Wednesday, 24 June 2009

I love Newfoundland!





This is in and around St John's, Newfoundland. Isn't it fantastic? I love it here. For those who don't know; Newfoundland is an island off the east coast of Canada, where lots of British and Irish settled when they first found Canada. As a result, people have these crazy accents, they're more Irish than Canadian. There's lots of Irish/British pubs, that are genuinely Irish/British and not just what Canadians want Irish/British pubs to be like. St. John's is a fishing town, with these amazing coloured row houses. There's been this really heavy fog sitting over the sea since we got here, but it's kind of romantic and mystical.

Weird, you go halfway across the world, and end up in a town that looks like half the places in England. Ooh, but there's icebergs here!

By the way, Seamus and I look kind of hot in that photo above, don't we? Like we're modelling the latest winter jackets from The North Face.

A bit more Halifax.





1)Changing of the guards.
2)The first protestant church in Canada.
3)The clock tower.
4)Concentrating hard on steering my tug boat at the Maratime Museum of the Atlantic.
5)Our beer samplers at Henry House pub!

Monday was a good day in Halifax. We went to the University, the public gardens, a good museum, and a really nice pub. It was still grey and rainy but we manned it up and had fun. I don't think we were in Halifax long enough to get acquainted with the downtown area, but I liked the waterfront, and all the open space felt so good after Toronto. We were hosted by a lovely couple, Doug and Deb, in their beautiful house downtown, and it was so nice to be out of a hostel, and having real conversations with people who live in Halifax, and thus can point you the right way in things to do. They were awesome. We had these beer samplers at the pub, and I feel this blog should've been steered in a more alcohol-fuelled manner. Like, 'my journeys across Canada drinking all they have to offer' or something. The pub was an english pub, and the beer sampler was six small glasses of beer offered by the Granite Brewery. Then we tried some special blends - Seamus has Black & Velvet (Strongbow and stout) and I had a lager with lime cordial. It was good. And we had huge and delicious burgers. I think I am getting fat, eating out all the time.

Anyway, although our time in Halifax was too short, we'll be back in Nova Scotia in a few days. For now, we're in St John's, Newfoundland, which is BEAUTIFUL (if a bit like west country, England). I have lots of beautiful photos already - I'll upload some later.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Rainy Nova Scotia.

Look! It's almost like we're in the UK! Seamus is wearing a raincoat! It's pouring with rain even though it's the first day of summer! We're in a fort! Seamus is firing canons!

We are, in fact, in Halifax, the capital of Nova Scotia, and the entire Maritime provinces. It is rainy and miserable, which is sad because this city seems like such a summery place. We are staying in this amazing neighbourhood, with coloured houses. I'll try to take some photos tomorrow, because it's so cute. We went to the citadel, the waterfront, and took a ferry to a pub in Dartmouth. A ferry to the pub! We don't have that at home!

Also, I think people have hybrid accents here, like British/Irish-Canadian combos. I will explore this more tomorrow, if I can actually find any people (the fact that it was a rainy sunday meant there Halifax looked like a ghost town. Also, shopping on sundays was illegal until 2006, so I think it's still not common to shop on sundays).

Saturday, 20 June 2009

People in hostels.

You meet some funny people in hostels. The other day, a girl had peas for dinner. Like, peas from a can. Cold. On a plate. By themselves. It seems the portion was too big for her though; she had a couple of mouthfuls, then finished.

Right now, there's a big group of scenester girls here. About six or eight of them, dressed in ballgowns, covered in tattoos. I guess it's fair enough in Toronto. It would have been weird in Jasper. They just don't look the hostel type. And I've never seen girls in their twenties so clone-like. Don't people normally grow out of dressing the same at about fifteen? They all have the same tattoos, in the same places.

There's a couple in this hostel who were in the same hostel as us in Jasper. WHAT ARE THE ODDS? Actually, they're probably quite high, given that Jasper and Toronto are very well-travelled places for backpackers. But still....it's weird.

We've been in this room for 11 days, with two days in the middle in Algonquin. And our roomates keep moving out, but staying in the hostel. We've started to think we smell, or snore. I keep telling myself they're just moving into rooms with their friends, but it's suspicious. They're dropping like flies.

In some hostels, people sit all day on their laptops, and go drinking at night. I think these are jobseekers, otherwise, why would you go halfway across the world to write on facebook?

Then, why would you go halfway across the world to write in a blog which nobody reads...?

Infection?

Apologies for disgusting subject of this post.

You know I got all those insect bites in Algonquin last week? I got two types of bites; mosquito bites and black fly bites. The black flies draw blood when they bite, but I didn't have any pain or itching. The mosquito bites, on the other hand, itched a lot, and since some were in awkward places (palm of hand etc), it was pretty annoying. So, I was taking some antihistamines and then JUST as the mosquito bites got better, five days after Bite Day, I woke up in agony from the black fly bites. And they continue to hurt, and swell, and itch. I have moved from antihistamines to Advil. And now, eight days after Bite Day, my legs look like this, and are swollen, and really sexy-looking.

Should I go to a doctor, or wait it out? I really don't want to have to make another insurance claim. But I really don't want my legs to have to be amputated either.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Bye Toronto.




Tomorrow we're flying to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where it is due to rain for the entire time we're there. I hate the rain. Toronto has been HOT, too hot, for most of our time here. I've liked it here more than I thought I would. Yesterday we went to the university, which is beautiful, and I have been told there are some nice parks around too. The trouble is, if you have no money, Toronto is pointless. There's great shops, cafes, museums, galleries and bars, but nowhere nice to hang out in the sunshine. Except those elusive parks. There are some cool neighbourhoods to walk around, like Kensington, but there's only so long you can walk on polluted, busy streets. I just want to sit in a park for a while, but I can't find any. I can't even find any tiny patches of grass. The only city I can liken Toronto to is London, and London has a lovely riverside, and great parks. Until I find this in Toronto, I can't see what all the fuss is about.

But, the different neighbourhoods are really nice, and there are good shops. And there's lots to do. So, I don't dislike it here at all, it's just...not as good a city as Vancouver. West beats east anyday!

Some photos from Toronto.



A bad dining experience in Canada.

Yesterday, I had my first bad meal in Canada. We've had the odd dodgy server, and sometimes there's not that much choice for vegetarians, but I am generally very easily pleased. I like food, I'm not that fussy, and I love eating out.

Yesterday we went to an irish pub, usually a safe bet in terms of food and drink. I ordered a veggie wrap (yum, goat's cheese!) and a Strongbow (see previous post). When my cider came, it was flat. It's not meant to be flat. When my food came, there was no goat's cheese. Just lettuce, in a wrap, with a sauce that tasted like vinegar. And chips that tasted like salt.

I didn't like the server. He was crap.

Server: How's everything over here?
Me: My cider's flat.
Server: Cider's meant to be flat.
Me: ...no it's not.
Server: Yes it is. You're getting it mixed up with beer. Beer has fizz, cider is flat.
Me: No. Believe me, I've drunk a lot of cider, and a lot of Strongbow. It's not meant to be flat.
Server: Well, I can get you another pint, but that will taste the same.
Me: No thank you. And, this wrap is meant to have goat's cheese in.
Server: No, it's not.
Me: Yes, it is. Look at the menu.
Server: Ok, but it's not meant to have goat's cheese.
[server spends about five minutes staring blindly at menu, whilst I guide him to the correct place)
Server: ...oh. Our old wrap didn't have goat's cheese in. Ok, I'll go and check with the kitchen.
[leaves and returns a minute later]
Server: Ok they didn't tell me they'd run out of goat's cheese. I'll take the cost of your drink off the bill.
[walks off before I have time to respond]
[I whine to Seamus for several minutes]
[server returns]
Server: Ok, I know you didn't like your meal, so I'm just charging you for his meal and drink.
[drops bill on table and walks off, never returning to take our plates]

Most service in Canada is very good, if a little lacking in personality. This was awful! He didn't ask if I wanted to eat something else instead, or if we wanted another (different) drink. Or apologise. Or smile. I am not fussy, or a bitch. I never complain about anything, normally. Thank god he didn't charge me. It was obvious he just wanted to get rid of me as soon as possible.

After this, we went to a cheesecake cafe and I made myself a bit sick with cheesecake.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Canada and alcohol.

One of our favourite things to do in Canada, or any other country, is drink. We like going to the pub and finding local beers, and drinking them. Lately, I've been drinking less beer because I have had an upset tummy. My routine in a pub normally goes like this:

Me:Do you have any cider?
Barperson:No
Me:Do you have...Pimm's?
Barperson:No
Me:Do you have sangria?
Barperson:No
Me:Ok, can I have rum and sprite please?

Drinking rum is really a last resort for me. Lately, I've found a few pubs with Pimm's or sangria, presumably because summer is here, but they are not common. Cider is around, but not everywhere, and it often costs a lot ($6.50 for a can of StrongboW!). I have found one pub so far that sold Magner's...that was a good day. Anyway, cider is definitely my drink of choice. I hate drinks which don't come in pint glasses.

Anyway, Canada has a good choice of local breweries, each with a few types of beer. There's something for everyone! Although, we do find that every brewery does the exact same type of beer; an IPA, a wheat beer, an Irish-style stout, an English-style ale....

Here are all the local breweries we've tried up until now:

Vancouver: Yaletown Brewery
Granville Island Brewing
Growers Dry Cider

Calgary: Big Rock Beer (our "local" in Waterton so we spent six months drinking Grasshopper (their lager) and Traditional (their ale).

Whitehorse: Yukon Brewing Company

Nelson: Nelson Brewing Company
Columbia Brewery (brews Kokanee, one of the most famous beers in Canada, it's not very good though)

Jasper: Jasper Brewing Company

Toronto: Steam Whistle Brewing
Mill Street Brewery
Nickel Brook Beers

Chicago: Goose Island (expensive because we were up the Hancock Tower)

Other than beer, Canada's main alcoholic drink is caesars, which I think I've discussed before. Vodka, clamato juice, lime, worcestershire sauce, tabasco, salt and pepper, garnished with olives and celery/asparagus (depending on where you are). It's revolting. Canadians also order beer with a side of clamato juice, and mix the clamato with their beer in order to spice up their beer.

Conclusion: Canadians are weird.

Canada also produces ice wine, which I mentioned a couple of posts ago. It is delicious and expensive.

I can't really find anything online that discusses Canadian drinking culture in a semi-academic manner, so any evidence I have is purely anecdotal. I think Canadians drink a lot, and drink drive more than British people do. Having worked in a pub in Canada, I am well aware of how many people drove home after a night at the pub. Maybe it's just Waterton though. The trouble is, Canada's so big that the pub is usually far from where you live. This is something I've noticed about villages here. At home, small villages almost always have a pub. Shadingfield does, and we have a tiny population. In Canada, villages don't have churches or pubs a lot of the time! What on earth are the people supposed to spend their time doing? What else is there but drinking and church?!

An old video.

videoThis is a video Seamus took on Bear's Hump last November. I couldn't upload it in Waterton because the internet connection was so bad, but now I am in the real world, with real wifi, I remembered this video and thought I'd see if I could share it now.

LISTEN TO/WATCH HOW WINDY IT IS!

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Niagra Falls.




Yesterday we did The Most Touristy Thing Ever and went to Niagra Falls. Man, that place is a tourist trap. Yesterday was insanely hot and humid (again) and we had a bad start to the day and were nearly late, and forgot sunglasses and suncream. I blame Seamus for all of this. ANYWAY, we used Moose Travel once again, because the Greyhound costs pretty much the same amount, and Moose also take you to a winery and Niagra-on-the-lake.

The winery was cool. We tasted some wines, and learnt some stuff about wine-making. We tried ice wine for the first time - it's made in winter from the frozen sap in grapes, and it's DELICIOUS. It tastes like really yummy cough syrup. You're on only meant to drink tiny amounts, for dessert, but I know I'd drink tons if I could. And that would be some sugary vomit.

After that, we went to Niagra-on-the-lake, which is pretty much the Canadian version of Southwold. It's perfect-looking, and very cute. It looks like the town Gilmore Girls was filmed in. We bought some lunch (as advised by our driver, because Niagra itself is really overpriced) and took some photos, before moving onto Niagra Falls.

I'm kind of upset by the Canadians letting Niagra Falls get so disgusting. And yet, I'm pretty jubilant that they got the "good" side of the Falls, whilst the US totally lost out (from the States-side, you can barely even see the Falls, you can just...hear them). But really, the town is gross, like Disneyworld or Vegas. See photo above for evidence. Obviously the Falls themselves are amazing, but the town is horrible. We did pay to go on the Maid of the Mist boat ride, but it was pretty cool. The boat goes ride up against the Falls, and everyone gets soaking but it was weirdly exhilarating and funny. After that, we took some photos, then lay in a park and dried off.

Aside from this, doesn't Seamus look hot and brooding in the photo above? Except, you'll have to click on the photo itself to see Seamus. Because blogspot is stupid.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Some photos from Algonquin Park.





1)Our fire - structural genius.
2)Our group.
3)Seamus and me at the Lookout.
4)Drinking vodka on top of the fire tower. Please note - this is illegal.
5)A moose and her calf.

What a wonderful weekend! We had a great group - three english people, a russian, an irish, a dutch, an austrian, a libyan and a japanese (he took a lot of photos). Our guide was the best we've had on one of these trips - very relaxed and friendly. We did some nice hikes, and canoed to a waterfall to swim. Seamus slid down the waterfall in an inner tube, it was pretty high and a bit scary. No photos, unfortunately. The swimming was amazing anyway, it was so refreshing. We made campfires and cooked marshmallows, sang songs round the fire, had a barbeque, watched the Stanley Cup final and played frisbee. A very good weekend for a birthday.

25 in Algonquin Park.

Back from a busy and wonderful weekend in Algonquin Park. My birthday was secret. We were staying in the forest, with no internet, so on Saturday, I received one phone call (thanks Vikki and Lu, you're the best) and one text (thank you my birthday twin!). Lots of emails and facebook messages on my return though, thanks. Bad year for gifts and cards though; I got one card, from my parents (the first of my life my dad didn't sign...what happened?) and one gift, from Seamus (a necklace and earrings, but he gave them to me a few weeks ago). But it was a lovely day filled with canoeing, swimming in the lake, hiking, eating, drinking, campfires and fun. Unfortunately, my most prominent gift from the weekend is insect bites. I have over sixty, some are black fly bites (yucky bleeding wounds which luckily don't hurt or itch) and others are mosquito bites. I got over sixty, Seamus got....two. I'm delicious, it seems. We always knew I am susceptible to bites, and also that I swell. So I am swollen and sore, and STILL have a cold. I am feeling pretty crappy, overall.

Photos later, anyway! Oh and we bought shares in the Mountain Equipment Coop...that was pretty exciting! More about that another time.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Toronto and taxi drivers.

Tuesday night was another long journey, this time at least being all in one mode of transport, the lovely Greyhound Bus. We only have two more journeys with Greyhound (nice short journeys) and then we never have to use them again! Unless we come back to North America one day. Greyhound may be cheap, but the staff are always rude and unhelpful, the depots are generally seedy, and the toilets never flush or have soap/sanitiser. And sometimes, people have their heads cut off whilst travelling. By comparison, travelling with Amtrak was fantastic. Anyway, our journey from Chicago to Toronto was twelve hours overnight, and not too awful (and the Canadian border people let us straight through, of course!). I was still pretty cranky by the time we got to Toronto bus depot though.

And this is where we had the worst taxi driver of all time. The second we approached the taxi queue, a large gruff man (some kind of taxi pimp) asked us where we needed to go, and then ushered us towards a taxi. The driver of our taxi spoke little english, and obviously had no idea where our hostel was. The taxi pimp and taxi driver had a lengthy discussion, mainly involving these lines:

Taxi driver: I don't know where that it! Can't someone else take them?
Taxi pimp: No! You'll never learn if I keep letting someone else take your customers! I TOLD you, just turn left on this road, go past the Sheraton etc etc
Taxi driver: But I don't know where those are...

We should have just got out of the taxi then and there, and asked for a driver who did know where he was going. This journey was 2km (I know, we could've walked it, but we'd just had a twelve hour coach journey, remember?), and I had been told by the hostel it would cost "no more than $10". Due to taxi driver's complete failure to DO HIS JOB, it cost $20. That's a 100% increase on the quoted price. That's a lot to two people who lived on a combined budget of $100 a day. Seamus had a map, and knew exactly where we were going, but unfortunately taxi driver could not understand him. And drove us in the wrong direction for $12-worth of taxi fare.

But because we were tired (me) and non-confrontational (Seamus), we said nothing. But we did not tip. In the end, he didn't even get us to the hostel. When the metre reached $20, Seamus just told him to stop, and we walked the rest of the way (only 5 minutes or so).

I will not take a taxi in Toronto again.

Anyway, I had mixed reviews of Toronto from friends who've visited, and after one day, I remain exactly mixed. It is by no means beautiful (so far, anyway), but there are some amazing neighbourhoods with wonderful cafes, pubs, shops and galleries. Lots of areas are very bohemian and fun, and I haven't been to any cities in Canada until now that are so eclectic. However, as I said, there is really nothing pretty here, apart from some "old" buildings (as in, old for Canada, and thus not really that spectacular to someone who lives in Canterbury). There's no real green space, and the waterfront is outright ugly. There's not even enough skyscrapers to have a good skyline, like Chicago does.

But I have only been here a day and I am probably judging too soon. Tomorrow morning we're going to Algonquin Park, a couple of hours away, until Sunday night, when we get back to Toronto for five days. So we'll have more time to explore next week. We are lucky, and the Worldwide Short Film Festival is in Toronto next week, and we are going to go to a few screenings of that. I'm really excited about it, I love short films, and there is such a lot of cool things showing. Seamus is heartbroken because he knew the museum here has the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition, but we just found out it doesn't start until June 27th, so we'll miss it. And we wanted to go to a Blue Jays game, but they're just playing this weekend, and we already booked to go to Algonquin Park. And we're refusing to go up the CN Tower because it is disgustingly expensive, and taxes in eastern Canada are TOO HIGH (12% in Ontario, compared to 5% in Alberta!) so we're sulking about that too. I miss the mountains too. Maybe we should go back to Waterton...

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Goodbye USA.




1. Suburban America - our street "in" Chicago.
2. North Ave beach. A million volleyball games, in front of skyscrapers.
3. Rainclouds over the city.
4. Me at Buckingham Fountain.

A few more photos from Chicago. We are just packing (read: I am on the internet and Seamus is watching a film) after a little trip to the bakery. The suburbs are weird. The neighbourhoods off 95th Ave are really pretty but the main street itself is horrible, an endless parade of Walgreens and takeaways. I would rather live IN a city, or in the country itself, than somewhere like this which has the worst of both worlds (busy, expensive, lack of community, too many cars).

The bakery was good though.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Family barbeques.

It's really nice staying with Seamus' family in Chicago rather than yet another hostel. We have no curfew, our own room, can cook whatever we want, whenever we want, watch tv, no forced conversations with drunk Australians....it's also good seeing people "from home" (even though it's not MY home, and they've all lived here for years), having gone nearly eight months without any familiar people (excluding the two days we spent with Jesse in Milk River). Seamus' dad has eleven brothers and sisters, five of whom live in Chicago, along with thousands of children. Seamus has so many cousins! He doesn't know most of their names, but then, he doesn't know my name half the time. So, yesterday there was a barbeque for everyone, and I was feeling quite crappy (swine flu?), and Uncle Dennis kept apologising for how traumatic the occasion must have been for me (haha, he should meet MY family). All the men in Seamus' family look the same, with identical hairlines and zero baldness. Also, everyone is tall and thin in the Kerlin crew. Maybe if we breed, we will make superhuman babies, what with our very different genetics.

So, last night I listened to an assortment of Kerlins discuss religion and travelling and Ireland and religion and alcohol and Australia and skydiving and religion and family trees and Christmas and poetry and religion and US politics and homosexuality and religion and racial conflict and gangs and religion and education and religion. You get the picture. Fun times, though.

Today was hot and sticky, it was disgusting. We learnt all about ancient Americans in the Field Museum, and I saw the biggest fountain in the world. Tomorrow night, we have another l-o-n-g bus ride to Toronto. Great, an even bigger city. I'd forgotten the delights of hearing sirens all day and night.

Whilst I think of it, here's a quirk of Canadians which I think is adorable: at traffic lights, Canadian pedestrians will ALWAYS wait for the green light before they cross. Even if they can see for miles each way (which you usually can over here, with the roads being so bloody straight) that there's no car coming, they'll patiently wait, like lemmings, rather than daring to cross. It makes sense. Safety first, right? It just surprises me. Americans are not the same. They'll run out in front of cars, buses, fire engines. I don't know why they even bother with the pretence of the traffic light system. Americans are such risk-takers. They all talk on their phones whilst driving! Actually, they all talk on their phones, period. Herds of people walk down the streets, skipping across the roads in front of oncoming traffic, with their phones glued to their ears. I do not have the necessary skills to walk and talk.

...ok, enough unnecessary stereotyping for today. Night xxx

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Chicago.





Chicago is lovely, I like it much more than I thought I would. We've done all the touristy things; seen the Bean, gone to the free zoo, had ice-cream on the pier, drank cocktails at the top of the Hancock Tower ($13!). It looks beautiful from everywhere. We went to the Cheesecake Factory in the most bargainous meal of all time, and today I made my triumphant return to Panda Express. It's a little daunting being in a big city after seven months in Waterton/Jasper etc. I can't tell if it's the fact we're in a city, or that we're in the US, that feels so different. Probably a bit of both.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Welcome to the USA.

So, we're finally in Chicago after a terrible 26 hours journey...well, at least we saved $500...

We left Banff on Monday evening, and were overjoyed to find there was free wifi at Calgary Airport (at last, I have found something to like about that city!). Our flight to London was fine. We flew with Westjet, Canada's budget airline. Although, less cheap, and less awful. We even had televisions in the seats! Seamus watched Star Trek and I tried to sleep, but it wasn't proper sleep. Because of the time difference, we got to London at 6am, still feeling like it was the night before, and discovered our snacks had leaked over everything in our bag (seven-grain salad with a very sticky and toxic-coloured vinegarette...). Strike 1.

All we knew about London was that they have a really good public transport system, and it's true! So we took two buses to the Greyhound station for a couple of dollars, thanks to very nice and helpful bus drivers. We had a couple of hours before our bus to Detroit, so we put our stuff in lockers and went for a wander. We got breakfast, the only thing I liked on the menu was pancakes, but all those who've been to North America will know that pancakes over here are not the same. What I got was pretty much cakes in the shapes of pancakes. I hate food which is to be intended to be savoury being sweet, and I can't eat sweet food in the mornings anyway, so I sulked for a bit and then pushed my plate away. Strike two.

So, surprise surprise, London, Ontario has all the same street names as our London. Plus, a Covent Garden, a market a million times better than our one. It was indoors, but filled with gift stalls, cakes, organic produce....wow, I could have stayed forever. But by then, it was time to get our bus to Detroit, so our journey continued...

You will notice that a bus from London, Ontario to Detroit, Michigan crosses the Canada-US border. I had gone to great lengths to ensure we were ready for this border crossing, contacting our visa organisation, the embassy, Greyhound....and was told all we needed was a passport. Luckily, I am effecient, and also carried US money, our flights home from Canada, our train tickets out of the States, our visa info (all of which had a yellow residue from the aforementioned leak). As it turns out, prior to June 1st, it was really easy to cross the border via Greyhound (especially for British holidaymakers) but unfortunately, the regulations changed on June 1st, the day before we travelled.

Here follows ninety minutes of threatening questioning from the US Border Control, who have a big sign claiming they will treat everyone with equal respect and courtesy. Unless you're Seamus and me, apparently. I'm not sure if they were just exercising their power for kicks, or if it was our Canadian visas that confused them, but they were rude, intimidating and very stupid. We told them we were going to Chicago for seven days to visit family, that we have Canadian visas, that we will return to Canada next Wednesday, that we have over $12,000 to support ourselves (plus British accounts, containing more money, and credit cards). It seems they thought it was suspicious that two young people had so much money. Or that we are a couple (because we're from different countries). Or that we have family in Chicago. Or that we went to Russia once. Or that we have Canadian visas (they tried to tell me that we won't get back into Canada next week, because they don't understand our visas). At one point, they'd let Seamus through, but seemed to be backtracking on me. One guy on our bus, Pedro, was taken into a back room and never returned to the bus. I was worried the same thing was going to happen to me, as all around me, chirpy British tourists were let straight through for their week-long holidays in the States. But we weren't. Strike three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten.

FINALLY, they allowed us through (after demanding my money for a tourist visa...which I am happy to pay for, but would have appreciated a please or thank you somewhere in the transaction) and our bus took us to the Detroit bus station, by which point I was angry and tired. We had to take a train to Chicago, which involved a lot of walking in shady areas, and another bus. Thank goodness Amtrak was good to us. I watched movies on the train, and ate fudge. We got into Chicago ten minutes early, but had to wait an hour for the train to the area Seamus' family live. Strike eleven...I was so tired and cranky and Seamus called me a 'stinkyface'. Eventually, at 12.30am, Wednesday morning, having left our hostel in Banff at 8.30pm, Monday night, we got to bed in a comfy bed in Seamus' uncle's house. I hate travelling.

Monday, 1 June 2009

Bye Rockies.




It's a shame that the last place we're staying in western Canada is Banff since we don't like it very much (whilst we've LOVED everywhere else we've been). It's a weird town. Of course, the mountains are amazing, and it's pretty here, but really, it feels like Disneyworld or some Barbie town. It's just one big resort, aimed at tourists, and tourists with money at that. It's too big, and there's no animals for miles, and no community. It's so PERFECT looking, but not in a good way. Give me Jasper or Waterton anyday. We went to a few pubs last night with some other people, and they were rammed full of Australian/British 18-year-olds getting drunk, and trying to have sex with anything they could find. It was like Freshers' Week, but without the semi-aim of education. Everyone was drunk and rude and embarrassing, and beer cost $7.50 (nearly £4). I just have mixed feelings about it here, because it's beautiful, but just feels a bit unreal.

Another thing about Jasper and Banff is how full they are with RVs. I've never seen so many in my life! The streets are packed with elderly British tourists looking for the gondola and hot springs. There are more RVs than people, unlike Waterton, where there are more deer than people. I am so glad we didn't choose Banff to work in. I love Waterton's close-knit community, and wildlife everywhere, and everything's in walking distance, and there are....fewer tacky gift shops. And I truly think it's more beautiful. Look at that photo of me, at the top of Tunnel Mountain in Banff. It's the most popular hike in Banff, because it's short and easy, and has a good view, but it's nothing compared to the views from Bear's Hump in Waterton.

Anyway, we went for a good walk today, and had a final Rockies meal in an english pub (the chips were terrible). Seamus was overjoyed with the size of his steak and kidney pie though.

Tonight we're taking an epic journey from Banff to Chicago. We leave Banff at 7.30pm tonight (Monday), and are due to arrive in Chicago at 10.40pm Tuesday (although Seamus' uncle says the trains often run five hours late...). First we take a shuttle bus from Banff to Calgary Airport (yay, my least favourite Canadian place!), then fly to London, Ontario. After that, we get a bus from London to Detroit, then finally a train to Chicago. This is less than half of what it would've cost to fly directly from Calgary to Chicago, but it's not going to be much fun.

Camping at Saturday Night Lake.





1)Seamus setting off on the trail to Saturday Night Lake.
2)Our tent!
3)Our fire! We are amazing at making fire. We kept it burning all afternoon and evening. I feel like a proper Canadian now.
4)Along the hike.
5)Me at Saturday Night Lake at 7am.

On Friday, Seamus and I went hiking and camping backcountry in Jasper. We really wanted to do this in the Rockies while we were here, and this was our only chance because Waterton was so snowy. It was such a good (and scary) adventure! This is prime bear country, so I spent the whole time panicking that we were going to be eaten by bears, even though the statistics of getting hit by a falling tree are far greater. So, you'll see dear readers, that I am not complacent about bears per se, just not that excited when I see them now. I'm still really scared of them, and take good precautions to avoid being eaten. I spent our whole camping time terrified a bear would come to the campsite...but it didn't! Unless there were a whole gang of them partying outside our tent during the night.

Anyway, we hiked up the lake in the HOT sunshine, built a fire, cooked a meal, and relaxed (or, as much as I could relax, given my bear concerns). It stayed warm until we went to bed, around 10pm, but unfortunately, we had not anticipated how cold the ground would be (it makes sense given the six months of cold winter we get around here). So, the air temperature wasn't too low (it got to about zero) but the ground was FREEZING. We didn't sleep much, but at least it took away my bear worries. I think I was so cold I was hallucinating. At one point, I asked Seamus if we were dying. But WE DID NOT DIE. Neither bears nor hypothermia could find us. Ha!

Our campsite was semi-primitive, which means it had a drop toilet, fire pit and bear pole. There were no other campers there, so we were all alone. Being at one with nature, and all that. It was good, if a bit scary. Seamus is a good camping partner! He always came to the toilet with me (because being approached by a bear when you have no knickers on is always the worst). He carried all the equipment, sang songs with me all the time (you're meant to make noise so bears know you're there) and did all the manly things around the campsite. I am a good firewood collector though.

More about Jasper tomorrow. Off for breakfast now.

Driving the Icefields Parkway.





On Thursday, we left Banff for Jasper, the "other" national park in the Rockies. We took the trip with Moose Travel, a tour service for budget travellers. They're really good because 1)they're cheap and 2)they take you off the tourist route to see nicer, less crowded things. They were thirteen of us on the bus, and we spent the day driving down the Icefields Parkway, usually considered one of the most beautiful drives in the world. We made stops at some cool stuff on the way; lakes, waterfalls, glaciers. We went to the Columbian Icefield, which is overwhelming. They have these massive ice trucks that can actually drive onto the glacier. It's massive, the size of greater Vancouver.

In Jasper, we were staying the night in a wilderness cabin with the rest of the tour group. The manager, Sacha, was wonderful. There was no running water, and just basic lighting - no other electricity. The toilets were just drop toilets outdoors, and Sacha told us a really gross story about the "poo cones" that build up there in winter (from all the poo freezing into a tower). That's my kind of story. Anyway, we made a delicious dinner, then sat round the campfire playing games. It was such a great place to stay.

The next morning, we left our tour group and headed into Jasper town centre to embark on the next adventure....camping in the backcountry. By ourselves...in an area frequented by bears...