Something about me that might be surprising (at least I’ve been told in the past it was), is that I love Disney. Yes, even a “Princess of Darkness” like myself can lighten up and enjoy a singing crustacean on occasion.
Growing up, there were some things in my childhood that were less than ideal, and for me disapeering into the safe, colourful and fantastical worlds Disney created was immensely helpful. I was also rather obsessed with sci-fi & fantasy in general as a kid, so the 80’s were a perfect time to grow up in for a lover of those genres.
Disney represented a break from real life for a bit, a respite, and somewhere I felt safe. Our vacations to Orlando were amazing. We were typically Canadian in opting to go when the weather was miserable at home, packing up our Aerostar van, well supplied with books, batteries and gameboys for the drive down south. The excitement of finally arriving at the Magic Kingdom after several days on the road was unlike anything else.
There are some pretty dreadful things happening around the world at the moment, and though this isn’t a new thing, the way we respond or disseminate information is rapidly evolving and changing constantly, it’s almost dizzying.
With constant news feeds and the incessant chatter from everyone and anyone with an opinion being spouted on Facebook and elsewhere on the interwebs it can get overwhelming to the point where I just want to completely switch off. And this is a sentiment I’m noticing more and more from other people as well.
But I don’t *really* want to do that, to live life wrapped in a bubble being selective on what I let in.
So it helps sometimes not to switch off, but to take a step back and remind oneself of the beautiful, incredible things that exist in this bitter-sweet world.
My Grandfather was an armchair traveler. He dreamed of seeing the world but didn’t have the means to. Instead, National Geographic magazines became his gateway to the globe. He would lovingly take care of those magazines – creating dust jackets for each copy acquired, his thoughtful handwriting gracing the spine of the dust jackets noting the month and year and focus of each.
When I remember him, I always come back to that image of him reading one of these in his armchair with a cup of tea to his side. Occasionally he’d look up, staring off into the back garden with a faraway look in his eyes as little birds would flit in and out of view before returning to the article he was reading.
I’m sure in all those many volumes he had there must have been something on Petra. One of the new 7 wonders of the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you might recognize the ancient city of Petra from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, which to be honest was my first introduction to this incredible place.
And this is the step back I was mentioning above. You and I may want to totally disconnect/unplug/turn off from all the hate, anger and vitriol eschewing forth online, yet we’d miss out on how wonderful and connecting technology can be – perfectly demonstrated in this magical exploration of Petra using Streetview. Say what you will about the all-mighty Googleplex, a merging of the past, present and future to enable people a million miles away a chance to wander around Petra is pretty spectacular.
In the middle of what feels like a negative wave at the moment, something small like being able to explore a lost city virtually can be the needed ray of light to refocus on the things humanity can be capable of.
With gearing up for a big trip this year our mini-adventures have been a bit limited with the odd fling to Toronto or elsewhere in Northern Ontario. That said, I’ve been meaning to write about our road trip to Grand Rapids for awhile, so now’s the perfect time!
Moving to Northern Ontario has opened up a lot of new destinations I might never have ventured to was I still in Toronto to be honest. And I have to say a lot of my preconceptions about Michigan were wrong. It’s a very beautiful state that my childhood road trips down the East Coast never touched upon, and I really want to explore it further.
We were craving a city break so happened upon Grand Rapids, a few hours drive south. At a glance, it’s the second largest city in Michigan and sits about 30 miles east of Lake Michigan, making it perfect if you want to pair cityscapes with some beautiful beaches.
With a mix of several excellent craft breweries, a few record stores and a walkable downtown it was perfect for what we were after.
Through the power of the interwebs we found the most awesome B&B right in the heart of a downtown historic neighbourhood. Now, I know what you’re thinking – banish any thoughts of the B&B Portlandia sketch right now!
The Lafayette House, a full-service bed and breakfast, is a fresh, bright and beautiful B&B run by a young couple – Skyelar & Todd. Tastefully decorated with pieces that could easily be from Restoration Hardware AND a vintage Frogger Arcade Game which you can play before breakfast – meant I was in heaven. All the little touches and attention to detail were wonderful. For example: a dark face cloth resting under a wee sign calling out “Make Up Face Cloth” in the bathroom – absolute genius, which other make up wearing travellers will appreciate (c’mon, we all know you totally just use white hotel face cloths no matter what at the end of the night).
As heavily tattooed travellers, we’re wary sometimes of staying in B&B’s. Though we’re quiet and well past our party years (and looking for a relaxing getaway!), we’ve experienced stays in the past that just felt uncomfortable – happily this wasn’t the case at the Lafayette House, with Todd even giving us some excellent tips for dive bars in the area to check out.
And the best part of staying at any B&B – the breakfast, and hands down the ones we enjoyed at the Lafayette House were spectacular. I’m still drooling over the incredible pancake breakfast with the locally produced BLiS Tahitian Vanilla Infused Pure Maple Syrup. For a Canadian to say they like Maple Syrup from Michigan should indicate just how awesome it is.
While we were in town we checked out a few shops, hit a few bars and trawled through crates of vinyl at several record stores. Overall we had a great time and it’s a city I’d visit again in future for sure. If you’re heading that way yourself here are few of my picks in this Grand Rapids City Guide:
Hop Cat a brew pub with a fantastic selection of craft beers. A bit of a bro’ish clientele the night we went, but that didn’t interfere with enjoying ourselves with several pints & crack fries (nomnomnom). Food, drinks and service excellent.
Stella’s Lounge – our local top tip from Todd. We went back several times we liked Stella’s Lounge so much. It’s a great dive bar, with vintage arcade games, killer menu, cheap drinks and fantastic vibe. The bar is *stocked* and your head will be swimming from their extensive drinks list. Also. STUFFED TOTS. You’re welcome.
Pyramid Scheme – Described as a “Neighborhood Pub + Music Venue in the Heartside Neighborhood. A place for the artists, musicians and localists of Grand Rapids.” The Pyramid Scheme is also chocked full of pinball machines. I’m seriously loving this pinball resurgence mixed with a bar and venue vibe (see also: Ottawa’s excellent House of TARG). Pyramid Scheme plays host to an array of general admission shows like Death From Above or Mickey Avalon (who’s playing there this Sunday). Also located near Stella’s Lounge for convenient bar-arcade-hopping.
Vault of Midnight – Wow, how much do I miss living somewhere with a comic shop? Like a shit ton ok, but Vault of Midnight helped me get my comic fix (at least for a little bit).
Vertigo Music – my favourite record store of all the ones we went to in and around Grand Rapids, loads of variety which saw me straining to decide between records. Oh the pain in decision making! Staff were super nice and and the record bunks were well laid out so I didn’t feel crammed in while searching through.
Have Company – across the street from Vertigo Records, this lovely shop is chock full of vintage clothes, house hold goods and zines with a lot of products being locally made or sourced. And it’s a gallery, & artist residency space to boot!
Black Lamb – Boutique shop with an array of wonderful goods ranging from jewellery to clothes to bath & body products and so much more. Their online shop will give you an idea of some of the fabulousness they stock in store as well!
WHERE: 1077 Bank Street, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada K1S 3W9 (across from the Mayfair Theatre). WHAT:House Of TARG is a live venue with over 40 Pinball, Classic Arcade machines & a tantalizing perogie menu. Ottawa’s only classic arcade, barcade. WHY: Pinball & Perogies – need I say more?
I was recently in Ottawa, Ontario for a quick trip catching up with the Tattoo Hero team, eating ALL the vegetarian sushi possible, and hitting my favourite Ottawa shops (in particular Vertigo Records and Wunderkammer).
While I was in town, I also wanted to find something unique to do for a laid back birthday night out. It’s been several years since I’ve had a big birthday blowout, and I definitely wasn’t feeling a party vibe this year either.
So when I stumbled upon House of TARG, I knew I had found the perfect place to spend my birthday.
House of TARG, located across from the Mayfair Theatre (a small repertory cinema & another Ottawa institution) on Bank Street is a bar/arcade/music venue rolled into one.
An unimposing street-facing entrance leads you downstairs to a large underground venue, the walls lined with pinball machines, as well as arcade game classics. A centre bar staffed by a tattooed bar tender with a fantastic sense of humor immediately makes me feel welcomed. No attitude here if you need to make change for the games, the staff are attentive while maintaining a relaxed, laid back vibe. The music, a mix of metal, punk, rock and alternative is just perfect.
I ordered a small Kale ‘Em All (Potato blended with smoked Gouda and fresh kale), and my friend Kathleen went with the Kraut (world famous in-house Sauerkraut fills this perogie with a sharp tangy zest). I think we both could have easily devoured a large portion and then some, they were that good.
And if you’re Vegan, they’ve also started offering a Vegan option too.
After 9pm there’s a cover charge of $5 which goes towards the bands that play. I’ve seen some reviews with people whining about this, which I think is lame as $5 isn’t a huge cover charge to pay to support live music. And if it’s that big of a deal you can always go at 5pm and get in a good solid four hours of game play and perogies before the bands start.
Game wise, I felt the selection was great a mix of visibly vintage pinball machines with newer ones (like the J.J. Abrams Star Trek pinball). The classic arcade games were also a treat, it’s been YEARS since I’ve had a chance to play Double Dragon or Mortal Kombat.
Kathleen absolutely killed me though on the vintage racing game, I kept crashing and blowing up my car. Whoops.
Had House of TARG existed when I was living in Ottawa, I would have spent a lot of my nights and weekends there. If, like me, you enjoy video games & pinball, dive bars with character, delicious food & loud music then you’re going to LOVE House of TARG.
My night there was easily one of my best birthday’s yet – spent with a wonderful friend I’ve known since the age of 10, just geeking out and playing games together.
I can’t wait to head back to House of TARG on my next trip for a pint, perogies and some pinball – and I highly recommend you do too if you’re ever in Ottawa!
Spring Breakers is how I imagine a ‘traditional’ North American Spring Break.
And it kinda horrifies me, which is probably the point as this review suggests “Spring Breakers is Harmony Korine’s horror movie about the so-called beautiful people. It’s angry, envious and gloriously mocking all at the same time.”
My distaste for Spring Break isn’t because I dislike fun, sun and the beach, quite the opposite actually. The whole built up MTV-esque Spring Break phenomenon though really isn’t my scene.
And I’m guessing it’s probably not yours either.
I usually travel around my birthday, which often falls at the tail end of Spring Break festivities in March. Having witnessed the clean up of party cities like Las Vegas, New Orleans, and Ft.Lauderdale after the fratish hordes depart, I’ve been glad to have missed the party in the first place.
So where do the weirdos go for Spring Break? If you’re looking to get away here are a few ideas for an alternative Spring Break in North America.
Sun Seekers – Joshua Tree, California
If you find yourself desperately needing a sun fix after the long, dark winter but find yourself filled with dread at the thought of crowded beaches and loads of people, then the Joshua Tree might be for you. A 2 1/2 hour drive from Los Angeles this incredible desert oasis is unlike any other.
Rent a homesteader cabin with a hot tub and relax. The weather won’t be baking but it’ll be a hell of a lot nicer than -35C, with average temperatures high/low of 29°C and 10°C (85°F and 50°F for Fahrenheit folk). March is also when you can view wildflowers in the Joshua Tree Park.
Black Rock Campground and Pinto Basin make for some incredible dark sky stargazing.
And if you ever wanted to wander around a post-apocalyptic landscape, less than an hour away is the eerie, abandoned ruins of Salton Sea, a once upon a time playground in the 60’s for the likes of the Beach Boys, Frank Sinatra and a million others.
Before Brooklyn’s Hipster gentrification, bands like Sir Lord Baltimore, Dust, and Type O Negative called BK home. If you’re looking to spend a week taking in metal shows, shopping for oddities, and dive bar hopping, eschew Manhattan for a cheaper stay in Brooklyn.
And with metal bars like Lucky 13 Saloon in Gowanus, Duff’s Brooklyn in Williamsburg, and Saint Vitus in Greenpoint you could easily drink the week away accompanied by the perfect Metal soundtrack without ever having to leave Brooklyn.
Nicknamed the Borough of Churches for good reason, spend a day taking in the architecture of these houses of worship. But don’t delay as many of these old, historic buildings are under threat from condo developers and are quickly disappearing. Stroll the grounds of Green-wood Cemetery, established in 1838 this National Historic landmark is a beautiful monument to the dead.
GETTING THERE: JFK or LaGuardia, Newark is do-able but a pain in the arse to Brooklyn, bus, drive.
Ok, I’m not going to lie – Chicago in March isn’t exactly warm. BUT if you’re more interested in wandering around museums and galleries sipping tea or going out for some amazing meals this city is a great choice.
I love Chicago, and spent a good week in the city wandering around museums in the dead of winter. The city is easy to get around by public transport, making it ideal to museum hop, and though you might automatically think NYC or Washington, DC for gallery and museums don’t under estimate the cultural offering from this great Midwestern City.
The Field Museum is an easy favourite, and on now through to October 4th, 2015 is a pretty badass Vikings exhibition. The Art Institute of Chicago boasts a massive collection (including some of my favourite pieces by artist Jospeh Cornell) and was awarded top placing as the #1 Museum in the World by Tripadvisor for 2014. The National Museum of Mexican Art has a fantastic, vibrant collection – not least of all my favourite, the Día de los Muertos section. And for the more daring (and/or curious) the Leather Archives & Museum, dedicated to the history and culture of leather, kink, and fetish lifestyles. These are just a few picks from the many different galleries & museums that call Chicago home. So even if it’s windy and cold as all hell outside, you can stay warm whilst basking in different museum exhibitions.
When I was 17 I had the incredible opportunity to study abroad for a Summer. Obtaining a high school credit in Modern Western Civilization while living and studying at Oxford University in the UK and at Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris in France, was quite simply an amazing experience in my life.
It was the perfect environment to take such a history course, and we were able to visit many historical sites alongside the course curriculum.
One of the places we visited that summer was Vimy Ridgee and the Vimy Memorial.
After years of not having a car and getting around in the city happily without one, we finally caved in and accepted the need for a vehicle in Northern Ontario.
With our newly acquired wheels, we decided to go road tripping and visit Jeff’s family in Bonfield, Ontario near North Bay. His Brother and Sister-in-law have land where they’re building an environmentally sustainable farm. Solar panels power and enable them to be totally off the grid, and they’re raising free range animals. It’s pretty inspiring and wonderful to see first hand how they’re xliving and producing their own food.
From there we headed off the next day to Sudbury for the Record Show, we didn’t pick anything up but it was nice to flip through some crates of vinyl. Have to admit to missing the ease and convenience of having a dozen record shops to hand when we were living in Toronto. It was a pretty relaxed computer free weekend overall, and the weather was beautiful to be driving through the countryside, music blasting. The car we have is second hand and only has a CD player so we resurrected our CD collection and I played DJ for the course of the trip.
Chunks of ice in the locks, the final remnants of a terribly long winter. What a year for us to move to Northern Ontario. Still though, no regrets whatsoever. I’ve been dying to get out and properly explore, and this past weekend we were finally able to in between scattered light rain showers.
We didn’t venture too far, but went trekking around the Batchewana First Nation Whitefish Island Reserve which is slowly coming to life again now that Spring is finally here.
Without a doubt Fall is my favourite season. The weather is perfect, the air smells of bonfires and smoky woods, crisp autumn leaves, and the build up to Halloween.
I’ve weathered Autumns in Europe and the States, but nothing ever comes close to a proper Canadian Fall. The contrast to our ridiculously hot and humid summers is striking, and the vibrancy of the autumn leaves especially in the Gatineau’s near Ottawa is incredible. At times it looks like the hills are on fire what with the yellow, orange and red leaves.
This past Thanksgiving we headed out of the city for Northern Ontario, it was a quick road trip, but a gorgeous one none the less and great to get out into the countryside.
This time of year always makes me nostalgic for past Autumns as well. I love that this season reminds me of good friends and new beginnings.
You could easily spend a small fortune in London shopping (and I very well may have over the years). Whatever you’re looking for, London will have several of it. From expansive Flagship Stores to small independent shops and markets of all sorts the city is a shoppers dream.
If you know what you like be it vintage, books or some killer Vivienne Westwood – do your research before you go and make a list! Even better, go download the Yelp app if you have a smart phone. Yelp is an incredible community powered by user submitted reviews on pretty much anything in a given city.
The awarded star ratings are a good indicator of whether a place is yay or nay, and generally the reviews are pretty fair (and some simply hilarious!) Additionally, you can bookmark things you want to check out and still access your list and map of where stuff is even when if you have your data roaming or wifi turned off.
Below is a list of a few of my favourite shops to hit whenever I’m back in London. It’s a bit of a mix, so check these places out or get inspired to make your own list. And if you have any tips for me as to great shopping finds in London I’d love to hear them!
“Forbidden Planet is the world’s largest and best-known science fiction, fantasy and cult entertainment retailer and the largest UK stockist of the latest comics and graphic novels.” The London Megastore for this fantastic retailer is located on Shaftsbury Avenue near Tottenham Court Road. If you like Sci-Fi, Fantasy, or anything even remotely geeky you’ll want to make a beeline for Forbidden Planet. With an excellent selection of books, comics, merch and more, they often have really cool events and in store signings too.
Oh my goodness do I love Tatty Devine! This often imitated store sells original laser cut jewellery in perspex and other sorts of materials. You can create your own as well or choose from their various lines. They often collaborate with other artists, designers or bands (such as Robots in Disguise) to create some really unique pieces. Bright, bold and fun. Tatty Devine’s jewellery are pop statement pieces to accessorize your look. With two locations in London (Brick Lane and Monmouth Street) for you to shop at.
If you love vintage but get frustrated when you find something you adore but it’s nowhere near your size or wish you could have several of the same beautifully cut frock, then you need to check out Vivien of Holloway, nearest tube store Holloway Road on the Piccadilly Line. Whether you consider yourself a Rockabilly or just love the era, Vivien of Holloway will sweep you off your feet with their fantastic collection of 40’s and 50’s style clothing, all new and made with period inspired fabrics and cuts “slightly adapted from genuine vintage styles”.
Following on in a similar vein, if you’re going to buy a stunning dress from Vivien of Holloway, you *need* to have equally fabulous underpinnings! Ladies, if you want some killer vintage inspired lingerie or stockings, What Katie Did will quickly sort you out. Their London Boutique is currently located on Portobello Road. I’ve been a long time fan of this store, and have some stunning pieces from here including a to die for 10 strap garter belt (hubba hubba!) The quality is superb and will make you feel like a starlet of old.
Based in North London, and with over 11 years of experience, Ceri has done the best of them from rock stars to brides to ballet dancers (and even me!) I love this girl, and obviously am totally biased given she’s a good friend of mine. With that said I wouldn’t sing her praises if it didn’t warrant it. She’s an incredible award-winning hairdresser, specializing in extensions, wigs and vintage hair styling.
Emma of Angel Emma has over 21 years of experience in hairdressing (though to look at her you’d wonder where she’s hidden the fountain of youth in her flat if that’s the case!) Amazing hair, for amazing people – she specializes in human hair extensions and is an approved Cinderella Hair extensions stylist. She also does a mean Brazilian Smoothing Treatment, making the most unruly, unhappy hair silky smooth and lush to the touch. She’s like a sister to me and a dear friend. I can attest to her skills as over the years I have been absolutely spoilt by her and Ceri doing my hair (that’s me with Emma in the photo above with the red wrapped dreads!) From extensions to smoothing treatments, colour and cuts these two North London ladies are the crème de la crème of hairdressing.
Vinyl seeker? Oh man, you are in for a treat and a very, very heavy suitcase to lug back home after your trip. Berwick Street in Soho is home to several excellent record shops. I have to say Sister Ray is my favourite of the Soho bunch (c’mon, named after a Velvet Underground song for the win!)
Brilliant record label and shops. Such a cool, cool place with in-store events and gigs happening all the time. I am truly saddened to be so far away from Rough Trade now (though I’m certainly not knocking the ace record shops of Toronto!). Rough Trade have two locations, their Flagship in Brick Lane and their original shop from back in the day near Portobello Road.
Incredible Rock n’ Roll jewellery from the Great Frog in Carnaby Street. If you love silver, hand crafted jewellery with edge, The Great Frog is a must. Their client list includes Rock & Roll elite such as Motorhead, the Who, the Beatles and Iggy Pop just to name a few.