Six Months

July 23rd marked my six months in Canada.

Six months.

That’s about that’s about 25 weeks, 181 days, 4,344 hours since I left my family and friends and chased a dream I’ve had since I was a kid. Six months isn’t that long in the grand scheme of things. It isn’t a serious relationship, or a baby growing into a toddler, or a successful marriage, or long-term job, but for me this is my first big milestone in my new life and I’ve never been happier.

In the past six months I’ve met some amazing new friends, I’ve seen some beautiful places, tried things I have always wanted to and learned a lot about self-acceptance along the way.

So, in saying that, I thought I’d compile a list of some of the biggest things to note about the first half of my year away from home:

 

1) It never gets easier to leave people behind, even if what you’re doing is something you really want. Having family close to you is always going to be a comfort, and while I am super close and very blessed to have my family in Canada who are a constant source of love and support, it is one of the hardest things in the world for me to be so far from my Mum and Dad. Not being able to call round and see them for a coffee whenever I feel like a chat is difficult to overcome, and lacking that is probably one of the things that makes my decision about staying here a little wobbly.

2) People always say it, for so many situations: you learn who your true friends are. When I was sick, I learned who my true friends were, when I moved away for university and had a shitty time, I learned who my true friends were. When my Grandma died, I learned who my true friends were. When my boyfriend hurt me, I learned who my true friends were. When I was lost and just needed someone to drink a bottle of wine with and vent, I learned who my true friends were. Moving to a new country is no different. We’re so lucky these days to have such fast and efficient communication routes, so that no matter where in the world we are, we can talk to our friends at the touch of a button. But even that ease isn’t enough for some people, and many instances where I felt I was keeping friendships afloat, have become more apparent than ever. That isn’t necessarily a negative thing though, all it has done is solidified those friendships that mean the most. Good friendships are sacred; look after ‘em.

 

3) While we’re on the subject of friendships, I’ve also realised that just because I haven’t known someone since my teen years, doesn’t mean that they aren’t or won’t become best friends. In my time here I’ve met lots of very cool people, and a good handful of very special people. Within that handful, I knew the minute I met some of them, that we were going to be good friends. This lot, they haven’t known me for that long, and there is still a lot about each other that we have to learn. But I can feel it, the universe; it’s pulled us together for a reason. They’ve been there for me already, and I will be there for them. The universe works in a mysterious, magical way like that. Sometimes you meet people and you just know, you know that there was always a plan for you guys to be best buds. It feels refreshing and wonderful to welcome new, positive energy into my circle.

20108334_10211367891125344_8969871632256917516_n.jpg

4) Trying new things is super cool. This year I finally got round to throwing away concerns about what everyone else thinks and picking up a skateboard. I haven’t looked back since. Man, not only is skating fun, but it’s improved my confidence and given me so many opportunities. It’s helped me meet some amazing people, some really great friends, travel to some wicked places and even gave me the chance to get some of my writing published in two super cool magazines. You can check the articles out at UK zine Hangup Online and at Canadian magazine KingShit.

 

5) I love peanut butter, ginger ale, iced coffee, ranch dressing and Triscuits.

 

6) Self-love it super important and super cool. I spent years surrounded by a toxic cloud of self-hatred. Being stuck in the same old place, doing the same thing every day gave me zero motivation to change my mind-set. I didn’t look after my mental health and didn’t even think it was possible to like myself. Instead I was sucked into the disgusting cycle of self-comparison: Instagram posts, before and after pics, diet tips, the social media lives we all paint for ourselves (me included) dulling my own perception of reality. Since I’ve been in a new place, I have gained a new sense of strength and recalibrated self-identity. I think it shows. I’m happier all of the time, and even on down days it’s not a struggle to pull myself out of it, and that rubs off on other people. I’ve never found it so easy to get on with people or to relate. Positivity comes from within; sometimes you just have to get a change of perspective to really see it.

 

7) If you’re English everyone’s going to ask if you’re from London, or about London, or something to do with London. Or they’ll ask you to talk like a roadman, or rap like Skepta, or about tea. I’m from the North East, which automatically lands me in the Scottish, Irish or Australian box. Occasionally Liverpool… Well, I guess that’s the right country at least (lol).

16830876_10210103941167385_6941919938586350289_n

7) Nature is magical. Even more than I ever realised. I always thought it was cool, but so far I’ve seen so much here. I’ve seen the land change from icing sugar white, piles of snow up to my knees and temperatures lower than I’ve ever imagined; to gorgeous sun kissed skin, dragonflies buzzing above the lake I stood on in winter and throwing myself from the pontoon boat into the gorgeous water below. I’ve seen the moon and sun collide at sunset, sending streaks of burning amber and cerise pink across the sky. I’ve seen the stars dancing on a black, velvet backdrop above the pine trees. I’ve smelled burning wood and cinnamon buns and rain in the forest and the smell of lakeshore.

 

8)Change is scary, but change is good.

 

Aimeexo

10 things to do this summer in Toronto

Now that the heat has finally hit it’s time to get prepared for those long, sunny days. Granted, I still have a lot of the city and its outskirts to experience, but summer is where I am most knowledgeable when it comes to The 6ix, and so I thought I would share some of my personal favourite summer activities.

In no particular order:

  1. The Toronto Island

The fact that this appears fist on my list is kind of a bummer this year, the island is remaining closed until it is marked safe for visitors, due to flooding from record-breakingly high water levels- a result of abnormally heavy rainfall over the spring months. Word on the street is that it won’t reopen until the beginning of August, which sucks.

11951872_10205938490513722_7552077645310781287_n

But, I digress, for when August rolls around this is a great way to spend a hot, sunny day. Just a short ferry ride from the downtown core, the Toronto Island is a great escape from the city that doesn’t cost too much and offers something for everyone. As a child, my parents would take my cousins and I to the island to enjoy the Franklin Children’s Garden and mini fairground.

11885069_10205938492793779_4384451382499678483_n

As a young adult, my cousin and I loved taking the ferry over to wards island and enjoying the beautiful blue flag beaches. The water is even good enough to paddle in- or swim if you’re brave enough.

Alternatively, head to the opposite side of the island and check out Hanlan’s Point, but be warned: this beach is clothing optional!

Pack a picnic and some sunblock, climb aboard the ferry, take in the breath-taking views of Lake Ontario and the city skyline, before having a well deserved lazy day on the sand.

IMG_9731

  1. Beach days

Following swiftly onward from the Island are the other beaches that the city has to offer. Of course, Toronto is not near the ocean, but Lake Ontario’s blue waters disuses itself as a gorgeous sea year round.

Head East to Woodbine beach, which offers a fun atmosphere to relaxing to hang out with friends and family, as well as convenience stands and even a skate park at Woodbine. With blue-flag water and some of the best sand’s that the city has to offer, woodbine is your most genuine “beach day”.

11880536_10205938492993784_4877151867491615676_n

Just a short walk from the Port Lands, navigate your way to Cherry beach, which boasts a far more relaxed vibe. I’ve even been told that you can often find beach-goers setting up their own campfires on the shore as the night draws in.

If you’re in the downtown core, and just fancy a quick beach break, without the hassle of getting wet and covered in soggy sand, why not check out Sugar Beach Park? You’ll spot it on the dockside, an array of little pink deckchairs and parasols all set up on a man-made beach area- soft, golden sands included. Granted, you can’t swim in the water here, but Sugar Beach is great if you want to take a break from a busy day of walking, checking out tourist spots, or even on your lunch-break. Plus, it’s an awesome spot for a photo shoot (just think of the Instagram likes!)

  1. Exploring Scarborough Bluffs
    IMG_9894

The Bluffs are a tranquil stretch of 11 parks across 15km and not too far from the main city, however if you’re going to commit to visiting the area, I’d fully recommend taking a car, or finding someone who is willing to drive.

The Bluffs are ideal for an early evening walk, picnic with stunning views of both the Bluffs and a great place to swim. Head to Bluffers Park for a full view of the Bluffs, or take a left and venture to the beach and marina. For a more in detail summary of the Bluffs check out my post from a couple of years ago here.

  1. Picnic in Trinity Bellwoods

Being close to my neighbourhood, and the perfect in-between for my friends and I, Trinty Bellwoods feels like my most frequent stomping ground as soon as the sun comes out. Pack up some snacks and a blanket and head to the park to meet friends, or take a book and have some “me time”.

The park is full of all kinds of interesting people, from super active workout bunnies and dog walkers, to people nerve-rackingly slack lining and even some interesting looking performance artists.

Not too far from the park you can find Bellwood’s Brewery, an LCBO and a Beer Store- all great for some refreshments. While drinking in parks is not legal in Toronto (as of right now) I won’t tell if you don’t. Plus, there are some lovely can collectors walking the length and breadth of the park who will take your cans for you- they make some money recycling them and your ass is saved from those pesky bike cops-win, win.

  1. Visiting Harbourfront
    IMG_1465

Quite possibly one of the most “touristy” things on this list, but enjoyable none the less. Harbourfront is another one of those things that you can do when you’re hanging with your mum, your kids, your gran or your friends, because everyone can find something to enjoy. Head to the Amsterdam Brewery where you can sample some in-house brewed beers while enjoying some almost “guilt-free” aperitifs including Crispy Brussels Sprouts and Mexican Sweet Corn from the comfort of one of their traditional red Muskoka chairs facing the beautiful Lake Ontario.

Or take a stroll along the boardwalk, eye-up some yachts you probably can’t afford (or at least I can’t) and finally hit up the Steam Whistle Brewery, original railway turntable included, for a boozy history lesson.

  1. Visit a park

Okay, so I kinda covered this one already, but Toronto has so many other parks to offer- both city and national parks. And whether you have money to spare or want to have a great day on a budget, a park is your go to.

11902506_10205938488513672_8589950155179507697_n

For me, I like approximately a six-minute walk from the famous Christie Pits, which in summer offers free viewing of baseball, including the Toronto Maple Leafs, as well as a swimming pool and an outdoor cinema at night.

Or head West on the subway to High Park where you can experience beautiful views of the water, the city, and even spend time in the park’s own mini-zoo.

The city is awash with parks, a perfect escape from metropolitan life, no matter which neighbourhood you live in. Take some snacks and a book and enjoy that warm summer breeze.

 

  1. A rooftop pool
    11825022_10205824946715198_4302747392075906739_n

I only discovered rooftop pools that are open to the public were a thing back in the summer of 2015 but lemme tell ya, that nugget of summer joy changed my life. Yeah, you have to pay some money to have access to these pools- mostly situated in hotel complexes, but they are worth it if it’s a sweltering day and you have a few friends together looking to enjoy the heat.

The first pool I visited was with my cousins- after we concluded that Cabana Pool Bar (while I’m sure super cool, with great views and lots of hot people flocking to it) but kinda out of our price range- was the pool atop the roof of the Hyatt Residency on King. A gorgeous pool with a breath-taking view of the city and a staffed bar, this place is ideal to pretend you’re an extra on ‘The Real Housewives of –insert your favourite franchise here-“.

  1. Brunch, lunch or drinks on a patio

The great thing about summer is the ability to finally be able to sit on a patio. I feel like I spent the entire winter longing for that moment when I could sit, free of a jacket, on a patio and enjoy the hyped-up atmosphere that is the summer.

IMG_0986There are a billion amazing brunch and lunch places in the city, and it’s impossible to even begin to list them all. The same goes for bars. There is something for everyone in this diverse city, so no matter if you want a quiet beer with your pals, or to sit on a rooftop patio with some fancy cocktails while gazing at the city skyline, you have your pick.

In my own neighbourhood, I’d like to give a special mention to Pourboy, which offers tasty food and great drinks- including a mean sangria- for a great price.

 

Or hit up Bellwoods Brewery for some in-house brewed beers and ciders, all set on an idyllic patio, complete with white picnic benches. You can read more about the Brewery here on my review.

  1. Explore Kensington Market

Kensington can be a bit of a tourist trap, but it is also home to an array of amazing creatives, the streets filled with some of my favourite people in the city. A great place to scope out some delicious vegan and vegetarian food, some one-of-a-kind vintage fashion items, or some hand-made jewellery you won’t find anywhere else. Even if you’re on a budget, the market is just as cool to walk around, camera in hand, and take in the sights.

IMG_1016

  1. Watch a movie under the stars

It’s not often you can actually hang out in the great outdoors and watch a movie at the same time.

A number of parks in the city offer public evening screenings of some classic movies, including Christie Pits and Trinity Bellwoods, as well as viewings at Yonge-Dundas Square and the Harbourfront.

Take a blanket (and a date if you are so lucky) and enjoy summer right until bedtime.

I could go on and on, because when the weather is just right, I think Toronto excels in its nature of being the city that keeps on giving. If you’re new to the city, or just want to experience something you haven’t done before, I hope some of these points gave you that little sprinkling of inspiration you need to get out there and seize this summer day!

 

Aimee XO

 

 

Cherry Blossoms in High Park

This year has been my first ever experience of Toronto in spring. It is my first time seeing new life grow from the winter snow and feeling the excitement and anticipation of new beginnings spreading across the city.

One of the biggest markers of the season in ‘The 6ix’, is the blossoming of the beautiful cherry blossoms in the West End’s High Park. It wasn’t something that I was even aware of before I moved over here, but scrolling through social media one day, an article popped up about the infamous cherry blossoms, and I was hooked. There is something about the pastel petals swirling above my head on a sunny, blue-skied day, that begs for a camera to snap the moment into a memory. So, naturally, I grabbed my camera and set off on the subway towards High Park.

The trees reached their peak bloom in early May, and so I picked the ideal time to head down. It was fairly warm, and I had a good feeling about the way the day would pan out.

Swarms of families, tourists, couples and school field trips filled the park, but with my headphones blocking out the rest of the world, I happily meandered between the trees, camera in hand.

I’m not, by any means, a photographer, and I definitely don’t have photo editing down to a fine art, but I still think the pictures managed to capture some of the aesthetic of the day.

IMG_0215IMG_0217IMG_0219IMG_0220IMG_0224IMG_0232IMG_0233IMG_0237IMG_0242IMG_0244IMG_0246

It will be a shame to see the blossoms fall to the ground, but they will only make way for the bright green leaves of what will hopefully be a sunny and memorable summer.

 

Aimee xo

Goodbyes are never easy

Goodbyes are never easy. I said “goodbye” to my mum, my friends, my family and my home just over two months ago, and I remember holding my breath and telling myself everything would be okay because I knew that I was making the right decision.

My mum promised me it wouldn’t be long until I saw her again, and she wasn’t lying.

Today I said goodbye to my mum for the second time during my travels, but not for the last time.

17626161_10210390207043853_1990562606272675479_n.jpgI’m in such a privileged position that my mum works for an airline, and therefore is a) extremely well travelled and open to travelling and b) has so many opportunities to come and visit me.

She flew out to Canada from the UK five days ago to visit me, on British Mother’s Day, and to have the opportunity to see my mum on that special day was so magical. I got to chat with her and have a cup of tea and give her a gift. I got to tell her, in person, how special she is to me and how grateful I am for her- which I guess is the whole point of the day.

She hung out with me in the city that I now get to call home, and I showed her around. I took her to my favourite restaurants and bars, for brunch and lunch and drinks at the top of a sky scraper so that we could take in “The 6ix” together.

17629878_10210390206923850_1078027694715724733_n

In turn she got to tell me how proud she is of me for making the leap across the ocean to pursue my dreams and live a life that I have always dreamt of.

I’ve grown so much already in such a short space of time, and to know that my best friend who has been with me from the very beginning- before I was even a thing– is happy, well, that’s just the best feeling.

I remember a time, stood in a cobbled courtyard on a spring day in Leeds. I could smell the Moroccan restaurant my apartment faced, and feel the chill in the air even though it had been a warm day, as I watched her Fiat500 pull out of the parking lot and onto the road that would lead her home. I was only a 1 hour 30 minute drive from home and yet I felt a million miles away. My heart yearned to get into that car with her and travel up that road to Sunderland, away from the heartache that I thought surrounded me. I was so melancholy I was practically scripted for a Shakespearean drama.

But this time, things have changed.

17457549_10210390207003852_4530570786417367282_n.jpg

Every second with her was filled with joy, and felt like I hadn’t been apart from her for one minute, but at the same time, was tainted with the ominous looming cloud of the goodbye that was to come.

I was sad before she even arrived, because I knew the dreaded goodbye was always lurking in the shadows, sneering at our smiles.

But in reality, once I bid her adieu for a second time, I realised that the goodbye isn’t sad at all. It’s a joyous goodbye.

The only reason I’ve had to say farewell to her is because I’m doing something that is making all of my favourite people impressed and happy for me. I’m fulfilling my potential, and nothing worth having ever comes easy.

I don’t want to get on the plane with her and go back to that little town where I don’t think I felt real belonging, although I wish I could stay with her.

The goodbyes will never get easier, but I think that they will always be worth it.

 

 

Aimeexo

A familiar face

Its amazing the difference a friendly face can make. I guess I should start this post with an anecdote.

Around this time five years ago, maybe minus a couple of months, I was in my first year of university in Leeds, living in residence with my friend, James. If you’d told me then that, in five years time, we’d both be the happiest version of ourselves, living in another country, and sitting opposite one another in a hole in the wall bar on Queen Street West in Toronto, well I wouldn’t have believed you.

Back then I was in a pretty dark place, struggling with a bunch of personal demons, having had my heart metaphorically doused in petrol and set on fire, and I wasn’t the most chipper of people. James was a pretty quiet guy, and although had his own stuff going on, was mostly happy to just tinker about on his guitar or make experimental music in his room. I guess though, that for me, I was so unhappy with my life that the negativity seeped out of me and diluted my aura- I wasn’t a great person to be around. My problems manifested themselves into obsessive-compulsive behaviours- from controlling my food and weight, right down to fixating on cleanliness and organisation.

Obviously, this didn’t go down well in a student apartment, with a bunch of 18 year olds having finally escaped the rules of home life and having their first taste of freedom. I guess it drove a wedge between James and I for a while.

So to think that fast forward a few years, and we’d be here, drinking cider and laughing on a chilly Canadian February night, is incredible.

16832058_10210104022409416_7620968478030610589_n

James moved to Muskoka, about two hours North of Toronto, in the summer of 2016 to work as a music technician at a Christian camp. He works long hours, five days a week, and he works hard. But he enjoys it.

It was a crazy coincidence for us both to be setting up our lives so far from home, but to have found each other once again.

James took a few days out after family weekend to come and see me, and spend some real time in the city, and it was awesome. Showing him around, taking him to see the sights he had on his list, visiting vintage stores, and vegan food stores, and eating the best sushi, and drinking ciders in the coolest bars and breweries. It finally felt like this was my city. Here I was, walking the streets, navigating the TTC, and showing someone everything. Dishing out facts as we walk by an old store or park or museum.

16938636_10210104023889453_116257459143390996_n

A month on since I arrived in Canada, I guess at times I am starting to feel the niggle of not having my friends around, and the feeling of missing those familiar faces. So, it was perfect timing that an old familiar face showed up in the middle of this brand new life. It was grounding and exciting and such a good feeling to be able to have a conversation with someone in the same situation as me. And with someone who I’ve shared so much history with.

It’s amazing where you find true friends. And it’s amazing where they show up again.

A familiar face.

 

Aimeexo

Winter

Today I realised, for the first time, that I am a winter person. I’ve never been someone who is particularly keen on winter. For me winter, once the holiday season was over, was always grey, miserable and a little depressing.

Winter in the North East of England was about gale force winds and drizzle. It was walking home from school at 4:00pm in the dark, so drenched in rain that your tights clung to your red raw legs. It was having no money after Christmas, but wanting to get drunk in the same club you’ve been frequenting since you were a teenager, because anything to speed up (or blackout) those months was a bonus. And the rare occasion that it did snow, the wet flakes would fall to the ground and turn into a brown mush within hours, for the most part anyway. Those rare days of pure white snow seem more like a distant childhood memory than anything.

I guess the grey weather, partially to blame on living by the sea, is why I always kind of hated winter and why I self-diagnosed with SAD (seasonal affective disorder).

But since arriving here, everything has changed.

Winter is so magnificent here. I mean, yeah, there are those days with freezing ice rain, which clings to the wires overhead, creating a deathly tightrope for the birds brave enough to come out this time of year. The days when the TTC are thrown into a state of disarray and angry commuters are forced to try and make it home by foot, if a trusty subway line cannot rescue them.

16640947_10209971158727907_168064556622692525_n

But then there are days like today, when the snow begins to float down and blanket the world in white. Everything looks better when it’s covered in snow. Like all of the blemishes and imperfections of the city vanish and everything becomes surreal.

It turns me into a child again: my feet searching for some fresh, not yet trodden in snow, just so I can hear that satisfying crunch, crunch, crunch.

And everything is so peaceful that it’s hard to believe that you’re in one of the biggest cities in the world. I don’t know if there is some kind of scientific explanation as to why the sound becomes dulled (there probably is), but everything is just so serene.

It isn’t difficult to get around, and as long as you bundle up, you are pretty free to walk wherever you want and take in the beauty.

Back in England, if the temperature dropped below 5 degrees, I wasn’t impressed.

Now I can run for miles on a -11 day and feel nothing but satisfaction.

Back home winter was something to dread and despise, but here, finally, I want to apologize to winter. I guess you aren’t so bad after all.

 

Aimeexo

Missing home

So I’ve successfully hit the one-week milestone. It feels a little weird to think that I’ve been living here for a week. On the one hand, it has completely flown by, and on the other hand, the day I left the UK feels like a lifetime ago.

I suppose I haven’t had the time to be homesick, and missing home won’t really sink in for a while. I’m in a constant state of contentment, and think that once I find a job and get myself into a routine, this will continue. But I’m also anticipating the day when it does sink in. Everything feels a little too good to be true. I’m trying to live my life with a positive mantra right now, always looking at the best in things and trying to keep any negativity out of my mind. Over the years I have suffered a lot of anxiety, and I guess that this kind of thinking helps to keep that at bay, but I am still waiting. Waiting for that grey fog to transcend and engulf me…. what if it doesn’t though?

screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-15-34-05

Although I loved my friends and family and home in the UK, I was never truly happy. While I was at home, I never really felt like I was at home. I wasn’t where I was meant to be.

I see so many people so content with their life at home. They’re happy with the job they have now, going to work, coming home. They will probably be happy with that job for many years if not for the rest of their lives. They have partners and houses and a routine that they are quite comfortable in. I just never was.

From being a kid I’ve always felt like there was so much more out there, way more to see and do than what we were confined to in that small northern city where everyone knew what everyone was up to. Who was dating who and working where. Who was friends with who, and who wasn’t.

I think I’m finding my feet and finding out who I really am. I can escape negative influences and really carve out the life I have always dreamt I would have.

screen-shot-2017-01-31-at-15-33-41

That’s not saying I won’t miss home. I miss the little things. The smell of my bedding at my mum’s house when it is freshly washed, walks along the beach and the smell of fish and chips, even the constant notifications telling you that “the metro is sorry for your delay”. I miss my best friends and my mum and forcing my dog to snuggle in bed with me. And I think this feeling will only get stronger the longer that I am here. But it’s worth it.

I had my first real dose of homesickness the other day after facetiming with my mum. I was telling her how happy I am to be here, and she looked like she might cry. Not because she was sad, but because she was happy and proud. And that’s all I could ever want- to make my parents proud.

The leap I have taken in relocating almost 4,000 miles away from home has been huge. It’s a little scary at times, but I know I’ve done the best thing for myself at this time in my life. In your early twenties, it is important to be a little selfish, in order to pursue the life you want. I know how I want my future to be and I truly hope that this will shape that.

I’ll never stop missing home though.