Ottawa City Guide: Hidden Gems

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Although we didn’t spend much time in the city, we spent an afternoon wandering around the city and found a some cute spots. Ottawa is primarily known for being the home of the Parliament, but it does have a few cute boutiques, shops and restaurants.

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Milk Boutique

I spotted a really cute boutique near Byward Market, Milk, featuring in indie women’s clothing, as well as locally-made jewelry, vintage housewares and an adorable assortment of greeting cards and notebooks. A must visit when you’re in the city. The employees are all so kind and stylish, and they love to get to know their customers.

45 William Street

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Vertigo Records

A great record and cd store, with a decent price range and a great selection. They have old, new and used records and cds, and a selection of some to listen to for free.

193 Rideau Street

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Sconewitch

An amazing cafe featuring in scones and tea. They make sweet and savoury scones, as well as sconewiches, sandwiches made with scones instead of regular bread. A great selection of flavours and sandwich types, for both breakfast and lunch. My favourite scone is the Orange Cranberry. If you’re going for breakfast, try the eggwitch, and for lunch, try the spring sconewitch with avocado!

150 Elgin Street (go in through the Gloucester street entrance instead)

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Festival Fun: RBC Bluesfest Recap

This past week, I spent travelling back and forth from Montreal to Ottawa and back again. It was so worth it. My friends and I went to the RBC Bluesfest, a week long outdoor festival in Ottawa, Canada. What an amazing experience! We came across the festival because a few of our favourite bands were performing. It’s not the most popular festival out there, with only around 27 000 people, but this was the perfect number. Each show felt intimate, and with the three main stages, there was plenty of space to roam around. We managed to get front row for almost every show we wanted to see (that’s the only way to capture great photos!). Plus, the bands could see, and often remember, us girls in the front row because we were so close!

My favourite thing about festivals is being able to see so many different bands in the span of one (or three) days! I love it even more when I can discover some new bands! These are all some of the highlights from the festival, whether they’re bands I’d known for a long time or some I’d just discovered at Bluesfest. Most of our time was spent at The River Stage, the smallest stage of the festival (and the best!). However we did roam to the other two, larger, stages and caught some great acts.

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Touring Virginia

For the third and final time, I went on my school music trip to Virginia this past week. I adore my music program, and two years ago, we went to New York City and last year we travelled to Boston. We travel to the Heritage Festival and perform for a competition. This year, we won 3 silvers. It’s something I really am going to miss about high school. Music has always been such an amazing opportunity at school, and I’m so happy to have been a part of it. I met so many amazing people, and I have such great memories because of it.

Sight-Seeing

Our first day was spent in Norfolk, a quaint city where we took an afternoon cruise. It reminded me slightly of Boston, or at least the area that we saw. We also spent time in Colonial Williamsburg, a historical walking tour of an interpreted and interactive colonial, american city.

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Although this beach wasn’t nearly as picture-perfect as in the Galapagos, we still had a lot of fun. The water was freezing, so we mostly sat in the sand and hung around the boardwalk. There were some cute shops and restaurants, and some great opportunities for friendly photo shoots!  IMG_2208 IMG_2215 IMG_2228 IMG_2235 IMG_2273 IMG_2277 IMG_2285 IMG_2301 IMG_2560 IMG_2568

Busch Gardens

We took two days at Busch Gardens, a giant amusement park, and it was a blast! The amusement park in itself is divided into countries, from England, Germany, Italy, France, Ireland, Scotland and Canada. Each country had roller coasters, shops, restaurants and arcade games. We went on a variety of roller coasters and rides, and spent quite a bit of time on the roller coasters.

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This trip was one of the most memorable, something that I won’t forget for a long time. I had so many unforgettable experiences and I know I won’t ever regret it. I was so happy to be with all my friends, and although I’m sad it’s over already, I’m looking forward to many more experiences like this in the future.

 

Ecuador 2014: Part Three

The Galapagos Islands

I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I visited the Galapagos Islands. They only allow 140 000 visitors per year on the islands, and I got to be one of them. I feel so privileged.

For the first four days in Galapagos, we were on the island San Cristobal. We stayed seven to a family, but these families were much different than that of Playa de Oro. While in Playa it was a one time deal, these homes in the Galapagos were specifically for hosting students and visitors. They were definitely more technologically advanced, and the homes were a lot larger and somewhat fancier.

The water here was gorgeous. We went snorkelling almost every day, and swam with giant sea turtles, a large variety of fish, and I even swam over a Galapagos shark! No worries, it was smaller than me, and it wasn’t looking for human flesh or anything. It just swam about six feet below us.

On one of the days, it was my friend Jake’s birthday, and as a group, we organized a small outing for dessert one night. He ended up having cake four times for his birthday, between our dessert party, his planned birthday dinner from the teachers, his host family and an impromptu birthday cake breakfast.

We spent the last two days in Santa Cruz, another island in the Galapagos. This was definitely the more tourist-attracted island of the two. We went mini-cliff jumping, visited lava tubes, and watched the sunrise on the pier.

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Every night, we would go out to the pier and hang out, which was about a five minute walk from our houses. We could go to the little touristy shops, grab an ice cream, and just enjoy our time in the beautiful Galapagos.

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This saying means Conserve What’s Ours. It’s very important to the islands, considering the fact that they are the only home to a variety of different species of animals, plants and insects.

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I got to drive the boat back to shore on our boat cruise around Leon Dormido.

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This was where we went cliff jumping.

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The lava tubes we visited.

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A night on the pier.

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Watching the sunrise!

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Going back to the airport was good and bad. Obviously, I was happy to be seeing my family, but at the same time, I didn’t want to leave Ecuador. I made so many friendships, created the most amazing memories, and had the best time of my life. This was the trip of a lifetime, and an unforgettable one at that. I am so happy to have gone here and it will remain a part of me forever.

Ecuador 2014: Part Two

Playa de Oro

This part of the trip was specifically our humanitarian project. It was so different from anything I had ever done. Each and every one of us stayed with a different family, and one who spoke only spanish for that matter. The first day or so was difficult, but by the end of it, no one wanted to leave. It was such a humbling and eye-opening experience. We took part in the restoration of a school, where we painted the outside and tiled the floors. We also painted the community centre, the church, the town square, and cleaned up the public bathrooms.

The people there were so amazing, kind and special. Each and every person in that village treated us so well. All the kids loved us, and we loved them in return. They were also extremely helpful. While we would work, they would follow behind, helping us polish the floors or paint the walls. Whatever we were doing, they were helping us with.

The villagers also hosted three workshops for us; cooking, dancing, and crafting (baskets and other everyday activities). We also took a walk in the jungle beside the village on the last day, as we had all finished our work ahead of schedule.

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As I mentioned before, the kids in this village were adorable. This girl was like my little sister in the village, Deidi.

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Every afternoon, during our lunch break in between our morning and afternoon work shifts, we would come to the river here and relax.

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This was the school we helped fix.

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These people right here were the ones that took me in for the week. They were my host family, and amazing one at that. I am so grateful to have had such a sweet family who were so giving and so welcoming.

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In the jungle, the mighty jungle!

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Saying goodbye was so hard, especially to this little guy, Emile, who I spent so much time with in the village.

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It was time return to the city, to head off onto our next part of the trip… The Galapagos Islands.

Ecuador 2014: Part One

Hey everyone! You’re probably wondering why I’ve been absent for about a month now, and this is why. I just returned from a humanitarian project graduation trip to Ecuador with 29 of my classmates. It was honestly the trip of a lifetime! Gone for 18 days, we did so much, from seeing the equator, to snorkelling with sea turtles, and of course helping the less fortunate in a small village. We spent a few days in Quito throughout the trip, the capital of Ecuador, then spent six days in Playa de Oro, a small village where we helped restore the community, and stayed with families as well. We ended the trip in the Galapagos Islands for six more days, visiting two islands and taking on a beach clean-up project.

I wanted to share with you all some of my amazing experiences, but seeing as how there are so many, I’m splitting it into three parts.

Quito

I absolutely loved all the colours in Quito. The buildings were always a different colour, from pink to orange, to white and then red. It was such a change from North America, although the “big” city was somewhat touristy. We visited the Virgen de El Panecillo monument, which was accompanied by an amazing panoramic view of the city. We also went to the equator, and stood on in the middle of the world. Pretty cool, huh?

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The entire group, out in the historical part of Quito.

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The Virgen de El Panecillo Monument

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My two roommates for most of the trip. These girls were so much fun, and I’m never going to forget all the sweet and hilarious moments we shared.

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Two of my best friends, Vicky and Jake, and our visit to the equator.

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Standing on the equator!

A Weekend in Cobourg

I spent this past weekend in Cobourg, Ontario for my uncle’s wedding. We drove four hours early saturday morning to arrive at ten, at my uncle’s house. The ceremony was a quaint, civil wedding composed of only close family, and right on the water. Afterwards, we headed to a farm in Cobourg for the reception. It was a fairly casual wedding, with a potluck dinner for all the over 100 guests, but it was still beautiful and so much fun! My two cousins from Vancouver came out, and we all stayed in a hotel right in the heart of Cobourg. Sunday, we explored the town a bit before brunch with the newly-weds, and headed back to Montreal.

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This was the view from the farm.

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The tables, which seated all the guests comfortably.

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These lovely bouquets were made by one of my Uncle’s friends. I loved the flower they made of old book pages and attached to the vase.

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This is one of my cousins and I. The one to the left of me is Kayla, almost 13. To the right is Jasmine, and she’s 10 years old.

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The lovely sunset.

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This was the band that played. They were fantastic! The crowd was going crazy, dancing all night.

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We walked to the beach on sunday, and the sights were just beautiful.

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Here are some pictures of the town, where we walked along and

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I just love this photo of my cousins and I. It’s rare that I get to spend this much time with them, so I always cherish every moment of it.

xoxo, Ali

The Best of: Chicago 2013

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This past week, I took a trip to Chicago with my family. It was truly an unforgettable trip, and let me tell you, this city is wonderful. I had such a great time, and it was devastating to leave the city! No worries, I will eventually recover!

The Highlights

Upon our arrival to the hotel, we stumbled on this local chain called Wow Bao, where they serve hot asian buns. We were all starving after having been on the run all morning, in the plane and on the metro, so this seemed like the perfect place to take a load off and try something new. Boy, am I glad we came here.

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Basically, it’s dough with fillings of meat, spices and whatever you want. They even have a chocolate one! We tried the teriyaki chicken, the spicy kung pao, the thai curry chicken and the bbq pork. They were amazing, and I definitely recommend this if you are in the area. There are five or so located around the downtown Chicago area.

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We took a River Architecture tour, which was brought to us by the Chicago Architecture foundation. The city has so much architectural history, and it’s all so fascinating. I think I took about 300 photos in the 90 minute tour alone!

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I even discovered my favorite building in Chicago, the Wrigley Building.

We spent the afternoon in Wicker Park/Bucktown. I really enjoyed this area. I would say it’s the more artsy neighborhood of Chicago, which is so different from the downtown area.

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That same night, we ate at Lou Malnati’s pizzeria. This was my first time every trying the deep dish pizza, and I can tell you I’ve joined the dark side. I’m never going back to regular pizza!

I chose The “Lou”, which was topped with spinach, mushrooms tomatoes, and cheese. Yum!!!

And of course we had to try their Chocolate Chip Pizza for dessert! once again, yum! (I forgot to get a picture of this one, I was too caught up in eating it! Sorry!)

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Another Chicago-only restaurant chain we tried was called Potbelly’s.

Don’t judge a restaurant by it’s name, because the food here was amazing, and it didn’t leave you feeling like it’s name! I had a delicious breakfast sandwich with egg, cheese, lettuce, tomato and salsa!

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Lincoln Park was also beautiful. We went to the zoo, and actually was able to see a skyline of the city, which was amazing!

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The best meal (in my opinion) that we had on the whole trip was when we went to DMK burger bar for lunch. I had found this place thanks to my dad’s favorite show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Of course, since we were going to the US, we had to hit at least one along the way!

We shared the sweet potato fries, which are basically my obsession, and then each got a burger. I had the #1, which was a grass- fed beef burger topped with aged cheddar, smoked bacon, balsamic red onions and barbecue sauce. It was all so delicious!

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The train/subway system here was also really cool. It was so convenient, and the ‘L’ system literally took you everywhere in Chicago, especially all the areas we wanted to cover. We were even able to take it to and from the airport.

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The Art Institute of Chicago is really beautiful, but I did learn that if you are going to recreate a modern day version in front of the original, people are going to stare…

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For our last dinner on the trip, we went to the local hotspot ‘The Purple Pig’. It’s basically all share plates, and they had the most amazing fried deviled eggs and eggplant parmesan balls.

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On our last day, we took a stroll inThe Loop, the downtown area of Chicago right where our hotel was located, and happened to find an exhibit called ‘The Happy Show’.  Created by Stefan Sagmeister, this exhibit focused on the art of happiness, how to achieve it, and the life lessons you learn along the way. On top of it all, the music was also amazing which added to the overall ambiance of this exhibit.

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I enjoyed this trip so much! It reminds me a bit of New York City as well, of course there are many differences! I can’t wait to one day visit it again!

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xoxo, Ali