Solo Adventure: London

Saturday 26 April 2014

Cherish your solitude. Take trains by yourself to places you have never been. Sleep out alone under the stars. Learn how to drive a stick shift. Go so far away that you stop being afraid of not coming back. Say no when you don't want to do something. Say yes if your instincts are strong, even if everyone around you disagrees. Decide whether you want to be liked or admired. Decide if fitting in is more important than finding out what you're doing here. Believe in kissing. 
— Eve Ensler

Stay safe. Take cabs.

This was my dad’s advice, given via text message, an hour before I boarded a plane to London for my first European adventure as a solo traveller.

“Don’t be Jessica,” he said, knowing that I don’t always think about consequences — walking home alone at night, drinking too much wine, wandering unfamiliar streets, and talking to strangers.

Apprehension is tethered to solo travel. The unknown seems far less scary when there’s somebody by your side, wandering the same streets, drinking the same wine, talking to the same strangers. I expected to feel this apprehension, alone in cities I’d never travelled to before, but I didn’t. Instead, travelling alone seemed anything but scary. It seemed natural, liberating, empowering.

My journey began in London, my eyes barely open, a side effect of the Gravol I took hours earlier as my plane left Toronto. It ended a week later at the Manchester Airport, where I boarded another plane, clad in yellow wellies and a backpack that had grown heavier during my week of wandering. In between those moments were hundreds more.

London moved quickly, and I mean this to have multiple meanings. My visit was short and the city was fast. It moved quickly around me — honking horns and anxious tourists — while I struggled to find my hostel. The first song I heard when checking in to The Walrus, a trendy hub near Westminster Bridge, was one my better half recorded.

London was all the things I expected — double deckers, red phone booths, and many things to see. My two-hour flight delay meant I had less time than I’d hoped, so I threw away my itinerary. First, I wandered past the Thames, the London Eye, Big Ben, and Parliament, and then spent much of my afternoon immersing myself in the history of Westminster Abbey. I wandered past Buckingham Palace, through St. James Park and Piccadilly Circus, stopping in bookstores along the way. My day ended at The Walrus, where I shared a room with travellers from around the world. After they went to bed, I found myself almost alone in the hostel’s bar, drinking pints and reading, until last call.

The next morning, after a British breakfast of tea and biscuits, I did what any book nerd with a few hours to spare in London would do — I rode the tube (Mind the gap!) to the British Library. Libraries often hold the best-kept secrets from travellers. They’re quiet and roomy (perfect for those of us dragging gigantic backpacks from city to city) and they often have exhibitions that are as well-curated as any museum. The British Library was no exception, among its collection were the handwritten lyrics to the Beatles’ Yesterday, surviving fragments of the Magna Carta, one of Olivier’s scripts, and a Shakespeare First Folio.

My 24 hours in London ended with a pasty and a kind elderly man asking me about Canada. I boarded the train to Edinburgh, happy to give my tired legs a break.  

Hidden Hamilton: The Rail Trail

Sunday 20 April 2014

We're known as a city of industry, but we're also a city of abundant green space. The Hamilton to Brantford Rail-Trail runs for 32 kilometres, connecting Hamilton to Brantford along an abandoned roadbed that was first used by the Toronto, Hamilton, and Buffalo Railway (TH&B) in 1894.

I've heard rumours that the Rail Trail is home to an abandoned mini-putt course, which is tucked beneath the escarpment, out of sight from the many joggers, dog walkers, cyclists, and wanderers who use the trail. So, on Good Friday, we successfully set out to find it.

I wish there was more I could say about this abandoned mini-putt course, but with the exception of this music video, it doesn't much exist online. Right now, it's surrounded by the brownness and bleakness left behind by a long winter, but I can imagine, once the leaves return to the trees, it will be a hidden gem, invisible from the trail.

gritLIT 2014: Recap

Saturday 19 April 2014

Authors have always seemed unreachable to me. They're the people who have written books — actual books — that are sold in stores, talked about in book clubs, and devoured in coffee shops. Needless to say, I get really excited and even a little starstruck when I find myself surrounded by them. This, along with my obvious love of books, is one reason I didn't even consider saying no when I was asked to join the committee of gritLIT, Hamilton's literary festival, last year.

The tenth annual gritLIT Festival was held between April 3–6 at the Art Gallery of Hamilton, and we were thrilled to celebrate the festival's anniversary with Lynn Coady, Michael Winter, members of Teenage Head, and Emma Donoghue, to name only a few, along with many local talent from both Hamilton and Toronto. I even got the chance to host a workshop with Denise Chong, the author of one of my all-time favourite works of non-fiction, Egg on Mao, which I reviewed a few years back for Ricepaper magazine.

It was a whirlwind of a weekend, but it was the best kind of weekend, reminding me of why I love this vibrant city and all that it offers. We hear a lot about Hamilton's thriving art and music scene, but sometimes it seems like our literary community is still our little secret — brimming with poets, novelists, and non-fiction writers who are just waiting to be discovered. My favourite part of gritLIT is hearing, meeting, and buying the books of authors who, until recently, I've been unfamiliar with. My favourite discovery at this year's festival was Dannabang Kuwabong, a Ghanaian-Canadian poet who read from his book Voices from the Kibuli Country.

One of our goals as a festival for 2014 is to expand beyond the annual festival to include programming throughout the year. Our first endeavour is a writing group, which we hope will meet once a month. Sign up for our inaugural meet-up, which will take place on April 28 at Brown Dog Coffee Shoppe on Locke Street.

Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez Quotes to Melt the Heart

Thursday 17 April 2014

“He was still too young to know that the heart's memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.” 
Love in the Time of Cholera

“Intrigued by that enigma, he dug so deeply into her sentiments that in search of interest he found love, because by trying to make her love him he ended up falling in love with her.” 
One Hundred Years of Solitude

“She discovered with great delight that one does not love one's children just because they are one's children but because of the friendship formed while raising them.” 
Love in the Time of Cholera

“Death really did not matter to him but life did, and therefore the sensation he felt when they gave their decision was not a feeling of fear but of nostalgia.” 

One Hundred Years of Solitude

gritLIT 2014

Wednesday 2 April 2014
I might be biased, since I'm on the committee, but gritLIT is one of the best festivals Hamilton has to offer, and it starts tomorrow! We're so excited to welcome a Writer's Trust Fiction Prize winner, a Journey Prize winner, a handful of punk rockers, and the winner of the 2013 Giller Prize to this year's celebration of writers, reading, and books. Visit for more information.

Here's the complete schedule. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
7:00pm — Poetry
gritLIT partners with the Hamilton Poetry Centre to welcome celebrated poets Julie Bruck (Monkey Ranch) and Adam Dickinson (The Polymers).

8:30pm — Murder Was the Crime
Peter Robinson (Children of the Revolution), D.J. McIntosh (The Book of Stolen Tales) and Debra Komar (The Lynching of Peter Wheeler) share tales of murder and suspense in an evening of fictional and true-life mysteries.

Friday, April 4, 2014
7:00pm — Family Matters
Jump into the offbeat, sometimes hilarious world of family dysfunction with Ray Robertson (I Was There the Night He Died) and  Nancy Jo Cullen(Canary).

8:30pm — An Equal and Opposite Reaction
Michael Winter (Minister Without Portfolio), Emma Donoghue (Frog Music) and Catherine Bush (Accusation) delve into the lives of characters whose worlds are forever changed by events beyond their control.

Saturday, April 5, 2014
10:30 am — Literary Salon with Michael Winter
Join one of Canada's most celebrated authors for light refreshments and a lively round-table discussion about books, writing and the Canadian publishing industry.
This event takes place at the Mulberry Street Coffeehouse, 193 James St. N.
Registration is limited.  Registration fee: $20/$15 for gritLIT members

10:30am — Writing Workshop: Writing from the Prompt
Critically-acclaimed novelist Catherine Bush shows writers of all levels how to use prompts to dig deeper, become more open and find the playful exuberance at the heart of all great writing.
Registration is limited.  Registration fee: $20/$15 for gritLIT members

1:00pm — The Mother and Child Reunion
Memoirists Jowita Bydlowska (Drunk Mom) and Priscila Uppal (Projection: Encounters with MyRunaway Mother) share tales of struggle and recovery.

2:15pm — gritLIT Contest Winners
Two winners of last year's gritLIT writing competition, Alexandra Missettand Raymond Beauchemin, share excerpts from their winning works.
Admission is free.

3:00pm — Lives of Girls and Women
Krista Bridge (The Eliot Girls), Jennifer LoveGrove (Watch How We Walk) and Lauren B. Davis (The Empty Room) examine the lives of extraordinary women fighting to discover their own identities.

7:00pm — In Conversation with...Teenage Head
Graham Rockingham sits down with members of Teenage Head and with author Geoff Pevere to discuss Gods of the Hammer: The Teenage Head Story.

8:30pm — Putting the grit in gritLIT
Celebrate the work of two of Canada's grittiest and most interesting literary voices: Craig Davidson (Cataract City) and Lynn Coady (Hellgoing).

Sunday, April 6, 2014
10:30am — Writing Workshop: First Things First
Journey Prize finalist and novelist Krista Foss guides you through the process of developing a first novel from inception to publication.
Registration is limited.  Registration fee: $20/$15 for gritLIT members

10:30am — Writing Workshop: Telling Our Own Tales
Author Denise Chong examines the task of turning knowing family stories into telling them and focuses on the power and flaws of memory and issues of privacy and respect in bringing these stories to the page.
Registration is limited. Registration fee: $20/$15 for gritLIT members

1:00pm — A Book to Take Us Worlds Away
Travel from a small town in 1950's Yugoslavia to the badlands of the wild west with novelists Nicole Lundrigan (The Widow Tree) and Natalee Caple (In Calamity's Wake).

2:15pm — All About the Hammer preview
Local novelists Hugh Cook (Heron River) and Janet Turpin Myers (Nightswimming) share their stories in a preview of this evening's All About the Hammer event.
Admission is free.

3:00pm — Different Voices, Different Lands
Join Denise Chong (Lives of the Family), Saleema Nawaz (Bone and Bread) and Dannabang Kuwabong (Voices from Kibuli Country) for a fascinating reading and discussion about identity and the impact of cultural heritage on the stories we tell.

7:30pm — Closing Night with LitLive: All About the Hammer
gritLIT partners with LitLive for a gala closing night celebrating the recently-published works of seven Hamilton authors. Presenters include Chris Pannell (A Nervous City), John Terpstra (Brilliant Falls), Jeffery Donaldson (Slack Action), Amanda Jernigan (All the Daylight Hours), Marilyn Gear Pilling (A Bee Garden), Amanda Leduc (The Miracles of Ordinary Men) and David Haskins (This House Is Condemned).
This event takes place at Homegrown Hamilton, 27 King William St.

This is a pay-what-you-can event.
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