Dropping off the radar

Australia is brilliant. I’ve only been here a week but it feels like forever, I’ve not done a lot but it feels like tons, and I’m constantly overawed by how generous and helpful people are. I’ve been staying with grandparents in Blairgowrie, a small beach town at the bottom of Port Philip Bay. It’s been so nice to relax, be in the sun and defrost after spending so much time in minus-one-hundred temperatures. It’s weird sleeping in a room by myself, and even weirder to be walking around in shorts, but this country already feels like home.

Thanks to all of the brilliant family and friends I have over here, I’ve managed to squeeze in beach visits, a trip to the city and finally gotten back on a horse (although I’m still aching from that).

Melbourne is possibly the best city in the world, and that’s without exaggerating in the slightest. It’s a mixture of all the things I love about my favourite cities back home, but with something extra on top. Whether this is the abundance of independent cafes, the lack of Starbucks, the people, or the weather, I’m still unsure. We visited the day after White Night, and the city was slowly beginning to wake up: bottles were scattered over the floor, and people were alternating between wandering alongside the river, and dozing on the sections of grass.

We drove down to Quarantine and Point Nepean today, the headland that ships pass through to leave Port Philip Bay, and get out into the ocean. If the name doesn’t give it away too much, Quarantine is the area that ships landed in from Europe and the UK, and where people were forced to stay if their ship carried diseases. We explored the old military tunnels and hospitals, and I managed to bump, quite literally, into a wallaby (I’m not sure who was more shocked).


The beaches are stunning: where I’m based, we have the ocean on one side, and the bay on the other, and the difference couldn’t be bigger. The water’s warm in the bay, but fierce and strong on the ocean-side, and while I’m being told to try body-boarding, I think there’s a very high chance of me drowning.

I’ve only encountered one big spider so far: he lives in my bathroom, and we’ve struck a deal that if he sits still on the windowsill, I won’t throw him outside.

Although it’s only been a week, it’s easy to see why so many people arrive and don’t leave – the prospect of having my horse in my backgarden is enough to tempt me into changing passports (joking mum).



Goodbyes pt 2

There are certain phrases you don’t want to hear at 3am on a night bus. They include: highway closures, avalanche control, stuck on the road, annoy your seat-partner, heavy snowfall. Luckily for me, I heard them all in what must have been the Canadian bus-drivers’ association’s bad-luck bingo.

Ten-million hours previous to this, Sophie and I had woken up on our last day together and embarked on a mission to find one of show-jumping’s most prestigious grounds, Spruce Meadows. Cheered on by how close it was, we hopped on the trains and mapped out the best way to get there. We both thought it was located a bit too close to Calgary city, but after bandying around examples like Olympia and the NEC, we brushed it off, until we realised we were half way to a hotel.

It turns out Spruce Meadows is very far outside of Calgary, not accessible by public transport, and marked by a purple 36, not an orange 36.

Our last day couldn’t be more apt, and we finished our trip together with a game of trying-hard-not-to-be-overly-competitive-Scrabble (which included teaching a Turkish guy the words ‘drown’, ‘hike’, ‘quid’, and basically every word on the board apart from ‘beer’. I’m surprised he didn’t accuse us of making words up…).

The last three and a half weeks have been filled with non-stop laughing, delirious conversations, spooky mind-reading, and renditions of songs that I will never ever stop singing to Soph (sorry buddy). It’s been the best way to acclimatise to travelling, and although I’m still not certain that I’ll last very long now I’m solo, I at least know that Sophie managed it around the world once with very few navigational skills (haha, sorry again).

She is truly one of the most brilliant, kind, brave and funny people I have the pleasure of knowing, and she’s one of the bestest friends I’ll ever have – Soph, I’m going to miss you like anything over the next few months, and thank you for putting up with my general uselessness, sarcasm and constant head-banging.


So, after I said goodbye to Soph, I hopped on a very poor looking bus, cried when a fat man who smelt of onions, cheese and B.O. sat next to me (i.e. sat on me), and slowly moved away from the mountains. At 3am, we pulled up to change buses (and seat partners, thank the Lord), and it turned out we’d had avalanches on our tail the entire way, and it was doubtful that we were going to make it to Vancouver without having to stop for avalanche control (whatever that is).

However, 15 hours after leaving Calgary, we arrived at the bus station and piled out. With a patchy hour’s sleep to hand, I struggled my way towards the airport, and only managed to get there due to a very friendly train controller who just wanted to talk about Melbourne.

I’ve currently been in the airport for 15 hours, and soon will be getting on a 15 hour flight. I’m starting to understand why Doctor Who has a permanently confused look on his face; this time-distance malarkey isn’t half confusing. I have no idea what day it is, where I’m going, or where my plane is, but hopefully the next time you hear from me, I’ll be somewhere in Australia, sometime in the future.

Cowboys and Calgary

As we rolled through the mountainous surroundings of Banff, heading towards Calgary, the landscape slowly began to change, as though someone was dragging an eraser across the tops of the Rockies. They gradually diminished in size, until all that was left were rolling hills, valleys and fields as far as the eye could see. After two weeks of glaring white snow covering the ground, the advance of yellow, straw-like grass was heaven. I’ve missed fields, grass – and horses, obviously. As tempting as it was, I managed to remain inside the coach, despite the number of herds we passed, the horses out naked, their fluffy coats visible from the wide Canadian roads.

Everywhere we’ve visited so far has been entirely different to the place before, and Calgary is no exception. There’s a faint smell of dusty barn and old horse equipment that lingers in the air, and Stetsons sit firmly on the heads of mustachioed men as you walk around.

On our first evening, we headed over to watch the Calgary Hitmen, and witness our first hockey game. Being somewhat apathetic towards the majority of team sports, I wasn’t too sure I’d enjoy it, but as soon as we entered the venue, you could tell it was going to be incredible. We were sat eight rows from the rink, right behind the Hitmen’s scoring side and in among some serious Hitmen fans (my favourite being the 70-year-old woman wearing a giant hockey jersey. I can only hope to be as cool when I’m her age).


The Hitmen play at the highest level of junior hockey, but you wouldn’t think they were under 20 while watching them. The clashes were aggressive, they flew around the rink like they didn’t have knives attached to their feet, and the number of fights that were (sadly) broken up rivalled the amount in top league games. Despite the violent tackles and ruthless hockey-stick swipes coming from the players, the crowd were the complete opposite. Docile, quiet and respectful towards the opposing team’s fans, they were not what I was expecting. Maybe that’s the case: when a sport is fairly tame on the field, the fans are testy and riot-inducing (not looking at you football, not at all…), and when the situation’s reversed, the fans are far calmer.


Either way, it was a brilliant night out, and far cheaper than going to see a team like the Canucks. For rink-side seats, we paid $25, and I’d happily pay that again.

On our first full day, we explored the city itself, wandering around the streets only dictated by the green men on traffic lights. Being English and able to cross roads without the direction of lights, Sophie and I have been jaywalking our way around Canada (it’s a surprise we haven’t been arrested for it yet), and the look of shock on people’s faces still isn’t getting old.

Seeing as we were in cowboy land, visiting a country and western ‘club’ had to be done, so Wednesday night we rallied round and went to Cowboys – a strange place located in the middle of a casino. Walking in, we were greeted by Stetsons, boys with their shirts undone, Shania Twain’s guitar and Cotton-Eyed Joe. Country music alternated with standard club music, and as the night progressed it became clear why people go out in Canada.

They don’t seem to go out to drink – they go out to dance. As country songs took over, couples took to the dancefloor, showing off their moves. Guys span girls around their heads, legs, arms and across the floor. I’ve never been so impressed, and Sophie and I stood in a semi-daze, pointing at whoever was whacking out the best moves.

When one of the dancing cowboys asked if I wanted to try it, I had little choice but to say yes (Sophie is very persuasive when she’s shouting YES DO IT GO NOW and pushing you out). That night, I learnt three things about country dancing: a) you can do it without having a clue what’s going on, b) your partner doesn’t give you any warning before back-flipping you 360-degrees around their arm, and c) it’s so much fun and makes Dirty Dancing look as impressive as big-fish-little-fish-cardboard-box.

Beautiful Banff and a lack of bears

It’s our last evening in Banff before we move onto Calgary (which then signals the end of our time together), and despite the cold, it’s been one of the most stunning places I’ve ever visited. We swapped hostels, choosing the HI over the Samesun which we’d been in previously, and knew almost instantly that we’d made the right decision (especially when we received free bus passes into town, and I shotgunned the dorm’s double-bed).

Over the last few days, we’ve probably managed to walk nearly every trail surrounding Banff, taking in the natural hot springs (and their stomach-turning smell of sulphur), the lakes and the valleys, all nestled at the bottom of the Rockies. The formation of ice and snow around the creeks of hot spring water is incredible: it hangs in shiny drops, constantly on the verge of melting and freezing.

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As some of the Banff springs mark the beginning of National Parks across Canada, we decided to head to the museum dedicated to them: Cave & Basin, aptly named for the cave and the basin it contains. The cave is the site of the first hot spring discovery, while the basin marks the geothermal source where it all starts. Entry to the museum was just under $4, and with the amount of exhibitions it displays, is well worth it.

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We wandered around the rest of the site, alternating between playing with webcams and watching cheesy Canadian films about the springs. There was a visiting exhibit from Buffalo National Park, which featured a planetarium, but after waiting in line with several large and loud families, decided it wasn’t the best move, especially as it looked so warm and dark, and we’d probably fall asleep.

Being the museum nerds that we are, we also planned to venture over to one of Banff’s many halls. However, one burnt down, and the other wasn’t open (nothing in Banff opens for half the week, and when it does, it’s only for the afternoon).

Next on our list was to climb Tunnel Mountain, an easy 1,600m high lump of rock and snow opposite our hostel. We set off in the best of intentions (or Sophie did at least), hiring hiking boots and cleats, and once we layered up, we set off for the mountain.

Or at least we tried. We followed several different sets of footprints, unable to find the signposted trail that would take you up to the summit. Soon enough the footprints petered out, and we ended up wading through knee deep snow (again, Sophie did at least. It was like watching a puppy in its first snowfall, though when half of her legs disappeared into whiteness, I did panic a bit). As the paths disappeared, I began to lose feeling in my foot, and couldn’t put any weight on it (limping up a mountain: not as easy as it sounds), and even with a boiling hot hand warmer in my sock, there was no feeling.

No one tells you how mentally hard it is to be outside doing something strenuous in below-freezing conditions. While it was warmer than Lake Louise, the temperature hadn’t risen above -20. The combination of being both physically and mentally unprepared (homesickness is a bitch of a thing), we ended up following a makeshift trail back down. However, we did end up on a ledge of sorts, and had some incredible views over the surrounding area.

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Since being in Canada, I’ve learnt a LOT about bears, and come to realise that we’re oh so very similar in a number of ways: I’m not a fan of people scaring me, I don’t like it when people don’t share food with me, and I’m more than happy to curl up throughout the winter with a well-stocked supply of books (so not quite the same as a bear’s pile of food, but it’s all more or less the same thing). Seeing as Banff, being in the mountains, is prime bear territory, there are loads of leaflets telling you what to do if you see a bear, and what to do if a bear attacks (the best advice being ‘decide whether it’s a defensive or aggressive attack’, still unsure how you’d be able to distinguish this, especially while being mauled by a teddy bear with teeth).

Even though most sensible bears (and people) are tucked up somewhere warm during this weather, they still come out to hunt every now and again, and despite being in such an urban area, we made sure we were loud and as obvious as possible while we walked through the woods and up deserted trails (apparently if you see a bear, you have to speak to them in a ‘normal human voice’…). As we made our way up to Sundance Canyon, we spotted two very claw-like shapes on the path. A while later, we passed a sign forbidding people to follow certain tracks, due to wildlife. Slightly unnerved, we continued on, making a joint decision that they hadn’t been bear claws, but the foot of an elk. The subject of how the elk got separated from its foot remained unspoken about.

Our last close encounter came as we walked back from Vermilion Lakes (where we may or may not have walked on frozen lakes again, and may or may not have forgotten all phones and cameras in one of Banff’s most beautiful locations). As we cut through the last section of woodland, something behind us roared. We leapt together, my heart almost stopped beating, then continued at 300mph, until we realised it was a creaking tree. Pulling our hats slightly above our ears, we continued back to the road at a much quicker pace, only stalling when four black legs emerged from behind a tree (although these belonged to two hikers on closer inspection).

Despite wind burn and ice burn and mysterious bruises and the can’t-catch-your-breath-it’s-so-cold weather, Banff is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited, and it’s definitely on my list of where to visit in the summer (something which has absolutely nothing to do with raised chances of seeing a bear, obviously…)

Never walk on frozen lakes… apparently

When it’s -23 outside, with a wind chill of -32, there’s not much else to do in Canada but put your bikini on and head for the hot springs. After our eventful night bus journey from Vancouver to Banff, we pretty quickly decided that a trip to the area’s geothermal springs were definitely in order.

It’s surreal to be sat in an outdoor pool in February at the best of times, but when you can touch snow and see mountains, it upgrades the strangeness to a whole new level. The hot springs were less than ten minutes from the centre of Banff, and easily accessible by bus – we considered walking, but half way there decided that would’ve been a mistake (mountain roads are quite steep). The springs cost us around $7 to get into, and thanks to our HI discount, we knocked a bit more off. At this price, if I lived in the area, I’d be going every day.

Following a brisk run from changing room to pool, we sat almost completely submerged in the 38-degree water. Sophie started to look like Rogue from X-Men, as the front of her hair frosted over, and our white eyelashes were reminiscent of costumes from The Hunger Games. The springs recommend that you only spend 10 minutes in the water, so after 40 we both became a bit (i.e. very) light headed, and quickly made our way to the nearest cafe.

We left Banff for a few days after that, and headed up to Lake Louise, where we were greeted with -34 temperatures, and a very solid decision to not move for a very long time. However, you can’t visit the area without visiting the lake (and while the hostel was nice, it wasn’t that nice), so the next day we set about making plans to walk up there.

The first sign that this could be a bad idea came when even the most hardy Canadians were complaining about the cold (it still hadn’t warmed up from -34). A sign by the restaurant had a fact of the day, merely reading ‘it’s cold’, and a host of visitors stood by the front door, their cars too cold to start.

Undeterred by this, we chatted to the reception staff about whether we’d need hiking equipment. After taking one look at my so far reliable and wonderfully trustworthy Nike Airs, a guy laughed, said it would “be an adventure” and recommended a helmet. Seeing as I’m like Bambi on ice on solid, non-frozen ground, this did worry us both a bit (i.e. a lot). Either way, we stocked up on ‘oatmeal’ (why not call it porridge? Is there a discernible difference?), and I learnt that you can quite comfortably fit a pair of tights and a pair of leggings underneath TopShop skinny jeans.

So, the hike began. It was only 3.1km, and after blasting around Stanley Park’s 10k, we felt rather optimistic. The ground was fine, the footing was easy, and it was like walking through Narnia. Snow fell off trees in clouds of glitter, and the sun threw cascades of colour over every snow-covered branch. It was beautiful, serene, and so bloody cold I thought I was about to die.

We made it half way before either of us realised how tough this was going to be. My legs were so cold it became a struggle to move them, and the tiredness seeped through them as though I’d just run a marathon. It was hard to believe we’d barely touched 2k at this point, but we soldiered on, only dropping our pace slightly.

Next came altitude. Ah. We both ended up needing rest breaks in every small sliver of sunlight, and the air was so cold and thin it felt like trying to breathe underwater. It was impossible to catch your breath until you stopped moving, and as soon as you stopped walking, fears of leg amputations quickly rooted themselves into your mind.

We slowly struggled up the last kilometre, stopping to watch a dogsled team get prepared/try and inhale as much oxygen as possible. At this point, I felt safer: if my legs got colder, I could quite easily ask for a husky to sit on them until feeling resumed. We stayed on the road after that, deciding to leave the steep mountainous trail for the time being. As we rounded the last corner, the mountains surrounding the Lake appeared, and the sight of civilisation gave us enough momentum to keep going.

Once we’d sat in the lobby of the poshest hotel I’ve been in, and thawed out, we layered back up again, and headed out to the lake. When Sophie said how beautiful it was, I didn’t quite understand, but seeing it in person I could understand why it was worth almost losing two legs and a lung to get there.


The lake was completely frozen over, and had rinks dedicated to hockey and skating carved into the snow, and so, disobeying every piece of advice we’d ever been given about standing on frozen lakes, we went for a walk over the ice.

Say hello to the coupliest couple in Canada

Say hello to the coupliest couple in Canada

We opted to get a taxi back down, rather than risk losing any limbs to the cold, before heading back to Banff for the rest of the week.

27-hour trips, and David Tennant

After an interesting last night in Vancouver, we headed out to Victoria, British Columbia’s capital. We had a two hour ferry ride through some beautiful scenery – it was quite similar to Sweden’s archipelagos – and you could see why it’s such a popular place to be in the summer. You can apparently see killer whales on the way, but we didn’t (incredibly gutted). What we did have was a v. brave Sophie though; compared to our ferry journey to Ireland where we had to sit outside next to a lifeboat for three hours, we could actually sit indoors.

When we arrived, we were both shattered: two nights without sleep a combination of buses and the ferry had knocked us out, so we were more than happy to chill at the hostel and witness some of the worst open mic night performers I’d ever seen. The woman on the hostel’s reception had told us that David Tennant was in town doing some filming, so we made sure we had enough space in our plans to fit in a day or three of Dr Who hunting.

After the first good night’s sleep in ages, we were ready to explore a very rainy and dull looking Victoria. Before leaving, I learnt a valuable lesson: don’t stand fully clothed in front of a shower when you’re trying to figure out how to turn it on. The city, despite the weather, was beautiful, and we spent a ridiculous amount of time floating between thrift shops and bookshops.

At the recommendation of a guy at the hostel, we headed out to a place called Big Bad John’s that night, where we were given a bucket of unshelled peanuts – you crack them, and throw the shells on the floor. It’s a thing apparently, as was visitors leaving bras tied to the ceiling. Fun, but unsure how other women could leave them lying around. It possibly the most redneck bar I’d ever been in, and was fully expecting a cowboy to ride in at any point. The next bar we moved onto was much more inclusive of nut-allergy sufferers, and we bumped into someone who could understand Sophie perfectly, but had no idea what I was saying. He did, however, manage to translate my accent well enough to make a judgement of me; “you’re really weird and fun”.

The next morning the David Tennant Hunt began. We got on a bus that we thought might get us there, and after 15 minutes, and spotting giant orange signs saying “CAUTION FILMING”, we got off a bus quicker than I thought possible, and got a brilliant glimpse of the man himself filming a scene for ‘Gracepoint’.



That afternoon we decided to something less creepy, and made a plan to climb Mount Douglas (more of a hill than a mountain though). As we entered the woods at 3pm, we made a deal that if we hadn’t made it to the summit by 4, we’d have to turn around and come back, just in case it got dark and bears came out. By 3.37 we’d reached the top, climbed up ridiculously steep rock faces (the perks of travelling with someone half human and half mountain goat), and seen an eagle, as well as getting the best view over Victoria.

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Saturday morning was the beginning of our 27-hour trek to Banff, comprising of four buses, one ferry and two trains. We had another whale-less but Brave-Sophie ferry journey, and after stocking up on enough sugar to last us a year, got ready for the night bus. So, in Canada, when buses break down in the dark, in the middle of snowy mountains, and the driver apologises, people don’t get angry. There was a rally of “don’t worry”s and “it’s not your fault”s from around the bus – but feelings got considerably colder when he announced it was due to a fuel shortage.

After a three hour wait in a tiny bus station, we were finally on the second leg of our journey, and luckily managed to grab some sleep. I’m unsure whether the highlight of the trip was breaking down in the snow, or the entire coach listening to a somewhat dubious sounding film a woman was playing on her iPad, unaware that her headphones weren’t plugged in (turns out they were in her phone…).

So, we’re in Banff now, and it’s COLD. I tend to hibernate when temperatures get lower than -2, so being in -25 (including wind chill) is a slight shock to the system. Despite the cold, and not having any feeling in my hands, face or legs, it’s such a picturesque town, and the adventuring we’ve done here has been like walking through Narnia.

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