’ve now set up with all of my work stuff (show binder, running order book, iPad, receipts binder, pens, etc) and I’ve also unpacked my suitcase into the closet, bathroom and night table. I was able to get online on my laptop and Skype with my parents. Although it was midnight here, it was only 3pm in Vernon which made it a perfect time to visit.

Oh! The pillows! On the bed there are four pillows, and on them are note cards that inform me that two of them are soft and two are firm and if I am unhappy with them I should call reception because they have five types of pillows and would be happy to deliver my “personal pillow” to me. Now that’s service.

And now I must sleep. On my great big bed. Because my 8:05am alarm is going to come much too soon.

Weekend Christmas Recipe: Nanaimo Bars

These beauties are a Canadian favourite that I always love to share with my American friends, especially at Christmas.  Growing up, these were one of those holiday treats that only appeared at Christmas, but appeared every year. I usually make a double batch – half regular and half mint flavoured.

Image by flickr user crestedcrazy. Used under creative commons license. I will post my own when I make them for this year!

Ingredients:

6 squares Baker’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate, divided (or 1 to 1.5 cups of semisweet chocolate chips)
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp. butter, softened, divided
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 cups Graham Crumbs
1 cup flaked coconut (I prefer unsweetened, extra fine)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional – if you don’t use these, add an extra 1/2 cup coconut)
2 Tbsp. Custard Powder (or Vanilla pudding mix)
3 Tbsp. milk
2 cups icing sugar
Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. Using a double boiler, melt down 2 chocolate squares (approx 1/3 cup chocolate chips) with 1/2 cup butter.

3. Blend in egg and vanilla.

4. Stir in graham crumbs, coconut, and nuts (if desired).

5. Press mixture into bottom of 9 inch square pan.

6. Bake 8 minutes, then cool completely.

7. While the base is cooling, mix together custard powder and milk with a whisk.

8. Add 1/4 cup of the remaining butter and mix well.

9. Gradually beat in sugar until well blended.

10. Spread custard mixture over crust and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

11. Going back to the double boiler, melt remaining chocolate (4 squares or approximately 1 cup of chocolate) with 1 tbsp butter until completely melted and smooth.

12. Pour over custard layer.

13. Refrigerate for several hours (until hardened) before cutting int squares and serving.

Variations:

For MOCHA flavoured Nanaimo bars, blend 3 tbsp coffee-flavoured liqueur with 2 tsp instant coffee and substitute this for the 3 tbsp milk in the custard layer.

For MINT flavoured Nanaimo bars, add 1/2 tsp peppermint extract and a few drops red or green food colouring to custard layer.

Weekend Christmas Recipe: Buttertarts

I’m told that Buttertarts are a very Canadian Christmas treat, but they are my dad’s absolute favourite, so I make them every year. I chicken out a bit by not making my own tart pastries, but they are still DELICIOUS.

Ingredients:

2 eggs
2 cups brown sugar
2 tbsp vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup butter melted
1 1/3 cup raisins
1 package unsweetened tart shells

Directions:

1. Whip eggs, beat in sugar, add vinegar and vanilla.

2. Stir in melted butter and fruit.

3. Half fill uncooked tarts with mixture.

4. Bake at 350 for 15 – 20 minutes or until golden brown. Do not over cook.

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