Back in London

Its been a whirlwind week of catching up with people, going to a close friends wedding and unpacking bags of clothes in my flat. Coming home actually felt fine, like I’d got the traveling out of my system and it was time to settle. Ben and I also got massively lost while out walking around my home village back in Herefordshire. I didn’t know that was even possible!

I’ve really enjoyed writing the blog and I’m going to keep it up every now and then. Probably restaurant reviews (in Streatham as much as poss, it’s lacking in decent publicity!) and the things that have made me happy this week. Do feel free to stop by and share.

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10 things that made me happy this week (7)

1) 40% off everything in French Connection, although admittedly this was both a blessing and a curse as I burned through the equivalent of 3 days Central America budget in a matter of minutes.

2) A woman in Starbucks near missing me and my new favourite scarf with her coffee. I didn’t know anything had happened until she told me she’d just spilled loads on the table next to my shoulder and it had just missed me!

3) Going to the cinema for the first time since I left the uk. It cost £8 for a vip seat that was actually really posh. Totally worth it! I saw Ex Machina which I chose because it started at the right time. I hardly knew anything about it, but it turned out to be excellent.

4) Ben’s arrival!

5) The view of Montreal at night from the Mount Royal

6) Brunch at Le Cartet

7) The cheapness of the cinema here. $22 (about £12) for Imax

8) Watching Xmen First Class and Days of Future Past on Netflix

9) The episode of Friends where Phoebe and Rachel go running. So funny!

10) Finally buying the Lululemon yoga mat. And it’s grey to go with my living room.

The rest of Toronto

Sunday was originally going to be CN tower day but the weather was grey and being a Sunday, queues seemed likely. Instead I decided to go to a yin/yang yoga class at the Yoga Sanctuary in the morning. This was a great class! The first half was an up tempo flow and I got into an arm balance I’ve been failing at for ages for the first time, yay! The second half was yin poses so we did one back bend, held for several minutes then a bunch of back bends which was perfect got a Sunday morning. Afterwards I headed back to the hostel to have lunch then went for a walk.

The walk led me to Queen Street East which is home to lots of high street chains. Sort of like a slightly more pleasant version of London’s Oxford Street. My eyes drew me straight to French Connection which had 40% off everything in store. My purse definitely felt it! After that I called it a day in the interests of preserving my credit card.

Monday was again going to be CN tower day but when I arrived it looked like this.

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I retreated to Starbucks and ended up staying for a couple of hours. Things didn’t improve so I headed back to the hostel picking up lunch and the latest Marie Claire on the way. It’s amazing being able to buy magazines here! I hung at the hostel for a while then headed to another yoga class. Sadly when I arrived I was told the class I wanted to go to wasn’t on because it was Monday and that class was on Tuesday (I blame all the snorers I’ve been sharing my dorm with for making me tired!). Luckily there was another class in an hour so I hung around for that. It was good!

I was determined that I was going to get a good night’s sleep in spite of the snorers last night so I stocked up on nytol, ear plugs and prepped the white noise app on my phone. Sadly the snorer was still audible over the white noise and had joined forces with some annoying other room mates who thought packing at 11pm and chatting at full volume was a good idea. Eventually it fell quiet but I’d got into such a rage with the snorer that there was no way I was going to sleep! Eventually I remembered something I read in an article about sleeping through noise – “it’s not the noise that keeps you awake, it’s your own anxiety” so I decided that rather than try to ignore the snoring I was going to embrace it and make it a kind of study (the rest of this is going to sound a bit odd, bear with me!). I relaxed as much as I could and listened to the snores, noting how the sound changed from snore to snore, when they stopped and so on. When I got extra agitated rather than giving up I brought my focus back to the snoring and tried to relax again. Kind of like a snoring meditation! Anyway, I’m not sure if it was my  new approach or the sleeping pill finally kicking in but the next time I woke up it was 6am at someone’s alarm going off. Mission semi-accomplished. 6 hours is better than none!

Today is my last day in Toronto and I started it with a sad farewell to the Planet Traveller breakfast. With 6 types of bagel, bread and 16 types of cereal plus peanut butter and jam it has been good to me. I think I might turn into a bagel before I leave Canada.

Next was another yoga class which was unexpectedly great. The teacher gave a good little talk at the start about non-violence to yourself being the start of being non-violent to others. Non-violent meaning in the sense of not bearing ill will to others, loving everyone and all that. He also asked everyone why they started practicing yoga then had us share our answers with the class. This never happens in yoga, and I mean never! I’m only to happy to remain silent from the time I walk in the studio to the time I walk out but actually I enjoyed this part. His point was that you can practice for many reasons but really we’re all there to break down our ego and learn to stop doing things because we think they impress others, to stop bearing ourselves up when we think we’ve made mistakes and generally to stop indulging the ego. When we can do that we can really learn to love ourselves and everyone else. When we find that the other stuff like flexibility and crazes comes naturally when the body and mind are ready. I love it when yoga teachers make me think! He also told me I should do Chaturanga on my knees for the next 30 days until I can get my arms fully to 90 degrees. At the moment I can’t get my arms fully to 90 and I haven’t made progress in a long time. Noone has ever picked me up on it before and I feel like this could help me make progress yay.

Afterwards I headed to St Lawrence market and the Distillery district for a walk around.  The market was a little disappointing. My lunch was a sad burrito, a cheese blintz that I threw away because it wasn’t nice and a raw and vegan nanaimo bar that was just average. The Distillery district was pretty and worth an hour or two to walk around if you have a spare afternoon.

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For the rest of the day I’m going to be killing time until my 12.30am bus to Montreal which means I’ll be in my last city and only a night away from seeing Ben. Not long to go now!

10 things that made me happy this week (6)

1) My room and the welcome at hotel Monte Cristi. I stayed for my last night in nicaragua because it’s by the airport and the owner couldn’t have been nicer. I also have aircon and cable tv!

2) My last Nicaraguan dinner, eaten on a balcony at the only restaurant near the hotel. Great chicken, lovely service and $3 for the lot.

3) The necklace a friend at my hostel in Granada gave me as I left. Look down at it and take 3 deep breaths and it will all be ok. He also gave me some of his brownie. Yum!

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4) My kingsize room at the Toronto airport travelodge and very good value breakfast buffet.

5) Its gloriously cool in Toronto! About 20 degrees I guess. There’s plenty of time for me to start hating it but right now I’m loving not doing of heat.

6) Finding a giant hmv, then only paying $2 for a massively reduced pair of headphones there.

7) Chatting to friendly shop assistants. People here are really nice!

8) Tim Hortons: tea and a bagel with cream cheese for $3.50

9) Black squirrels. These seem to be the norm in Canada.

10) The parks at Niagara. Unexpected and beautiful.

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Keeping up a yoga practice while traveling

I wanted to keep up my yoga practice as much as possible while traveling. Firstly in order to stay strong and flexible for my teacher training, second (and most important!) because I love it and I was excited to have time to go to class rather than squeezing online classes in around work.

In reality I’ve been hit and miss depending on where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing but I managed to fit something in most weeks. Here are the things that helped:

Don’t worry about not having the right equipment

I knew that I didn’t want to carry a yoga mat with me. They’re heavy and take up a tonne of space! I find I can practice on most surfaces effectively with a bit of improvisation. Carpet works well, for harder surfaces like wood or tile I just use the pillows and blankets from my bed or my own clothes to pad my knees and other parts of the body that have a hard time with the floor. Yes it’s easier to grip with a mat but I found practicing on slippier surfaces helped me to engage my core. Just be careful not to fall over!

I like up work with props and found that my pyjama bottoms or a scarf worked perfectly instead of a strap. For a block I’d grab whatever I could find in the room eg chunky doorstops or books, or even my 1.5l water bottle where I knew I wouldn’t put a lot of weight on it.

Make the most of local studios

These weren’t always available but when they were I made sure to take advantage of intro offers and practice as much as I could fit in. They will almost definitely be a fraction of the cost back home. The best I found were:

– Buena Onda, Buenos Aires: run by US expats, the classes happen on beautiful studios around central. These English speaking classes ranked among the best Vinyasa Flow classes I’ve been to and there was a really friendly vibe in the classes. From memory it was about $10 per class including mat hire.

– Pure, Granada, Nicaragua: Pure has a great range of classes and a pretty good gym. The yoga classes cost about $8 a time,  a bit less if you have your own mat. They also run various workshops and the staff are superfriendly. Classes are in English and seemed to be mostly intermediate vinyasa flow.

I stopped at others along the way and Cusco in Peru was another hotspot (I can’t remember the name of the place but Google turns it up at the top of the list). A couple of times I walked into a class that was fully on spanish but don’t worry too much about this. It’s a little awkward for he meditative/closed eye bits but if you put yourself at the back of the class it’s surprising how little you need to understand the verbal cues.

Yogaglo/other online subscription services

I pay about £12 a month for yogaglo and there are hundreds of excellent classes on there. When I had a private room/my dorm was empty and there as decent wifi I’d stick a class on and practice. This was hit and miss given the up and down wifi out here but in Peru and Central America I usually found the signal good enough.

Learn Ashtanga primary series (or other self practice)

I found that if I tried to put together my own sequences I’d do the postures I liked and give up after 20 minutes or less! Having the predefined Ashtanga sequence meant I was more likely to see the practice through to the end and get a rounded set of poses.

Use open spaces in hostels/outdoors and don’t be self conscious

This is something that I haven’t 100% cracked but every hostel I’ve been in has space to practice. I was spoiled with my first in Buenos Aires which had a huge roof terrace but every place I’ve stayed has had a corridor, patio or other space for practice. Where I haven’t used it, it’s been my self consciousness that held me back. I’m pretty sure people either wouldn’t care or would be interested so my advice here is don’t worry, just go for it! And if you’re really struggling book a private room for a night. In most of South and Central America this won’t break the budget for one night.

And finally, don’t worry if you miss a few days or even weeks

Relax, you’re travelling and yoga should be enjoyable not a source of stress. There were times I took a couple of weeks off or only managed 5 sun salutations every so often. My body didn’t forget how to do it and everything came back quickly when I reached the teacher training. Sure, some things were tighter, some were more open but it was fun exploring those changes and seeing what new things opened up to me during the course of the training.

A perfectly lovely day cycling

Today was a good day. It started off right with a nice chat over breakfast. One of the hostel staff suggested I visit High Park as it was such a nice day. After a lot of internal debate I decided to hire a bike from the hostel so I could visit that in the morning and head to the Toronto islands in the afternoon (there quite far apart).

The aforementioned debate was because I’m pretty scared of cycling in roads, especially in new cities where I don’t know the rules. I’m happy to report that I survived. The bike made a hideous noise in anything other than the toughest gear which didn’t help but the roads here are pretty big and well laid out so I wasn’t too terrified. The only thing I struggled with was turning right. Drivers seemed be able to turn right when the light was on red, and there was rarely a right lane so I didn’t know how to tell who was going which way. It was scary waiting at traffic lights as I didn’t know if I was going to get squashed.

High park is lovely. It wasn’t on the tourist map so I wouldn’t have known about it if not for the random chat this morning. I’m glad I came! It’s a pretty big, mostly woodland park. You can only cycle on paved roads but that was enough for me (I bet the woodland paths would be great with a mountain bike though!).

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I spent just over an hour there riding round and taking a break to read. You could easily spend half a day or more though if you have the time.

It was actually lack of toilet facilities that forced me back to the hostel. I couldn’t see any near me so decided to call it a day and cycle back for a break before the islands in the afternoon. That meant I got to have salad from the Salad Shed on Kensington Market again. It’s so good but doesn’t seem to be on TripAdvisor yet so I’m plugging it here instead.

Once I’d got my strength back I headed to the ferry. This I didn’t enjoy so much. My road has a cycle path most of the way down it but I had to turn onto Jonge Street which seems to be the busiest road in town. Eventually I turned off and took another road/pushed the bike as there was so much traffic! Anyway I made it to the terminal. Getting the ferry is very straightforward. You buy a return ticket from the desks up front for $7, the ferry takes 15 minutes and they run roughly every 45 minutes all day until about 9pm but check before you travel as the schedule changes seasonally. Taking a bike with you isn’t a problem (you don’t even have to ask, just take it with you). After that you walk straight into the departure bay where you can get ferries to 3 different points on the islands. You can cycle between all of them as they’re connected by bridges so I just jumped on the first one that left. If you’re walking you might want to think about it a bit more, they’re not huge but the ports are a good 3 or 4km apart. You can also hire a bike on the island, I paid $20 for a full day while the island is roughly  $15 for the first hour then $7/hour thereafter so it might be cheaper if you only want to do the hour. The islands are really beautiful and once you get away from the more touristy Centre island you can easily find yourself alone in nature. It reminded me of a nice spring day in the countryside. There are also a couple of beaches and a great view of the Toronto skyline.

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I’m ending the day with tea in Tim Hortons and getting excited about meeting Ben in Montreal. 4 months has both flown and dragged by, I can’t believe there’s only 6 nights left until the solo adventure is over and the couply one begins. Exciting times!