Sleepless in Seattle, quite literally

So it’s almost been my week anniversary of being in Canada, and it feels like I’ve been here about one-hundred years already. The last few days have been hectic: Australia Day, my birthday, Seattle, and now we’ve left Vancouver for Victoria.

We ventured over to Granville Island to check out the market on Saturday (it’s apparently Canada’s second biggest tourist attraction), and ended up watching a street performer for about an hour instead of doing much exploring. We also managed to time the visit to clash with a boat show, so we spent a while staring at cats and other lovely yachts, before wandering back to the hostel for the Australia Day countdown. I also witnessed my first Canadian car accident: someone reversed into a space with the passenger door open. Doesn’t result in anything too brilliant when there’s a car in the slot next to you.

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So yeah, then Australia Day happened, and the next 24 hours were a complete write-off. We were going to go to Vancouver’s Aquarium, but on hearing that the penguins weren’t there because it was too cold (yeah, don’t understand that either), we decided that it was too cold for us as well and sleep was a much better option.

Monday-slash-my birthday followed, and luckily we felt everso slightly more human, and hopped on the four-hour bus journey to Seattle. I ended up being the last person through customs, and was a bit concerned that I’d be telling people I spent my 23rd being kicked out of America… but fortunately we got in, and arrived at our hostel in Seattle not long after. Seeing as the majority of my birthdays at home have been spent in the Purple Turtle, it made complete sense to book in with a hostel called the Green Tortoise. Looking back, not such a great idea…

We were situated opposite Pike Place Market, one of Seattle’s biggest tourist attractions, and spent a while wandering aimlessly around the several floors and corridors that connects it. Not sure how we made it out, as the whole thing seemed to change layouts every time we ventured into it, but we did. The market was filled with bookstores: some with odd Russian guys serenading customers, others playing hip hop v. loudly. It was amazing, and Britain could learn a lot from Seattle in this respect: bookshops are cool.

Sophie took me out for dinner after that, and we went up the Space Needle. We had wobbled over whether to do it at night or during the day, but without doubt Seattle is way prettier with the lights off/city lights on. It looked incredible, and the view went on for miles.

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Now, I understand that when you’re staying in an 8-bed hostel room, it’s going to get annoying sometimes, but the rage I felt that night was unparalleled. Out of the eight of us, four or five were snoring. And not just normal snoring, but the sound a mother elephant makes when it’s calling to a lost baby elephant. AWFUL. At one point, an American guy woke up and ordered the main-snorer to turn over. This provided enough relief to fall asleep for two hours, but sadly it began again, and that was the end of sleeping for that night.

The next morning, Soph and I were only feeling a tiny bit murderous, and sat at breakfast feeling very sorry for ourselves. After food at the first ever Starbucks, and a real coffee we were ready to go, and made our way to the Experience Music Project, the EMP: Seattle’s best thing ever.

The EMP is a music, pop culture and sci-fi museum, and when we visited, was holding two main exhibitions on Nirvana and Hendrix. After wandering around these, staring at guitars, letters, lyrics and stage props, we were feeling incredibly loved up, and the rest of the museum didn’t disappoint. A giant self-playing guitar tower stood in the middle, a huge stage at the front and labs where we played with guitars, drums and mixing equipment turned our awful mood into something beautiful. The fantasy section was next, and we spent more time than normal taking photos of ourselves turning into fantasy creatures (these pictures have heartbreakingly disappeared somewhere). There were dragons, costumes from ‘Labyrinth’, ‘Wizard of Oz’ and ‘The Princess Bride’, and a few tunnels to go down.

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We left Seattle on much more of a high than we’d woken up in, and happily returned to our hostel in Vancouver, completely and utterly unaware of the Worst Roommate Ever that we were about to encounter.

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Canada, eh?

Seeing as I’ve spent nearly 23 years trying to escape the clutches of Reading, I’m not sure why I was surprised when 5,000 miles from home, it still clings onto me like a koala on a tree. We arrived at our hostel in Vancouver, and started chatting to the guy working at reception. He asked where I’m from, and on hearing Reading, says that his geographical knowledge of the UK is pretty limited, and everything he knows comes from watching his fave TV show – Motorway Cops. I already know where this is going, and he proudly announces that he knows all about Reading and Slough (“you spell it s-l-o-u-g-h, but it’s not pronounced ‘sluff'” he added, clearly happy to avoid the general pronunciation fail of the town). 

So, after being reminded of all the things my town is known for (bad driving and boy racers, clearly), we went for a wander through the city. Sorry family and friends, but I don’t think I’ll be coming home. Vancouver is the prettiest, friendliest, buzziest (most buzzing..?) city I’ve visited, and was well worth the ten hour plane journey to get here. Strolling through downtown Vancouver, British Reminder Number Two pops up: posters advertising a Biffy Clyro gig at a fairly small venue next door to our hostel. Unluckily, we won’t be in Vancouver when they play, but it was pretty surreal seeing such a big British band playing such a nondescript venue here.

After my jetlag began to disappear, we headed to Stanley Park for a 10k walk. It’s easy to see why Canadians are always so happy and friendly: with mountains, the sea and beaches less than 10 minutes from the city centre, there’s little reason to be miserable about anything.

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Stanley Park is amazing: from beaches to mountains, you’ve got scenery that you wouldn’t catch anywhere apart from on the front of a postcard. Sophie is somehow coping with my scatty-injury-prone-self (strained foot and mild concussion from bunk beds) like a pro, and I couldn’t be much more thankful to have someone who knows the ropes showing me around/how not to die.

Talking of not dying, crossing roads here is brilliant. You have to wait for the man to go green (jaywalking is a thing here), but if there’s no traffic lights, pedestrians have right of way.

As if Vancouver doesn’t get much more perfect, the available post-night-out food ranges from giant slices of pizza to tubs of ice cream in any flavour you want. Literally, perfect. 

Please believe me when I say I’m not exaggerating: everyone in our hostel is Australian (I’m slightly worried that there won’t be any left in the country when I arrive…). The next two days are going to be pretty manic, celebrating Australia Day in Australian time, and then Canadian time. If we survive that, it’s off to Seattle on Monday for my birthday.

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I hate goodbyes. Always have done, always will do. If it was my choice, I’d be sneaking out my window at midnight, without telling anyone I was going – but I’d probably end up with half of Berkshire’s police force out looking for me. They say practice makes perfect, but I’ve never gotten any better at them, regardless of whether it’s people leaving, or horses.

These have been some of the hardest goodbyes I’ve had to do in my life, and while I know it’s not forever and no one’s dying (hopefully), it still sucks. Saying bye to certain people (and certain horses) felt like I’d been kicked in the stomach a fair few times, except with that kind of pain you can dose up on Ibuprofen and it goes away. Don’t get me wrong, I’m so SO excited, and everything will be fine on the plane, but I still wish goodbyes weren’t a part of leaving.

Now I’ll stop whingeing on about nothing, and let Winnie the Pooh be far more articulate on the subject than I could ever be.

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But oh well. Ten hours from now (ish) I’ll be in Vancouver, and one step closer to finding a bear and getting a tan, so life really isn’t bad in the slightest. Here goes what will hopefully be the best months yet.

Packing and planning

Since deciding to leave the country back in May 2013, I’ve done absolutely nothing in the way of planning, packing or getting remotely ready for this trip (minus booking flights and telling people I’m attempting to leave the country). It’s a pretty standard way of organising things in my life: planning and I tend to end up in a deluge of stressful lists and post-it notes that multiply every time I look at them.

It’s the final six days before leaving, and currently I’m surrounded by a pile of clothes, some extremely tiny travel towels (lesson number one: don’t just guess that you’ll probably fit into a 45x90cm towel. You won’t. Unless you’re a very small person or a child), and a snazzy new rucksack that I picked up for £45 in a sale at Black’s.

Seeing as some of my uselessness might be helpful to other people who are even more rubbish at planning than me, here’s everything I’ve learnt during the run-up to going:

1. Getting a guide book doesn’t mean you’re automatically planned and ready to go. However, it does make it seem like you’re being a very well-prepared and productive individual, so there’s that. I’m now the proud owner of a stack of Australian guide books, all of which I’ve flicked through maybe four times (in eight months), and selected a few obscure and most-likely unrealistic activities to try. Guide books are great for inspiration, but mine have turned out to be slightly more distracting than helpful – though saying that, I’m sure they’ll come in handy when I land and start really planning (haha).

2. The fewer clothes the better. I’m one of those people who packs eighteen different outfits for a weekend away, and then wears one religiously: ‘ruthless’ and ‘packing’ rarely appear in the same sentence with me (unless it’s “I’m not very ruthless with my packing”, obviously). Deciding to visit Canada in the depths of its winter and then go onto Australia’s manic summer may not have been the best move, but it’s certainly honing my packing skills. I’ve gone for a load of thin tops, t-shirts and a few jumpers, with the idea that I’ll just wear everything every day at the same time in an attempt to stop from freezing in Canada, and then probably wear nothing and die in a pool when I get to Australia.

3. No one tells you how crazy you’ll feel before you go. I can safely say I didn’t think it was possible to feel happy, excited, scared, nervous, sad, forgotten, impatient, and relaxed all at once. People say things like this are an ’emotional roller-coaster’ but that’s a lie. Roller-coasters have a very definite end in sight, and they go up and down in a very uniform fashion. This is more like being in an emotional tumble-dryer. Anyone who’s ever travelled will probably say this all settles down soon, but I won’t lie, the prospect of journeying to the other side of the world on my own is terrifying.

4. Phones are confusing these days: I have no idea if my iPhone’s unlocked, whether it’ll work when I get out of the country, how I use the internet on it, and if I can listen to music on the plane on it (although I have an inkling that’s what flight mode is all about…). Luckily I’ve invested in a cheap century-old flip phone to keep me in touch with the rest of the world, but honestly, when did technology get so complicated (slash when did I turn into a ninety-year-old?)

5. It’s totally fine to forget stuff (as long as it’s not your passport/tickets/visas/money). Now this lesson I learnt a few years ago while travelling around Ireland: other countries have useful, day to day essentials too. You don’t need to buy a 5-litre bottle of Coke just in case. Very unnecessary. Obviously I don’t know if I’ve forgotten anything yet (and knowing my luck, it’ll be my passport), but this is one thing I’m very confident about – I can simply buy it somewhere else.

6. Roll don’t fold when you pack clothes. This little tip was a lifesaver going on holiday to Spain with only hand luggage: it’s amazing how much you can fit in a fairly medium-to-small bag when you roll everything up as a clothes-sausage, instead of folding it. Less creases too.

7. Make sure you’ve got copies of everything and important phone numbers written down. I’ve possibly gone a bit over the top on this, printing out everything and anything that has any bearing to the journey, and leaving long instructions and lists of details for my parents, just in case someone steals all my money/my identity.

Pretty certain that’s all I’ve learnt so far, but seeing as that’s been gathered over the last few days, I’m not off to a bad start.