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Wedding Season – part two

Take a look at part one for the build-up to the wedding, including the Baraat – the part where Shawn rode in on a horse (traditionally an elephant) down the street.
After dismounting said horse, the Milni ceremony occurred – literally a ‘coming together’ of the two families. A member from each side of the bride and groom’s family welcomed each other and then went on to try and lift their counterpart off the ground. Some were more competitive than others…

We proceeded into the church and waited for the bride. Sadly I don’t have any photos of Jillian from the church; you will just have to believe me when I tell you she looked great. Shawn scrubbed up pretty well too. Embarrassingly, I always remember what the cynical wedding writer from the film “27 Dresses” said about how he liked to watch the groom’s reaction when the bride enters the church. Shawn was smitten.

The Father and Pandit (a Hindu priest, I believe) guided everyone through the service. There were readings from siblings and bridesmaids, fathers and best men; exchanging of garlands, mangalsutra (a necklace) and rings; even a sacred fire.

As it was such a lovely day, a few of us walked to the reception at Dows Lake Pavillion. Several G&Ts later while having a laugh at baby photos of Jillian and Shawn, the wedding party arrived.
The speeches were funny, yet heartfelt. I know how tough it is to make a speech at a wedding, but everyone nailed it. Miguel, one of the best men, got me choked up mid-way through before making me burst out with laughter.

Everything about the whole day was awesome and the days leading up to it too. Jillian and Shawn’s first dance was pretty special. They had told me beforehand they had been practising a traditional Indian dance and the whole audience was captivated.

We also got an expert dance lesson from Shawn’s sister, Sonia. I spoke about learning some banging Bhangra dance moves. They were all courtesy of her. Move #1: twist a lightbulb. Move #2: twist two lightbulbs. Move #3: the flirty hip. Combine all three and you’ve got it!

To top it all off, there was a dance-off. Team Jillian versus team Shawn. I secretly wanted to be selected and whack out my notorious shapes, but it wasn’t to be. I’m sure I would have stolen the show anyway.

The party went on late into the night and we were treated to midnight poutine. Friends from home will have to Google it. Imagine the best chips, cheese and gravy you’ve ever had.
More dancing, more drinking and more photo-booth photos ensued. It was safe to say everyone had a wicked night.
Somehow, the next morning, my hangover wasn’t nearly as bad as it should have been. I guess the wonderful dinner, poutine and all the dancing helped. Everyone else was looking fairly fresh-faced too for brunch at a local art gallery. A chance for everyone to say goodbye to each other before their journeys onward. And the perfect opportunity to thank Jillian, Shawn and their families for an incredible time.
Hopefully it won’t be another five years till I see Jillian and the others again. Who knows, maybe the Scotland hiking guides will inspire them to. Or maybe I’ll even be living in Canada.IMG_4295 1464504017592 1464503865310 1464504021830

Wedding Season – part one

To give some context to this blog post, this was from the end of May…I have some catching up and I am going to try and post more often from now on.

My next stop after Toronto was Ottawa. A 5-hour road trip. That time in a car can be a drag. Not with the Bardsleys though.

Jillian and her fiancé, Shawn, were getting married in the capital. Having met at med school in Toronto, they had moved to Ottawa to work. I was stoked to be invited. I hadn’t seen Jillian and some of the other guests in over five years.

Shawn’s family are from India so there was going to an awesome blend of cultures to celebrate their union. I’d never had the opportunity to go to a Hindu-Christian wedding so I was genuinely intrigued.

I was invited along to dinner the first night with Chris, Cecilia, Shawn and Jillian. I felt like part of the family. It was also my first time meeting Shawn. We instantly bonded over a beer. Like a lot of my friendships.

I’d be staying with Jillian and Shawn in their spare room for a couple of nights. In the build-up to my arrival, Jillian had been an absolute star and had arranged accommodation for me with her parents and her friends, Dan and Ryan, as well. I can’t thank her, her parents and her friends enough.

That night we sat around and cracked open my wedding gift to them: a 16-year old Lagavulin –adding to Shawn’s fine single malt collection. A man after my own heart. I was also keen for them to embrace their passion of hiking so gave them some hiking guides of Scotland to whet their appetite.

Over the next few days there would be a lot going on, but Jillian and Shawn still managed to take me on a ‘light’ jogging tour of the area. A tour which ended in a sprint finish. They really do complement each other very well.

Traditional Indian weddings can last a week or more. There are many ceremonies and rituals building up to the actual marriage. It’s not just seen as the union of two individuals, but the coming together of two families and extended families as well.

In Shawn and Jillian’s case, there was a mendhi two nights before the big day. Traditionally, a ladies-only affair, men were invited to this as well. The bride’s hands and feet are decorated with intricate patterns of henna. Jillian looked the part. Apparently, the darker the henna, the stronger the groom’s love for the bride.

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Jillian’s beautiful henna

The mendhi was a rainbow of the senses. Saris of every colour on the spectrum, mouth-watering Indian cuisine and some banging Bhangra tunes. I even got some a bit of henna as well.

The happy couple at the mendhi

My henna...not quite as good as Jillian's

My henna…(not quite as good as Jillian’s)

During the days, I tried to help out with the final wedding prep as much as possible. Sorting place-cards, ironing chunnis (an Indian scarf) and eating food that would otherwise be thrown away… My perfect pastime.

I also got the opportunity to explore Ottawa with old and new friends: Carlos, Cecilia, Aidan and Brandon. We hit up parliament and the peace tower, went on a parliament tour in French, met Justin Trudeau*, got my Timmy Horton’s iced cappuccino fix, visited some of the best brunch spots, wandered along the canal. All the while trying to protect myself from the scorching sun. It had been mid-20s to low-30s ever since I arrived.

*Disclaimer: I thought every good-looking guy in a suit was Trudeau.

Cecilia and I outside parliament

Cecilia and I outside parliament

The view from the Peace Tower

The view from the Peace Tower

The day of the wedding, I donned my kilt – my only get-up for a formal occasion – and instantly regretted wearing wool in 30°C heat. Thank God for the breeze below!

Some of the McGill gang

Some of the McGill gang

Another Indian tradition is the Baraat. The groom mounts a horse (traditionally an elephant) for a procession to the wedding venue. The four-block walk involved dancing, drumming, bewildered onlookers and a whole lot of fun. I can’t wait to see the wedding photographer’s photos as my phone photos don’t do it justice.

The Sangeet

Shawn riding a horse like a pro

Sangeet

The Baraat

More on the wedding to come.

Blogging at its finest

We all know how shit I’ve been at writing this blog (excuse the language, relatives). I had the best intentions of spending every day journaling about my world travels, but what has actually happened is that I am currently on a rickety old bus on the west coast of Canada on my way to Tofino risking the ill effects of car sickness to bring you this entry. Whereas ‘blog me’ is currently still in Toronto – my first stop in North America over a month ago. Meanwhile, ‘Instagram and Facebook me’ is in Vancouver about 3 days ago. It’s hard keeping track of what time zone I’m in and what tense I should be writing. I’m practically Doctor Who with all this jumping back and forth in time.

I’ll be the first to admit writing a blog is tough and it’s a huge time commitment. I do enjoy writing it though…sort of. Maybe if I was on the road longer or I wasn’t in each spot for such a short amount of time then I would write more often. Maybe if I had learned how to use my new macbook or how to use wordpress then you would be enjoying a bi-weekly update of my travels. But the long and short of it is, I’m kind of slow at writing and always find something better to do instead. Whether it be making a new friend, exploring an unfamiliar part of town or catching up with friends over a pint. Sleep is up there on my list of priorities too. So is food and drink and seeing and doing cool stuff. It’s also difficult to put yourself out there because you want to sound cool and edgy which is sort of tough when you’re not.
Anyway, from now on, I am going to make a more concerted effort. Shorter posts. More photos. More frequent posts. I’ve maybe not made the best start, but I’ll try my best to have a strong finish. Just like my running style.

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A Day in Toronto

I had a day to explore the city of Toronto. Still groggy having flown in the previous day; I wanted to make the most of my time there. Despite having lived in Montreal I never chose to visit the ‘other’ city. There’s always been a rivalry between the two metropolises: the Canadiens versus the Maple Leafs, the fact Toronto stole the title of being the largest Canadian city; taking many of the best jobs with it too. I had possibly been brainwashed…

Overnight, Chris and Cecilia – the parents of my friend who is getting married – sketched a map of the city’s highlights. In the morning, they dropped me off at the nearest subway station along with some tokens to use it. Cecilia even invited me to join them for calamari that evening. Did I mention how awesome they were?

Arriving at Union Station, I started the day with a free walking tour of the Financial District. Australian Tim from the Tour Guys did a great job. I’ve always had a preference for local tour guides until I realised tourists who fall in love with the city are just as good, if not better, at showing off their new home.

During the two hour tour we were shown places like: Royal Bank Plaza, Hockey Hall of Fame, the underground city, One King West – a former bank vault turned party venue – and City Hall. Walking tours are my go-to for new cities. You automatically feel more knowledgeable and clued into the local culture and orientation. You also never know who you are going to meet.

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You learn random tidbits of information which will probably remain useless for the rest of your life, but are still cool nonetheless. Things like: “The Fairmont Royal York Hotel has three beehives on the roof. The honey is used to make honey beer exclusively sold in their bar”; “The Bay Adelaide Centre is where TV show ‘Suits’ films its lobby scenes” and “51% of Toronto residents were born outside of Canada”.

Having met a few friendly faces on the tour; a Spanish girl and I wandered to St Lawrence Market. Maria had been there earlier in the week and twisted by arm to buy a famous bacon peameal sandwich. However, when food is involved, not much twisting is required. Imagine three triple-thickness rashers of smoked bacon on a soft roll. Little to no fat. No sauce. Pure deliciousness. Even Drake, the rapper, is a fan.

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We then paced to the Distillery District so Maria could visit a few more places before her imminent departure back to her workplace of Saskatoon. A couple of samples of the smooth-tasting Mill St Brewery Organic Lager followed by a refreshing iced dark hot chocolate from SOMA and we said our goodbyes and headed our separate ways.

The night before arriving I had all these glorious plans of visiting the local museum and galleries, but when the temperature is 26°C who wants to stay inside. The CN tower didn’t appeal. I’d rather keep my $35. Plus, having climbed similar large structures before, I didn’t think I would be missing out this time. What did appeal was a ferry ride to Toronto Island. As the time-lapse video and photos suggest, the skyline is epic.

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I was on a tight schedule so I hotfooted it to the bike rental on Toronto Island and rented a retro easy-rider to investigate the island. Having determined from the pubescent summer worker that Ward’s Island was the top spot, I made a beeline for it. I was forced to stop off several times along the way; the view getting better and better until I reached a small sandy beach with the best view of the city. Here, I chilled, cracked open one of my lukewarm souvenir beers from the brewery and attempted to sketch the skyline. I’ll spare you the unfinished masterpiece.

Making my way back to the Bardsley’s, I once again realised how lucky I was to have such good friends. I also couldn’t help but feel like the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: ‘I looked at my kingdom, I was finally there’.

A Warm Canadian Welcome

A 7 hour flight from Glasgow and I arrived in Toronto.

When you’re 6’7” you don’t expect much comfort. An aisle seat was just about bearable despite trying and failing to charm my way into an emergency exit seat.

Landing in T-dot (I’m cool, I swear), I thought the pilot must have a faulty thermometer when he said it was 24 degrees. We haven’t seen those temperatures in Scotland since the Dark Ages. Hopefully I can get some colour on these milk bottle legs of mine.

One of the reasons for starting my trip in Toronto was so that I could attend my friend’s wedding in Ottawa. To be back in Canada is awesome. To be here for a friend’s wedding though, is like having your birthday and Christmas Day in the same week.

I haven’t seen Jillian in five years. We’ve kept in contact ever since our days at McGill University and the subsequent summer when I worked there. She’s an old soul and regularly writes actual letters on actual paper with an actual pen. None of this email or Facebook baloney. I’ve not met her husband-to-be, Shawn, but based on what Jillian has told me over the years, they’re a great match.

Her wonderful parents – Cecilia and Chris – are letting me stay for a couple of nights before we drive through to Ottawa. It’s true what they say about Canadian hospitality. Chris even picked me up at the maze that is Pearson airport. No stress of navigating the subway with a brimming 80L rucksack.

A short drive and we were in the leafy suburbs of Royal York to be met by Cecilia and the family dogs – Rex and Scarlet. Rex, short for T-Rex, because of his overbite not his hefty stature.

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A late afternoon stroll down by the Humber River on Victoria Day followed by a dip in the Bardsley’s pool was a great way to spend the first day of my trip. The Canadian love for Queen Victoria puts us Brits to shame. The day is also referred to as May Two-Four – the same name given to a case of beer. A hint as to how many people wind away the day.

My eyes finally ceased to function after some delicious homemade rhubarb crumble and the first half of the Raptors match. In case you didn’t know the Toronto Raptors basketball team made it to the semi-finals of the NBA playoffs. Here’s hoping they can be the Leicester City of the NBA.

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With 24 hours to explore Toronto I’ve a lot to squeeze in, but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

“Where are you going?”

The first question a lot of people have asked is, “Where are you going?”

A lot of my friends in North America have also been asking if I’m visiting their town. I would love to. I genuinely would. There are many places I still want to visit. If only I had more time and money. But let me tell you about my current travel plans in words, tables and maps (see below).

My friend is getting married in Ottawa this weekend so I decided to fly to Toronto. Air Transat – the Easyjet of transatlantic Canadian flights – were more affordable than flying to the capital. Yes, Ottawa is the capital for my non-Canadian friends. I’d never ventured to the country’s largest city despite studying a year in Montreal so I was keen to make the most of it. Check out my post on Toronto once I’ve finished it.

I’ll be spending almost a week in Montreal. Hitting up my favourite spots with friends from five years ago: Saint Laurent, McGill University and Patati Patata (go to #3 – I’m famous). I also used to play rugby with these guys – the Montreal Irish. Hands down the best and most welcoming club in the city. I might even come out of retirement – I did bring my gum shield after all.

On to Boston next. My former flatmate in Montreal works there now making 3D printers. Cool, right? I’ve been twice before and loved it. No doubt I will for a third.

Around 8 June I’ll be hitting up the Big Apple. Numerous friends live here now unsurprisingly. One of whom I have on speed dial ever since our days in Montreal. Visiting him will square things off at 2-2 in the contest of who is the better friend. He’s made the trek to Edinburgh twice over the years despite him being from Australia.

Who do I know in Washington DC? My Scottish pal, of course. Obviously I’m pumped to meet Obama too.

I would love to continue south and hit up the likes of New Orleans, Tennessee and Texas. Whether I could handle the heat is a different matter. Who thought it would be a good idea for me to move to Australia? 29°C in Ontario yesterday and the moisture from my clothes would be enough to water Kew Gardens.

Flying north to Chicago, one of the things on my bucket list is to watch a Cubs game. I’m not even a baseball fan. I don’t even know the rules. But it’s one of the few big American sports still in season and the Cubs have that underdog status and cult following. It will also be Father’s Day in the US and spending it with my friend’s dad will be a unique experience. Before you think I’m a terrible son, I will make sure I speak to my own dad too.

My friend and I will then skedaddle to Calgary for what will probably the most epic part of my trip: The Canadian Rockies. A seven-day, 1,200km road trip through Banff, Jasper, Kootenay and Yoho National Parks. Possibly reaching heights of almost 4,000m and without exaggerating, witnessing some of the most stunning scenery and wildlife on the planet.

If we don’t get eaten by bears, we will end up in Vancouver. This is where my plans are a little more fluid. All I know is that I want to be in Van for Canada Day on 1 July. Maybe I’ll head to Whistler for some mountain biking or Tofino for my first of many face-plants while learning to surf. Sometimes no plan is the best plan.

Who throws a better party? Canada versus the United States. Comparing Canada Day and Independence Day celebrations will be like having your birthday and Christmas within the same week.

From there, I know I definitely want to go to Seattle; Portland; San Francisco and Yosemite National Park. 

My final two stops are Las Vegas and Hawaii. I have a hotel for Vegas and I have flights. I just need to get my backside down there by 23 July. Wish me luck! And if you have any recommendations, let me know!

Location Dates
Toronto 23-25 May
Ottawa 25-29 May
Montreal 29 May – 5 June 
Boston 5-8 June 
New York 8-13 June 
Washington 13-15 June 
Chicago 15-20 June 
Calgary 7-day road trip from Calgary to Vancouver via Banff and Jasper National Park 
Banff 7-day road trip from Calgary to Vancouver via Banff and Jasper National Park 
Vancouver 27 June – 2 July (including Canada Day)
Seattle 4th July?
Portland
Bend
Sacramento
San Francisco
Yosemite National Park
Las Vegas 21-23 July 
Hawaii 23-28 July 
Brisbane 29 June – 

About Giant Journeyman

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Giant Journeyman? Apart from being a sweet piece of alliteration, what is this website all about?

For those of you who know me, I’m pretty tall: 6’7″ to be precise. Hence, the ‘Giant’.

‘Journeyman’ is because over the next few months I am going on an adventure. I quit my job, moved out of my flat, packed a rucksack and hopped on a plane to Toronto. 66 days later, I’ll fly from Hawaii to Australia for my next adventure.

I’ll be writing about my travels along the way, posting photos and maybe even creating a video or two.
While it would be cool to be the next Nomadic Matt or Casey Neistat; I’m not doing this to sell stuff or make a living. I’m doing this to share my stories. It’ll also be a good way to let my mum know I’m still alive.

I’m not a wordsmith. Nor am I a skilled photographer or cameraman. But, I am going to try. I want to improve and what better way than putting myself out there for the world to see. Plus, how else am I going to remember this in 50 years’ time?

All this blogging malarky may be foreign to me, but please do let me know what you make of my work.