Ville de Quebec - Jour Deux

From having lots of lovely people in my room I was suddenly all by myself again. In the morning Lia and I tried the hostel breakfast which provided an impressive carb-fest for £5. Everyone was out by 11am and I didn't want to hang around in the room for long. Thankfully due to a skype date with my cousin and the hostel's dodgy wifi I headed out. I started off in Starbucks but it turned out to be the only starbucks in the world without wifi. I resorted to Tim Hortons where I absolutely failed to order a single hot chocolate in French. It was going well...

I sat down for an hour long skype with Maria where she updated me on her adventures paralleling my own from last year. I've taught her well! It was so nice to talk to someone from home at this point as I was actually starting to get homesick. As nice as meeting new people is, it can get tiring; saying the same things over and over again and it was quite nice to just relax.

After chatting to my cousin I met up with Fernanda again as she had time to kill before until her train. We went and got some crêpes before heading to the station. We sat chatting for an hour or so - it's lovely befriending strangers and especially ones that remind me of how people are in Brazil. 
After leaving the station I decided to have a quiet evening just catching up with my journal and enjoying time to myself. One of the younger German girls from the first day took pity on me and invited me out with a bunch of them but deep down I just wasn't feeling it and couldn't really afford beer in Quebec!
I went a walk a night to the lower town (Basse Ville) which is the really nice old part of Quebec with little windy streets - much like Stromness. At night it was beautifully lit up and completely empty and instead of the smell of grass after a rain - Quebec smells like patisseries
After a nice walk and some lovely photos in my arsenal I went back to my room and scribbled into my journal. There were some new people in my room but they weren't nearly as sociable as the previous occupants. I fell asleep with my ipod o

Ottawa's ugly eh?
Toronto - Ottawa
That bloody Fairmont at it again. at least
it fits in here. 
The Canal gates
Across to Gatineau

The Campervan: Day 14 Elk Recreation Park - Rocky Mountain House
The Campervan: Day 13 - Hinton - Elk Recreation ParkThe Campervan: Day 12 - Jasper - Hinton The Campervan: Day 11 - Lake Louise - Jasper (Icefields Parkway) The Campervan: Day 10 - Boulton Creek (Peter Lougheed Provincial Park) -> Lake LouiseThe Campervan: Day 9 -> Banff to Boulton Creek (Peter Lougheed Provincial Park)
Our morning routine started out as normal. Then we got a knock at the door from a 'Peace Officer' telling us that we were actually breaking the law camping here. Thankfully both ignorant tourist and Canadian leniency worked in our favour and we got away with nothing more than a warning to keep as a memento. While on the run, we went a walk along Bow River and the Fenland Trail which was a trail for spotting wildlife - and runners. Early in the morning seemed to be the only time you actually saw any locals as it was before any of the tourists were awake. From the guides you can tell that there isn't much to do in Banff when one of the top 5 things to do is people watching - but I see what they mean.
The Campervan: Day 8 - Invermere -> Banff
Olive Lake
Cobb Lake

Marble Canyon
The Campervan: Day 7 Johnston Lake -> Invermere
Apparently I took no photos of Lassier or Twin Lakes...?
Mountains added for scale. 

The Campervan: Day 6 - Golden -> Johnston Lake


The Campervan: Day Four - Kaslo - Trout Lake
Kaslo from above

My favourite spot
The Campervan: Day Three - Nelson - Kaslo
We woke up to sunshine and had our bowls of raisin bran and bananas along the waterfront at the jetty next to the Prestige Hotel - our accommodation for the evening. However this tropical weather didin't last as we drove into the Kootenay Glacier Park which was reccomended by the woman in thr tourise information as it shoud be open in the early season. It was open but about halfway up the windy dirt track we were greeted by solid snow and ice blocking the track. Paul took on the task of reversing the camper back down the track a few hundred meters to a passing place where we could park - just incase someone tried the same as us!
This meant we had to walk almost double the trail length just to get to the start of the trail. The snow and ice was a bit of a pot-luck of footing as the snow wouldn't always hold your weight - perfect when you thought trainers would be fine for a wee trail. My kilimanjaro fitness had completely disappeared as I puffed, panted and sweated my way up the hill. When we reached the top we realised the trailhead was actually where we thought the trail ended. The trail itself had not seen many visitors recently as their were fallen trees and bracken making it more of an obstacle course. At the top of the 'road' there was - what we assume- was a car park but the several feet of snow made it hard to tell and a rather large rock which was our perfect lunch spot. There were views down the mountain valley which made our first hike worth the-well my- efforts - everyone else seemed to be able to run up no bother!We tried actually following the trail on the way back down but the snow cover made it difficult and most of us scrambled up with soaking feet to the glacial road instead. It took a lot longer to get back to the campervan than I'd remembered - even with the route being a winter slip'n'slide- but we got back on highway 31 to Ainsworth Hot Springs for a well earned soak. however on the way we stopped next to Kootenay Lake and did some lounging - that's all we really do: hike 'n' lounge. It was absolutely stunning here with lakes and mountains - of course the Austrian wasn't as impressed as I was. 
The hot springs were mainly an excuse to shower and the hot springs were just an added bonus. The springs themselves were orginally natural but a artificial pool had been built to accommodate more visitors - the opposite to Tofino but the backdrop was just as stunning. There had been an attempt to rectify the original cave springs by building some cave tunnels which allowed the water temperature to soar to 40°C. In contrast there was a plunge pool of 6°C so you could really feel your blood rush when you got in the hot spring. Paul, Ryan and I had a challenge to see who could stay in the longest and thanks to both my Scottish warm blooded ways and Canadian sunburn I managed to win without that much difficulty. 
After two hours of soaking, splashing and some very pruney fingers we emerged refreshed and much, much cleaner than before. Our next stop was the town of Kaslo which is known as one of the nicest and friendliest towns in British Columbia. It was also en-route where we had our first moose sighting, though as Ryan put it "it wasn't as romantic as imagined." Kaslo was a nice little town along the lake shore of the Kootenay Lake with Mt. Kaslo looking over the town across the lake. After a short drive around the town we parked up on the lakeshore with the most amazing view across the lake as well as free wifi and reasonably fancy pubic toilets. We sat over pour cooked chili dinner using the perks of free wifi after several days to update the world that we were still alive.After having enough of all this technology we went back to old-school camping by lighting a campfire on the beach and toasting some marshmallows under the stars. A car drove up to us and a man wound the window down to shout "Are you local?!"
The Campervan: Day Two - Osoyoos - Nelson

The View on our dirt road
Grand Forks
Cascade Falls
Wild sunbathing
The Campervan: Day One Vancouver - Osoyoos

The first shop...
Me, Ryan, Anne, Paul and Gabby after the first night...
Lightening Lake
Headley - Mountain goats and gold mines.


A Tale of Two Islands

One of the boards later on had 'No' on it. Unrelated of course.
Ahh Scotland, if you could see me now!
 Setting an alarm for 3am is never fun - even if you are about to start an adventure across a country. Alas there I was at 4:30am when only birds think it’s morning time, piling my belongings into a taxi where the driver had set the ambient temperature to something similar to New Delhi.

Easter Weekend in Southern Ontario
At Guelph we merely got a long weekend to suffice as Easter Holidays, which works out well as it means your term isn’t dragged out until May. One of the Canadians we met in Guelph, Caleb, offered to host a group of us over the Easter weekend and it turned out to be one of the most authentic Canadian experiences so far.
Behind the Scenes at Toronto Zoo
Sounds like a great start to the week...
An un-identified wild animal

n and woke up the next day with it still playing - the deep sleep I had obviously needed.

Ville de Québec - Jour en

On day one I only had one solid part of my plan and that was to go and have crêpes for breakfast at casse-crêpe Brenton. I was sitting there with my 'perfectly' practised French sentences but I was pretty shocked -and somewhat disappointed- that the waitress started talking to me in English. Mais le chocolat crêpes aux bananes c'est tres bien! So much so that when Fernanda arrived I ordered a second - Quebec is not good for my arteries!

We left the crêperie and started out walk around the town. We started by walking around the fortifications around the old town which gave some decent views of the city - be it the greyer side. As you follow the wall round it takes to to the citadel- which we didn't even dare enquire about the entrance fees- which had a nice board-walk dancing along the cliff edge above basse-ville. The board-walk takes you through aerial trees with glimpses of the river before opening up to another Fairmont Hotel. Fairmont is a Canadian based company - hence why their hotels are all over the place and seem to become the most photographed thing in each town.

Fernanda awed at the overall beauty while I couldn't help compare to the palaces and quaintness of Europe. We headed up Rue St Louis which was crammed with souvenir shops and pricey restaurants and although we thought we'd gone down another unknown street we actually looped back to the hostel. We started just playing a guessing game turning down any street we felt like and enjoyed getting somewhat lost in Quebec.

As we looped back to Rue St Jean and the sun came out so everything was looking very pretty. Rue St Jean was much longer than we'd initially realised and was full of numerous boutiques and quaint little cafés.  We looped down Grand Allee then past the theatre and Rue St Clements which had a foodie haven air about it. Grand Allee was home to Plaines d'Abraham and the Parliment buildings where we took a well earned rest by the fountains before returning to the hotel.

We had a lazy few hours before heading out to the pub with Lia but first we went on a walk around town during the night. It was very atmospheric with a man on the street corner playing a saxophone - best of all he was playing 'New York, New York' of all things. We went to Saint Alexandre which was one of Quebec city's most famous pubs - which is ironically an English pub and the other famous one is Irish. Saint Alexandre also must be one of Quebec's most expensive as one blanche de chambly cost $9! We had a really nice conversation and I kept forgetting that these girls were older than me and had seen a lot. I was getting really sleepy so headed back while those two went off and had a crazy night - I wish I could have mustered the energy!

We were joined in the hostel room by two friendly Chinese girls who were- again, surprisingly- 30 and had lived in Winnepeg for 10 years so had amazing English! My sleep that night was pretty bad though as the hostel seemed to be full of hyperactive school kids who LOVED throwing their luggage down the stairs at odd times of night.

Ottawa - Ville de Québec

By the time I had worken up Christina had already left which was a shame since I was leaving for Quebec city that afternoon -although I was sure I'd see her again soon. I had another philosophical breakfast with Dean before I decided to go out and enjoy the sunshine. It was so warm and again I had made the mistake of wearing skinny jeans which were slowly bonding to my skin. I headed to Dow Lake which was in full bloom for the Tulip Festival with ten tourists for every one tulip in the park.

Since it was Victoria Day the park was full of everyone enjoying the day off in the sunshine. I had what can only be described as a pleasant stroll  along the canal but it takes a while to cross onto the other side of the canal so at the next available chance, I looped to the other side. Here there was an arboretum and a wildlife park - essentially an overgrown part given back to nature and full of many, many butterflies. This side of the river was very scenic (If you arrive from Carling Avenue- turn left when you enter the park) and I settled down to write my thankyou's to Dean and Christina. 

I got back to Dean's as it was filling with more wooden butterflies and artists and packed my bag and said my thankyou's and goodbyes. Dean had given me the best introduction to the couchsurfing community that I could have asked for - it's safe to say anything afterwards would be a disappointment!

Ottawa's bus station, train station and airport are stupidly far apart from each other let alone from the centre of town. I got back into lost British tourist mode by getting off the bus to the station  several stops too soon merely because I saw other people in rucksacks... Something about being on my own again made me just ooze with unexplained ignorance. Thankfully for me buses to the train station were pretty regular. 

Train stations in Canada seem far too like airports compared to British train stations where they just chuck you on your way. Here you have to check in your hold baggage and get your passport scanned.You then go down escalators and through a concourse and are jostled onto a carriage with words flying around in French. Once on the train I was amazed by how there were only  three seats per row and each seat had heaps of legroom, a table and complimentary wifi. I sat down in my throne only to be spoken to by the conductor - who looked a lot like John Malkovitch- entirely in French and I just replied with a feeble "Oui" and followed him. Turns out I had agreed to be responsible in opening the emergency exit for the carriage. I wished my fellow passengers "bonne chance."

After that scare I spent most of the train journey listening to my French mp3s in a desperate attempt to become fluent in French in five hours. I only seem to get scared travelling when I am not confident with their language - which is often. Even though I love learning languages the thought of actually speaking them petrifies me. However, although everything in Quebec is in French, they will let you try but you know that if you screw up really badly most of the time their English is flawless.

Arriving in Quebec City was a bit bizarre as it had the same grand décor of Europe but also some splodges of 1970's linoleum. I attempted to remember the route to the hostel but it can be notoriously hard to navigate Quebec - especially at night. Luckily - or not- for me the hostel was essentially directly uphill from the train station. I had become so accustomed to Canadian gridiron street systems so it was both nice and terrifying to be back in the kind of streets which twisted and turned to form a whole new street or disappear completely.

I got a glimpse of this grand city at night when but the buildings are all lit up and there was a permenant smell of patisseries and cigarettes filled the night air. At night this place didn't even look that touristy but I am sure that changes when the sun comes up. The different road-signs and menus scattered around entirely in French made me feel like I was in an entirely different country.

My hostel room had a group of younger teenagers- probably on their gap year- getting ready to go out but there were also two older Brazilian girls who were also travelling alone. They were so polite and would speak in English while I was there even when talking to each other about their homes back in Brazil - both politeness and a want to practice perhaps. Fernanda was one of the girls and I assumed she was my age- or maybe even younger- but she turned out to be 24! She seemed confident and the kind of girl who was great fun to be around. Lia was the other girl who was your typical Brazillian looking girl - where typical is definitely not a bad thing. She was- surprisingly- 30 years old and was a set designer and had worked on those strange Brazilian soap operas I could remember from my childhood.

Fernanda and I headed out to grab something to eat but it was 11pm at night so there wasn't much open except a fast food place catering to the drunk clientèle. However I got my first authentic poutine in Quebec which turned out to be one of the best. We headed back to the hostel where I found out the bed was just as squeaky as the cheese curds in my poutine.

So another day on the bus but the gig last night was so wonderful it made it completely worth it. I was a bit more rushed getting to the bus so I ended up being put on the THIRD replacement bus but I started chatting to a nice girl called Christie from Toronto and the trip passed fairly quickly. It helped that we ended up getting one of the new modern Greyhounds which had piles of legroom and free wifi - this did mean I was catching up with all the Eurovision chat which I was not-so-secretly gutted to be missing.

I arrived back in Ottawa at about 4pm and the heat was incredible - I hadn't noticed having been on the bus all day. The walk back to Dean's caused my skinny jeans and skin to fuse together! When I got back his garden was full of arty looking people doing arty looking things in preparation for the music festival Dean runs (Manifesting Magic). I was quickly recruited  to cut out butterlies from fabric or paint wooden ones. Another couchsurfer called Christina arrived as a stop off on her biking adventure across Eastern Canada. We sat and painted butterflies for hours - I felt like a child again just being unleashed with a paintbrush, so naturally most of the paint ended up on me. Everyone I spoke to there was incredibly interesting and we didn't reside indoors until about 8pm and it wasn't long before Dean had switch on his hot tub and everyone sat round for philosophical hot tub chats that lasted into the night and fuelled with frozen yoghurt.

Ottawa - Toronto (Joshua Radin gig)
Even though I had just arrived in Ottawa I was heading back to Toronto for the night to go see Joshua Radin perform an intimate gig as well as catching up with my family over there.

After an amazing sleep in my first real bed in two weeks and my first real shower in about two weeks I got up and packed my stuff for the night and headed out on the brief trip to the bus station. Ottawa bus station is definitely not the most impressive way to arrive into the city if you care about first impressions. It is desperate need of a revamp -especially compared to the airport and train station. The building is pretty shabby and stuck somewhere between the 70's and 80's- as is every bus station around the world.

I arrived a good half an hour early for my bus and the queue was already out the door. I have learnt in Canada that they rarely factor in the size of the bus when they sell tickets as there are always too many people for the bus - so get there early. Needless to say, the bus was packed and I of course ended up with a rather large man from Hong Kong whose chair was broken so he spent the trip huffing and puffing in frustration. That was until he started talking to me and wouldn't stop asking what my favourite Claymore was once he found out I was Scottish.

Five hours later and I arrived in Toronto where I was collected by my cousin Fiona and her son Chetan - who already looked older even though I'd only been away a few weeks! The only real physical difference was that he had had a hair cut but he had  more of a voice and was trying to have conversations even if the words weren't quite there yet. It wasn't long after I'd sorted my laundry and updated all my devices when it was time to go to the gig.

The gig was at Mod Club which was owned by Virgin and it looked like they had to renovate it to look like a dingy club all the while making it hip and modern - a very specific design brief. The queue outside was full of women with the occasional boyfriend strung along- even though I do know plenty of guys who love Joshua as much as the next girl.

The show started an hour later than the tickets said but this was good as it was a seated gig so you couldn't just jostle to the front. However, a bonus about coming to a gig by yourself is that you can take that one single seat in the front row without a fuss. The warm up band were called "My Name is You" and were made up of Bernard, who regularly plays with Mr Radin, and a girl called Anna Williamson whose accent took me far too long to work out but I was pleasantly relieved when she said she was Scottish. In the interval I made sure to go and express my joy at finding another ex-pat. They played a nice little acoustic set which wouldn't go astray somewhere on my ipod.

Joshua Radin came on shortly afterwards and it was simply just him, a guitar and a spotlight - just perfect. He had got a few 'complaints' that he doesn't play enough intimate gigs with old songs - so he did this tour. As well as a pristine singing voice, Radin also has a speaking voice like coffee as he entertains the crowd with the stories behind each song.  His first three songs was a compilation of a very old song (What if You), a song off the new album (My, My Love - which is one of my new favourites of his) and one that he had just written a few days ago (Old Friend). Joshua Radin likes to pen his own genres for his songs such as "baby making songs" and "ill-timed songs" but I like to pen my own terms for artist genres and Joshua Radin fits into my favourite genre alongside Passenger. They are both what I like to call "pin-drop" musicians which are best experiences live as they have the ability to get everyone listening so intently to their songs that you could hear a pin drop.

After the gig I listened to Joshua's new album 'Wax Wings" which I'd uploaded to my ipod beforehand and I appreciated them so much more after hearing them live. I ended the night rekindling the joy of just wandering around at night listening to music moving between streetlights and moonlight - something I'd discovered after hearing Joshua Radin's first album.

Calgary - Ottawa

My flight arrived a good half hour before the ETA which wasn't quite what I needed as 5:30am isn't really a convenient time to turn up at your first couchsurfing host's house. However we flew in just as the sun was breaking over the horizon and I was feeling surprisingly fresh for having had less that three hours sleep.

Your first couch surfing experience is a combination of excited anticipation and fear as you find your way to a random location in an unknown city to stay with -essentially- a complete stranger. I was going to be staying with Dean Shivij who is a 46 year old muslim who would have filled every stereotype that they tell 20-year-old single girls to stay away from. Except, as I found out, stereotypes are rarely true.

I got on a bus from the airport only knowing roughly where to get off as my sweaty palms had washed the address away from the back of my hand. I arrived at Dean's house which was already draped in scarves and wind chimes singing in the wind and I could already smell the faint musk of incense. It was still only 7:30am so I knocked timidly but I was still greeted by a slim man who didn't look much older than his mid-thirties and who looked like he had an ancestry more diverse and complicated than Canada's itself. And this was true, this was Dean who is Indian but born in Tanzania but with Mongol descent - and that's the easy way to put it.

Although he'd only gone to bed at 3am he still greeted me with a hug and a smile and although I felt terrible for waking him up he had no need to feel bad about going back to bed as I did the same. The term couchsurfing gives connotations that you'll be sleeping on a sofa but this is not the case at Dean's house: you get your own room which contained the first thing I'd seen to resemble a real bed in a few weeks.

I crashed out for an hour or so but woke up to Dean making some coffee, toast and smoothies down in the kitchen. This was the first proper look I had of the house, which didn't really look like a house at all but a home. There were hidden treasures everywhere from some far corner of the globe and hammocks hanging from anywhere they'd fit. We had breakfast in his back-garden and had an insightful conversation about trust over our toast - something that was to be common practice over the past few days. We discussed how trust should be instinctive. For example typically British girls wouldn't usually go stay with a 46 year old male stranger because of the things we've been brought up to believe but I had chosen to stay at Dean's because of some instinctive reason that it would be a good idea. The idea that trust shouldn't be earned but trust until that trust is broken.

I decided to go a walk into the city which took me through Chinatown- which were all starting to look the same and considering I am not the biggest fan of Chinese food it's never that much of a pull for me. Ottawa looked very similar to Toronto in most respects until you got to the government buildings which were like a splodge of architectural beauty hidden behind curtains of skyscrapers. It was like if London sailed into France. Ottawa is situated bang on the border between Ontario and Quebec and all you have to do is cross the Ottawa River and you in Quebec. Every second person was speaking French and it was strange not being able to understand people again - I mean at least in Tanzania I looked like a tourist and so they were ecstatic I could speak to them but here it seems almost expected to be fluent in French... Sacré bleu.

I went a walk along the canal but Gatineau skyline isn't as scenic as it's neighbour. However the walk did offer a glimpse into Ottawa's population which seems to made up entirely of runners and school children on a field trip. After the canal I took a trip up to the Parliament building and booked myself in for a free tour half an hour later but until then I passed the time by sitting next to one of the several statues of Queen Victoria scattered across the city. If that didn't make me feel at home then the endless queuing to get in the buildings did. The source of the queuing was some intense security searches which were much more strict than airports so you have to take out all your electronics- which for me was a lot.

The Campervan: THE LAST DAY - Rocky Mountain House - Calgary

Again we woke up to our campsite full of cars and the reality of morning and a Timmy's car park at 7am. Although we were just squirming out of our duvets Gabby had been up since 5:30am and had resolved all of her bank card issues in full CG (coffee Gabby) mode! I sat and used the last of the wifi to check into my flight tomorrow morning - something I'd regret doing later on.

We drove on with Paul taking a rest so Gabby was behind the wheel and I was taking up the role of navigator. There were some more authentic western looking towns such as Caroline but we stopped further south in Sundre but our usual first port of call was closed. Naturally we headed to the gas station which proved an excellent alternative. We were shown the walks on Snake Hill which is a cross-country ski route as well as a snowboarding half pipe but in summer it has a series of trails through a hilly forest where cougars can be spotted!

Back on the road we headed to Cochrane where I was due to get an extortionate bus to Calgary airport but the guys decided they'd very, very kindly drop me to the door- well airport. Cochrane was a sunny little village and the most famous landmark in the place was an ice cream shop and so I knew me and this place would get on straight away. They had numerous flavours but I chose classic Canadian combinations of Nanaimo bar, butter tart and cookie dough. The ice cream was easily piled as big as my face.

After a quick costume change to appease the familiar warm climate we stopped at a bargain shop where Blake got a kite to add to his growing list of 'weird shit I bought in Canada.' Then we, naturally, ended up in the Saloon bar at the centre of town. We sat and had a few beers over a few hours, or simply put in norwegian: hyggelig utepils. Only Ryan was stressing us out about picking him up even though he had already agreed to meet us at the airport. Ah well, we'll catch him somewhere!

The rest of us had some dinner at the bar and several beers later everyone started leaving notes in my journal while I continued to get more and more sad about leaving. The group had got particularly close over the past week and when they started to suggest cancelling my flight I took the advice on board and looked into it. Unfortunately the call centre wait-time was over 50 minutes so we headed to the airport in the hope I'd have time to ask. However our culprit from before meant we had to drive around the motorway trying to find a black car out of the hundreds passing by and then wait for them to find the more conspicuous campervan. By the time we got to the airport it was too late for me to consider asking to change and I had to leave pretty hastily and was gutted I didn't even manage a group photo!

Once I said goodbye I got pretty sad, and sitting reading their notes in the departure lounge made it even worse - I am not going to lie, a few tears was shed. Now so you don't feel to sympathetic for me, I was in campervan mode when I went to the bathroom in the airport and completely forgot to wash my hands. Yes, ming. Anyway, as I crossed security I got back into civilisation mode - hand-washing and all. I checked my emails, updated the world of facebook but worst of all; I could actually smell myself. All my clothes were smelling pretty rotten- even the 'clean' ones. There wasn't much I could do as my flight was overnight leaving at midnight and arriving in Ottawa at 6am. However, the flight was actually only three hours long so I fell asleep as soon as I got on board to squeeze in every bit of sleep possible - and to ignore any "what's that smell?" comments flying around.

So the campervan went driving on without me heading south to the States before returning to Vancouver as I flew East to the capital - Ottawa. I was sad to not be there with my new crazy international friends but I am sure I will see them again when we bump into each other serendipitously somewhere on the planet. However Eastern Canada awaits where I am going to be hostelling and couchsurfing (shock horror Mother) my way through Ottawa, Quebec, Montreal, Toronto before spending my 21st birthday in New York City.

To our relief we hadn't burnt the whole of Alberta down let alone ourselves being burnt down by the nearby raging wildfires. At this point we still thought we knew where we were going but ended up in the centre of the wildfires. Instead of driving SE down highway 40 we had headed east and ended up at Drayton Valley which was barely further south than Hinton.

We parked up in-front of their tourist information and it was here that we realised we were in the fire-ban area and we were actually planning to head straight for the centre of the fires - Nordegg. The tourist information buildings in Alberta were not nearly as developed as they had been back in British Columbia but that wasn't really their fault as nothing seems to happen in these towns until on-season- or at least until the rodeos. We were recommended to visit some ghost towns - if you need an idea of how much goes on in the non-ghost towns- in particular ones called Ponderosa Village and Em-Te Village (see what they did there?).

Ponderosa Village was down a series of gravel roads and was merely a row of four 'wild-west' buildings with a massive store selling things for cowboys that were either too expensive or impossible to even consider fitting in hold luggage let along hand luggage. The novelty was that people round here do seem to say y'all all the time but of course it could easily just been put on for effect!

We decided to skip Em-Te Village as it seemed to be a commercialised version of Ponderosa which looked essentially the same but required an entrance fee. We had joined the Cowboy Trail in Alberta and we expected to see some real cowboys and ranches but everything was a bit over-commercial for our authentic tastes. However after our time in the Rockies, most places were going to become pretty disappointing. I'd suggest doing the backwards route to mine, so you end up in Vancouver Island as that route just keeps on giving!
We had started doing a lot less trails and a lot more driving from town to town. We arrived in Rocky Mountain House and the tourist information were very useful in giving us trails and some prices on my bus to Calgary - which was still going to be extortionate. We drove to Crimson Lake and the 10km walk around it made up for the lack of trails of the past few days.

Since it was my last night we decided to eat out for dinner so we showered and dumped our waste water before heading into the town. We went to the local pub called 'Boomers' which definitely

wasn't very booming. The waitress seemed to have more than just a problem with our accents as she didn't even know what a cider was. Before the stand-up comedy got in 'full swing' we bailed to Timmy's to steal some wifi but ended up staying there for the night. The camping sites in Alberta were by no means as scenic as those in British Columbia but they were at least much more convenient.
This morning it was wind causing us to wake as we thought the campervan was sure to blow over if we didn't get up and hold it up ourselves. Alas we survived but the CO alarm made another appearance which was slowly becoming part of the morning routine. We woke up in our dishevelled camping state to a pretty busy carpark and embarked on trip to Walmart and to top up on wifi. The malls here seem to advertise overnight RV parking so it was nice to actually feel welcome as cheapskates. I had just gone to Walmart to get some flip-flops but Paul came out with some Angry Bird slippers and Blake a BB gun and fishing rod.

Our trip to Hinton tourist info was greeted by boxes of unopened tourist brochures piled to the roof and a rather surprised woman. She was surprised to see anyone here, let alone so early in the season, but she helped us regardless and told us to go to the Beaver Boardwalk as we might see some beavers. We didn't. After a week of hiking in the Rockies, walking along some wooden planks in wetlands just wasn't going to cut it anymore.

We then drove out of Hinton taking the gravel road that the woman in tourist info had advised us against taking as there was "nobody there." At this point I saw Paul's eyes light up. Anne, Blake and I didn't really follow where we were going as we were in an intense Uno Tournament but it turns out Gabby and Paul weren't either. It seemed like we were just driving through a series of mines and all the cars looked at our RV like we were lost and little did we know we really were. Regardless we made several relaxing stops at rivers and lakes where Blake and Anne tested the BB gun in the quiet of rural roads, Gabby sunbathed and Paul expressed his disbelief at what beavers were capable of.

We decided to set up camp at a serendipitous off-season campsite we found called Elk Recreation Park nestled between coal mines but in Canada that means it's still rather idyllic. Since I was going to be leaving the campervan in a few days we had a campfire and I finally got to make my campfire brownies! During the day's drive the radio was full of warnings about fire bans in an area in Alberta - little did we know that we were actually in the centre of that area and  a few kilometres away there were raging wildfires. Enjoying our ignorance we enjoyed the social charm of a campfire and relaxed and talked, only retiring inside when the threat of mosquitoes and bears got too much. It was nice to just sit, talk and share aspects of each others cultures of things we had all considered to be pretty similar before: like schooling and Christmas traditions. It was interesting that my idea of normal was closer to that of the Australian than the rest of the Europeans!

I woke up several times throughout the night to what I thought was the familiar sound of a fire crackling but in reality it was the unfamiliar sound of rain hitting the roof. Our first day in Jasper was tainted by what we then considered bad weather (realistically it was just overcast with spitting rain) and with that we decided we deserved a lie in - well until nine at the latest- and pancakes for breakfast.

After checking out of the campsite just in time we headed into Jasper for the first time. Instantly it was less touristy than Banff but that could be because there were more tourists in hiding due to the horrendous weather.  As standard we started off at the tourist information which proved useful - but not as useful as the wifi. We wandered Jaspers two main streets -which seemed that little bit more authentic than those in Banff- and picked up some groceries before heading to Maligne Lake which is another windows desktop standard.  When we got there though it didn't really look like the google image results we had expected as it was, of course, frozen over and the real nice parts were a hike along the lake which were closed off. However, these guys don't waste a photo opportunity as they crashed into the icy waters only to realise the ice was much stronger that expected and instead the ice was used to soothe some bruised knees.

Several cups of tea and some sandwiches later we were back on the road again out of Jasper towards Maligne Canyon and Medicine lake but the rain didn't let us appreciate the view for long. We decided we were getting far to scared of tourists so headed away from Jasper into deeper Alberta towards Meitte Springs- meanwhile Gabby had managed to get her hair tangled in a comb and had to be cut free. These springs were found up a single track road on a mountain but Canadians love their hot springs so we were greeted by another scene of a commercial hot spring full of visitors. We stayed to cook dinner and I tried to cut Blake's hair but adhering to health and safety I had to do it out in the rain - not the most successful method.

As we meandered back down the mountain, to the tune of Uno and Irish Snap, it started to get dark. We tried to find a campsite at the side of the road now that we were out of the national park but every side road seemed to lead to private property and so we ended up parking in front of Park West Mall in the town of Hinton. Not our most scenic spots but the 24/7 MacDonalds proved useful for charging and toilets purposes if not eating purposes.

Although the plan was to get up early and sneak out without paying, our morals got the better of us and we paid for our stay anyway. We headed on up to Lake Louise herself at about 7am  and expected it to be pretty quiet. The roads there were pretty icy and and washrooms were locked- not by a lock but by a huge block of ice- but still there were several loads of tourists ready and waiting to take photos.  What your desktop backgrounds of Lake Louise don't show you is that a)that is from a very small bracket in the year when the lake isn't actually frozen and b) the Fairmont hotel grotesquely overlooks the hotel -something that would surely not get planning permission these days- adding that tacky touristy touch that this part of Canada does so well.

After the necessary photo opportunities we got back on the road to Jasper which involved a drive through the Icefields Parkway which is renown to be one of the best drives in the world. There were countless viewpoints along the road but really the whole road was one continuous viewpoint of vistas and frozen lakes. The one trail we attempted definitely would have required snow shoes as my boot kept getting stuck at the bottom of the two foot snow drift I had just waded through. The view at the end was stunning though but we couldn't help wondering how great it would look if the lakes were as turquoise as the brochures - still there was a nice feeling in the idea that less people see this side of the Rockies.
As we travelled along the parkway we would stop off at the same lookouts alongside a familiar group of campervans that left Lake Louise with us but then at the Columbia Icefield we were suddenly joined by queues of tour buses that seemed to appear out of nowhere. If we thought we had been smothered by tourists before then this was something else! Other notable stops along the route was the Peyto Lake and Mistaya Canyon which was much more peaceful and allowed you to take in the views in peace.

The only campsite open in Jasper was called Whistlers which was south of the town and cost $32 for dumping and electricity - which was much cheaper than I had expected. Funnily enough as we were checking in we saw our old Argentinian neighbour from Banff - hopefully he won't miss the wifi here. We however were all pretty excited to have electricity for a night so went charging crazy. The group explored the 700+ site campsite before deciding the toilets were an excursion alone and so were ready for dinner when they got back. We spent the evening enjoying the perks of electricity by watching films and Paul and Gabby went a walk involving close encounters with elks and lots of mosquitoes


For the first time our wake-up alarm was neither the cold or the carbon monoxide alarm so we enjoyed a mild sleep in. The drive back to Canmore was relatively fast as most of the trails were closed or far to long to do in an hour or so. At least we were treated to a much more 'romantic' moose sighting and we even saw more down the road. It became clear that wildlife spottings were often at the same place as parked cars along the road.

We stopped at Kananaski Village which is another tourist spot in the Rockies but we were disappointed to find that the village is nothing more than a triad of hotels surrounding a golf course and nobody actually lives there. The trail around the 'village' had some nice views but the paved roads scared us and the golf course scarred the view. There was one walk in the area called Grotto Canyon Walk which took us straight past a huge mineral processing plant which definitely took any sense of wilderness and silence out of the picture.

We quickly escaped and headed back to Canmore and onwards to Lake Louise via the Bow Valley Parkway. The Bow Valley Parkway is the quieter route to Lake Louise and part of the parkway is closed from 6pm-9am for wildlife crossings. We did some viewpoints but rushed on to Johnston's Creek on the other side of the closed section. It was a pretty touristy trail and we managed to complete in in no time at all so headed the 3.2km walk onwards to the Paint Pots. This was described as a "backcountry" track and was just gravel and uphill but not too rough - that was until the snow and ice started to pile up and Anne and I decided to turn around before the end for our joints sake.

We sped on to Lake Louise as Ryan's school friend who had also been gallivanting through Canada was coming to meet us there. The Bow Valley Parkway wasn't as spectacular as we had expected but we had been spoilt over the past few days. The campground in Lake Louise wasn't manned but I took a deposit envelope just in case as I'd rather pay the fee of $27 than the fine of $500. The electricity didn't work but we were at least there somewhat legally. The evening was spent cooking dinner and catching up before crashing back into bed as we were hoping to sneak out of the campsite before someone asked for money.

The Banff tourist information was one of the major stops on our tour of tourist information centres and it sure was the fanciest. There was a queuing system for both camping and trails and there was even a cinema showing films about the area. However the information we actually received was probably the vaguest of the whole trip.

When we got back to the van we unanimously decided it was already time to leave Banff as everything was either closed or too expensive. We headed south to Canmore which was known to be less touristy but just as scenic. It was a mere 16km away from Banff but the Banff Tourist Information had no information on the place so our next stop was naturally Canmore Tourist information. Canmore, in contrast to Banff, gave us detailed information on both places all over Alberta as well as small local trails in Canmore. People in the town would even stop and give you help even when you didn't ask for it.

We drove on into town and did a walk along the river which showcases some stunning houses, spectacular turquoise water and, eh, a hydroelectric dam. Anne was raving about a French bakery in Canmore so we went there for our lunch and drove up to Quarry lake which was a nice lake and mountain view for our picnic.

After our turkey and cranberry sandwiches we drove up to the Grassi Lakes which were up a steep climb from a vibrant turquoise lake going in a unnatural gradient from green to turquoise then royal blue. We had run out of water by the time we got to the lakes and they looked so cold and temping. There were also several rock faces being scaled by professionals but that didn't stop us from having our own attempts. Other boulders were covered in pictographs drawn on by natives. On the walk back down we gave into temptation and went into the lake which was absolutely freezing - if very refreshing! Dripping wet we walked back down via an easier route and got back in the van after a lovely chat about UTIs.

Our onwards route was a three hour drive through some provincial parks which were pretty uninhabited as we passed more elk and Bighorn Sheep than humans and cars. The scenery was pretty stunning too and wouldn't look out of place in Greenland. It was getting late and we couldn't find anywhere open in the area to camp so we risked a drive further south and then to complete the loop the next day. Most campsites were still closed for the winter but we managed to fill up the water and do a sani-dump adding to our convictions for that day. If that wasn't enough once we got to the campsite of choice it didn't appear to be open but we drove on in anyway. We continued on with the vein hope that someone was about but also with the chance we might get off with another free night. However we spotted some fellow RVs which actually turned out to be the campsite owners so we paid for our first night of camping and had our first legal nights sleep. Disappointingly though we had more facilities last night!

Disappointingly I woke up with all the water still in my ear and decided it might be worth going to a pharmacy to see if they could help. However it was only 7:30 in the morning so we headed downtown to a little bakery next door to the pharmacy and sat eating breakfast and charging all of our devices. I just stared at the clock waiting for 9am and as soon as the clock struck I ran next door. The pharmacy counter was in a a strange discount gift shop with cheap tacky balloons and haircare sets but better than nothing.

The actual pharmacist just wanted to give me decongestant but the hypochondriac that I am decided I should get antibiotic ear drops as well in case I had an infection. When we got back on the road we headed towards Banff which was to be our base for the rest of my time on the campervan. We drove through the Kootenay National Park which is a small National Park made up of a valley and so was in the shade so many trails were closed due to snow.  However the mountains were still pretty spectacular to just drive past.

We did do a few trails though but they were very short. Olive lake being the first which was a very short boardwalk along the corner of a, well olive, lake next to the highway. We also did Marble Canyon which was made up of winding bridges over a gorge and we could see that the trails were getting more geriatric-tourist friendly with fences and railings everywhere. We wanted to go further to the paint pots trail (pools with natural chemicals that the natives used to dye their paints) but again snow stopped that from happening. Our last trail in the Kootenays was the Cobb Lake trail which was a steep drop through some forest before emerging at the lake.

The drive to Banff didn't take nearly as long as expected and so it was time to bid Ryan farewell for a few days. As soon as you drove into Banff you were propelled into a tourist honeypot which was quite scary considering the derelict conditions of the past few days! All the buildings in the town were trying to look authentic and rustic but were failing terribly and all the shops on the main street were either souvenir shops or high-end designer brands. There was an eclectic mix of people in Banff: from old couples in floppy-hats, mobs of Asian tourists and stoner hippy kids in search of freedom in the mountains. But when we walked out of the van unwashed and straight from the wilderness we felt very out of place - Banff was too squeaky clean for us.

We walked around the street and went to Bow Falls which we didn't find greatly spectacular to us but 'Surprise Corner' did prove to have some fantastic views - alas hogged by the Banff Fairmont Hotel. We decided to try and fit in with the tourists by taking some 'fabulous' pictures of the scenery and taking the map out whenever the opportunity arose. Back in town we gathered some supplies before attempting to find our campsite for the evening. In National Parks we were advised to stick to official campsites but being lowlife students we were put off by the $38 daily fee. We headed back down to Central Park and parked up to scout out a site. In the end we decided to say where we were as we parked up next to another campervan - home to George; an Argentinian man who was enjoying the 'excellent wifi' from the library and had decided to stay the night.  We had our revamped Kraft Dinner before we all got on our phones to enjoy the wifi for ourselves -  but in a different way to George of course.

Johnstone Lake

In the morning we finally got to see what Johnston Lake looked like in the sunshine. It was a great little spot - especially since it was a free campsite- but we looked all around the lake and didn't see any turtles!

The Lassier hot springs were a fifteen minute drive away along the highway and then up a spiralling dirt track. These hot springs are the only non-commercial springs in the area but I already knew they were going to be nothing like Tofino! We started by just washing a bunch of our clothes in the river next to the springs and getting some strange looks from the few visitors. Reports were coming back that the pools were uncomfortably hot - they were not wrong. I could barely dip my foot in while Gabby could completely immerse herself - completely opposite situation from the plunge pool and proof heat tolerance is real! I attempted to make toad in the hole for lunch but just ended up with a bunch of raw sausages and scrambled pancakes. I know a poor craftsman blames his tools but that metal frying pan was never going to cooperate!

After 'lunch' we headed to the Twin Lakes to do some cliff jumping. The directions this time were rather vague and we found ourselves heading on a road up to a mine dodging several logging trucks. We got the feeling we were in the wrong place and would get in trouble as trespassing is a big deal here so we hurried back down again and resorted to our ever faithful gas stations. It turned out we were indeed on the right road but the mine doesn't like people going there while the mine is open. Luckily we were 15 minutes away from closing time.

We drove back up and saw a pick-up truck parked next to a trail littered with beer cans and assumed we must be at the right stop. We met two women with their dog, they wished us good luck for even being able to attempt getting in the water as it was so cold. Twin lakes are made of one shallow lake next to an essentially bottomless lake surrounded by cliffs that conveniently increased in height by 10m - natural diving boards. There was also a rope swing but that was pretty out of bounds for anyone under 6ft.

The hardest thing about cliff jumping is actually jumping off - it is the most unnatural thing ever. The free-falling is also part-shitting yourself and part-adrenaline rush. Then there is hitting the water - you have to makes sure you are like a nail with toes sharp otherwise it's going to hurt. Or like me you will start with a headache and then lose your hearing as you'd got a substantial amount of water in your ears. Gabby's dive was absolutely hilarious- okay she isn't good with heights- as she was hyperventilating from the cold and laughing at the same time creating one of the strangest noises I have ever heard.

The cold was much worse out of the water and so we headed back to the campervan and the pressure in my ear was building up so much I spent the rest of the evening horizontal with my ear against a pillow in a desperate attempt to get any water out. I just moved from bed to bed with a weird tension headache like I had been clenching my jaw for hours. I missed out on dinner and fell asleep in my clothes to save myself from the pain of water trickling back into my ear. I have no idea what the campsite looked like that evening, all I know is that is was the site of a Kayak Rental company in Invermere...

For the first time on the trip we were shoo-ed away from our campsite - alas it was in the local swimming pool carpark. We weren't very gutted to be leaving Golden compared to our other stop off points - it's first impressions weren't great and it wasn't as spectacular as the brochures made it out to be. We drove to the tourist information - conveniently out of the town- and parked to have breakfast before the first signs of life so we could see where we could escape to next. The woman inside was actually very helpful at giving us information on trails around Golden and "just fabulous" onward routes for the rest of the campervan trip - the glimmer of hope this place needed!

The rest of the group went to do the Giant Cedar Trail but the antihistamines for my bites made to KO on the bed so I had to pass on that one. After Golden we headed south again towards Radium Hot Springs (unfortunately not the site of a Superhero factory) and stopped at a gas station to see if one of the parks (Bugaboo Park) was open - which it wasn't (surprise, surprise). The woman did point out two waterfalls on the way to the park that were worth a look. We were going to soon realise that tourist information centres are not always as good as gas stations and bars for hints and tips.

Typical of hidden local sites, we had to drive through some kind of ranch and factory site before arriving at a small hidden trail barely visible from the road. The first falls were pretty small in comparison to most we had seen so far but you could get right up to them as well as climb precariously around them. The second falls were a bit further on through another ranch- I still forget that people get excited by cows on the road- but they were much, much bigger. You could still get pretty close to them and you could essentially balance of the cliff face above them. On the way out we met a Dutch family and Gabby tried out her Dutch again after five months without it.

We headed south to Radium Hot Springs which was just seemed to be some touristy hot springs with a town built around them. We stopped at a bar for a drink and planning but ended up staying for dinner. Here we asked the locals for tips on where to go and they suggested the Lessier hot springs which were more natural than the towns namesake. The barmaid also told us about her secret camping spot at Johnston AKA Turtle Lake as well as a place where we could go cliff jumping. She also told me to spread out my change to stop the wasps annoying me - it worked! We sat at the bar and it was quite nice to just sit and socialise for once!

We left for the barmaids campsite suggestion looking for a telegraph pole with "MOM" grafittied on it- it the dark: we were destined for failure. The roadside was also clogged with Elks so we got pretty distracted and inevitably went to far and reached the statue of a Native American. However, the barmaid assumed this would happen and so had also told us that the site was exactly 5km back from this statue which was bang on! Although the sign says "No Entry" and "No Trespassing", this was just a deterrent against unwanted surges of tourists - apparently a common technique in Australia to keep local spots to locals. It was too dark to see what the place actually looked like but it seemed like there was another couple there who had also been at the bar that evening.

The Campervan: Day 5 - Trout Lake -> Golden
Now the mosquitoes had gone to bed, I could have a look at Trout Lake so Gabby and I went out on a tranquil walk to the toilets - which were quite reminiscent of Kilimanjaro... Trout Lake was another serene lake site but so tranquil that no cars had passed us since we had parked up the van and there were more animal tracks than tire tracks. By the time we had returned Anne and Ryan had gone a morning paddle in a stray canoe, so the rest of us went and did the joyous job of going to the sani-dump. Although we were just dumping dishwater, it managed to regurgitate up all the foul smells from the last batch of visitors from last summer.

Back on the road we headed to Galena Bay where there was a FREE ferry to Shelter Bay across the Upper Arrow Lake. The ferry was identical to the Hoy Head, except that is was free obviously, and almost made me feel the tiniest bit homesick to be on a ferry. It didn't take us long before we landed at another trail called the Begbie trail which was actually mainly for mountain bikes and each section having rather colourful names - Sex on the Beach and 4play being the most notable. The walk itself wasn't really anything spectacular - especially compared to what we were used to- but that's probably because they were for speeding down on bikes not for checking the scenery. There were some guys who were obviously too rich and had too much time on their hands and had a remote-controlled helicopter device with a dslr camera attached to get a photo of the waterfall - optical zoom ain't good enough for some people!
Back on the road we headed towards Revelstoke and the scenery was getting very mountainous - you could almost smell the tourists again. The town of Revelstoke appears to be merely a giant truck stop in the summer although it is a popular ski destination in the Winter. We followed the trend by making a stop at MacDonalds for electronic and human charging. I was amazed to hear BBC Radio 1 being played in MacDonalds here, but not only that; Jameela Jamil was interviewing Passenger - my favourite musician- as his song had got to No. 4! I had obviously missed my favourite musician become mega famous since being in Canada!

Our hope was to do some trails in Revelstoke National Park and Glacier over the next few days but everything we had looked up ended up being closed due to snow - yes, in May. We decided to just stop at the Hemlock Grove trail which was advertised as being an 800m long boardwalk so we assumed it would at least be a bit clear. Alas not, it was still covered in ice! Although the Rockies are a lot quieter at this time of year - it's for a reason! So we completed the trail in our flip flops and aptly renamed it the Flip-Flop Trail and headed back on the road.

Before we knew it we knew it we had already driven through both Mt Revelstoke National Park and Glacier National Park as everything was closed. The drive itself was absolutely stunning with grand vistas and close encounters with Mountain goats but there wasn't much else to do other than appreciate the views. We drove on to the town of Golden which was a bit of a dampener on the stunning views we'd just had. The town appears to be an endless road of garages and motels but the 'real' town was below this highway. The town campsite looked pretty grand (well judging from the toilets) so we decided to camp as close to it as possible without being made to pay anything.

Although the weather we were getting was much hotter than anything we had experienced in Canada, the nights were still freezing cold and you'd get up just because it was warmer to move around than under the covers. The winds were roaring through the valley straight like it was a natural wind tunnel from the Arctic (it probably is actually) and straight in through our ventilation window even though the skies were blue and the sun was out. We spent the morning running some errands in the town before tackling the lookout trail above Kaslo which was a horrifically steep incline and I huffed and puffed my way up - I am going to blame this unfitness on my short legs, or maybe just poutine. I cursed myself for struggling up this mere 800m climb when 10 months ago I was tackling 5985m with comparable ease. Up-close Kaslo had a bit of a restored-for-tourists pioneer town look to it but from the lookout, Kaslo could easily be shortlisted for one of the best located towns on the planet.

Back in town we did some groceries and continued our tour of Canada's tourist information trail. Alas Kaslo's tourist information was merely a booth at this time of year with some information on local B&Bs. So we left Kaslo in the direction of our instincts which turned out to be much better than using a map. We passed over the Duncan River towards the 'town' of Argena which was another contender for the best located town with grand lake views and beaches as well as an osprey spotting! After another of our stops for the team to top up their tans - or burns- we headed along a dirt track to Fry's Creek Trail. I would go on again about my unfitness and inability to cope with heat but this trail took us to my favourite spot in the whole of Canada - almost mutually agreed within the group.

The trail on the map was long and so we were only going to go as far as we thought we could bare but we met a woman who told us to at least get as far as the bridge and then loop back around the lake-shore. The walk took us through forest which gave us tempting glimpses of the views ahead until we reached the creek. The bridge opened up into a gargantuan crashing waterfall tumbling into the lake before rising back up into the Kootenay Mountains.

We ate our lunch at the foot of the waterfall before heading along the lake shore. Its safe to say we all thought the waterfall was the special treat here but I was more blown away along the lake shore - it was the typical desktop screensaver and a reminder of how beautiful this country can be. There was one particular stop where I would never actually be able to take in at the time how nice it was - let alone do it with justice with words later on!

We sat and enjoyed our surroundings and crossed some ice-cold rivers which seemed like a good idea as you would burn your feet in the sand otherwise! In Canada you either get extreme heat or extreme cold - no in-between! On the way back we got a chance to go at a slower pace - I think the rest were getting concerned about my purple face- and it was nice to get to chat to everyone without the use of an inhaler.

The drive to the next destination (which was a town called Trout Lake) was along Highway 31 but in Canada that means an endless dirt track (did we mention that we aren't meant to go on dirt tracks according to the contract with the campervan company? What a boring trip that would have been!). We stopped at a bridge over Trout Lake - the lake obviously- and saw huge fish (I assume trout...) eating the few mosquitoes not eating me. It is illegal to fish at certain times of the year in certain places - that is why the fish get so big.

The sun was setting and it all looked very idyllic and we thought that was the cherry on our already pretty perfect day but a bear cub ran out in front of our van just as we left the bridge - both relieved and disappointed that Mamma bear didn't appear too. The town of Trout Lake was like a ghost town or at least solely reserved for holiday homes but I certainly think it should have been called Mosquito Lake rather than Trout Lake. The little buggers made sure I was inside the whole evening! Not that I was complaining much as I was ready to collapse as soon as dinner was done!

"Oh well. See ya!"
In retrospect I have a feeling this might have something to do with the "No Camping" and "Do not light fires" signs remarkably close to our camping spot but in friendly Kaslo style they didn't do anything about it. 

We all woke up at different times and went on short walks around the area. There didn't seem that much to see other than the closed-down campsite but Gabby and Ryan were gone for about an hour longer than the rest of us. While we were flirting with the idea of being worried or annoyed they appeared after getting stuck at the bottom of a waterfall. Classic.

Paul made sure we were on the road the second they got in the door and we drove to the town of Greenwood which was recommended to us by the tourist office back in Princeton. Greenwood was a small western town with colourful houses but also BC's smallest city and the best tasting tap water in the world (officially). Whenever a tourist information was closed we always resorted to the nearest bar or gas stations and actually turned out to be more useful to us. Here we found out about a mysterious dirt track through the mountains- the first of many unadivisable routes we'd take and not tell the tour company. We asked at the gas station if they thought we could take the camper up there  and it was a hesitant "mmmm maybe."

It was at least an hour winding up dirt tracks that passed a disused mine, ski centre and several viewpoints of trees. This route was miles more interesting than taking the highway and dropped us off near the town of Grand Forks which my guidebook described as being "not very grand at all." It was right. We stopped at their modest Tourist Information and followed a trail in town and I, at least, was under the impression that we were heading to some waterfalls. However the trail finished abruptly after about ten minutes of walking at a small beach by the river which was at least a perfect place to have lunch. On the way back the camper we were rewarded for the strenuous walk with a sighting of deer a few meters of the trail.

Back on the road again we were actually on the lookout of "Cascade Falls"  which were a stone's throw away from the US border. The falls were a short walk up(hill) from the highway and as impressive as it was just to look at them from there we continued on along the side of the falls on a mini adventure. Our scrambling through the forest took us to a popular beach site as we realised there was a path next to our own trail. The beach provided a nice spot for the sunbathers but a pasty person such as myself would rather dip her toes in the glacial streams. On the walk back to the campervan we had some close encounters with marmots and deer before heading straight to Nelson.

Nelson was highly praised in our guidebooks as a nice little town full of hippies in a picturesque background. However according to a local it only appears to be full of hippies as they are left unemployed while fairly right-wing conservatives get all the jobs. Nelson was mainly  just a wifi/charging spot for us but the hip café's from the guidebook were all closed by the time we arrived so we resorted to the mall. It's terrible how although leaving at separate times we all found ourselves flocking to the wifi at the mall. It wouldn't be a stop on the map without having a look in the tourist information and collecting more maps - most of which ended up as fire kindling. We parked the camper two minutes down the road at the lakeside in front of the Prestige hotel in the innocent belief we'd be there just for dinner. A posh Kraft Dinner and four hours later we were falling asleep .

So as I said before, I was sent on a wild-goose chase around Vancouver to find five exchange students and a campervan. It was harder than I initially thought as even after finding one, we went several miles in the wrong direction before having to hitch-hike our way to this Walmart (yes Mum, I hitchhiked). The group were scared of going anywhere beyond the carpark after the traumatic experience driving a mile of Vancouver's suburbs so they didn't want to pick us up and looked terribly stressed about it after we arrived. After the food shopping we convinced them to continue on as even two weeks at Walmart would soon lose it's charm.

So the campervan crew to start with was made up of Gabby (Dutch - fuelled by coffee and a love of life), Paul (Austrian - Can go from child to grandpa in two seconds), Anne (Danish - she grabs life by the balls - well when she isn't asleep) and Ryan (Aussie - says it all). So our plan was to tour through British Columbia but I didn't really know the route when I arrived and to be fair either did the rest of them. However the general idea was to drive down along near the US border and then drive up ending in Jasper near the end of my two weeks.

So we drove out of Vancouver heading south east towards the town of Hope but went past and hopelessly (coudn't help myself) drove on working out where to camp as it was dark even before we left Vancouver. We just parked at the side of the road which turned out to be a popular meeting point for truckers during the night.

We woke up freezing cold - similar to my single-glazed house in Dundee during winter - which was probably something to do with parking in a valley shaded by rather large mountains. After breakfast we drove to Lightening Lake and ignored the first of many 'Closed' signs. The lake was entirely snowed over and we enjoyed the first taste of the Rockies.

Eager to see more we headed to Princeton where we stopped at our first Tourist Information - the first of a inter-province tour or Tourist Information Offices. It was also only the first day when we experienced our first key-loss scare. We were advised of several nice little towns along the ways with attractions from gold mines to mountain goats - both of which were very elusive.

As we drove on we moved from an icy mountainous landscape to wine country in the middle of Tuscany. The Mediterranean mindset was also there as we fell asleep on a lake-shore reaping the benefits of the boiling temperatures. We had arrived at Osoyoos which is known as Canada's desert but didn't look or feel like Canada at all but more like the US. However that might have had something to do with us having to stay in the near vicinity of a MacDonalds to steal wifi while Ryan sorted his banking issues. We parked up at a beautiful lakeside campsite for dinner and went for a "swim" in the lake. The contrast between the temperatures that woke us up was incredible it was nearing 30 degrees now. Our dinner was just spagetti bolognaise but -as with all camping food - it tasted amazing! With the italian dinner and sunshine we definitely felt miles away from Canada.

Again, to avoid campsite fees, we drove on and parked at the side of the road alongside some deer. The days were surprisingly tiring and so we fell asleep ridiculously early (for me anyway) but only to be woken up by the carbon monoxide alarm through the night, the first of many appearances.

Being from Stromness -a small seaside town on an island in Scotland - I couldn't help but make comparisons between Tofino, a small seaside town on an island in Canada. Other than the location near a major ocean an the population size, there was little similarity between these two towns.

Tofino is on the west coast of Vancouver Island that has taxi's equipted with surfboard racks and more places offering whale-watching tours than offering coffee. I started my morning by smashing my phone after dropping it on the bus (it can last anything usually but a bus floor? No!) and I was reunited with the rain. After what could have been a scenic ferry from Horseshoe Bay in North Vancouver to Nanaimo there was a four hour bus to endure. The bus driver tried his best to be entertaining but the crowd was dampened in more ways than one. There was a break in Port Alberni which was a fairly uninspiring town between Nanaimo and Tofino, but that might have had something to do with the weather. Although the town was tiny I still managed to get lost but even when I found my hostel the reception was closed for an hour. You may have noticed that most things weren’t in my favour but I decided by changing that by heading straight for a surf school to book myself in for a lesson tomorrow morning.

After a rejuvenating shower I got outside and the sun was shining and Tofino was showing me why people keep finding themselves back here. Every person I spoke to in Tofino had visited on a holiday and either never returned or made their way back as soon as possible. Tofino itself appears small but stretches out far along the highway, however just wandering through the main town gives you stunning views reminiscent of Norway’s fjords.

My surf lesson was with a company called Surf Sisters which was run entirely by women (but doesn't exclude men from their lessons) and is the only surf school in Canada to be certified by the National Surf Schools and Surf Instructors Association 
. Tofino is littered with offerings of surf schools and it’s very much a case of finding one that makes you feel instantly comfortable - especially as a beginner. I was booked in a group booking which consisted of me and a seven piece hen party. Thankfully though the type of women who go on hen-parties to learn how to surf are not as intimidating as your standard hen party guzzling champagne on the train with tight PVC costumes.

We were directed to Cox Beach where we squeezed into our wetsuits feeling like we’d just finished Christmas dinner. After the laborious process of peeling on our wetsuits we then had to carry the boards down to the beach to get some lessons on land where we were taught the basics of surf safety and etiquette. For example there is only one rider per wave and the boarder to the right of you always has right of way so if they start riding a wave you can’t just jump in. The pop-up technique is - unsurprisingly- easier on land that the water but the theory is so simple it shouldn’t be. As soon as you see a good wave - one that hasn’t broken yet- you should paddle hard until you feel the wave take you, then allow yourself three more strokes before trying the pop up. While paddling you should have your chin high off the board and feet together (Cobra yoga position) and after the wave has caught you, you put your feet under your shoulders and pop your front foot forward. It’s at this point where you have to find the courage to stand up fully and then try to not panic about what to do now you are standing up.

Surfing takes a lot of practice but instead of getting frustrated about not getting it right you want to get back out and try again. After three hours of close contact with sea water I had managed to stand up on my board for all of about three seconds but at the time it felt like long enough to look like a pro.

That evening it was raining like I have never seen rain before - you couldn’t see where they sky ended and the sea began. An evening in the hostel was still used for sightseeing though -from the common room window I saw both a Bald Eagle and some Sea Otters frolicking in the rain.

Tofino does have it’s fair share of trendy little cafés 
filled with organic coffees, fairtrade homebakes and lost souls looking for an epiphany “out west.” The following day I toured the town collecting baked goods for my packed lunch as I was heading out to some natural hotsprings for the day at Maquinna Marine Park. The trip involved a three hour boat trip winding through the islands surrounding Tofino which was a chance to spot whales or even bears. The company I was with was called Ocean Outfitters which, coincidentally, has a super trendy and super expensive clothing store inside. Our skipper was called Rob ad seemed very young in jeans and a snap-back - very different to the skippers I was used to- and I assumed that licencing must be a bit more lenient here.

First we headed out around Vargas Island as another tour had called over the radio that there were the Vagras sub-species if Grey Wolf by the coast. These wolves looked a lot more like German Shepherds than wolves and were pretty camouflaged in the sand and forests but came onto the shore to eat from seal carcasses

The boat we travelled in was very small and the ride was more than rough but I inherited my fathers stomach so managed to keep breakfast inside. The trail to the hotsprings began at a small tranquil jetty  in the middle of Nowhere - well more accurately Manquinna National Park. The half-hour board walk led you through dense temperate rainforest where almost every board had been engraved with a ships name, a saying or even a proposal.

You could smell the springs before you saw the steam bubbling up through the ground. As you got closer to the shore the water - thankfully- got cooler as the sea splashed into the lower pools. There were rocks that caught the water flowing down from a hot shower-like waterfall to form three pools. Hot springs are very much like a hot bath that never cools down and after two hours of soaking I have no idea how I did not turn into a cooked lobster.

I got back to Tofino at around 8pm and thought I would head to the (only) pub in town. One of the girls that had moved into my room was from Edmonton but had studied Vet-med at Edinburgh and knew people from my school and I also met a girl who studied in Stirling after returning from the pub! I love small world moments! The pub had an open mic night but I must have been spoilt  with the Open Mic’s in Guelph as I was not very impressed. I was ,however, impressed with Tofino Brewing Company’s beer - it’s blonde was tastier than Scarlett Johansson.

It was blue skies and sunshine for my bus ride back to Nanaimo and ultimately Vancouver. I am yet to find a time to read or watch a film while on the move because the view out the window has been much more exciting. After a perfect crossing to Horseshoe bay I was back in the city and had to make my way to a random Walmart somewhere on the outskirts of Vancouver to meet up with a group of four other international students to tour British Columbia. However that is a whole other story...

Whistle-Stop Tour of Vancouver (alas not including Whistler)

I flew with West Jet, which is a bit like if Easy Jet did long distance - you can take on baggage but they aren’t going to feed or entertain you for free. So with that in mind I spent most of the five hour flight (the same time it takes to get to the UK - Canada is massive!) asleep. The flight took us through the Northern states of America - alongside the Canadian Border. I was surprised by all the snow that was still covering most of the states this far into April when the majority of it had already melted in Ontario. Then we reached Montana where, after hours of pretty mundane scenery, BAM! The Rockies appeared. Being the ignorant islander that I am I thought that there would merely be one or two in the chain - oh boy was I wrong! This is exactly why I wanted to fly to Vancouver the views were stunning - imagine having this at your doorstep! I definitely know now that 2 weeks in the Rockies is not going to be enough and I soon realise 2 weeks wouldn’t even be enough time in Vancouver alone.
Due to the time difference I arrived in Vancouver around 10am greeted by it’s newly renovated airport reuniting me with my beloved rucksack before heading downtown. Vancouver uses a DLR-like trains for their fairly simple subway system. My Hostel was the St Clair Hotel which was right in the centre of Vancouver and I was expecting a hostel dorm situation but I ended up with a twin room all to myself! Although it doesn’t help with being social it helps with my 6am wake up call the next day.
I didn’t waste much time in the hostel as I only had a few hours in Vancouver. After spending my time in Toronto, Vancouver's centre was very compact and seemed small - that might have something to do with the massive mountains behind it. My first stop was Stanely Park via the water front. The waterfront is loaded with fancy pavillions and cafes with queues out the door that wouldn’t look twice at a low-life student like myself. The weather wasn’t quite postcard perfect but it was warm and it was a relief to walk around in a t-shirt for the first time in about 6 months. Vancouver smells like seaweed, trees and pollen - it was the first time I had seen so many flowers in so long and it was such a relief to be back near the sea. I also realised the joy of seagulls even though they are a pest they remind me of home.
It was a lovely walk around the waterfront where one side was glass-covered skyscrapers and the other - mountains and forest. There are also countless boats everywhere from ferries, yachts, houseboats and even several seaplanes. You know boats mean business when there is a floating petrol station in the harbour. I arrived at Stanely Park which is Vancouver’s main park and one of the many reasons you’d be proud to live in Vancouver. Initially I stuck around the edge along the water (you can tell I’ve been away from the stuff for a while!) and initially I wanted to investigate the whole park but it could take a lifetime to discover all the nooks and crannies!
After discovering I’d been walking for two hours and barely made a dent on the map of the park I gave up for the day and headed back to town. The other main site I was told to visit was Granville Island Market which was pretty much the otherside of downtown. My feet were pretty much killing me already but I always think public transport around the city is a cheaters way of seeing it! The walk took me through the West End and Vancouver’s Gay Village - where all the bins, bus stops and lamposts are painted pink- and over the Granville Bridge which offered a lovely view of the city. Granville Island is full of arty shops as well as specialist outdoor shops - it kind of looks like what Brighton Pier would look like it is was ran by hippies. There is a little food market crammed to the edges with fruits, cheeses, chocolate, baked goods and specialist shops making it the perfect place to find dinner. I ended up having a Canadian feast with a slice of  Tourtiere, a Nanaimo Bar and a butter tart!
Along from Granville Island is the Vanier Park and some hidden patches of forest. Unlike most cities - if there is some spare space Vancouver has filled it with greenery rather than buildings. I took the Burrard Bridge back to downtown but spotted a beach  with logs to sit on  in line with the sunset - aptly named Sunset Beach. I sat for an hour or so mainly to give my feet a rest and couldn’t help but think why doesn’t everyone want to live here? I am glad they don’t though as that’s the magic of the place. People here are effortlessly cool, even middle aged men on skateboards get away with it.

After a solid nine hours of walking around Vancouver I crashed back in my (still empty) room and the city has rushed to near the the top of my “To Live In” list. Vancouver is a beautiful city and I wish I had more time here but this is such a big country with so much to see! If I hadn’t booked my onwards travel I’d probably never leave! Alas, Tofino awaits!


The sun was out for the first time after a long Winter (but we were fooled, Winter wasn't finished with us yet). Caleb lived near the town of Delhi (pronounced del-high, not like New Delhi) which is deep in the middle of agricultural Ontario - aka the middle of nowhere. His house is a lovely wooden house surrounded by a forest and miles of land with only a scattering of houses. The Opersko family were lovely being very hospitable from the second we entered the door. There were also two lovely dogs - a Siberian husky and a MASSIVE chocolate labrador, well ginger lab - which were hard for me to stay away from.

Our first stop was to a nearby native reserve where the first nations people live and are protected by the government and pay lower taxes. Visually it looked similar to anywhere else in the area but maybe slightly less wealthy. Although natives get free education they still have the lowest literacy rates compared to other groups in the country. The lower taxes don’t just apply to the natives, other locals travel to the petrol stations and shops in the area to buy high tax items such as cigarettes where you can get around 150 for $8.  Lacrosse is Canada’s national sport and it was created by the natives and they remain the best at it. There are massive stadiums in the middle of nowhere that come to life during tournament season.

We had a relaxed afternoon back at the house where Caleb taught us how to use a lacrosse stick and some of us got the hang of it - others not so much. That evening we built a bonfire and parked the trucks up next to it and had a few beers. There was a scary moment when we noticed trespassers in the forest next to the house - apparently hunters go in there frequently, if not very subtly. Overall though, it seemed like an authentic Canadian way to end the evening and we didn't get to bed until 2am.

The next day we were up early and it was another gorgeous day- which was good as this was the day of our intended polar swim. In the morning we were treated to an amazing breakfast and the sight of deer sprinting across the garden.

Before the polar swim we went to see a lacrosse game which was a lot more violent than I thought. It’s pretty much free-game with the stick and so you can hit people anywhere and as hard as you like. The funny thing with Canadian sports is that they are so rough while Canadians seem so calm the rest of the time.

We drove to Port Dover which is along to coast of Lake Erie which is one of the Great Lakes separating Canada and the US. A proper seaside town that was looking a bit half-hearted this early in the season and to our displeasure it was much colder here than it was at the reserve... We had a quick snack, well a foot-long hot dog, to try and warm our souls but decided to just go for it. We quickly stripped to our swimsuits and ran in with the Australians lasting the shortest amount of time - not surprisingly. Canada and Europe held the fort and stayed in for a few minutes. It was brain-freeze levels of cold though - probably on a par with the North Sea.

After a stop at Tim Hortons to warm us up we got back to Caleb's for dinner - I haven’t been so well fed in a long time! After dinner we got a shot of driving Caleb’s truck on a loop around the house which was great fun but Automatic pick-ups are far too much of a shock

to the system! It was a good job none of us had to drive back to Guelph...

The Animal Science Society organised a trip out to Toronto Zoo including a behind the scenes tour of the nutrition centre and health centre and I thought since it's vaguely related to my degree I should go. Also who doesn't love a trip to the zoo!

As we woke up an an ungodly hour, still feeling the pain from extreme lawn bowls (curling), we were piled onto a classic American school bus which was a complete novelty for me. You could tell these buses were built for children - they'd give Ryanair a run for their money with legroom, or there-lack-of.

Our first stop was the education centre deep within the depths of the zoo and home to the heath and nutrition centre. The nutrition centre  was essentially like an industrial restaurant kitchen but with the constant background stench of sheep feed and the tupperware was labelled 'lions' or 'elephants' filled with industrial amounts of vegetables. The birds were given 'fruit loop' coloured feed to satisfy their acute colour vision. The  fridges were full of chilled bamboo shoots imported for the zoo's new arrivals but there was everything from frozen mice to regular cat food. You never really think of the diet of the animals at the zoo but their diets are really specific and are thoroughly calculated by nutrition experts (mainly from Guelph!).

After the nutrition centre we were taken around the Health centre which started off in a lab which looked not dissimilar to any human clinic, until you see the tranquiliser guns lying on the table. They actually don't need to use the tranquiliser darts all that often as they have trained a lot of the animals to respond well to tests and treatment. For example elephants will stick their ear through the bars to get a blood test and the monkeys will stick their arms through. There was a holding room for poorly animals and this included cheetahs, macaques and the very rare Vancouver Island Marmot.

After the tour we got to tour the rest of the zoo ourselves and this was the first time I had ever been to a zoo during winter, well a Canadian winter. Our first stop was the Tundra which was appropriate as it was probably the only enclosure with all of the animals out enjoying their enclosure. Beyond Africa there wasn't much too see, except the lions but even that seemed wrong watching them sleep in the snow. In Canada all packaging and instructions are shown in English and French but in the Africa zone the signs were in English and Swahillli, which made me reminiscent of Summer...

The majority of animals were in the Indo-Malay or Rainforest Pavilions to stay out of the snow. The gorillas and organutans were housed in these pavilions and it's always fascinating to watch. It's bittersweet to watch them as they seem so familiar to us and for that reason you feel they shouldn't be housed behind glass.

I ended up in the rhino house after dodging the butterfly house but there was a lack of a rhino on display but he still made sure he could be heard. It wasn't long before we were back at the entrance and that meant it was time for food and the gift shop. This was my first taste of Beaver Tails which are like flattened doughnuts smothered in some kind of sweet sauce which are wonderfully delicious and unhealthy.

It was really interesting to see the parts of the zoo you never really think about when you go visit. It was really strange to see a zoo in winter and covered in snow and how- although it should be un-logistical- it is still open like normal.

From Uppies and Doonies to Loonies and Toonies


For those who don't know I am currently on exchange from my University in Dundee to the University of Guelph in Ontario in South East Canada. This is just an update for friends and family around the world so they know what I've been up too since I haven't had time to write letters or postcards yet so the standard of writing will not be fantastic! :) 

I've been in Canada for just over a week and it's been non-stop since I arrived. I left Orkney shortly after Christmas and headed down to Dundee and onwards to Edinburgh for New Year. I'd like to thank Amy and co. for letting me live in their flat over New Year it was great! I almost ended up having no plans on New Year but thanks to Dan and Innes for taking pity on me and I ended up having a night similar to back home where I was only heading home at 7am with brandy to keep my insides warm. I spent my last day in Scotland with the lovely Craig and Calum who kept me company for 12 hours and even stayed up until 6am with me and even drove me to the airport. What sweethearts! Thanks again boys and I'll send you some maple syrup in return!

 I managed to pack (almost) everything I wanted to take with me for 6 months into one hold-all and I optimistically thought it might be within the luggage limit. 27.5kg and £40 later I was on my way. The plan was to get some sleep on the plane but when they are serving cooked breakfasts, I'm not risking missing that! Usually I like to chat to the person next to me but I gave up on this guy when he got pissed off at the air hostess for shutting the locker for on his "£200 suit." I will also say that it was a female pilot and she did a very, very smooth landing!
I was flying out to Chicago first and I was surrounded by North Americans for the first time, something I'd have to get used to. Suddenly I noticed my accent, something that I haven't really ever done before.

Most people hate flying long haul but I love it, firstly there is the personal entertainment systems which are now found in economy and then there is the weird time-travel aspect of it which I seem to really like but most of you would just call jet-lag. Even though I had films, tv shows and games at my fingertips I fell asleep to the 'soothing' sounds of the Dark Knight Rises...

Chicago O Hare. Bit of a timewarp.
Arriving in Chicago was both exciting, as this was my first time in the US, and scary, because the US border control has such a reputation. The reputation is bang on as you have to go through one passport control, pick up your bag, go through another passport check and then re-check your bag before you can go to your connecting flight. O'Hare Airport was architecturally stuck in the 90's and not nearly as built up as most European airports which was surprising considering it was such a major transport hub.

My plane to Toronto wasn't much bigger than the Saabs you get on from Orkney to Edinburgh, even though it was an international flight it didn't feel like more than flying from Kirkwall to Aberdeen. I was sitting next to a woman from Quebec who had a proper French accent, you forget that in Quebec their first language is French and it's completely different to the rest of Canada.

Touchdown in Toronto just after 7pm local time but midnight back home. Canada is 5 hours behind the UK but my sleeping pattern during winter is so bad that it completely cancelled out any potential jetlag. There was no walkways onto the airport so as soon as you left the plane you were hit by the cold Canadian air I was warned about. Canadian immigration were very pleasant and made their interrogating questions just sound like casual conversation. The inevitable 
anxiety involving air travel of waiting to be reunited with all 27.5kg of bag was thankfully averted and I was greeted by my Great Uncle Alfred I hadn't seen for 10 years or so and my Great Aunt Sandra I'd never met, who both understandably didn't recognise me!

We had dinner at a roadside inn called Mowhawk Inn between Toronto and Waterloo which was pretty much how I naively pictured every bar and restaurant in Canada to look: logs and stone walls, roaring fire, massive pitchers of beer and ice hockey on the TV. We were served by a waitress who had been working there since the 1980's and by her perm it didn't look like she was ready to leave the 80's yet.

I had a wonderful sleep at Alfred and Sandra'a beautiful house and they were very welcoming and lovely so stay with. It is reassuring to know there are people I can turn to here if something goes
wrong! I'll definitely be visiting them again and I thank them again for helping me so much!

Found in the tiny town of Fergus in Ontario, alas in a British speciality shop.
On my first day in Canada we drove out of Waterloo and went to the small towns of St. Jacobs, Elora and Fergus and my first shop visit was actually to a shop that sells British products! It nice to know there is somewhere to go when I run out of real Dairy milk (they have dairy milk here but it is a weird American version that is not the same!). This part of Canada is known as Mennoite country as it is home to the Mennoites which are essentially like Aumish people as they are very religious and live off the land. They do not use electricity, they have their own schools and instead of cars they travel using horse and cart This sustainably lifestyle can be deceiving and they may seem poor but in reality they are very wealthy land owners.

In the evening I met more of my family across here, Alfred and Sandra's daughter Jillian and her family who were another example of my welcoming relatives over here. I was surprised to find out I was one of the few family members from Scotland they had actually met and even Sandra has never met my Dad! I can't imagine having not met my Aunt! Thanks Jillian for the Chinese even if I ended up forgetting it in the fridge back in Waterloo! I'll definitely come visit again soon and definitely before I leave!

Check me out at the bleachers! So totally like awesome.
Saturday 5th January was moving day and it was like being in first year all over again! Alfred and I headed out to Guelph with neither of us really knowing where to go once we got there. After one or two wrong turns we got to my halls and I got flashbacks to my own crazy halls experience in the UK. My room is pretty basic: wardrobe, shelves, desk, chest of drawers and a really hard single bed, however I like to work my magic and make my room my own! Alfred took me to the mall along the road from the university and I got kitted out with bedding, which is usually an easy task in the UK but over here they have not only other names for things but completely different kinds of bedding. I was also introduced to Canadian sales tax where they add 13% sales tax onto certain things when you are at the till, so the price on the tag isn't the actual price you'll pay.  Unless you are really good at mental maths you just end up paying with a high denomination note and gathering change (it's always a really awkward price too). That's another thing, the money here is confusing as a British person: their 25c coin looks just like a 10p and their 10c coin looks just like a 5p. They also have the names loonies ($1) and toonies ($2), hence the name ( and for those not familiar with Orcadian culture and uppies and doonies...

Rose-ified my room.
 I had joined couchsurfing before coming to Guelph and chatted to a girl called Allison who was having a gathering that night. I decided that instead of staying in by myself on my first night I'd get out and meet people! Most of the people their were school friends but they were equally as inviting to me considering I barely knew anyone. We headed downtown to a bar and with the help of alcohol I made numerous new friends, aided by showing them all British money, driving license, passport etc (tip for fascinating drunks when you are abroad, alas not the safest when intoxicated Disclaimer:I am not responsible for loss of money, licences or passports!). I was planning to get the bus home but in true Rose fashion I got impatient and thought, 'it's cool I'll just wander home.' I made it home alive with no wrong turns but I can't say I'll do it again anytime soon... So yeah, thanks Allison and co for welcoming me to Guelph and it was a perfect first night in my new town!

The uni has a guide dog training program! Puppies everywhere!
After my first week of uni I can actually say I am genuinely excited for my courses this semester, which if you know me back in Scotland is quite unbelievable! The teaching here is different and the lecturers just seem a bit more engaging, plus there is no labs or molecular stuff in sight!Oh yeah over here it is possible to be a 3rd year Biology student and not have a single lab class. I am in heaven here!  There is much more of a  reason to turn up to lectures as they actually test you on things they say in lectures rather than things you can find in text books and they don't stick to textbooks much in my classes (which is good as textbooks here are £80-£100!). The workload seems to be a lot more than in the UK with each classes having at least one midterm, some kind of term/research paper as well as final exams and they are all crammed into a small time period. However since the emphasis is not on the final exams I am hoping the exams themselves will be a bit easier than those back home...

Over here people can take pretty much any combination of subjects which is cool, Dundee were quite strict on what I could take and they had to be biology related. However I did get to pick one module from outside biology. I am taking:
Principles of disease - makes me think I am a medic and it's REALLY interesting.
community ecology - probably the most boring but I can't complain!
conservation biology - Interesting even though the lecturer seems like a really scary lady
evolutionary ecology - This class is really interesting, mainly because the teaching is so different as the lecturer is trying to integrate creativity into science. There is no exam and you are marked on your contribution in discussions!
Introduction to Anthropology - I've been dying to take Anthropology for years and now I have a chance! Only one lecture a week and you have to submit a research paper  which I might do on linguistics, particularly the Orcadian dialect! Can't wait for this one!

I'm also looking into ideas for the Ontarion which is the uni paper here. I've bought tickets to an ice hockey match in Feburary! Excited! Not tried it myself yet...
I've made a good few friends here already which is awesome and everyone is really friendly and easy to talk to so I am sure there will be more, it's only been one week! I've had two people who actually know people from Stromness Academy! SMALL WORLD!

My photography of my nights out haven't been fantastic... I'll improve!

Tomorrow I am going to wander around Guelph and get to know the town and next weekend I will hopefully head to Toronto to meet more family and or go to Niagra Falls. So expect lots more photos than I have been taking in the next few weeks!

So that's about it for now, I did warn you I'd been busy and this is a summarised version!

Snow Big Deal

Second week update on my exchange in Canada for family and friends and anyone else who strays this way!

A main street in Guelph
While all of you have been revelling in snow in the UK the snow in Guelph completely vanished this week and we have the false temptation that Spring is just around the corner, until it snowed like mental on Thursday. I am definitely beginning to overcome the British mentality about snow...

Does what it says on the tin

On Saturday I did the wander around downtown as promised. The actual downtown region of Guelph is pretty small and I was done within an hour. The centre of Guelph is pretty small and everything is built around a few 'blocks' and intersections. The building were all carved out of a light sandstone and there was a mis-match of almost wild-western buildings and more colonial British buildings. There is a square of bars all within about five drunken stumbles from each other at one intersection and they are almost all Irish pubs (although real Irish pubs do not have women in mini-skirt kilts serving you). Canada doesn't really have your big supermarkets like Tesco that sell everything under one roof, Walmart and Target are probably the nearest but it's miles away, and so there are a lot of little independent shops instead of high street chains. For example in the UK we have Topshop, River Island, New look etc but I've only seen one H and M and that was in the mall here not on the high street.

A house along the river
Just along from the central station there is a little walkway along the river named after John Galt who was the Scottish author (and coloniser -  what a great combination of careers) who founded Guelph, this explains why almost every street has a link to the UK. The walk along the river was nice but since all the snow had melted everything was muddy and not as picturesque as it could be. I was told that if I wait until summer, that's when Canada shows off it's feathers. The houses along the river were really cool though, reminded me of my house at home: they all had gardens that led onto the river with kayaks lying around and everything looks quite higgledy-piggledy. Heading back to the University from Downtown I found the Royal City Park which again is going to look gorgeous in the summer.
Allison and Me!
On Saturday night I went out with some of the other international students before I headed off to a Keg party with some of my Canadian friends here. Alas I didn't do a keg stand but I did drink beer that tasted like urine and seawater from a keg using a red cup. Talk about taking in the culture.

Dog Therapy
My second week of classes have been good but I am still overwhelmed by how much work they do here alas I am coping. Even though it is stressful, the university organised a dog therapy session for students where we got to go and stroke dogs for a while to relax!  I had my first Anthropology class which is a 3 hour lecture on Tuesday nights (7-10) and I didn't drift off at any point. It was strange because we were discussing culture and culture shock and adapting to new cultures and I could relate it all to what I was experiencing on exchange! For this class I have to write a paper on a group of indigenous people from anywhere in the world, I don't think I've ever been as keen for a bit of coursework!

Part of the Aboretum

On Tuesday the weather was glorious and it looked like Spring was upon us already, be it brief. I decided that after classes (and a nap - I've made a habit of going swimming 11pm-12am) I would head to the University's Arboretum. This is essentially the university's botanical gardens but they are HUGE compared to Dundee's. I wandered around a mere half of it and it took me a few hours. Just like downtown, the Arboretum was pretty but I know that come spring it will be a completely different story!

The University of Guelph is No.1 in Canada for it's catering services and I can see why, there are hundreds of eateries on campus from Subway (which tastes different to the UK, they use cheddar and they call the American cheese Swiss cheese, ironically) to Mom's Kitchen which is like home-cooked food. There is even a man who wears a cowboy hat and sells hot-dogs from a tiny stall in the middle of campus blaring really bizarre songs all year round, even in the height of winter. There is also a place called Poutinees which sells Canada's national dish (essentially) Poutine which is from Quebec and is nothing more than chips, cheese curds (cheese before it's been compressed into a block) and gravy poured over the top. I am in love with Poutine, it's ridiculously unhealthy but oh so good. While out in town I got a large portion, which apparently nobody finishes alone. I showed that in Scotland we have a training ground for such tasks, called Clarks Bakery. Although all this food is great, it's worrying how little the students who live on campus know how to cook! They have things called Meal Plans here which are prepaid onto your student card and used to buy food on campus. When you have so much good food available it's easy to see why they don't learn to cook. Most of the girls I live with have these meal plans and admitted that they only know how to make cheese on toast. It makes cooking a struggle for me as they don't have half the utensils I need, there wasn't even a cheese grater!


On Wednesday night I was bored of doing work indoors so I headed to The Bullring which is one of the the university's many eateries but with the tagline of 'your living room on campus'.The Bullring used to be used to show cattle (the University here has a big agricultural school - it's like Orcadian farmers walking along side city hipsters) but has been converted into a café. The bullring seems to be where all the musican and "alternatives" hang out, which is my kind of place. On Wednesdays there is an open mic and I sat pretending to do uni work while listening to what musical talents Guelph had to offer. Like any open mic night, you have to sit through some strange acts and some downright terrible ones but I was surprised by how many ridiculously good people there were. So if it's a Wednesday night and you are wondering where I am, I can guarantee I'll be at The Bullring.

Jimmy Jazz. It was dark...

On Thursday I continued to investigate Guelph's music scene. Guelph is actually a renown centre for indie and folk music, which luckily for me if just what I am into. Tonight's venue was Jimmy Jazz which had a kind of of dirty unwashed charm that you get from indie bars. Tonight the bands Among Millions and The Good for Noughts (see what they did there?) were playing. Among Millions are local Ontarions led by Joshua Doherty, who was more than pleased that I recoginised thier cover of 'Old Fashioned' by Frightened Rabbit. Before coming I listened to a bit of the Good For Noughts on youtube and they are definitely worth another listen!

Yesterday I went into the mall with my friend Anna who comes from Glasgow (it's nice to have someone who knows what greet, wain and craic means) as we tried to sort out a Canadian sim card for her. We ended up staying in the phone shop for at least two hours sorting her phone and in the process befriended the shop assistants. This isn't rare in Canada, you find yourself constantly making friends with strangers (the good ones) which is a really nice change to the 'don't talk to strangers!" mentality you are taught!

Last night I was with the international students who are mental, especially the Australians (good luck Kirsten!). They all headed downtown and though it'd be fun to go to a club but I am not really a club person. However it wasn't too bad as a bit of alcohol can make anything fun. The first club we went to was Opus which was above one of the many Irish pubs and was quite modern looking but it was completely empty. Since we had our entry stamps we headed else where for a while. After seeing everywhere else was pretty much full we ended up at a place called Trappers which was another club but was also bare. Downstairs was a place called Palace which Allison had warned me about. It was quite the seedy dive full of jocks and frat boys. However the best way to enjoy a club is to just take the piss with everyone and ended up having a pretty good time! Even though I think I'll be sticking to pubs for most of the time!

While you lot back home got the Northern lights I
can deal with living with awesome sunsets
There was a trip to Niagara Falls for all the international students today but I am going with my Great Uncle and Aunt tomorrow instead. It will save me money as well as a trip to the butterfly house! As soon as I read they were going there I was glad of my decision to leave it until Sunday. So expect a whole load of photos over on facebook in the coming days and I'll keep you all up to date again next week!

Niagara Falls

The Canadian Side of the Falls

As my first excursion out-with Guelph it was only fair that I went to Canada's most famous landmark. The university chartered a trip out the day before but  my Great Aunt and Uncle offered to take me there free of charge. They picked me up at 11am and my Aunt Sandra gave me a Tupperware of Shepherds pie and some other food, a luxury I am not used to! As we set off the weather in Guelph was horrendous, it was blizzarding snow and my cautious family were a bit apprehensive but I had put my hope in the weather forecast being right and Niagara being sunny.

We made a stop at a Tim Hortons, which is a coffee chain which is probably equivalent to Costa or Starbucks back home but Timmy's is much bigger than Starbucks In Canada, in fact it's bigger than MacDonalds. Canadians are addicted to coffee; probably as an attempt to wake up but it's more likely an attempt to keep warm. Tim Hortons was named after a ice hockey player who set up the company but he died in a car crash and the crash site in en-route to Niagara falls.
The Town of Niagara Falls

One thing any visitor to the town of Niagara Falls will say one thing: it looks like a mini Las Vegas. Out of nowhere the town springs up full of neon lights, Ferris wheels, 50m high plastic dinosaurs and apparently there is a waterfall there too. In the Summer the streets are full of tourists and tour buses but at this time of year the town looks like deserted Disneyland.

The Skylon Tower

Niagara Falls has it's own mini CN tower called the Skylon tower and we went there for lunch. We thought we were heading to the revolving restaurant but after an hour of seeing the same view we realised that wasn't the case. The Brunch buffet was very nice and very posh and I felt horrendously under dressed as ever. Everywhere here seemed to be very fake, plastic and shamefully aimed at tourists. People came round taking your photo and coming back 10 minutes later with it photo-shopped onto a fake version of the falls. If I was going to need a photo of me photo-shopped in front of the falls then why would I have bothered coming all the way out here to get that? I don't get it but they seemed to be make money from it.

This one is not photoshopped!

From the tower you could see the whole falls, which is split into a Canadian side and an American side. Lets just say the Canadians lucked out there. The Canadian side has it's Vegas promenade and lavish casinos as well as the most spectacular part of the falls. The American side was much more industrial with industrial steam overshadowing their one or two flashing signs.

Some crazy frozen ice grass!
After a tasty lunch we headed town to the falls itself and you could appreciate it's size a bit more. The Maid of the Mist doesn't run in the Winter so we had to make do with walking along the falls and to be honest that is definitely enough to handle at these temperatures. The closer you got to the falls the colder it got and as the mist reached the ground it froze everything making it very icy but also creates some beautiful ice sculptures. You end up walking away soaked and you almost become an ice sculpture yourself. As much as I would have liked to have seen more of Niagara, it was so cold and I didn't want to take my poor Great Aunt hiking about in the cold.

It was great to see the falls up close without fighting for elbow space with some other tourists but I may well come back in the summer to see more of this really strange town when it is in full season. I've never been a fan of the idea of the commercialised towns like Las Vagas, and now Niagara Falls, but there is something intriguing about the place; the fact it's real but seem so fake. Or I am just like a month to a flame, or should I say neon.
The American Side


Since I am at the halfway point I thought I'd give you all a wee update! Not actually been up to anything incredibly exciting, hence the lack of updates, but I have some big plans in the works!

Believe it or not I am halfway through my semester here at Guelph! Only 8 weeks of textbooks left before I can say I complete my Canadian training. I am already finding snow as boring as concrete and I have developed an addiction to Timmy's but don't worry my accent hasn't changed, I don't think.

This week has been reading week and most people went off to do something exciting around Canada as they are actually leaving once term ends. I am staying here until the beginning of June so I didn't need to cram anything in. To be honest my main reasons for staying here was a lack of money and laryngitis. I had a local experience of visiting the doctor here which was a joy - I was going about my conjunctivits but because I coughed in the queue a woman thrust a face mask upon me and covered me in sanitising gel. After all that my insurance didn't cover my eye drops. Bye bye $40!

Buses stil run, even on snowdays!

The week before reading week was (ironically) one of my busiest weeks of the whole semester. We'll start with the three midterms. I started with my anthropology midterm which was a nice warm up as it is a first year class and was essentially 100 multiple choice questions and I ended up getting 95 of them right. The next day was my Principles of Disease midterm which is  my favourite class here so I wasn't too worried as it was again multiple choice and 96% later told me I really should not have gone down the ecology route of biology... This was further enhanced by the exam for Conservation Biology which is one of the three modules I HAVE to take here to correspond to those back in Dundee. Lets just say I haven't got the results for that one yet and after one nights revision I don't really want them back... After I was done with the midterms I had to work on a hand-in for my Community Ecology class, which is again a compulsory class and is also horrible. It was essentially all statistical problems and is probably the worst piece of work I have ever handed in but by this point I was so drained. The Canadians don't pity you with time off to do work! However, to finish off my horrendous week I had to lead a tutorial with my lovely group in Evolutionary Ecology (compulsory but not that bad because we don't have exams) and I was relieved to be the resident "mussel expert", thanks Dad!

Snow up to my knees!
In comparison to most people's my reading week has been very quiet but I've got some work done as well as sorted out my plans to the coming months. I think I needed the week to just sleep but unfortunately I have slipped back into my night owl ways, it's strange talking to you guys when it's 7am at home and doesn't help me with going to bed! Our reading week actually started with a Canadian snow day! Everyone I've met here has said that they've maybe had one over 4 years so I wasn't expecting one at all! Thanks to snow storm Nemo we had so much snow that I was wading through it(save the small jokes please!).

Yup, they are on skis on campus.
The Cannon
So, onto the exciting stuff! Reading week has given me time to plan some exciting trips and experiences: To end off this month I am getting curling lessons along with some of my other International pals, who knows maybe I'll be the new Rhona Martin. March is my last full month in Guelph so I want to see and do as much as my deadlines and revision will allow me! For example in the first week of March I am going to tick of several Canadian traditions. The first is one that is specific to the University of Guelph, at the centre of campus there is a disused cannon and almost every night students will paint it overnight and often produce some impressive designs! Anyway on the 6th March the international students are arming them selves with paintbrushes and potentially glitter to see what we can come up with!  That weekend is also proving to be quite exciting. On Friday 8th I'll be heading to watch my first ice hockey match which will be between local team Guelph Storm and the Sault Ste Marie Greyhounds, Saturday 9th is the College Royal Ball which is my first formal event ever (I'm not classing BSES Annual ball because I was nowhere NEAR classy!) and we are all going as an international posse and the next morning my hangover will be treated by a trip to a maple syrup factory/plantation place at Westfield historical village that is on KIRKWALL ROAD (Apparently there is an Orkney Road nearby too! I see a photo opportunity here!) and will hopefully include many tasting opportunities! The next weekend I am hoping everyone will be in Irish spirits to celebrate St. Paddys day but I am still not 100% sure what the events in Guelph are like. Either way I have bought a "Kiss Me, I'm 1/8 Irish" T-shirt!
My OCD travel planning

After that the deadlines build up all over again before they let us off for a weekend before exams. However after exams is when the real fun will begin. I was up last night booking flights and trains and I now have a vague idea of where I am going after studying. The fun starts on the evening after my last exam when I am going to head through to Toronto and see Fleetwood Mac live at the Air Canada Centre! I think that's a pretty good celebration of exams being over! I'll spend a few days in Toronto going up the CN tower as well as getting interviewed at the US embassy for my visa for a later part of the trip. I'll go back to Guelph to join in on the farewell parties and probably cry my eyes out in the process before heading onto a 5 hour flight to Vancouver on the 23rd April. I'll be left to explore British Columbia and Alberta over 3-4 weeks so it will be quite a whistlestop tour but I'll hopefully tick off Vancouver Island, Banff, Lake Moraine and Jasper. On May 15th I'll fly back east to Ottawa and explore the capital before turning French in Quebec! I'll have 2 weeks in Quebec mainly exploring Quebec city and Montreal as well as eating my body weight in poutine and trying out my French. Around the 29th May, as long as I get my visa (it's complicated...), I will head down to that concrete jungle of New York City and stay with my cousin Esti as well as have an amazing 21st birthday! When I get to June I have 6 days to get to Toronto and I will probably spend this time with my lovely family before I head back to the UK and see your delightful faces!

So, if you've been wondering what I've been up to there you go. I told you it wouldn't be very exciting , but as you can see the coming weeks are going to offer much more exciting things!

Curling - 28/2/13

Other than ice hockey, it turns out Canadians are also pretty obsessed with curling. It's not just the older generation either, however now it was time for a group of international students ranging from Scandinavians to Australians to take on the ice, even though some may have never walked on ice before.

The Guelph Curling club looked a lot like your typical club house for say a small local golf club or lawn bowls club with brown carpets and plastic chairs at round plastic dining tables catered by a small bar and kitchen serving basic fast food. However, at one end there were 8 lanes of ice out the viewing window.

Before getting on the ice we had our shoe soles picked free of stones like a horse getting it's feet cleaned. Meanwhile the ice was being prepared which was a combination of rolling and spraying to get a slightly rutted surface rather than and ice-rink sheen. We were put into teams of seven or eight and assigned a death lane of ice. To start with we just walked about on the ice and were surprised to find that it was barely slippy at all. That was until they introduced what I like to call "the death slipper." This was, what looked like, a Teflon insole that made your left foot glide along the ice like you were Torvell and Dean, or Bambi as was the case for most of us. 
The basic technique for pushing off was using starting blocks, like those used in running and then lunging forward. Pushing off with your right foot against the block and then keeping your left foot on the death slipper and knee bent. To begin with we used the broom as a balance, which was difficult to start with and after falling straight on my knee after my first shot, it was painful. After a few tries we introduced the 45kg rocks from Ailsa Craig and it was actually a lot easier than using the broom.The sport is called curling because you have to make the rock "curl" down the lane, about 2-3 full turns. You can aim the curl left or right by turning the stone slightly anticlockwise or clockwise ,respectively, while you push off. Your 'skipper/captain' will show you where to aim your rock to get the best shot, aiming to have your rock closest to the centre circle. Sweeping is the other aspect of curling which is used to  make the ice frictionless to make the stone travel further. It was so much hard work as you had to run ahead of the stone and brush frantically until your arms fall off. I didn't enjoy sweeping much but couldn't get the hang of both pushing at the right strength AND direction, but the instructor said I was promising! Watch out Rhona Martin! Curling was a lot harder than it looked and it turned out to be really fun and the volunteers from the club were very helpful and I'd definitely go again!

P.S. The next day I could barely walk on my right leg, it turns out pushing 45kg without stretching has consequences!

Academic Culture Shock - Canada

Firstly I don't feel I am nearly qualified to be writing an article on culture shock in Canada as I come from Scotland and I almost every Canadian I've met have told me they are also Scottish. People have even asked if I'm Canadian but alas I just watched far too much Sesame Street.

The cultural differences between the Scotland and Canada has been minimal so far with sales tax being the only 'major' hindrance I've struggled to get used to. However, I am on an academic exchange which makes this trip slightly different to typical holiday quirks. Despite being similar in culture and partially populated by our ancestors, the university system is very different to what I was used to back in the UK. Back home I study in Dundee, Scotland where I am enrolled in four courses for the entire year for my 3rd year whereas here I am enrolled in five for this semester alone. I am what is known as a "crammer"; one that does all their revision (or studying as Canadians had never heard the word "revision" before) in the few weeks just before exams. Canada is not very hospitable to crammers like me; there is no comfy exam leave here with only a weekend or so before your finals and they also throw in midterms. This is not counting all the assessments of term papers and research papers for each module.

The workload seems like a lot but these modules are more specific to an aspect of a whole module you'd be taking at home. This means the professors (not lecturers) don't expect you to go into as much detail as a module leader would at home so don't panic too much. So after the initial shock of the workload, you'll be relieved that in general the work is easier than you'll be used to. There will be things you might not have covered before but for the majority of things you might already know. This isn't to say don't work - you can either work at a constant rate throughout the exchange or start off full throttle and calm near the end or the opposite. The course choice is also a lot more diverse as well, Canadians can take pretty much any combination of subjects no matter what their degree title. You are likely to get some flexibility when you are over here and you will probably get to take a nice easy first year elective in Indigenous Music along with your serious subjects if you should so desire.

The last thing you want while on exchange is to be over-loaded with deadlines and stress but the silver-lining of these stress filled semesters is that they don't last long. In the second semester for example, Canadians don't have Easter holidays and so you will finish your exams mid-April usually giving you plenty time to explore the country in it's short yet intense summer. With countries like Canada, it is much more worthwhile to explore after the mini-ice age they call winter has ended. 

You will find yourself studying as early on as the first or second week which I found completely alien to my routine back in Scotland -I know this is a bad habit but I know I am not the only one! The sensible ones are right and you will realise that you actually do learn things better. However, this could be a combination of actually studying properly and the fact the teaching techniques are slightly different. My experience in lectures in the UK is that the teacher will sit and talk to you about something as if they are talking into a video camera - very little interaction with the class. Here the lecturers engage discussions and questions are encouraged this is because most of the exam material is actually lecture based - mainly because the prices of textbooks here is ridiculously high: it's cheaper to order them in from the UK and pay the delivery charges! Another saving grace of the north American system is that the professors themselves are much more approachable than most of those in the UK. They see themselves more like equals and will tend to talk to you for longer than necessary and not often about what you came in to ask.

Final exams back home tend to be the be-all-end-all of your grade with around 70% weighing on it. Here only 10% of your grade can be down to the final exam and don't be surprised if you've already passed the course before you sit your finals (and many exchange programs only need to you to pass your modules)! The exam layout is different as well, rarely straying from multiple choice or short answer questions. So although you worked yourself to the bone at the beginning of term, the transition into the summer holidays is a lot easier!

This wasn't meant to scare anyone away from applying for exchanges, I think they should be compulsory! You will learn much more than what they teach in the classrooms and you will meet people from all over the world. They can be expensive but there is funding available for those who choose transatlantic rather than Erasmus you just have to look for it. There is no doubt you will come home with lifelong friends and life lessons where you will learn more from any class you attend!

Canada and it's Ice Hockey Obsession

Ice hockey is everywhere in Canada, it's on their $5 bill and everyone from newborns to their grandparents enjoy going to matches and playing the game. In fact they find it bizarre that I have to specify 'hockey' as either field hockey or ice hockey.

I think I know the Canadian anthem
better than the UK's now...
 The National Hockey League(NHL) is like the Champions League of North America but on ice and a lot tougher players. Just like the Champions League - getting a ticket to these games is expensive unless you want to be so far away that you can't actually see what the players are chasing. Being a tourist in Canada means a hockey match was compulsory but playing my role as a student I save my loonies and went to the next level down which is the provincial league, so for us the Ontario Hockey League (the SPL perhaps). Guelph's local team is 'Guelph Storm' and their mascot is Spike - which, if you can tell what Spike actually is then you are doing better than me.

According to the local sitting next to me, Guelph Storm were meant to be pretty terrible this season but they've shocked everyone by actually reaching the play-offs. On a side note - we started to wonder why hockey players all have long hair and beards as it isn't the most logical haircut for such a sweaty sport. Well hockey players are very superstitious and grow out their hair and beards until they are knocked out of the league/cup.

Typically Guelph
Canadians are renown to be incredibly nice and polite people and I've concluded that this is because all their sports involve a large component of beating each other up, so they can take out any anger or stress out on the field rather than the streets. There are some rules in hockey regarding contact, for example you can't hit another player with your stick but when it comes to ramming them up against the wall at a high speed using all your 200lbs body weight then that's fair game. Anything that the referees deem as foul play though requires time in the penalty box to calm down. Now I know what you think, penalty box; that's a good thing though? Well no, in ice hockey and lacrosse the penalty box is the sin-bin zone. The sticks are massive and 'L' shaped so when I tried one I found it so difficult to do anything - and that was off the ice! Each team has six players on at a time and they are all meant to have positions but other than the goalie it's quite hard to keep track due to the speed they fly at!

Kids come on at half time, all in Tim Hortons shirts
 Hockey players start out so young that being on the ice will be as normal as walking. Once these young kids get older they have to decide whether to make their hobby a lifestyle and join junior teams which are the rungs of the ladder to the NHL. This is bitter-sweet for the parents as hockey kits cost a lot of money but they could easily make this back if their kid gets the $2millon average NHL salary. Tim Horton's coffee chain actually helps children from poorer backgrounds get into hockey by opening several multi-million dollar sports camps across the country.

Hockey is very fast paced and thrilling and I can understand why the country is obsessed with it. There isn't the stigma that football has back home of violence and 'lad culture', it is a full-family activity and the supporters of the different teams don't even have to be separated. I am hooked and have attended several matches here and I am already getting excited for the Winter Olympics next year. In the meantime Dundee Stars have a new fan!

10 Things You Must Do During Your First Month in Guelph

1. Go to the Ranch and ride the bronco.
-Checked shirt, cowboy boots and strong thighs optional.

2.Watch Guelph Storm play at the Sleeman Centre
Guelph's Ice Hockey team, if you can work out what their mascot "Spike" is then you're doing better than me.

3. Finish a large Quebec from Pierres Poutine
The best poutine in town!

4. Order a burrito on the way home from Salsateria
If you still have late night-drunken munchies after your poutine then head here for the best burritos north of Mexico.

5. Paint the cannon in the middle of the night
Gather a group of other students and paint UoG's famous landmark whatever you desire! 

6. Stroll the Arboretum
For a sobering walk on a nice day, there is nowhere else you should go than UoG's Arboretum.

7. Oggle at the talent at Open mic nights in Guelph 
Guelph is Canada's folk/indie capital and has a wealth of musical talent. The Bullring on campus not only has the best food but a great open mic night!

8. Rumage through history at Dis-aray Antiques
You can find anything and everything in here. Don't be surprised if you leave with arms full of things you'll never get through customs on the way home.

9. Be an early bird at the Farmers market
UoG is an agriculutral school and the people around here sure know how to grow food! So if you get fed up of No frills then head to the market on Saturday morning for cheap and tasty food!

10. Enjoy a Bobs dog in all weathers!
Making hotdogs all year round and blasting out music that takes me through years of Eurovision, Bob is a great character that essentially makes the UoG campus! (check out his story, he's pretty interesting!

If you have suggestions for other "must do's" then let me know!

Where to Eat in Guelph!

For Indian... Spice 11, 105 Macdonell St.

For late night drunk food... Pierres Poutine, 71 Macdonell St.

For Mexican...Salsateria, 45 Cork St.

For Breakfast...Vienna Restaurant, 28 Macdonell St.

For Cake and Pastry... With the Grain, 294 Woolwich St.

For Pizza ... Manhattans Pizza Bistro and Restaurant, 951 Gordon Street

For Chinese... Ray's Chinese Restaurant, 35 Harvard Road

For Vegetarian/Vegan... Zen Garden OR The Cornerstone104 Surrey St or 1 Wyndham Street 

If your crave European Café culture... Red Brick Cafe OR Ox, 8 Douglas Street or 17 Quebec Street.

On Campus... The Bullring, The round building on Campus

If  your parents are paying... Babelfish Bistro, 80 Macdonell St.

Lush Treatments

 I am a big fan of Lush back in the UK and I was very excited to see that there was a store in Guelph so I went in and treated myself. In true Lush fashion they treated me just as well with an epic collection of free samples of their acne treatments and an appointment for some facial treatments.
The next day I was accompanied by my good Aussie friend Jesikah to go get our faces pampered. Little did we know it was also going to be feet and arms! One of us sat and got a full facial while the other sat with a foot spa. I was first to the facial and I got a wee tour around the shop as the lovely sales assistant picked out products to match my skin problems. I got pampered with Ultrabland cleanser which is also a make up remover, tea tree water toner, a Love Lettuce facemask  (which smelt like a salad for the face so it must be good) and topped off with some 'Gorgeous' moisturiser. I didn't realise it at the time but with Gorgeous I'd managed to sample the most expensive thing in the shop at $85 per 45g pot as it was originally made exclusively for Princess Diana by Lush's founder. The most annoying thing was it made my acne scars almost disappear instantly...

Afterwards I got my feet seen too. Here in Canada I've been wearing boots everyday and that's had a horrendous effect on my feet, they didn't even look this rough on Kilimanjaro. The foot spa started with just a soak with a Sugar Scrub bath bomb, which was like using my Gran's electric foot spa even though it was just a big bucket with warm water. Then I got a clay foot mask put on called Volcano which deodourises as well as cleans and pampers this was topped off by a foot rub using a bright pink minty foot lotion. It's safe to say I didn't want to shower for a while, you wouldn't notice anyway as we left smelling delightful!

Thanks to Lush for giving us this awesome treatment! You'll definitely see us again soon!

Oh I forgot to mention, it was totally FREE! So what are you waiting for head down to your local lush and treat yourself!

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