Wednesday, August 21, 2013

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

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

Monday, August 19, 2013

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.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

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."

Ottawa's ugly eh?
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.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


This morning Christina and I were going on a cycle around Ottawa. Thankfully, although she was cycling across Eastern Canada, she wasn't a super pro-cyclist and just enjoyed biking, so she was quite happy for me to trundle along behind her. I borrowed one of Dean's spare bikes and it all started so well as I was too short for the pedals and fell straight off into a parked car - a great start. It was bizarre cycling through a city - I don't think I've ever done it before, let alone drive it. As I was going without a helmet I was pretty paranoid but Ottawa is very good for cyclists and especially on Sundays as certain main roads are closed to cars on Sundays. Ottawa is a bit like the Amsterdam of North America as it is famous for (a) canal, tulips and bikes.

We cycled to Richmond Street after a conversation last night about a wonderful chocolate shop around there. We reached West Borough which was a nice little neighbourhood off the tourist route and went in search of Truffle Treasures to stock up on ice cream and other small treats. We gawked at the endless little boutiques and patisseries in the area before working off our chocolate and cycling along the canal to the city centre.

With our bikes stowed we went a walk along the sights I'd sleptwalked past a few days ago. We asked an information guide where there was a good place to go and in particular any 'hidden gems' in the city but he just replied with; "Nope, there are none." So we took matters into our own hands and just wandered the streets hoping to come across something. We headed through Byward market again which was just as much of a feast for the senses second time around. We went onwards to the Museum of Civilisation which was across the Ottawa River in Gatineau. I was expecting passport control or at very least a plaque as we crossed into Quebec but it was just as subtle as the province banners that was all around the Ottawa were suddenly entirely in French.

The museum of civilisation was an impressive building on the outside and also had some great views of Ottawa. We thought two hours would be enough to cover the exhibits inside but we only managed to cover a mere three exhibits before the museum closed. The Canadian Hall was particularly impressive with whole heritage towns built around the exhibits on each period in Canada's history- you forgot you were indoors at times.

Back in the outdoors it was pouring with rain but we made a stop at Byward Market to get dessert for dinner before a soggy cycle back to Dean's. He had prepared dinner for us and we were joined by his neighbour Jasmine who couldn't have been much older than me. Dean always sets and extra plate out at dinner because there is no doubt that someone would turn up and he was right as Jackie (a very interesting woman from South Africa that was round yesterday) came round with her daughter, also called, Jasmine. Little Jasmine was one of those purely innocent kids who was just adorable.

Dinner and dessert was followed by a firework display due to Victoria Day - a day to celebrate Queen Victoria, which doesn't happen in the UK. The evening was spent sitting on the sofa drinking maple whiskey and talking about everything from the Russian mafia to swadges.

Toronto - Ottawa

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.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

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.

That bloody Fairmont at it again. at least
it fits in here. 
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.

The Canal gates
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.

Across to Gatineau
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.

After that you are sent to a waiting area to do more waiting but after several bus loads of school children had headed out on their tour, myself and a gaggle of old women got concerned and had to be shuttled off to catch up with our tour which had left without us. We got a whistle-stop tour before the library where we were reunited with the rest of our group and all we seemed to have missed was the house of commons. We had to be silent in the library and we weren't allowed to take photographs as real librarians were working - something I didn't know actually existed. I spent most of my time trying to spot one of these librarians in their wild habitat.

Then we shuffled through to the Hall of the Senate which had huge portraits of every monarch since Queen Victoria on the walls. I still find it bizarre that they refer to Queen Liz as the Queen of Canada but in Canada there is the Governor General who takes on the role of Head of State in the Queen' absence and so would give royal assent to a law as well as other duties. The roof of the hall is painted with Canada' emblem as initially they had the name of each Speaker of the Senate but inevitably ran out of room. In the corner there were the four shields of Canada's four original provinces (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Upper and Lower Canada - Quebec and Ontario respectively). The walls had gargoyle-esc heads sticking out of Canada's Vikings to commemorate their rule but on one wall the sculptors had carved their own faces - unknown to anyone else at the time!

Hall of the Senate
The senate was filled with red seats with a space for thrones at the front for the ruling monarch and their spouse - or the Governor General. The roof was painted with the emblems of nations with links to Canada - the British and French. The final stop was, obviously, the gift shop but we were allowed to wander free rein up to the Peace Tower and Memorial Chamber - both built to commemorate those who lot there life in World War I but now used for those who have died while doing service for their country.

After my tour it was time for my second coffee of the day and after went a walk with no real plan and just walking from street to street. I ended up in Byward Market which was perfect for a little food boost and people watching session but I was getting so tired that a third coffee was in order. I took this as an opportunity to sit and have a long overdue skype conversation with my flatmates. I suppose being by myself was starting to hit me - after only one day.

As evening arrived I went to the National Gallery and since it was also free I thought I should absorb all the free culture as possible. Their special exhibit was on aboriginal art and the trials of aboriginal life - which was a good to relate to my studies in anthropology back in Guelph but there are some pieces of modern art I will just never understand. The other part of the museum was European art and so I played the game of 'Guess the artist from a distance' and I was proud that I haven't lost all of my higher art knowledge. You can maybe tell that I was just a bit too tired to appreciate art that wasn't made with down feathers and designed by ikea- so that was my next stop. Bed, not Ikea.

Main Hall of Parliment

View from the Peace Tower across the Ottawa River to Quebec

Parliment and some bales of turf!

Outside the National Gallery

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

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.

The Campervan: Day 14 Elk Recreation Park - Rocky Mountain House

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.

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Campervan: Day 13 - Hinton - Elk Recreation Park

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!

The Campervan: Day 12 - Jasper - Hinton

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.