Covid-19 Travel Diary: Toronto, Feb. 28

Jake and I hopped a train from Paris back to Brussels where I said, “Goodbye.” It was an epic sibling Eurotrip and I was sad to go. Jake’s contract at the wind farm had him there until August so we made plans to meet up back on Canadian soil at my wedding on Vancouver Island planned for August 8th. Exciting times!

I set out to the Brussels airport at 4AM. There was a wet, heavy snow falling beautifully in the lamplight. Jake said that’s the first and only time he saw it snow there. At the airport I got chatting with a South African gentleman who said he was an epidemiologist. His work seemed very focused on Malaria, despite my urgings to shift the topic to the Corona Virus. He was en route to a conference in Russia where he was hoping to get more information about it. He didn’t seem alarmed in the slightest. It was only when I reached customs in Toronto on Feb. 26th that there was warning of the virus. All the staff at YYZ were wearing masks and gloves and inquired if I had been in Wuhan in the last 14 days.

Back home, I was welcomed by a very sick fiancee. He had a high fever that broke my second evening home. I figured it was a bad flu and was happy he appeared to be getting better fast. Maybe he had Corona? Maybe not. We were not able to get tested either way and he recovered back to perfect health. We were very lucky.

I did my pile of laundry and packed my bags again, this time for my bachelorette party which was happening in Nassau, Bahamas a few days later. The news about the virus in China was alarming, and there were a few more cases in Italy, but still nothing too out of the ordinary. I figured I was fine to take off. And off I went…

Covid -19 Travel Diary: Prague, Feb. 23

Bidding a sweet adieu to Budapest, a land of wonderful parties, spas, food and vintage Korean clothing, Jake and I embarked upon our next stop; an overnight in Prague. We were to arrive around 11PM and had a dinner reservation at a neat-looking restaurant in an old clock tower for 11:30PM, a 20 minute walk from our $30/night Air Bnb. That was the plan anyway…

We were flying Czech Airlines for the first time. Again, we breezed through security and customs without a hitch. No one was wearing masks or gloves or taking any precautions yet regarding Covid-19. When we reached our gate, Jake took a peek at the plane we were about to take. It was a smaller propeller plane built by Bombardier. Jake mentioned he had worked on the design for this particular model at his stint as an intern at Bombardier last year. In his words, “I hope it doesn’t fall out of the sky.” And with that promising warning, we hopped aboard, sanitizing everything in our sight, of course.

The hour-long flight was peaceful up until our approach to landing. There was a torrential storm hovering over Prague. Out the window all we could see was horizontal precipitation in the flashes of light caused intermittently by the plane’s caution lights and the actual lightning bolts touching down all around us. The little plane felt like it was being tossed around by a bored giant and many people around us emptied their dinners into the lovingly provided barf bags onboard. Then the news came that we were unable to land for 45 minutes due to the weather. So we proceeded to circle in this storm for the next hour as our anxiety levels soared right up to our current altitude. I said to Jake, “If this is it for us, I just want you to know I love you, man.” And Jake said, “You know, it’s not such a bad way to go. We’ll be worldwide! The two Canadians who perished on the crashed Czech Airlines flight. We’ll be infamous!” It was a moment completely out of our control, so we relinquished ourselves to the machine. Finally, we were cleared for landing, which was rocky, but we survived.

Back on solid ground with our nerves totally shot, we set out about getting to our AirBnb. We missed the public bus, and splurged on an Uber. The keys for the AirBnb were at a sketchy shawarma spot down the street. We got the keys, dropped our bags, and hurried over to the bell tower restaurant to try and rescue the evening. If the walk there told us anything, it’s that Prague is haunted. The streets were deserted. It was a great scene for a murder. The looming clock tower could have housed Frankenstein back in the day. The troll woman who manned the lift up the tower refused to let us in, saying the restaurant was closed despite the numerous signs around posting the closing time as midnight, which was still a half hour away. Turned down and discouraged, we headed back to the shawarma spot and proceeded to get drunk on cheap beers and lebanese food. A slew of very drunk English tourists kept the joker guys behind the counter busy and entertained as they fed them and charged them way more then was fair. I went to order another dish and they said because I was Canadian I wouldn’t mind paying more than the fair price and charged my card without asking. What had been funny until that point then turned gross as we realized the racket these guys were onto every night. I plead karma and one of the cooks said he had twelve children, so fuck karma. Point taken. We retreated back to our AirBnb and got in a couple hours of sleep before our early flight to sweet Paris…

 

Covid-19 Travel Diary: Budapest, Feb. 22

The flight from Brussels to Budapest was as smooth as a Corona-infested stainless steel countertop. We checked in online and sailed through security and customs. No one even checked our passports. No one was thinking about Covid-19. Life was still normal.

A friend said to me yesterday, “We lived in the time of large gatherings.”

Our first stop in Budapest was the Szechenyi Spa & Baths, the largest spa in Europe. Imagine Versailles, but switch the gardens for hot spring pools. We proceeded to sweat and cold dunk on repeat with trips to the outdoor pools in the interims for heavy waterfall massage pouring out of ancient fountainheads. Groups of excited people were celebrating their bachelor(ette) parties there as the bar was selling mulled wine and the shining sun kept everyone’s spirits bright. That evening there was to be a Sparty, the infamous spa party, but Jake and I decided as neat an idea as that was it could become a literal cesspool of germs. We decided to go dancing instead.

We stumbled into Akvárium Klub where Rebekah was spinning and proceeded to dance for hours to her high-energy, driving, mechanical beats. The club was wall-to-wall packed. The crowd was swept up into a trance and time was suspended as our feet left the ground. 

We escaped both large gatherings unscathed and Corona-free thankfully. Looking back, I wonder when we will be able to hit the spa and party again. I am feeling a little less free than just a week ago. Our next stop is Prague…

Covid-19 Travel Diary: Brussels, Feb. 20

Jake, my crazy smart little brother, got an amazing contract working at a wind energy company in Brussels for the year. I knew I had to visit him at some point during his stay there, and, with the film industry being in its slow season and my photography exhibit over and done with, late February seemed the perfect opportunity. My flight was booked for a February 19th departure. The day before I boarded the plane to Brussels, my mother, an avid viewer of CNN, showed up at my place with three ziplock bags full of face masks, medical grade wet wipes and rubber gloves respectively, with very stern warnings of the Corona Virus and detailed instructions of how to keep myself safe on my travels. At the time, we knew that the virus could live on surfaces for concerning lengths of time and that it could be avoided by wearing gloves, frequent handwashing and refraining from touching ones face. Armed with my Mom’s love, I masked up and flew to Europe.

Jake was awaiting my arrival at BRU. We strolled around the beautiful city in the rain as I reveled in the wonderful street art, new and old, like the tourist I am. We stopped in at the Delirium Brewery for a pint. Delirium is my favourite beer of all time. It’s perfectly balanced, delicious, and very strong. After one Jake and I had quite a buzz going and the conversation took a turn toward gender fluidity and online dating. We needed some fresh air! And food. Back out in the rain, we went to a lowkey, well-priced restaurant specializing in traditional Belgium dishes recommended by one of Jake’s friends. We shared a main course of delicious beef stew and decided to try a popular, pricey place for another course. The decor and the architecture at the second spot were impressive, but the chocolate foie gras was dry. The lesson to revisit is to always trust a local’s recommendation over internet hype. Still pouring rain, we traipsed back to Jake’s subterranean bachelor pad like two excitable fillies in Springtime. The reflection of the lamplights on the rained-upon cobblestone streets interrupted by the octogonal shadows of hurried umbrellas gave the evening a special filmic quality that can only be found in old Europe.

We discussed the virus. Jake was worried about staying in Brussels as it began to spread around Europe, but honestly, no one was really ringing the alarm yet. Life was still normal. We packed up Mum’s precautionary supplies and readied ourselves for our flight to our next stop: Budapest!

The Goddess Array V.3 Party

I love Toronto so much! Thank you again to everyone who came out Saturday evening to celebrate and check out the art. It was another heartwarming turn-out. I love you all! This evening there is a three hour life drawing session at Hashtag Gallery (830 Dundas St. W). It is open to the public and only $12. 6:30PM – 9:30PM. xo

The Goddess Array V.3 Opening

TGAV.3-opening-1

What an incredible, eclectic group of Toronto’s finest came out last night to celebrate the opening of the third manifestation of The Goddess Array! All you beauties in your stilettos in the snow went above and beyond. The LOVE was palpable. Thank you! The show is up until Feb. 13th at #Hashtag Gallery(830 Dundas Street West). We are having a party at the gallery Saturday night (02/08) DJed by Young Teesh. I hope to see you there! Bring your dancing shoes. xo

The Goddess Array V.3 @ Hashtag Gallery

The Goddess Array V.3 Invite 1 copy

From She Does the City:

On Thursday February 6th, photographer Jennifer Toole will be showing fourteen new, never-before-exhibited framed prints from her Goddess Array series at Dundas West’s Hashtag Gallery. The evening will also act as a launch event for her stunning new photography book.

The photos on display represent four years of work—shot here in Ontario, but also in California, Quebec, and Ibiza. Snapping women in the nude, against magnificent natural backdrops, is not a new idea, but the way Toole’s subjects appear is refreshing: each exude a kind of comfort and confidence that most of us long for.

Toole describes her series as a way for women to claim more space, or  “a defiant act of freedom”.  The project was inspired by her love and appreciation of Greek mythology. “Greek Goddesses are diverse, archetypal and mythological in proportion,” she says, and thus began an epic adventure to shoot powerful Goddesses in her own life.  “The models are real life goddesses in their own realms.” Women who all exude a strength that Toole feels, and admires.

Beyond an evening to celebrate the divine in all of us, there will be a video installation of nymphs bathing in the river on display (which we’ll be treating as a mini mid-winter getaway).

Join us at the reception for The Goddess Array Exhibit + book launch on February 6th, at 6p.m. at Hashtag Gallery (830 Dundas St. W.). More on Jennifer Toole’s work here.

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