Before leaving for Sweden I really wanted to make sure I was able to spend some quality time with friends and family. For some people this is as easy as inviting the family over for dinner on Sunday, but for me this means driving over 1000kms, to multiple cities, across 6 days.
Immediately after my final day at Free Form Fitness, I hoofed it over to the nearest Avis car rental agency, picked up a spiffy Volkswagen Jetta, and was on my way.
First stop was Peterborough to visit my sister, Lizzie, and my brother in-law, Kyle. Most importantly I had to see the family dog, Isla. She has been having an extended sleepover at their place with her cousin, Finn. I love visiting the dogs.
Visiting Liz and Kyle is also always a good time. They have a lovely relaxed feeling to their place. We sat in the backyard, enjoyed coolers, and finished the evening off inside watching Netflix.
I woke up the next morning (whenever I h*eckin' wanted to!) and did a quick lower body workout in their basement gym. Lizzie spoiled me with eggs benedict outside in the garden and then it was off to the next stop on the tour!
Some of you may know that I went away for school, many times, but specifically for college. I had the most amazing college experience in Barrie, ON. My very first friend from my program was Courtney. I actually met her in the elevator on the way down to orientation. One of those serendipitous moments. Courtney and I remained friends throughout school and we actually ended up living together in second year.
Since school ended Courtney joined the military as a personal support personel... that may not be the right term, but she essentialy provides support to the troops on base by offering personal training and fitness classes to help with their fitness and overall wellbeing on base. Courtney has always been a go-getter and she recently was told that she'd be sent to Kuwait to run the fitness center there for 6 months! So I had to pay her and the old college stomping grounds a visit.
It was just a quick visit but worth it. We had such a good time, I didn't manage to get any pictures of her, but I did get a picture of the statue by the waterfront. It was the nicest thing to have that waterfront available to me when I was in college. It was a great escape.
After dinner I hit highway 400 and drove south to Grandma's place. As a little Swedish language lesson, maternal grandmother is mormor. Paternal grandmother is farmor. But for me, my maternal grandma is grandma, while my paternal grandmother is Nan.
Both of my grandmothers are the best hostesses. Their homes have always been the center of the family gatherings and this is something I was sort of counting on. On Sunday we had the classic big family dinner around grandma's dinner table. We told stories, shared good food, and got caught up on all of the shenanigans of my young cousins.
Monday took me and my eldest cousin on my mom's side to the Ripley's Aquarium. Spoiler alert: heading to a major tourist attraction in the middle of July will mean that there's a lot of tourists. So we saw what we wanted to see but it was a bit rushed because we didn't want to take up any of the precious tourist space (very Canadia of us - we know).
The final evening with Grandma went well and before we knew it it was time for bed and I was getting myself ready to for the next leg of the trip.
Next Stop: Kingston!
Probably my least favourite part of driving between my grandmother's houses is the 401 highway. I asked my relatives in Toronto when the best time would be to leave, and to be fair, they gave me the perfect time. Although it was busy on the highway, I had no trouble getting to where I needed to go and there weren't too many crazies on the highway.
I took a quick pit stop in Port Hope to stretch my legs. I am not sure if this is a consequence of working on my feet for a year and a half, but being seated for too long makes me really antsy and I swear I feel my hips tightening. So getting out to walk to and from the pit stop building was just enough.
Within about an hour and a bit I was in Kingston and out on my Nan's balcony having a salad, cheese, crackers, and some lovely conversation. We kept things pretty low key that day and just enjoyed the lovely weather.
The final full day of the trip my Nan and I had planned to do the 1000 islands cruise out of Ganonoque. Unfortunately when we woke up it was pouring rain and they were calling for thunderstorms. SO, we had to improvise and thankfully Kingston is home to Queens University where the Agnes Etherington Arts Center has its home (literally - this place was someone's home). So off we went to the Arts center.
There were some... interesting... exhibits there. It made me think of the scene in Wine Country when the women go to a 20-something year old's art show and everyone at the show is making these annoying, contrived assessments of the art. So we quickly moved through the first two exhibits before getting to the Rembrandt exhibit and the Indigenous stone printing exhibit.
Fun fact: Queens has original Rembrandts that were donated by alumni. Perks of going to Queens, I guess.
Either way it was a beautiful exhibit.
As I mentioned before, my grandmother's are the center of all of the family gatherings - true matriarchs, if you will. That evening 2 of my aunts, an uncle, and a cousin's daughter (not sure what that makes her to me... second cousin??) came for a really nice pork dinner. The little one was an absolute peach. She's just a little over 3 and full of beans.
Before we knew it dinner was over and we had to say goodbye to everyone, but not before a quick walk with the dogs by the waterfront in Kingston (one of the many charms of Kingston).
I had to return my rental pretty early in the morning on Thursday so I had a quick cup of coffee with my Nan and was on my way.
I do feel very fortunate that I was able to find a way to see my family before leaving. Having one more meal with everyone and catch up before taking off on a new adventure helps to ground me and take some of the nerves away. To hear how excited and proud my family is of me for taking this on was something I didn't realize I needed but turns out I did.
I did go for walks and found a way to workout everyday while I was away. Nothing life changing, but as I always say - you just have to do something good for your body every day.
Next stop: Tomorrowland!
It is impossible to truly describe the magic of Tomorrowland. I come back every year feeling like a crazy person because I talk about this place as if I have been taken away to some magical land that is so wonderful, it's hard to believe it even exists.
But yet again, for the third year in a row, this place has left me feeling changed for life.
I caught a flight directly out of Ottawa to London a few hours before my sister. In hindsight, this was a bad idea because not only did I get next to no sleep on the flight, but then I had to wait 6 hours in Heathrow for Adrienne to arrive.
The first few hours were fine. I grabbed a coffee, watched Lord of the Rings on my tablet, and enjoyed some quality people watching.
Within about an hour of Adrienne arriving I started to get that over-tired crazy feeling. I was eating random food to try and give myself more energy or just think of something else besides how tired I was.
The arrivals screen announced that Adie's flight had arrived to so I (foolishly) went to the arrivals area. While waiting there I was sneezed on by a kid and overheard a very angry phone call between someone and a very patient baggage claim guy.
Stress levels are rising and patience is wearing thin at this point.
Finally Adrienne walks through the arrival doors and we found our way to the underground to make our way to St. Pancras international train station.
It should be noted that as I am writing this I am getting goosebumps just remembering those few hours before the festival.
Anyways - We found our way to St. Pancras, and were off to our hostel. I don't know how this happens every time we are in London, but we always manage to be there during the heatwave. This year was no exception.
We got ourselves cleaned up, picked up some dinner, and watched The Great British Bake Off, as you do when you are in London.
Being that it was a heat wave, the room was quite warm when we arrived. But given that they squished 6 beds into essentially a college dorm room, the body heat of the 6 of us really started to become evident.
It was pretty impossible to sleep, so Adie and I tossed and turned, watched a few more episodes of The Great British Bake Off, had minor meltdowns, but eventually found ways to get a few hours of sleep.
My strategy: dampen a towel and fall asleep under that. Works like a charm!
Then the day came. Thursday, July 25th.
Again, it should be noted that my heart has started to flutter thinking about that morning.
Adie and I were both very tired, and I have to admit I was finding it tricky to be my perky-self. But we made it to the train station, and found our check-in line. I cannot really describe the magical feeling of getting the Tomorrowland goodie bags. Knowing that this is the first step of getting yourself to the festival.
The day prior to Adie and I taking our train to Belgium, the Eurostars were all being cancelled because they could not handle the heat, and so systems on the trains were breaking down.
Thankfully, our train was early the day, so we didn't really run into any issues, besides having to slow the train down a bit before arriving in Belgium.
While on the train we tried to contain our excitement but even that was becoming increasingly difficult, despite being so tired.
So we went to the train bar and grabbed the very last mini-wine bottles, and a gin and tonic and got the party started.
Once we were in Brussels, it was a quick walk through Brussels Midi station to a Tomorrowland shuttle bus.
Again, I have to let you know that as I remember this moment I am getting goosebumps all over.
So here we were, on the bus to Dreamville, the official Tomorrowland campsite. It was definitely hot, but that was no match for our excitement.
We arrived in Boom, Belgium, and were greeted by the usual residents of Boom who seem to all be just as excited as we are about the festival. They all have Tomorrowland flags in their windows, have set up shops with ice, and are playing their music while sitting outside and watching the excitement unfold.
Adrienne and I arrive at the gates of Dreamville and It. Is. Hot. Without humidex, it was 40 degrees celsius, the hottest day on record for Belgium. Even though we get that kind of heat in Ottawa, this was different because we had no escape to an air conditioned home. We were fully exposed to the heat.
With a little Canadian innovation, Adrienne and I were able to shade ourselves and get ready for The Gathering.
The Gathering is the pre-party for the all of the campers. They typically invite Belgian DJ's to this and then close out the evening with surprise guests. This year was Sunnery James & Ryan Marciano, followed by W&W. It was hectic but fun.
We were also blessed with some surprise rain as well! Out of nowhere it began to rain and it was the break from the heat we all needed.
Adrienne and I were waiting on a few friends from Britain that we had met the year before, but their train was later and so they ran into some of the heat issues that I spoke about earlier.
They did eventually arrive and it was SO nice to see them again. The friends that we make at this festival every year are so special to us. We literally see them once a year but their friendships are more precious to us than some of our longest friendships back home.
The next 3 days went by way too quickly. From the first pre-drink with the guys, to coming the mainstage hill to have the most beautiful and intricate stage be revealed, to the amazing DJ's we saw.
I saw the stages ahead of time on social media but it really never does the in-person experience justice. The size of the mainstage, all of the little details they work into it... you'd never be able to take it all in from the livestream or the pictures online.
The grounds are huge and take about 15 minutes to walk through, but it is never a dull moment walking through the grounds.
Maybe you're passing another very cool stage, or you pass by a bunch of Aussie's doing the Aussie chant, or you meet some of the characters from Tomorrowland. Every moment is part of an immersive experience.
Our very first year of Tomorrowland we met a few lovely Belgians and while walking home from the festival he made the perfect comment "The whole festival has all of these little details. They don't have to do it... but they do." It kind of became our mantra for the next 3 years when we would see something amazing.
They literally print a newspaper for every camper, every morning after the festival that is filled with pictures and stories from the day before.
When we come home and go to festivals afterwards we just feel like we're being cheated by the other festivals. No other festival puts in this kind of effort to create a constant environment. While you are at Dreamville or on The Holy Grounds of Tomorrowland, you are living and breathing the story. You become a person of Tomorrow.
To share every story from Tomorrowland would take ages. There's just so much to go through, but I do have to mention that every year, the best reminder we get from Tomorrowland is that all of the political drama that exists in the world doesn't have to exist. At the gathering there were Israeli flags beside Palestinian flags. Mexicans, Americans, and Chinese flags all flew together.
One of the moments that brings me to tears every year is when a DJ at the mainstage, with 150,000 people from around the world, plays a song and everyone sings along. Everyone's hands are up, and there are 150,000 smiles in the crowd.
You cannot experience that anywhere else in the world, and in that moment I feel more connected to the world than ever. All anyone wants at Tomorrowland is to enjoy the music, maybe make a few friends, and have the best 3 days of their summer.
Monday morning is always tough. It's crazy to think that that'll be the last time waking up at Tomorrowland. For my sister and I we always had the promise of going back but after this third year, and with me moving away and my financial situation changing, we've decided this was our last for a while.
We feel incredibly grateful that we have even been given the opportunity to experience Tomorrowland 3 times, but it is still sad to say goodbye.
The 4 British boys we were with were also the best people. They took good care of us, and loved that we took care of them. There was no drama, just 6 people who had an awesome weekend.
I am still feeling a bit fragile after leaving Tomorrowland. On my morning walks I have been listening to Tomorrowland livesets and when the DJ says "How are you feeling Tomorrowland" I get a little choked up.
I do have a pretty exciting adventure coming up in a few days though, so its time for me to turn my sights towards Sweden.
Actually, by being on that side of the ocean, it will be much easier to visit my friends from Tomorrowland, and I'll be even closer to the european dance music scene, which I am very excited about.
The good times just keep on rolling... :)
Riri's Discoveries blog documents Riri's most recent research, her travel adventures, and her personal fitness journey.