Joie de Vivre

Hellooooo WordPress!

It’s been a while. It’s been nine months, in fact. But what an incredible nine months it’s been.

Many of my past posts have been about trying to figure out my life: finding a Big Girl Job, discovering this amazing city I live in, answering random questions that popped into my head, etc.

I’ll tell you a secret though: I was very close to moving back to Edmonton. There was a point earlier this year where I knew I needed a different job because I was so deeply unhappy; the only things getting me through at that point were my friends, yoga, and books. I had decided that if I did not find a Big Girl Job by August, I would quit my job, go on a fantastic trip, and return (broke) to Edmonton. To placate myself until then, I booked a ticket to Berlin for June, where my sister would be participating in a summer internship.

Everything changed in May: I got a Big Girl Job. And not just any Big Girl Job…an incredible Big Girl Job.

I knew this was the starting point of so many good things to come. It was the validation I needed that my perseverance to stick around Toronto was worth it. You see, even though I had loosely planned moving back to Edmonton at the end of August, it still didn’t feel quite right. Toronto felt right. This whole thought process was validated by a near-death experience (it sounds dramatic, I’ll admit, but it’s true!).

I had worked at my new job for approximately two weeks before I left for Berlin. I could tell at this point that this job was where I was meant to be, and I had to keep pinching myself because a variety of good things were happening all at once. I went off to Berlin almost in a state of shock.

Berlin was incredible. It was the first international sister trip Anna and I had taken together. I got to see family and friends I hadn’t seen in a decade. It was my first time in Berlin as an adult, and I realized that Berlin is basically me as a city.

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Abandoned allied spy tower…now a canvas for visual art.

However, I’ll also never forget this trip because I almost died. As my close friends reading this blog know, I had the worst allergic reaction of my life in Berlin. I’ve had severe anaphylactic allergies my whole life, and I’ve had terrible life-threatening reactions before, but quite literally nothing compares to the reaction I experienced in Berlin.

My sister, cousin and I were eating dinner at a burger restaurant. I chose a vegan option, as vegan food is significantly safer for me to eat with my allergies. While eating the burger, there was a brief moment where it felt like a reaction was about to begin. Strangely, it passed after a couple of minutes, and I assumed that due to my paranoia I was imagining a reaction (which has happened before).

After dinner, the three of us were walking to the nearest tram stop, and I suddenly felt like I had been hit with every possible allergic reaction symptom at once. My throat began constricting without pause. I couldn’t feel my face. My stomach felt like it was turning in on itself. Anna noticed immediately what was happening. I popped two Benadryl and told her I needed water ASAP.

The three of us ran into a bar so I could grab water, but before the bartender had poured the glass, I felt so suddenly ill that I ran into the bathroom located in the basement. Anna ran after me, and so begun a period of time that I have very little recollection of to this day. What I do remember is a constant battle in my brain, debating whether or not I should use my Epi-Pen (note: if this question is ever considered, the correct answer is to always use the Epi-Pen).

But if I use my Epi-Pen, I’ll only have one left for the duration of my trip.

I’ll have to go to the hospital if I take it, and what if my travel insurance provider lied and I have to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket for emergency care.

I don’t really want to die…I have so much going for me right now. I just started this incredible job. I’m so blessed to have such a caring family. I’m so blessed to have friends that are like family to me.

I’m not exaggerating on that last thought. My brain was so deprived of oxygen that I was literally weighing the options of living out my life or dying in the basement of a bar in Berlin (I hope those of you with a black sense of humor like me can find this part a bit amusing).

Eventually, after Anna persistently telling me to just use my Epi-Pen and asking if I needed an ambulance, I silently reached into my backpack and grabbed the Epi-Pen. After realizing I couldn’t read the instructions (words are hard when your brain is working with significantly less oxygen than it’s used to), I followed my instincts. Looking my sister dead in the eyes, I stabbed myself and whispered, “we should call the ambulance now.” Again, if you have a black sense of humor I hope you can laugh at the ridiculousness of this moment. At this point, I was seriously wondering how much longer I would have before I blacked out, as my vision was starting to darken. This had never happened to me before.

Things seemed to happen quite quickly after that. Germans are known for their efficiency, and emergency services is no exception. After much confusion as to what an Epi-Pen is (they have a totally different name for it in Germany) and after almost having a heart attack (likely due to the Epi-Pen misunderstanding and the administration of God-knows what drug), I was dragged up the stairs of the bar and into an ambulance, which had stopped in the middle of the street, on the tram tracks, during rush hour  (you’re welcome, Berlin). Not everyone can say that they have quite literally stopped traffic in Berlin.

We made it to the hospital with no issues. It was the best hospital experience I’ve ever had (and according to my cousin, it was the best hospital in Germany). Anna was my rock throughout this entire experience, and things would have ended dramatically differently without her. I’ll never be able to thank her enough.

Following the reaction, I couldn’t comprehend what had happened. I couldn’t think about the events of the situation for a solid week after they occurred. I still don’t remember much of the reaction, and I only know details of the story thanks to Anna.

The day after, I approached life with renewed vigor. Usually after a bad reaction, it takes me two to three days to feel back to normal. Not this time. I had a second shot at life and I wasn’t going to waste any time. I can still remember the look of disbelief on my cousin’s face when we met that day to go see the Berlin wall.

I’ve tried to maintain that joie de vivre since that day (I’ve also tried to be extra cautious when eating out since that day!). I think I’ve succeeded. I hope I keep succeeding, and I hope that you can also find joy in your life without nearly dying in the basement of a grungy bar.

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The day after my allergy attack. And yes, denim on denim is cool in Berlin.

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Toronto vs. Everybody

It’s finally spring- hurrah!

I’m going to start this season off with a post on my favourite places in Toronto. I realize that my past few blog posts have been a bit on the heavy/wordy side. While I recognize not everyone is interested in reading such posts, I think it is so important to maintain transparency in our experiences; this is one of my main goals in writing this blog. It’s so easy to walk through life and not connect with those around us.

However, I don’t want everyone to think I’m a constantly in a negative headspace because of my last couple posts. While moving out east (yes, Albertans consider Toronto to be “out east”) has had its challenges, I continue to have amazing experiences in this city. Having lived in Toronto for over a year and a half now, I really feel at home here. Sherwood Park will always be my home base though.

Anyways, here is a list of my top ten favourite places to go in Toronto! This is by no means an exhaustive list. Enjoy, and let me know your thoughts in the comments!

  1. BMV

BMV is a book lover’s dream. Those of you that have me on Snapchat know that I often take snaps whilst wandering around the aisles. BMV sells both new and used books at extremely low prices (and the used books are in mint condition). Not only are the prices great, but the books are also great: the selection is astounding and always changing. You can also often buy new releases. There are three locations in Toronto, but the Bloor location is my personal favourite for a few reasons: it is the largest store, it is in a cool neighbourhood (the Annex), and they always play amazing music (last time I went it was old Elvis tunes). Another bonus is that all BMV locations are open quite late. I always feel at peace wandering around endless shelves of books. You can check out the website here: http://www.bmvbooks.com/

  1. The Cameron House

The Cameron House is my favourite live music venue in Toronto, by far. You can pop in every day of the week and hear a variety of music being played. It looks partially like a 1920s theatre, and partially like someone dug up random décor from their basement (I say this in the best way possible. Really). They also have a second stage and bar at the back. Their cheap beer is an added bonus to an already stellar time. If you’re in Toronto, you need to check it out: http://www.thecameron.com/index.html

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  1. Queen West

 Queen West consists of every kilometer on Queen Street west of Yonge Street, all the way to Roncesvalle Avenue; admittedly this is a long stretch of road. However, it is incredibly dynamic, which is the reason why it is one of my favorite places to wander in Toronto. Stretching through the heart of the trendy downtown core all the way to the up-and-coming Parkdale, there is no shortage of sights to see. On the downtown section of Queen Street you can find Eaton Centre (including a six-story Bay), Old City Hall, Nathan Phillips Square, and a variety of retailers and restaurants (both chain and independent). Just past Spadina, you can dive into Graffiti Alley and explore the stunning murals that Queen West is famous for. Nearing Bathurst and the hipster neighborhood of Trinity Bellwoods, you can find quirky independent stores as well as a local brewery. Continuing west, you’ll eventually wander into Parkdale, known for its plethora of vintage shops.

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  1. Kensington Market

Kensington is more than just a market. It has permanent store fronts year round, ranging from vegan bakeries to dispensaries. In the summertime on weekends, streets are shut down for pedestrians, and a few market-style booths are set up. It’s an incredibly quirky and unique area, and many of the storefronts are old houses painted in bright colors. The best spots to hit are Bunners (a vegan, gluten free bakery that is a major weakness of mine), Blue Banana (they literally sell everything), and the huge number of vintage stores.

  1. Royal Ontario Museum (ROM)

 I’ve seen my fair share of museums, and the ROM is the cream of the crop. The variety of exhibits is astounding, and the sheer number and importance of the artefacts they have on display is incredible. You could easily spend days inside the ROM. My favorite permanent exhibit is the Egyptology one (and yes, they have several mummies). Just go to the ROM. Right now. Go.

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  1. Steamwhistle Brewery

 Although more on the touristy side, I just love going to Steamwhistle. Every time a friend comes to visit me (which happens fairly frequently- I have wonderful friends), I take them to Steamwhistle. Tours are only $10 and include a charismatic (but not annoying) tour guide, beer, and a souvenir. I’ve been three or four times now, and I love it every time. I also now hold a vast (and perhaps unneccessary) amount of knowledge about the Steamwhistle brand.

  1. Distillery District

 The Distillery District is extremely picturesque and celebrates Toronto’s old warehouse brickwork. El Catrin is a great Mexican restaurant in the District that I highly recommend checking out- their guacamole and margaritas are incredible. This district is also home to Mill Street Brewery. Summer is a great time to check out the variety of shops and restaurant the Distillery District has to offer, but my favourite time to visit is during the annual Christmas Market, a European-style market complete with wooden outdoor booths and mulled wine.

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  1. The Lockhart

 Those of you that know me are aware that I am a massive Harry Potter fan. So, when it was announced that The Lockhart—a Potter-themed bar—was opening up in Toronto, you can imagine my extreme excitement. I was most definitely lined up around the block on opening night (and in a strange twist of fate, the person ahead of me in line was also from Sherwood Park). Because it is not a licensed Harry Potter establishment, the bar is extremely suggestive in its connection to Hogwarts, but does not have any identifiable logos from the series. The drinks are also delicious and creative, including a drink inspired by the Goblet of Fire (and yes, it does involve fire).

  1. Saint Lawrence Market/Saint James Park

 The Saint Lawrence Market is a traditional indoor market that primarily sells meat, seafood, cheese, and bread/pastries, and is located by the iconic Flatiron building on Front Street. What makes this market stand out is the high quality of products, although you will often pay more than when you go to the grocery store. The Saint James Park is one block north of Saint Lawrence, and boasts a gorgeous flower garden during the summer. Attached to the park is the Saint James Cathedral, with architecture that is definitely worth checking out. 

  1. University of Toronto- St. George Campus

 Lastly, the reason why I moved to Toronto in the first place: to attend U of T. Little did I know, U of T has more than one campus in the GTA. However, I got to attend the coolest one, located in downtown Toronto: St. George (I may be slightly biased). The campus is gorgeous—particularly in autumn—and boasts some of the oldest buildings in Canada.